Perennial grumbling about another trek to DC, a "cattle drive" as it's said, has become endemic among not only among people who look down on political activism with a too cool for school shtick, but from the very folks who put in the leg work to make these DC mobilizations a success.
Coming down from New York with World Can't Wait, we had a different plan. Instead of just showing up at the national mall to wander through the crowds and catch-up with old friends, we rolled deep to spread the plain-fact message that so long as Bush remains in office, the war will continue and expand. Impeachment is the means to check Bush's so-far unchallenged power and decisively repudiate the torture, secrecy and war-without-end. We only expected to bring a couple of buses, but the demand was so overwhelming that we ended up bringing down five. Once in DC, we met up by 4th and Madison with scores of other activists to get out the Call, put impeachment on the table and "organize the unorganized."
I spent the whole day leafleting the throngs. In the thick of it, I never got a sense of the crowd's relative size. It was big. Protest sponsor United for Peace & Justice claims 400,000, according to the NY Times, DC police declined official comment.
Talking mostly with folks on the lawn, I didn't hear many of the speeches – and the one I caught by Jesse Jackson sounded like a remix. "Keep hope ALIVE Keep HOPE alive..." and I'm thinking, "WTF you talking about?" We giggled about that vacuous shit when I was in high school (which wasn't last week, I promise you). "Hope" didn't stop the de-industrialization of the Chicago I grew up in during the heyday of the Rainbow Coalition any more than it will stop this war. Jesse might garner a little more respect if he didn't come off as the Official Liason of the Democratic Party to People Who Actually Give a Damn, but after decades of running the same rap I'm not holding my breath. Ain't no hope in hope as dope.
Which is kind of what the march felt like... Yeah, the country has caught up with the rest of the world in recognizing that this war is a fiasco. It hasn't caught up in understanding what is at stake. It's not a "mistake." It's a strategy of global domination on some very ugly terms. I mean, nobody likes to lose a war — but the issue is "whose war is it?" Maybe that's why it took a representative of the British antiwar movement to make the call for impeachment from the stage. "We don't have the power to impeach our Prime Minister, but you have the ability to impeach your president." The crowd sure roared for that non-official slogan of the march. Thousands of orange World Can't Wait placards kept that message in the crowd — but just like the impending conflict in Iran, I didn't hear too much about it from the stage.
On arrival, I wandered into the most spirited contingent of the day. Coming out the Smithsonian metro station with some friends from SLAM, about a 150 young people with Students for a Democratic Society were meeting up with red & black flags, cheerleaders, anti-imperialist chants and participation from the Campus Antiwar Network. A mini-Black Bloc made its way later to the Capitol steps for the day's only real bit of drama. With the best of intentions, it remained as theatrical as the celebrity speeches from the stage.
After a few hours of leafleting and rapping to the crowd, I caught up with a leading member of Workers World to talk about tactics in the movement. I've long respected Workers World (and the other Sam Marcy-related faction Party of Socialism and Liberation) for their emphasis on the imperialist root of all American wars since back in the days of Youth Against War and Fascism. Despite the Marcyite conflation of any force at odds with the USofA as somehow "objectively" anti-imperialist, I'm not worried about a Kim Jong-Il type regime coming here and know allies when I see them. They voiced frustration at the general level of resistance, while cautioning that small groups of radicals can't substitute for mass struggle. Pointing out the large presence of trade unions, he noted that this isn't a re-play of the 1960s, and that as the resistance to the war picks up it will be much more working class in character. No disagreement on that last bit, even if I do think relatively small groups can be catalysts for far more militancy in the movement as a whole. Movements aren't linear and incremental, and the pressure is building with the Democrats refusal so far to stop the war, let alone hold Bush accountable for the war crimes he committed in front of every camera in the world.
One thing I have to report. The average person I spoke with was far angrier, impatient and interested in removing Bush from office than what I heard on the stage. This isn't always true, but it was on January 27. I talked to scores of people and handed out thousands of impeachment flyers.
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The greatest issue we face is that protest as usual doesn't feel "real" to people, even those who are doing it. Without blaming UFPJ for using their patented playbook, the challenge is really on those activists who see the need to pick up the resistance: the anti-imperialists, direct action radicals and independent collectives that have been letting the national protest bureaucracies set the tempo for four years too long.
Browsing the coverage Saturday night, far and way the most interesting movement analysis I came across was an article by Dan Berger and Andy Cornell: Winning the (Anti)War and Rebuilding Political Imagination on the WireTap website. It's worth quoting at length:
"The same old protest march is not going to cut it. Such displays are always necessary, but never sufficient. Like so many others, we will be among the many filling the streets of Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27. But the anti-war movement must step up to the challenge of the moment or risk alienating its base and sympathizers. While a longer historical view shows that the effects of a demonstration are often not immediately felt, it is equally true that regularly engaging in the same protest every six months proves demoralizing.
"Demonstrations go a long way toward bringing a critical mass to symbolically confront the powerful and show the depths of anti-war sentiment. This is vital -- but it must be joined with sustained organizing and direct confrontations with the war makers, especially after appeals to reason, wisdom and political expediency have fallen on deaf ears. Movements in countries such as Bolivia and Argentina, together with the mass global justice demonstrations in this country, show that well-organized actions attempting to shut down institutions or entire cities are much more vital than actions that only seek to 'make our voices heard.' Even when they cannot achieve a full cessation of activities, obstructionist actions succeed in forcing debate, raising social costs to elites, and, just as importantly, firing the creativity and passion of those moved to action."
Indeed. No doubt. True true true.
This spring, I think we should keep these sage words in mind — and re-double our efforts to oust Bush (and/or Cheney) and begin to obstruct the war beyond registering dissent.
World Can't Wait is pulling together three tracks of action for the spring, and I'd encourage activists (particularly on campus!) to get involved now.
Campus Speaking Tour:
Mission of a Generation: Stop the War Now! Drive out the Bush Regime!
In the shadow of the Surge and threats to Iran, WCW founder Sunsara Taylor, former U.S. Marine and Appeal For Redress co-founder Liam Madden and others have launched an emergency national speaking tour targeting college campuses with a challenge:
Will we be remembered as the generation who sat back and allowed illegal wars to spread throughout the Middle East, torture legalized, the rights of women and gays eviscerated, and a fascistic police-state constructed? Or will we refuse to go along with this? Will we lead millions to erupt in political protest and defiant truth-telling? Will we make it our mission to bring the crimes of the Bush regime to a halt!?
Along with Elaine Brower from the WCW National Steering Committee and Military Families Speak Out and Anastasia Chamery — these speakers can help launch student organizations and frame the political and human issues involved.
For more information, don't delay: 347-385-2195 | email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bush Agenda: Understanding it. Stopping it.
If you're on campus now, or active in the student movement — here is a real opportunity to bring the debate to your school. Dozens of colleges already have events scheduled, but they don't organize themselves. Click here to get more info & get involved.
Emergency Impeachment Summit, NYC:
February 17 & 18
Quoting from the event description:
"A great synergy between the movement to end the war and the drive to impeach Bush is needed now. Iraq spins out of control. Bush escalates and threatens still wider war with Iran. The Bush program of torture and illegal detentions continues. These are War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.
"Bush's full program remains in effect. NSA Spying, the Patriot Act, the Military Commission Act; all continue. And, all are illegal.
"The whole program of the Bush Administration must be thoroughly repudiated by removing him from office before his term expires; otherwise, the whole direction he has taken society will be condoned, legitimated, and made permanent.
"It is time to put impeachment back on the table. A movement to Impeach Bush for War Crimes can quickly advance the whole struggle; making ending the war and removing Bush a reality. As impeachment becomes imminent and his war options grow more limited; the more his war crimes are exposed, the greater the impetus for his removal and repudiation."
Here we are, peoples.