Signs of Movement? The State of Anti-War Activism in the U.S.
As the Western media proclaimed a cowardly victory for the US/NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia this past weekend, the stability of "peace talks" was already beginning to waver, and thousands were turning out to demonstrate against the war on each coast of the United States, as well as the UK, Canada, Greece, and other places around the world.
It has been a tense several days for those of us paying close attention to the war, as we evaluate both the status of so-called "negotiations" in Europe and that of the anti-war movement here at home.
In Washington, DC, on Saturday the fifth of June, a significant crowd turned out to bear witness to the continuing ravages of war and demonstrate our movement's disbelief in the impending peace process. Even assuming near- total surrender on the part of Milosevic's Serbia, it is clear that nothing resembling true peace will beset Yugoslavia in the near future. And though we may have wavered a bit while sorting through the myths and realities of this latest phase of negotiations, it is clear that the anti-war movement here is growing, quite necessarily.
The DC Action
Estimates of participation in the June 5 demo in DC range from 2,000 (the Pentagon's figure, conspicuously settled on by UPI news service), to 10,000, the number favored by lead organizers, the International Action Center. A trusted companion of mine counted 4500 heads passing one point during the march from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the Pentagon lawn. This is the most reliable and believable figure I can convey. Those of us who participated would like to believe we were more, but the reality is this anti-war movement is still taking baby steps.
During the march, most activists seemed beleaguered, probably not just from the heat. Demonstrators appeared to lack committed unity and passion. Chants were weak in both volume and content, in some cases making misogynist references to Madeleine Albright, or calling for continued Serbian domination of the province of Kosovo. While there was some refreshing creativity in the form of artistic floats, slogans and signs, most people toted stale, mass-produced placards.
More than 25 speakers addressed the crowd during rallies before and after the march. The vast majority of these, invited by the International Action Center (IAC), either failed to mention or outright denied the repression, expulsion and execution of Kosovar Albanians by Milosevic's troops -- popularly referred to as "ethnic cleansing."
IAC founder and icon Ramsey Clark summed up the dominant position of his organization by urging us to remember that Serbs are the main victims of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. He passively denied recent history by proclaiming Serbia a peaceful land prior to 1990, implicitly suggesting that Kosovar Albanian resistance instigated troubles, instead of Serbia's annexation of the once-autonomous Kosovo. Western leaders were repeatedly referred to as "the real war criminals," thus exonerating Slobodan Milosevic for comparatively fewer, but no less deplorable crimes against humanity.
One speaker overlooked Serbian atrocities but harped on the (far fewer) crimes of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) against Serbian civilians. He went still farther, referring to allegations that KLA funding is derived from smuggling heroine and marijuana (!) which in turn is "destroying this society," referring to the US. This misdirection, apologetics and exaggeration were disturbingly common throughout much of the day's speeches.
Gordon Clark, executive director of Peace Action, and Amy Goodman of Pacifica Radio's "Democracy Now," provided rare, refreshing perspectives in a sea of otherwise largely banal ranting. Clark's insistence on an appropriate, reasonable stance was welcome in the midst of bizarre apologetics: "I want to be very clear here today that I am ADAMANTLY pro- Serbian and ADAMANTLY anti-Milosevic! That I am ADAMANTLY pro- Kosovo Albanian, and ADAMANTLY anti-Kosovo [sic] Liberation Army!"
Positive responses to emotional speeches by both Clarks were similarly intense, leaving some of us confused as to whether people were hearing the difference.
No matter how hard I tried to get involved in the various elements of the demonstration, constant reminders of our movement's schizophrenia, in the form of counter-productive messages, repeatedly dampened my mood. Marching along side Serbian nationalists who sported glossy stickers proclaiming "Kosovo is Serbian" did not exactly inspire an air of solidarity in those of us who support popular self-determination in the struggling province.
One major lesson of the day was entirely predictable: the International Action Center, a front group of the notorious marxist-leninist, state terror apologist Workers World Party, doesn't have the integrity required to build and lead a mass movement. Though the IAC isn't short on organizational capability and energy, it does lack respectable leadership. Carrying the notion of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" to a disturbing extreme is dangerously counter-productive. Workers World/IAC have not only downplayed the crimes of Milosevic and Saddam Hussein against ethnic populations, but even rationalized and lauded Beijing's contemptible 1989 massacre of dissidents at Tienanmen Square. An article on the IAC web site refers to criticism of Milosevic for ordering atrocities against ethnic Albanians as "victim-blaming." ("Message to the Anti-War Movement: Don't Blame the Victim," Deirdre Griswold, http://iacenter.org/blamvict.htm)
IAC relies on trumped up self-adulation methods including the inflation of demonstration sizes -- their pattern seems to be doubling numbers, having reported a wishful but preposterous 25,000 at the April 24 Millions for Mumia demo in Philadelphia. In their own report, they are disproportionately self-referential of their own group, as well as Workers World -- especially for an effort that was supposedly organized by a coalition of organizations, including Peace Action and War Resisters League, among others. ("Ten Thousand March...," http://iacenter.org/65tentho.htm)
Still, it is argued, at least the IAC is actively "doing something" against the NATO war. I can't count how many times I heard well-meaning activists say this in the weeks leading up to the June 5 mobilization. But doesn't that logic sound eerily familiar? Have most of us lost our initiative to organize alternatives to these types of awkwardly-formulated demos because someone else is "doing something"? Is the only other option to "do nothing"? What if the "something" we fall back on is actually impeding the growth of active resistance to US policy by turning off people who rightly acknowledge the prerogative of Kosovar Albanians to self-determination?
An important element was lacking throughout the day's talks. Rare were reflections on the strength and potential of the growing peace movement. Essentially non-existent was analysis of strategy and program, or even suggestions for future activism. In light of the near-total media blackout with regard to the demonstration (see "Media Ignores Major Anti-War March," FAIR, http://www.fair.org/activism/march.html), this passing over of internal movement assessment was an enormous mistake. Speaker after speaker criticized NATO and Pentagon policy, preaching to a fatigued choir, but none discussed specifics of how we could be expected to actually make gains as a movement.
Nevertheless, these are the key questions with which we are faced. As ever, impediments within the movement are equally as debilitating as those set in place by our establishment adversaries. There are plenty of leaders with abundant integrity. Hopefully, in the near future, they will emerge more clearly, and those less reliable will not be relied upon to "do something," which is too close to "do anything." Our message has to be clear:
(1) we support Kosovar democracy and independence;
(2) we oppose NATO involvement in the region's affairs;
(3) we oppose KLA dominance of an interim government, prefering the actual elected government of Kosova;
(4) we support the rebuilding of democratic, grassroots resistance in Serbia and here at home.
Only by taking a consistent, humanist stance on this crisis, like all others, can we hope to build an authentic anti-war movement. We must rely on truthful reason, not sloganeering and distortions, to garner sympathy toward and participation in continued resistance.
For several reasons, now that the perception of victory has been successfully spun by the US State Department and their corporate media cohorts, a very dangerous precedent has been set. First of all, the bombing campaign has been rendered a sensible strategy, which means the public will likely have even fewer reservations about its employment in the future.
Second, the mainstream media has demonstrated a willingness to regurgitate establishment stances more so than any time in recent memory. Officials can rest assured that the real causes and effects of war will not be portrayed, much less questioned, in the public sphere by "respectable" institutions.
For these reasons, anti-militarist organizing must not relax but rather accelerate in the immediate future. We need to be better prepared to identify crises, disseminate crucial facts, and popularize anti-interventionist sentiment. We should be looking toward Iraq, Turkey, Indonesia/East Timor, Korea, Colombia, and Chiapas, Mexico, as well as other regions where Western interests are at stake.
Finally, while the conflict in Yugoslavia has taken a new turn, it is by no means over. We now have the opportunity to take a more pro- active stance on the situation. While continuing to resist NATO involvement in Yugoslav affairs, we should demand that the Democratic League of Kosova be given a predominant role in the reestablishment of society in the battered province as refugees return. The democratically-elected government of Kosovo should replace the KLA -- the alternative is top-down administration of reconstruction. Only through continued vigilance can we educate the public as to what just occurred in the Balkans and what needs to happen presently, hopefully garnering still more support in the process.
RealAudio broadcasts of speeches by both Ramsey Clark and Gordon Clark can
found at Democracy Now, http://www.webactive.com/webactive
The original version of Gordon Clark's speech, highly recommended, is posted at http://www.peace-action.org/rally_speech.html
Brian Dominick is an organizer and journalist. He is a member of On the Ground, a collective presently distributing a variety of anti-war materials and activist aids, including a self-titled newspaper. http://kosovo.rootmedia.org; email@example.com.
ON the GROUND -- KOSOVO CRISIS A newly formed collective in Syracuse, NY, of which I am a member, has published a newspaper and is producing an activist kit regarding the current crisis in the Balkans. We are calling it, and ourselves, "On the Ground." For more info go to http://kosovo.rootmedia.org/otg or write firstname.lastname@example.org. We very much need your support, and you really need to see this project.