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Marching for Peace Is Good, Getting Rid of Bush Is Better
March 23, 2004
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

Don't get me wrong. It felt great Saturday to be in the street-company of tens of thousands of anti-war compadres, letting the powers that be know that we're still here, still resisting, still serving as a kind of theatrical chorus while our leaders lie and manipulate and wind up slaughtering innocent people and endangering our national security in the process.

A year ago when several hundred thousand marched down these San Francisco streets, there was a sense of extreme urgency and focused, determined will. We knew what we wanted to do - stop the war before it even started.

All around the globe, millions upon millions marched with fervent intensity in the service of that same goal: For God's sake, Mr. Bush, don't let the war genie out of the bottle! There is no good reason to rush to war, to willingly seek to enter a quagmire we don't really understand, to barge ahead in our go-it-alone, arrogant foreign/military policy.

We protesters felt like a force of history; those in the streets denouncing the impending war were termed "the world's second superpower" in newspaper editorials.

But it did no good, Bush and Blair and their Coalition of the Shilling already had determined the summer before (though we could not prove it at the time) to launch their war in March 2003, come hell or high water or the disapproval of millions of their protesting citizens.

AMBIVALENCES IN THE MOVEMENT

This year, even though the proof of Bush/Blair duplicity and gross lies is now out there, the anti-war march clearly was smaller, and seemed to lack a clear, focused message and energy. (At least, this appeared to be the case in San Francisco; maybe the mood was different in New York and Los Angeles and Chicago and elsewhere.)

It wasn't just the myriad of issues being peddled by one group or another that helped create that dispersal of energies - Free Mumia, Liberate Palestine, repeal the Patriot Act, stop the sanctions on North Korea - but by several huge, unspoken issues that symbolized the ambivalence in the crowd.

When a chant was started by a speaker from the platform - "What do we want? Bring the troops home! When do we want it? Now!" - not everyone clapped and chanted. Even in this liberal/left throng, many felt that, despite their government's illegal and reckless war, a precipitate U.S. pullout would be morally wrong and that U.S. troops should not leave the poor Iraqis in the lurch until a United Nations force is invited to come in and help stabilize the situation.

That little bit of ambivalent theater around the chant symbolized the major problem facing the anti-war movement right now: the lack of a clear, unified political direction. We do fine when united in our animosity toward the Bush Administration that lied us into this unnecessary war of choice, but we are far more divided when it comes to how to handle the "post-shock-&-awe" phase.

Likewise, segments of the march organizers believe in "liberating" Palestine (by which many of them mean liberating the land on which Israel sits or, at the very least, ignoring Israel's security concerns), while others are for an equitable two-state solution. Again, a major issue that splits the movement.

KERRY CAMPAIGN BARELY MENTIONED

John Kerry's campaign represented another huge ambivalence. His name was barely mentioned during the speeches and on the placards and banners carried by the protesters.

Most of the estimated 50,000 marchers can barely abide the Massachusetts senator, given his votes to support the blank-check Iraq-war resolution and for the Patriot Act. But rather than get into their aversion for the man, the predominant focus here was on George W. Bush & Co.; of course, when it comes down to it, we will vote and work for Kerry. But with little enthusiasm at this point. Still a lot of "a pox on both your houses" talk here. (Though nothing major, there appeared to be a willingness on the part of some to take another look at Ralph Nader as an alternative.)

Still, it seems clear that the overwhelming sentiment is to vote for Kerry but only after leaning on him to alter many of his foreign-policy views. As Noam Chomsky said the other day, Kerry is a kind of "Bush-lite," and voters in November will have to choose between "two factions of the business party." But, emphasized Chomsky - who in no way can be mistaken for an accomodationist liberal - "despite the limited differences both domestically and internationally, there are differences. In a system of immense power, small differences can translate into large outcomes."

And that's the nub of the matter: You either vote for the rapacious, greedy, arrogant Bush forces, or you vote, out of necessity, for someone with enough significant differences to break the neo-con momentum that threatens to take the country into a kind of American fascism domestically and more neo-imperialist wars abroad.

Kerry may not be the ideal candidate we would have wished for, but the kinds of judges he nominates will be less extreme, the environmental legislation he proposes will not be written by the polluting industries, the health care and Medicare drug-delivery system he desires will help real people rather than merely pay off the pharmaceutical giants, his military-foreign policy will not be so arrogantly, brutally unilateralist, and so on.

So, yes, as the campaign heats up, we will be sending Kerry money and donating our time and energies to his campaign. But right now, we're still smarting and hurting and angry at our leaders, all of them, and today's march was a venting of a year's worth of frustration and smashed hopes.

NEEDED: LASER-LIKE FOCUS

Now, having said that, it's important to note that this anger and frustration, while real, were not presented always with a gloom-and-doom tone. Folks have fun on these marches, composing their own handmade signs and banners, doing street theater satirizing the greedy corporate philosophy underlying Bush's policies, devising giant masks and soaring doves, drumming and dancing and chanting, and so on. That fun-loving, creative approach is a wonderful antidote to the single-minded, my-way-or-the-highway, puritanical approach of the neo-cons.

And yet, even with the fun we had on this sunny San Francisco day - making fun of our incompetent, greedy, militarist leaders - there was no escaping the realization that in order to seriously challenge Bush & Co., we in the anti-war/pro-democracy movement need to rethink our priorities and approach. We need to focus our progressive energies and our message in a laser beam of activism and political campaigning.

If we can't do that, if we permit ourselves to be split into focusing on our own little factions and don't see the big picture - that Bush & Co., if they're not stopped in November, will have free rein for four years to unleash their extreme domestic and foreign agendas on the country and the world - then America is in for the darkest, most retrograde period in our modern history. The first four years of his current term will resemble a sedate tea party when compared to the reckless damage he will initiate in a second term.

Make no mistake about it: The next six months leading up to the November election are going to be the most important in our civic and personal life. Let's mount up, friends, and join the growing movement for peace and justice. We need to light the torches of hope and righteousness, and send the shadow forces represented by Bush & Co. back into the dank caves from whence they came.

The people, united, can never be defeated. The question is: Can we unite? And can we bring to our cause those independents, libertarians and moderate Republicans who will provide the swing votes in swing states to defeat Bush & Co. in November?

It's up to us. Let's get to work.


Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught American government and international politics at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years, and currently co-edits the progressive website The Crisis Papers.

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