WASHINGTON – The path from the National Mall to the Naval Yard was filled with a marching infantry – 200,000 strong – armed with banners, puppets, drums, newspapers and an array of clever pro-peace and anti-Bush chants. Since the Pentagon’s top-secret plans to formulate a war on Iraq leaked to the press last year, there have been massive demonstrations across Europe, student peace groups emerging and an overwhelming doubt surrounding the idea of war. A former U.N. weapons inspector became an icon for the anti-war movement and questioning Republicans have taken out newspaper ads urging the president to use proper restraint.
The anti-war movement is no longer just for radicals. Though the sectarians were out in full force Saturday, the dominant vibe was that of a genuine belief that this war is wrong and not just party-line rhetoric. In contrast, the small counter-protest was uniform, whose only point was that all 200,000 of us, as well as the other thousands of protesters in Tokyo and San Francisco that also marched that afternoon, were supporting the terrorists and should all swim to Cuba.
Right, all the World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans marching for peace, the thousands wielding American flags and several members of Congress were simply just being unpatriotic. And people say that it is the Left that is running out of ideas.
Saturday’s demonstration was a pinnacle in a rising opposition to the war in Iraq being mounted by people from all over the world from different political walks of life. The march on Washington was united, and it will only be effective in actually making political change if it remains so. The questions that it is faced with are how to preserve the unity.
The Question of ANSWER
The main organizer for this march was the coalition known as Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. Sounds innocent enough, however, a closer look at this organization is frightening. Founded days after Sept. 11, 2001 by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, it acts as a front group for a hard-line Stalinist group, the Workers’ World Party. Among other outrageous beliefs, the party has expressed support for the genocide under Slobodan Milosevic, the massacre at Tiananmen Square and the tyranny of the current North Korean regime. Like the University’s own political cult, the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Defend Equality By Any Means Necessary, it makes any practical and level-headed activist want to a keep safe distance. However, like BAMN, ANSWER is extremely organized and effective in bringing adequate turnout and doing the grunt work that makes events like this actually happen. And like the conflict with BAMN, no alternative organization has as loud a voice.
On Saturday, several student anti-war groups gathered in front of the Supreme Court for a separate march that would later join the rest of the protesters walking towards the Naval Yard. Even though their hearts were in the right place and their consciences were opposed to ANSWER’s dogma, their numbers and impact were dwarfed by the intensity of the rally on the mall.
Therefore, it makes more sense for the anti-war movement to stay away from the idiotic and mindless teachings of the Workers’ World Party, but utilize their strengths and resources if any alternative network of activists fail to gain the same amount of enthusiasm.
And many activists already believe this. Many of the students in front the Supreme Court agreed that though ANSWER’s core ideology is repugnant, as one organizer put it, “solidarity is the most important thing.”
District of Columbia Police Chief Charles Ramsey may still haunt some IMF/World Bank protesters dreams. At the anti-globalization protest last September, under his orders, Washington police hogtied hundreds of activists for several hours, making very little distinction between who was committing a crime and who was lawfully dissenting. And before this Saturday he made it clear to the press that he was ready and willing to do the same, even though there are lawsuits still pending against his department. On Saturday, however, we learned that it was just an idle threat.
Instead of the city streets being lined with riot cops standing shoulder to shoulder with tear gas canisters at the ready, officers stood with about 10 yards between them, initiating little, if any, confrontation with the protesters. The crowd for the most part behaved well, staying within the limits of the protest permit, however, many protesters went out of their way to heckle the policemen. “Pig!” I could hear, “this is a police state.” Maybe the young punks would like to think that an anti-war march in Washington is as dangerous as an anti-Allah rally in Riyadh, but we must accept the fact that even though the Bush administration is eroding our civil liberties systematically, we still enjoy an incredible amount of freedom.
But, more importantly, the aggression against non-confrontational police officers is patently inappropriate. One protester peacefully and respectfully explained to one officer why she was against the war. While he disagreed, he peacefully and respectfully explained why. So much for police brutality.
Police violence should be condemned when committed, but such wanton antagonism against this profession alienates those that simply do their job and on a larger scale, alienates a major sector of the working class.
Drop Bush, Not Bombs
As much as Saturday’s rally was an anti-war demonstration, it was an anti-Bush demonstration. Many signs contained such thought-out and intelligent criticism of the Bush regime such as “Fuck you, Bush” and “Asses of Evil” along with pictures of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. So much discontent from so many Americans proves that there is an ever-increasing opposition to the policies enacted by the man and administration we the people allegedly elected.
For those of us who bit the bullet and punched Gore in 2000, our explanation was that a Bush victory was so unbelievably frightening that voting for Ralph Nader was just too dangerous. We were right. It was apparent that many at the march recognized that it wasn’t simply the U.S. government as a whole that was committing such atrocities; it is Bush who is causing the majority of the problems. Would Al Gore wage war on Iraq? Would he create a Department of Homeland Security? Would he appoint John Ashcroft as attorney general? Meditating on these questions, anyone who still thinks Bush and Gore were the same candidate has a learning disability.
The awful truth is that there is a stark difference between what Bush has in mind for this country and any one of the Democratic candidates. The Democrats are not exactly a party of peace, but because it is unlikely Bush will be impeached, it is imperative for the safety of the rest of the world and for ourselves that the reins of power be wrestled from Bush’s hands.
Paul is an RC junior and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.