The Peace Movement One Year Later
The Peace Movement One Year Later
One year after the start of war in
On March 20, the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of
This set of circumstances raises two key questions: What has the peace movement accomplished? And where do we go from here?
Reflection on these two questions is vital, not because it will magically give the movement a bold new direction or clear up all confusion among supporters about where peace activism now stands. Rather, only by standing back can we crystallize the strains of thinking that are circulating between different activists, and spark further discussion about strategies for going forward. Therefore, this paper will consider each of the questions in turn, with the goals of providing an overview of what has happened so far and of evaluating current ideas about movement strategy.
I. What Has the Peace Movement Accomplished?
Last year, the Bush Administration's push for war with
The pace of organizing remained strong through the opening week of the war, producing in some surprisingly militant direct actions immediately after the bombing began. Actions in
Early in the morning of March 20, the day after the war began in
Given that the city of San Francisco was generally sympathetic to the anti-war cause, mainstream critics of the actions argued that protesters were picking poor targets by bringing the city's "business as usual" to a standstill. In response Andrea Buffa, spokeswoman for United for Peace and Justice, indicated, "People are moving on from tying up intersections and preventing ordinary San Franciscans from getting to work." Instead, organizers focused more intensively on targeting corporations set to profit from the war. They staged downtown actions against the Carlyle Group and protests at the
However, these actions did not translate into a strategy for escalation, and the movement's momentum slowed in the weeks following the first mass arrests. The shift was compounded by a dramatic change in mood nationally as the invasion of
-- After Regime Change
As Bush proclaimed "Mission Accomplished," a perception emerged that the movement was a failure because it was unable to stop the invasion. Organizers in
In the wake of the protests on February 15, 2004, The New York Times famously labeled "world public opinion" as the second of "two superpowers on the planet." In several countries, most notably Spain (where the anti-war left just succeeded in ousting a pro-war government) forces standing in opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq have significantly altered the balance of power within their governments. It is possible that international outrage stopped the administration from fulfilling neoconservative desires to follow-up on the invasion of
Domestically, protesters can also point to specific effects of their actions. Due to strong expressions of dissent, the war in
Peace movement activists also helped to empower a mainstream Democratic critique of Bush's war. Al Gore chose a movement vehicle, MoveOn.org, as a platform to launch his stern critiques of the White House. The same organization was closely associated with Howard Dean's grassroots fundraising machine. Activists soon found many of their arguments voiced in the presidential primaries. This came to fruition most visibly in the Dean campaign, which in turn helped to push the entire Democratic field in an anti-war direction. Even reluctant critics like John Kerry realized that a Lieberman-esque stance in defense of war was simply not going to work in reaching an energized Democratic base.
While peace activists seemed demoralized by a triumphal Bush administration throughout much of Spring 2003, antiwar sentiment began to rebound by Autumn. This resurgence was due less to an overall critique of imperialism and occupation than to success in advancing a series of smaller, more concrete points. The sustained hostilities and attacks on
Movement critiques helped to discredit the popular myth of a link between Hussein and Al Qaeda, disrupting contentions that the
This winter, after search teams in
II. Where Do We Go From Here?
All these achievements deserve recognition. However, none of them amounts to a movement strategy. Since the end of combat operations, peace activists have struggled to present a unified message, structured campaign goals, or a plan for escalating dissent. The call to "Bring the Troops Home Now" is not universally accepted even amongst those who oppose the
Some prominent writers have proposed campaigns that might inaugurate a new phase of the peace movement. Tariq Ali has proposed an international movement to close some of the 702
Each of these proposals merits consideration, especially on the international level. But in the
-- "Beat Bush" and Beyond
In terms of critical mass, unified message, and clear goals, the push to "Beat Bush" is likely the only thing on the map of the U.S. peace movement that qualifies as a true strategy. This is by no means uncontroversial amongst activists, and many leading peace movement organizations have refrained from explicitly endorsing an anti-Bush electoral effort. Yet in contrast to four years ago, when many progressives supported the Nader campaign and felt that a ripe moment for third party insurgency had arrived, a wide range of left-of-center citizens are now unrepentantly joining forces to oust the current administration.
It hardly needs to be argued that there are many good reasons for this. One worth mentioning is that since most opponents of U.S. militarism also deplore such evils as the upward redistribution of wealth via tax cuts, the destruction of the environment, the denial of civil liberties, the busting of unions, and the repeal of reproductive freedoms, supporting the Democratic candidate for President presents itself as a "radical" option since it links these various harms and allows us to kill several birds with one stone. Or if not to kill those birds, then at least to clip their wings.
However, a "Beat Bush" strategy also has its limits. The first, and most obvious, is that John Kerry's "anti-war" position is barely passable--something he belatedly adopted after initially voting to authorize an invasion. For better or worse, the candidate keeps up "presidential" appearances by explicitly distancing himself from claims that a
Second, just because peace activists join in a broader Democratic coalition does not mean that we will recruit more people to our cause, nor necessarily spread a more radical analysis of global challenges. Of course, these organizational objectives are not ends in themselves. But they do impact efforts to advance wider progressive campaigns. While groups like United for Peace and Justice were able to mobilize large crowds to prewar demonstrations, they have been markedly less successful in turning out participants to protest related issues, like domestic budget cuts. Work on globalization issues, which many activists rightly see as integrally linked with anti-war campaigning, has slowed as focus has turned to military intervention. Articulating the connection between these causes is a task that must continue to take place regardless of the presidential elections.
Third, having a firm goal for next November still does not substitute for long-term thinking. While
The labor movement provides one example. The most aggressive segments of organized labor--those waging forceful campaigns for union representation, respect on the job, just wages, and immigrant rights--can come to political campaigns as representatives of an ongoing movement. As such, they can look at electoral drives as one tactic of many. They can spend less time agonizing that they have subverted the whole of their politics to a "lesser of evils" opportunism. They can support candidates wholehearted in the short term, and then use electoral gains to advance their organizing.
Whether or not one happened to agree with it, the 2000 Nader campaign was also able to articulate a concrete strategy for its electoral intervention: It aimed to gain five percent of the popular vote. In doing so it would secure millions of dollars in federal matching funds for the Green Party in future contests and, supporters argued, open a real space for progressive third party politics. The Kucinich campaign, like Nader's current bid for the presidency, hasn't been able to express this level of strategic clarity.
One way that peace activists can think about longer-term strategy is simply by reconceptualizing specific demands as on-going campaigns. An effort to "Bring the Troops Home" can be a multi-stage affair, which includes defeating Bush as a first step, and then pressuring Kerry on his foreign policy stances and appointments as an important second step. In this way, we start talking about what happens after the November elections. Campaigns to close military bases or target war profiteers could similarly play out both during and after the election season.
-- A Unique Role
Concerning the immediate future, the main institutions of the
Looking at what unique strengths the peace movement brings to a larger "Beat Bush" coalition, a more specific job emerges for anti-war activists to tackle: Namely, the job of taking the war away from President Bush as a campaign asset. When the White House tries to portray its
Klein, among others, is now forcefully arguing that the privatization of
After all, what kind of democracy is the Bush administration promoting when the occupying authority has already sold away the Iraqi economy--where virtually everything is newly privatized, where there are no limits on the controlling interests of foreign corporations, where profits are expatriated, and where pre-arranged Structural Adjustment programs put handcuffs on national policymakers? Freedom for a well-connected corps of multinational profiteers and true self-determination for the Iraqi people are two very distinct things. It's the job of the peace movement to publicize the difference in a way that can resonate with a large portion of the American electorate.
A modest start to our renewed efforts to make the costs of war an election issue will be participating in protests on March 20. This means joining vigils taking place throughout the world. Or, better yet, marching with military families to the White House from the
-- Mark Engler, a writer based in