Hundreds of thousands of people showed up in Washington, San Francisco and other cities over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. They proved that, George W. Bush's poll-proclaimed popularity notwithstanding, there is widespread opposition to a "pre-emptive" war in Iraq that is designed to distract US citizens from the faltering economy, corporate crime and the sputtering war on terrorism.
Organizers estimated that more than 200,000 turned out for the D.C. rally at the National Mall in freezing weather. Capitol Police estimates of 30,000 to 50,000 for the march to the Washington Navy Yard seemed impossibly low. Salon.com's Michelle Goldberg reported from Washington, "All one can really say with certainty was that there were a hell of lot of angry people out there, and that from the ground it looked a lot bigger than the Oct. 26 demonstration, which D.C. police suggested at the time surely topped 100,000 protesters."
Goldberg added, "Though the enormous protest was called by ANSWER, a front group for the Stalinist Workers World Party, the National Mall next to the Capitol building was flooded by ordinary, outraged citizens. They completely overwhelmed the Spartacus Leaguers, the Maoists and other assorted wackos who turn out to support anything opposed to the US government." (See internationalanswer.org.)
The broad cross-section of Americans came on buses and flights from around the country to stand up and be counted (or at least estimated). Thank goodness they did, because you can bet on Bush's attack dogs in the conservative media to focus on the "wackos" to discredit the real mainstream that is upset with Bush and his right-wing ideologues.
Ron Kovic, whose injuries as a soldier in Vietnam 35 years ago left him paralyzed from the chest down, and whose life story was depicted in the movie Born on the Fourth of July, reminded the crowd that protests had helped to stop the Vietnam War and could do the same to prevent another war in Iraq. "This fight will be won in the end by you &emdash; by nonviolence, by compassion," Kovic said.
John Nichols at TheNation.com noted that many of the speakers described the White House plans for launching a war against Iraq as a scheme to distract Americans from the president's domestic failures. "Bush keeps talking about weapons of mass destruction," said the Rev. Graylan Hagler of Washington's Plymouth Congregational Church told the rally outside the Capitol. "When I look at the White House I am much more worried about words of mass deception."
In San Francisco, another crowd estimated at more than 200,000 filled four-lane Market Street from the Ferry Building on the Bay to the Civic Center two miles away. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who cast the lone dissenting vote against giving Bush unlimited power to pursue war on terror, invoked MLK as she denounced the "real axis of evil &emdash; poverty, racism and war." Other rallies included a Jan. 18 rally in Portland that drew a crowd estimated by police at 20,000 while rallies in more than two dozen other cities and towns drew additional thousands. Protesters on the Las Vegas strip hoisted a sign that read: "Elvis hates war." About three dozen stood by the Vietnam War Memorial to show support for Bush, Associated Press reported.
Bush was safely away at Camp David and Dick Cheney doubtless was in an undisclosed, secure location, but the demonstrations may have put the White House on edge, particularly after the Chicago City Council on Thursday, Jan. 16, voted 46-1 to oppose a pre-emptive attack against Iraq, making it the largest of more than 40 cities across the country to embrace an anti-war stance.
The US labor movement also joined in the criticism of Bush's Iraq policy. A week before the MLK rallies, the biggest Teamsters local in Chicago spearheaded a gathering at which 110 union officers from around the country raised $30,000 to set up "US Labor Against War," Knight-Ridder News Service reported (see www.laborstandard.org/Iraq/). The unionists passed a resolution against an "unprovoked war with Iraq," and sent protesters to the anti-war marches in Washington and San Francisco. They also plan to enlist 200 local unions in the next few weeks. Some 100 union locals around the country have passed resolutions expressing reservations about a war with Iraq, often citing concerns that money would be diverted from social, health and educational needs to the conflict.
Jerry Zero, whose 20,500-member Teamsters Local 705 in Chicago hosted the meeting, said he acted because of overwhelming opposition among his members to a war against Iraq. "We're not exactly a real liberal union," Zero told Knight-Ridder. "We've got a lot of truck drivers, UPS employees, freight drivers. I'd say it's a pretty conservative union. Yet they feel pretty strongly against the war."
Herb Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the 260,000-member Missouri AFL-CIO, said he would cooperate in anti-war coalitions. "It's going to be an unprecedented thing for the United States to go and initiate an armed conflict," Johnson said. "We're all red-blooded Americans, but I have not read any evidence that this lousy fellow over there (in Iraq) is the one who attacked us on Sept. 11."
The Blue-Green Coalition stopped the World Trade Organization in Seattle, December 1999. A rebuilt coalition can stop the war in Iraq and put the brakes on Bush's ruinous economic policies. More rallies are planned for Austin Feb. 2 (see n2action.org) and New York City Feb. 15 (see unitedforpeace.org). Keep up the pressure.
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., has proposed reinstituting the military draft. His bill would require military service or alternative national service for all US men and women between 18 and 26. Ted Glick and many other liberals think bringing back the draft is a lousy idea (see page 19). Ironically, the prospect of reviving the draft also has ruffled the feathers of hawks who like the idea of being able to send US troops around the globe without raising the concern of middle-class parents. We think Congress should take Rangel up on his plan.
Rangel, a decorated Korean War veteran, admits that part of his motivation is to show his opposition to a unilateral pre-emptive strike against Iraq, as well as to make any sacrifice more equitable to all classes of Americans. "I truly believe that decision makers who support war would more readily feel the pain of conflict and appreciate the sacrifice of those on the front lines if their children were there, too," Rangel wrote. He noted that only four members of Congress have children in the military while a disproportionate share of US troops come from poor whites and minorities.
Too many kids today think war is something you watch on TV. Our last few military interventions had incidental casualties on our side and we just didn't pay much attention to the casualties our forces caused on the other sides.
During the Vietnam era, middle-class parents started paying more attention to the war when the lottery replaced college student deferments in 1971. Then their children were thrown into the lottery and became expendable. The US was out of Vietnam in March 1973.
If Congress calls Rangel's bluff, mandatory service of a year or two after high school would help break down class divisions, foster a sense of community and shared sacrifice and prepare young Americans for work or college after they complete their service. Military draftees could take over many of the homeland defense duties now borne by National Guard units whose absence places stress on many local communities. Draftees who choose alternative service could work in inner cities or public works projects. It would be good for democracy and the national service projects would drive conservatives crazy. Right on, Rangel! &emdash; JMC