Ten Q&A On Antiwar Organizing
Ten Q&A On Antiwar Organizing
(1) What are the reasons to oppose war in
Because of despising and rejecting the carnage it will likely wreak upon the Iraqi people, who are overwhelmingly innocent civilians. War consequences are inherently unpredictable, but there is great danger that the losses from a new assault could exceed even the horrors created by the Gulf War a decade ago, because there may be substantial urban conflict and because
Because of fearing and abhorring the damage it will do to international law, further undermining the legitimacy of the United Nations and further convincing everyone, including Washington itself, that the law of the jungle is operative internationally, and that the United States as the largest and most brutal animal in the jungle is entitled to do as it pleases.
Because of the way it will militarize warring countries, especially the
Because of the fearsome and destructive chaos it could unleash in the
Because the increased inclination to terrorism that the war will provoke will in turn legitimate and expand the so-called "war on terrorism," which is actually overwhelmingly about redistributing wealth and power upward, restricting civil liberties, and expanding U.S. influence and dominance throughout the world.
And because it may well be the first step in an extended effort to also attack Syria and Iran, perhaps even to destabilize and take greater control in Saudi Arabia, and to move on to North Korea and China as well. In other words, because this war will be another in the long line of military interventions aimed at increasing the scope and power of the
(2) How does our dissent affect government policy?
ur actions do not educate the government. It is not that we open their eyes to moral precepts they had missed, or to world relations they were blind to. Their morals are not changed by our actions, but remain unswervingly self-centered, profit-oriented, and power-driven. And they see the same world that we do; it is just that they like the implications we reject. The result of our activism is not the reeducation or moral uplift of elites, Rather, dissent creates a new context in which elite calculations change.
The government pursues its policies, overwhelmingly to serve elite corporate and geopolitical interests. The aim, for example, of the proposed war on Iraq, is to further delegitimate international law, to further imbed in world consciousness the fear that the U.S. will economically and militarily crush any serious opposition to its pursuits, to further expand the "war on terrorism" because of its great utility in scaring populations into supporting policies they would otherwise reject, to enhance electoral prospects for the Republicans by drowning objections to their domestic policies in a flood of patriotic fervor, and to establish and entrench U.S. control over the oil resources of Iraq and the Middle East more generally. In other words, like other wars and major policies, a proposed war on Iraq will be undertaken, if it all, in the belief that it will bolster U.S. corporate and geopolitical power and wealth, ensuring the hierarchies that now exist and making them even steeper, where possible.
Why, then, would the government jettison or reverse a policy that was chosen with such ends in mind? Not due to a change in heart, but, instead, because conditions change such that for all its elite benefits the proposed war is seen to also have dangerous drawbacks, and because those drawbacks are deemed too great to bear.
Effective activism raises the social cost to elites of policies that activists wish to reverse. When that cost is raised high enough, elites begin to switch their positions to try to reduce the social costs, no longer favoring but now opposing the policy. If enough members of elite corporate and political sectors switch their priority, the policy changes.
During the war on
The elite figures announcing a change of view almost never said, "I have come to the conclusion that invading and bombing another country into the Stone Age for reason of state and geopolitical domination is immoral, and I can't abide it any more." What they said, instead, was almost always more or less that: "Our streets are in turmoil. We are losing the next generation of our youth. The fabric of
That change of mind due to rising social costs is the aim of critical dissent. We need a movement broad and committed enough so its continued growth is sufficiently threatening that elites decide it is better to give in and hope that doing so dissolves the impetus to movement growth, rather than to continue with their war risking what the movement might unleash. To switch from pro- to antiwar in sufficient numbers to cause a policy change, elites must be more threatened by the movement than they are in love with their war.
Many people ask, can the peace movement really derail the war against
And people ask, can the peace movement derail the so called war on terror -- not interrupt legitimate efforts to reduce terrorism, of course, but end manipulative efforts to utilize fear of terrorism to propel corporate globalization, expand empire, reduce the civil liberties of potential opponents, and weaken democratic institutions. Yes, of course we can. If elite pursuit of their agenda leads, contrary to their intentions, to growing opposition that undermines their aims and even calls into question the hierarchies that elites benefit from, they will reconsider their agenda.
And yes, once it is put so precisely, it becomes clear that this requires a very large movement that draws support from broad and varied constituencies, and particularly working people, and that it requires a diverse movement which by its visible manifestations, speeches, essays, range, scope, and tactical militancy, literally scares the powers that be, making them feel that their policies could lead to streets in turmoil, a lost generation, and a ripped up fabric of society -- more than they wish to risk.
(3) How can we possibly get so many people to be against war?
By organizing, and doing so with spirit and tenacity.
But the truth is also that we cannot do it if we don't try to reach out widely and that we cannot do it if our movements are not congenial to diverse constituenciesâ€™ participation and empowerment. In the
The first part of our task is to reach out widely. There is nothing subtle about this. We not only have to write to people whose email addresses we already have and talk to people whom we already know, and not only have events for people who are already opposed to war -- all of which activities are certainly worthy -- but, as well, we have to go into malls and onto street corners with leaflets and with intelligent conversation, and we have to hold events that attract people in doubt or even people who are for war, and we have to provide compelling and accessible information and perspective. Our movement needs to have room in it for people who work six days a week at back-breaking labors, for people who don't have time or inclination, at least right away, to read whole books before having their opinions taken seriously or before being empowered to influence choices.
It is often said that organizers must listen, not merely pontificate. And this is true, of course. But there is more to it. Organizers need to respect that other people have different life situations, different pressures, different possibilities, and different beliefs, and that being antiwar isn't a ticket to just trample over all that as if only the approaches that already exist are valid, not those that might emerge from other people's priorities, views, and circumstances.
Moreover, listening or not won't matter much if our movements exude attitudes that denigrate those with whom we are trying to communicate. We can't go to people denigrating their eating habits, consumption desires, reading material, clothes, sports involvements, tv shows, religious commitments, and then say, "hey, come join us in our movement, and we'll denigrate all of that some more, and we'll make you suffer through endless meetings as well," and expect to grow as large as we must.
We have to realize, as of course many do, but it is hard to act on, that our ways aren't the only ways, and often aren't the best ways, and sometimes aren't even good ways. With that mindset, and a real commitment to communicate and grow, progress is not only possible, it is inevitable.
But, there is another issue. When people hear a full and compelling discussion of the realities of
There are a few reasons for this. People feel that even though war on
(4) Should antiwar organizing be single issue or multi-issue?
Many people argue that the war is so pressing, so urgent, that we should focus only on it, and leave everything else aside. We should talk about war, demonstrate about war, give speeches about war, have banners about war -- only war, all war, all the time. The irony is that it is easier to defeat a specific war with a movement that is actively expanding its focus than with a movement that is narrowly prioritizing only war, much less only that specific war.
And it isn't hard to understand why.
The former type of broad and diversifying movement that makes links and connections, that is radicalizing people about a range of concerns and priorities, is far more threatening to elites, because it challenges their basic positions and power. The latter type of movement, that talks only about war, or a specific war, is far more manageable by elites, not least because they can feel it will just go away when the war finally does end; thus, they can seek victory in their war not only for its own benefits to them, but also as their strategy for getting rid of the movement.
So the first part of the answer is that we should be multi-issue because it is a more effective way to be antiwar, because it is more threatening to those in power both in its range of focus and in its tenacity, and therefore more likely to get them to succumb to our demands.
The second part of the answer, however, is that we need to be multi-issue because if we aren't we are unlikely to be good on matters of race, gender, class, sexuality, etc., and if the antiwar movement isn't good on these issues it will be hampered in reaching out to, communicating with, and involving diverse constituencies.
What will make workers and unions and labor movements initially relate in great numbers to an antiwar movement? What will make women do it? What will make gays and lesbians do it? What will make blacks and Latinos do it? In every case the answer is overwhelmingly opposition to war for all the reasons we have noted earlier, of course. But, having turned toward the antiwar movement as something they want to relate to because of their opposition to war, what will make members of any constituency trust that movement, feel welcome in it, and believe it is worth their time and energy? Partly that the movement has the spirit and tenacity needed to grow to win. But partly, also, that the movement doesn't dismiss their constituency concerns, ignore their experiences, denigrate their life choices, culture, and beliefs, or even worse, exploit and subordinate them in the movement's daily life operations and decision making, but, instead, empowers and respects them. A movement which precludes talking about what mainly affects a constituency, arguing it is unimportant or diversionary to do so, is simply not going to be anywhere near as appealing or empowering to that constituency as a movement that takes their concerns seriously and even provides thought, feeling, energy, and resources on behalf of their struggles. This is the kind of multi-issue solidarity that elites truly fear, and that we need to build.
This doesn't mean that every demonstration should have one hundred, or even five, or even two demands that everyone present needs to support. It means, instead, that the movement needs to be a place where a wide range of priorities are discussed and broadly advocated, so that the tone of the movement is (a) continually expanding in its focus, to be more of a threat to elites, and (b) continually attuned to what its members care about, beyond even the centrally defining antiwar aspect, so that the movement is respectful and empowering to its many components, and even engenders solidarity among them.
(5) What is the relation between war and other left concerns -- globalization, capitalism, racism, sexism, future vision â€“ and should we make these connections, and if so, how?
War is the club which enforces corporate globalization, which, in turn, is simply rewriting the rules of international exchange to even further enrich the already rich and empower the already powerful, at the expense of the poor and weak. War derives from the dog-eat-dog ethos and the profit seeking behavior intrinsic to capitalism, and is a means of defending capitalist expansion and hierarchies -- as in using the terror war to scare populations into submission to policies benefiting corporate control and profiteering. War is fueled, rationalized, and driven by racist denigration of opponents, and by the machismo and militaristic mindsets associated with sexism. War is made acceptable by the view that there is no alternative -- not the simple-minded idea that peace is impossible, which is silly -- but the more subtle idea, which is actually in considerable degree valid, that so long as we have capitalism and the structures of race and gender and polity that we have, wars and other horrors will come down on us inevitably.
We need to make the connections, and provide our own alternative values and aims in all these realms, as part of building an antiwar movement that is against war and all its causes, and that is for new structures that will, instead, foster peace as well as justice. That is how to build a movement that has real outreach capacity, and real staying power.
(6) Should antiwar work be single tactic or multi-tactic?
Essentially the same logic applies to this question. Envision a massive demonstration in
Now imagine a smaller rally, 100,000, followed by a larger one, and then larger. And imagine that in addition to the rally, there is civil disobedience as well, by a tenth the numbers, but also growing. And imagine the focus of the dissent is steadily broadening, and new constituencies are being incorporated and empowered. And imagine, finally, that the demonstrations start to spread as well, no longer only in DC, but now in four or five major cities, and then in still more, and finally in even smaller cities and towns.
This second pattern of development is very different from the first. It conveys a threatening message to elites: Insofar as you keep up with the policies we are seeking to end, our opposition will grow bigger, deeper, broader, and more militant. You are risking the fabric of society, the next generation, business as usual, even the defining institutions of your dominance. As a result, the policy is changed. The costs are too high to continue with it.
But saying we should be multi-tactic doesn't say one tactic is more important than some other, or that one should trump the rest. The idea is to have an ever enlarging and diversifying movement. Just as it is less than optimal to not include civil disobedience, it is less than optimal to create a context in which legal gatherings are impossible. People join and act in movements in many ways, with many priorities and inclinations and possibilities, and the trick is to respect and provide room for them all.
Nor does advocating a multi-tactical movement say all tactics are always appropriate, or that there aren't some that are never appropriate, of course.
(7) Why use any particular tactic? Why reject any particular tactic?
We use a tactic because it can help the overall development of our movement, in size and in organizational capacity. We reject a tactic because it would hurt that overall development, alienating far more prospective movement allies than it inspires, undercutting internal organizational solidarity and capacity more than it helps, undercutting our moral balance, and so on. Tactics include everything from going out and talking to people on street corners, in one's workplace, in a dorm, or on one's block -- to holding a teach-in or an evening discussion or video showing -- to having a rally or a march -- to engaging in various sorts of civil disobedience, in a politician's office or in the streets of a city -- to striking against employers in order to shut down operations of some workplace or facility or even a city -- to, in some people's view, blowing things up or burning things down.
The virtues and debits of tactical options will be, first, the extent to which they fit the disposition of people who are to be involved. The extent to which they raise consciousness, empower people, and provide ways of participating and becoming continuously involved, are likewise centrally important. These are the signposts of real movement building.
Also important are the extent to which the tactics induce potential dissenters to join the movement, and the extent to which they induce elites to worry and eventually change their views because they see the trajectory of development of our opposition, its consciousness, its size, and its militancy. Other considerations are whether particular tactics may alienate potential supporters, distort the values of those involved, undercut the solidarity of developing alliances, and so on.
Even after understanding how to assess the positive and negative attributes of tactics -- how they affect possible allies, how they empower or disempower constituencies, propel or obstruct participation, yield lasting organizational gains or shatter organizational solidarity, and so on -- we also need to be aware that not all tactics are entirely compatible. Sometimes a problem arises in how we combine, or fail to combine, various options. A tactic can create a mood or a dynamic that can impede the use of other tactics, and vice versa. There is no gain in people moving further and further in their militancy and commitment, if doing so precludes others from going through the same step by step process and that therefore prevents the overall growth of the movement. The number of people engaging in discussions and teach-ins needs to be growing most of all, so more new people are constantly adding on to antiwar activism. The number going to rallies or marches needs to be growing next most importantly, for the momentum and power that visible opposition conveys. And only third most importantly, the number moving on to more militant tactics including civil disobedience needs to be growing as well. The goal isn't great militancy by a few people, but a huge and continually enlarging movement with a much smaller but also growing, respectful and respected more militant component. No part of the movement can benefit by creating a dynamic that hurts the other parts, assuming everyone wants to build a movement able to win real changes. All parts need to grow in tandem and mutual accord.
(8) How should we relate to groups doing antiwar work with whom we disagree in significant ways -- the IAC and ANSWER, NION, the war's mainstream opponents? How do we evaluate all these? Should we work with people we have serious differences with, avoid them, or what?
There is no universal rule for how to relate to those with whom we disagree. If we automatically refused to have anything to do with any person or organization with whom we had differences, then we'd be protesting the war in demonstrations of two or three individuals. Obviously, we need to take account of how much disagreement there is and whether working with particular groups allows us to express a shared agreement and further our goals, despite our disagreements, or whether, on the other hand, working with particular groups restricts or undermines our efforts in some significant ways.
One extremely energetic antiwar group is the International Action Center (IAC). It is the leading force in the coalition ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) which is calling the October 26 demonstrations in Washington, DC and elsewhere. (IAC and ANSWER share a
WWP holds many views that we find abhorrent. It considers
In none of IAC's considerable resources on the current
How do these views affect antiwar demonstrations organized by IAC or ANSWER? They do so in two primary ways.
First, an important purpose of antiwar demonstrations is to educate the public, so as to be able to build a larger movement. If the message of a demonstration is that opposition to
The second problem with IAC-organized demonstrations is that the day-to-day practice of IAC cadre often shows a lack of commitment to democratic and open behavior. It is not surprising that those who lionize the dictatorial North Korean regime will be somewhat lacking in their appreciation of democratic practice.
Does this mean that people who reject these abhorrent views of the IAC shouldn't attend the October 26 antiwar demonstrations in
If there were another large demonstration organized by forces more compatible with the kinds of politics espoused by other antiwar activists, including ourselves, then we would urge people to prefer that one. And there is no doubt we should be working to build alternative organizational structures for the antiwar movement that are not dominated by IAC. But at the moment the ANSWER demonstration is the only show in town. And much as we may oppose Saddam Hussein, we also oppose Bush, and the paramount danger today is the war being prepared by the
So we need to consider various questions.
First, are those with antiwar views contrary to the IAC's perspective excluded from speaking? Second, what will be the primary message perceived by those present at the demonstrations and by the wider public?
If past experience is a guide, IAC demonstrations will have programs skewed in the direction of IAC politics, but without excluding alternative voices. In general, the IAC speakers will not be offensive so much for what they say, but for what they don't say. That is, they won't praise Saddam Hussein from the podium, but nor will they utter a critical word about him. However, as long as other speakers can and do express positions with a different point of view, the overall impact of the event will still be positive, particularly in the absence of other options. Most of the people at the demonstration will in fact be unaware of exactly who said what and whether any particular speaker omitted this or that point. What they will experience will be a powerful antiwar protest. And most of the public will see it that way too. (As was the case during the Vietnam War too: few demonstrators knew the specific politics or agendas of demonstration organizers.) Accordingly, and in the absence of any alternative event, it makes sense to help build and to attend the October 26 demonstration, while also registering extreme distaste for the IAC, at least in our view.
Another significant antiwar organization is Not In Our Names. NION has issued a very eloquent and forceful Pledge of Resistance opposing Bush's war on terrorism, signed by prominent individuals and thousands of others. NION organized important demonstrations around the
Significant impetus behind NION comes from the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). RCP identifies itself as followers of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Their website (http://rwor.org/) expresses support for Shining Path in
Despite these views, however, RCP does not push its specific positions on NION to the degree that IAC does on ANSWER. For example, while the ANSWER website offers such things as the IAC backgrounder on
The case for participating in NION events is stronger than for ANSWER events. It still makes overwhelming sense to build better antiwar coalitions, but in the meantime supporting NION activities promotes an antiwar message that we support, with relatively little compromise of our views.
Another group that may support antiwar activities but with whom we have serious disagreements are liberal politicians. Many of these politicians have totally capitulated to Bush and the right, but a few of them have been strong voices against war. Our diagnosis of and prescription for
(9) What is sectarianism? Does avoiding sectarianism require that we stifle all criticism? If not, how do we avoid it?
Sectarianism is hard to define . . . but we all know it when we see it -- in others at least. Sectarianism has lots of features, some present in one manifestation, others in another, and rarely do all appear at once. Of course, sectarianism often involves being a part of a sect, which is to say a narrow-minded group that is partisan in a way that transcends belief systems and has to do with ego and identity. Sectarianism is cleaving to a position in a way that goes beyond what evidence and logic merit. It is being so caught up in a position as to be oblivious as to why others disagree or as to be unable to even hear what others are saying. It is looking at the world to verify one's views, ignoring whatever doesn't do that, rather than to test one's views, paying close attention to whatever seems contrary to them. It is attacking others to advance one's own agenda rather than criticizing others only when appropriate and in an honest attempt to engender constructive discussion or reevaluation. It is connecting beliefs and identity so that when some belief one holds is challenged it feels like one's identity is challenged, and so that when one criticizes a belief held by another, it feels to them like their personalities and motives are under attack. Sectarianism is most generally a kind of blind adherence and righteousness, which lacks substance. One could continue, but the main point is that while we should always seek to avoid sectarian behaviors and attitudes, it is not the case that we are either sectarian or we are uncritical. We can be critical, but not sectarian, and that is often quite appropriate.
(10) Most antiwar people oppose Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, al Qaeda, and others like them. If you reject a
military response, what alternative way(s) do you propose to weaken or eliminate their power? U.S.
Long-range solutions involve changing
In the short run, even the weak international institutions that exist today offer a better approach to dealing with Saddam Hussein or al Qaeda. Inspectors, not war, are the best means of containing Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (though, of course,