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A Message from the Powerless to the Powerful from the Anti-War Protests
January 22, 2003
By Dwayne Eutsey

Like 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 dissent.

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.

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