from the Powerless to the Powerful from the Anti-War Protests
January 22, 2003
By Dwayne Eutsey
most people, I wasn't surprised that the anti-war protests
this weekend did not miraculously stop Bush's plans for war
"pre-emptive" war with Iraq. Despite the huge turnout in DC,
San Francisco, and in cities around the country and the world,
Bush's war machine is rumbling full speed ahead, belching
its dark clouds of deception...and it's growing desparate
to replenish its dead and empty soul with Iraqi oil mixed
with human blood.
Although I believe the protests were a huge success, a lot
of people of all political persuasions are wondering just
what good these protests do. Many critics on the left who
favor Seattle-style direct action dismiss such mass demonstrations
as predictable, boring and largely ineffective wastes of energy.
Conservatives accuse anti-war protesters of being duped by
(or in league with) communists, or Saddam Hussein, or Osama
bin Laden (who?), or whatever convenient bogeyman happens
to be at hand at the moment for them to use to shout down
Even some "ordinary folk" dismiss such protests as irrelevant.
On my way to DC on Saturday, in fact, I overheard someone
at the metro station comment as they watched large groups
of protesters arriving: "Don't talk to me about no protests.
They ain't going to change nothing anyhow."
So why bother with these rallies and marches? In all probability,
they aren't going to stop the Bush regime from sending our
troops into "harm's way," the same kind of harm that these
over-privileged chickenhawks managed to avoid themselves during
Vietnam. So what's the point of these protests? Bush and the
ruling elites have the power to do whatever the hell they
want and we are powerless to stop them. Right?
That is precisely the lie oligarchies like the one currently
ruling our country wants us to believe in order to maintain
their flimsy illusion of power over us. As a friend of mine,
a veteran of the Vietnam war, eloquently said recently before
our county council when it refused to consider an anti-war
resolution we had presented to it:
"This atmosphere of passivity, I believe, is not healthy
for our democracy. I believe each one of us has the responsibility
of letting our leaders know how we feel about the important
matters that concern us. This nation is as strong as each
of its citizen's willingness to take part in the business
of the government. I also believe that the power does not
begin in the House of Representatives or in the Senate of
these United States or even with the president or with anyone
in his administration. I believe the power truly begins with
us, here at home, we the people, and we must not relinquish
this sacred responsibility and trust."
The demonstrations this past weekend were an expression of
the willingness of hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens
to take part in the business of our government (which you
may recall is sometimes thought to be a democratic republic).
Protests such as these are what Vaclav Havel called the "power
of the powerless." Short of armed insurrection, it is the
only alternative left to people shut out of political power,
and it is expressed most forcefully when they come together
en masse to declare by their mere presence and sheer numbers
that they reject the lie of oligarchy: the lie that insists
we believe we are powerless.
Havel, as you may be aware, knew what he was talking about.
He was one of the leaders of the massive dissident movement
that peacefully toppled the Communist dictatorship in the
former Czechoslovakia in the early '90s. The defiant views
Havel and his fellow dissenters expressed were what I heard
and saw in DC this weekend. People were gathered from all
over the country, from every religious, irreligious or political
background you can imagine; all races, all ages, combat veterans
and pacifists all stood together, marching side by side to
reclaim the power that truly begins, as my friend said, with
We the People.
The mood at the DC protest was joyous and raucous, angry
and solemn. Throughout the day whenever I strained to look
ahead or behind me all I could see was an vast and rolling
sea of Americans holding signs and banners denouncing the
autocratic Bush administration and its reckless war-mongering.
It was a street party celebrating democracy, and I returned
home with the distinct impression that the people who were
there were not ready for the party to end any time soon.
In fact, the mood at the demonstration reminded me of a story
satirist and Yippie co-founder Paul Krassner tells about an
Vietnam-era protest at which he spoke. Krassner told the large
crowd of anti-war protesters how Lyndon Johnson had remarked
recently, "What the Communists are really saying is 'Fuck
you, Lyndon Johnson,' and nobody says 'Fuck you, Lyndon Johnson'
and gets away with it."
Krassner then encouraged the crowd, "When I count three,
we're all gonna say it - and we're gonna get away with it!
Are you ready? One...two...three..." And thousands of voices
shouted in unison: "Fuck you, Lyndon Johnson!"
That's what the protests of this past weekend were all about
for me. Hundreds of thousands of loyal Americans - dazed by
terrorist attacks, bullied by John Ashcroft and the PATRIOT
Act, shouted down by rightwing thugs, shut off from expression
in our mainstream media - all of us came together this weekend
and said in unison: "Fuck you, George Bush! And the war machine
you rode in on!"
And we got away with it. See? The emperor really does have
no clothes, and what a pathetic sight he really is. The illusion
of George Bush's power is cracking apart, and the more we
all continue coming together and speaking this truth to each
other and to the world, the more we realize that we're not
that powerless after all. We just have to stand up and keep
saying courageously what we honestly feel.
Ready? All together now...One, two, three:
"Fuck you, George Bush!"
And look! The walls keep tumbling down.
Dwayne Eutsey is a peace activist and the editor/publisher
of an independent anti-war newsletter, Peace Talks.