A Referendum on the Iraq Occupation
By Justin Podur at Oct 14, 2004
C. P. Pandya mentioned in the blog today about how mercenary companies are still making massive profits in Iraq. Bombings and massacres continue to happen on a daily basis in Iraq: today's by insurgents killed 4 American DynCorp mercenaries and 6 Iraqis inside the famed "Green Zone". Massacres by US are reported by Seymour Hersh in talks, as this one, which comes from A Tiny Revolution via underthesamesun.org.
Iraqis don't want this.
They've never been asked.
But I think it would be a very good test of the antiwar movement. In Brazil in 2002 they had a people's referendum against the FTAA in which 10 million voted and 98% of them voted against FTAA. That referendum was organized by the incredibly large and popular Landless Peasant's Movement (MST). We have nothing remotely like the MST in the United States. But we could have a referendum on the occupation. A simple question, like: "Do you believe the United States should leave Iraq and allow self-determination for the Iraqi people?" [That's a rough cut -- the question would have to be carefully done]. It is an idea with a lot of potential.
It could emphasize reaching people in communities that are actively being disenfranchised by the main parties and showcase the sham that "democracy" is in this country.
It could, by its simplicity, be a powerful demonstration of how convoluted and absurd the electoral college system is.
In campaigning for it, it could provide an opportunity to discuss democracy here and in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Venezuela, and Colombia.
It could provide an opportunity for the antiwar movement to organize for something other than another big demonstration that will be ignored (not that a people's referendum wouldn't be ignored, but if it did get big, it would be hard to repress) and have debates other than on the efficacy or morality of breaking windows.
It could provide an opportunity to showcase the immorality of the war, the illegality of it, the massive suffering imposed on Iraqis, the destruction of people's aspirations there, the resultant insecurity and bankruptcy of the US arms race with itself and the "war on terror".
It would be good regardless of who wins in November: if Bush wins, antiwar forces will need to do something big and creative quickly. If Kerry wins, antiwar forces need to demonstrate their power and their militancy. But in either case, it would be not only a demonstration in the real sense of the word to elites, but it would also be a demonstration to the world that (hopefully) the majority of Americans are against their country's murderous foreign policy.
There are pitfalls.
First, such a thing would be a huge project and would take tremendous effort and resources to do properly (remember it was the MST who did it in Brazil, and we don't have such a thing in the US). Liberal groups and unions have resources but they would inevitably try to water down the question ("Should the United States withdraw but only after we've fixed the country up and ensured that there won't be a civil war or any terrorists coming from there to threaten us in the foreseeable future?") and gut the whole project of all the things that would make it important.
Second, even if the resource question could be solved, it would be incredibly important to do it all in the right way -- to use it to reach constituencies that radicals (and the mainstream parties) don't reach, to use it to actually grow the movement.
Third, I have to wonder -- what if the majority votes against an end to occupation? If it started to become clear that the initiative was going to be popular and lots of people were going to vote, the establishment would kick into high gear and try to stop or discredit the whole thing. Failing that, they would try to get people to vote against withdrawal. What if that worked -- the antiwar movement would have organized a referendum against the occupation and wound up helping militarists politically.
Still, I think I'd be up for such a battle.