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The Anti War Movement: Why, How and Where

by Forpe Aceone Arth Saturday, Apr. 19, 2003 at 7:30 AM

Constructive Criticism of the Anti War Movement: To a movement that is based on ideals of democracy, and that has constantly attacked the current administration for not listening to dissenting voices – to the voices of people – I am sure that such criticism will be welcomed. I present this criticism with the hope that it will lead to the evolution of stronger democracies within communities, of greater involvement by the citizens of USA in issues of equality, peace and justice.

Preface

I am a supporter of the anti war movement. Yet, there have been a few aspects of the anti war movement that have concerned me. I present them now, not as a person who intends to undermine the anti war movement, but as one who is concerned and believes that such critique will strengthen this movement. To a movement that is based on ideals of democracy, and that has constantly attacked the current administration for not listening to dissenting voices – to the voices of people – I am sure that such criticism will be welcomed. I present this criticism with the hope that it will lead to the evolution of stronger democracies within communities, of greater involvement by the citizens of USA in issues of equality, peace and justice.

And yet, I choose to remain anonymous. I choose to remain anonymous not because I am unwilling to stand by what I say, or respond to disagreeing voices. I do so primarily because I think that the issue is bigger than the person – the focus should stay on the discussion and not be distracted by the details of personality. And if this critique ends without a discussion, perhaps it was not important enough – at least to the activists and volunteers who have driven the anti war movement.

What is this Anti War Movement about?

This anti war effort began in opposition to the invasion of Afghanistan (it was hardly a war). The government of USA went ahead anyways, ‘won’ the war within weeks, and the protests ended. When the government indicated that it was going to invade Iraq, to end a regime that it was instrumental in setting up twenty some years ago, the anti war movement was re-energized. The ‘coalition’ forces again bombarded Iraq and have now ‘won’ the war. What does the anti war movement do now?

It has a few options. It could monitor the establishment of a peaceful, democratic society in Iraq. It could pressure the US government to ensure that the next government of Iraq is not a puppet government. But, we could not achieve that in Afghanistan. It is led by a puppet government. Democracy has not yet been established and the latest reports say that peace is beginning to unravel there. So can we – will we – really be able to work on such an effort vis-à-vis Iraq?

The movement could focus on opposing any further invasions. However, unless there is a significant effort to understand foreign policy and pre-empt attacks, it will continue to be a reactive movement – opposing attacks only after they have been announced.

Or it could have some other goals.

To understand what these goals might be, however, I am forced to search for the vision of the anti war movement – what is this movement attempting to achieve. Unfortunately, I find no vision. I find that it is a movement that has reacted to government action. Reaction needs no vision – it needs strategy. But, to drive long-term proactive action, we need both – a vision and a strategy.

Basis of Change: Resist and Build

The State along with its allied institutions is very strong in this country. In addition, corporations have great influence on the working of the state. In such a situation, community based entities interested in questions of peace and justice, especially those that question the role of the state and its allied institutions have constantly been on the back foot. This is more true of the last ten or fifteen years. Their role has primarily become restricted to a reactive role, a role that is based on resistance. One can argue about the causes of such a role – however, what is important to realize that in such a role these progressive groups can only resist – there is very little space to build.

Movements around the world have come to understand that resisting and building are twin responsibilities that need to be fulfilled. Resistance does not need a vision – it only needs strategies. For it is often based on reacting to the establishment. Building, on the other hand, needs a vision. Every movement goes through times when it is more focused on resisting and others when it is focused on building. Yet, when a movement is forced to resist for as long as a decade, it loses its vision. And it fractures. For a movement cannot only be based on resistance. It must have a vision of what possible alternatives exist and must work to build those alternatives. Unfortunately, given the dynamics of a strong state and a fractured ‘progressive’ community, radical action has often become defined in the US as radical resistance – for there has been little radical building .

It is in such circumstances that the groups interested in issues of peace and justice found ourselves in a lead up to the war on Iraq.

The anti war movement has led and participated in crucial action that has raised political and social awareness among citizens of USA to levels rarely seen in the last two decades. And it must be credited for this. Despite strong opposition by the state apparatus, the movement was able to build immense opposition to the war against Iraq even before bombs were dropped. As a result, communities around the US have become politically aware, as we have not been in the last decade. Anti War rallies are being organized and attended by students, by working class, by white-collar professionals, by soccer moms, in inner cities and in suburbia. There exists today political synergy such as I have not seen in the last ten years.

A store manager slashed off a friend’s bill since he was preparing anti war posters. At day-long rallies, people have spontaneously brought food cooked at home and distributed it. Certain public universities, where graffiti is removed as soon as it is seen, have allowed anti-war announcements to remain on the walls till after the event. If the anti war movement – and other groups working on issues of peace and justice – does not use this synergy, this momentum, to formulate a program of building as well as resisting, it will have lost its opportunity to become proactive again. If those working on issues of peace and justice cannot use this opportunity to rebuild a politically aware and active US, we will have lost a big opportunity to lead. And that will be an unfortunate turn of events.

Thanks to these protests, hundreds of grassroots organizations opposing the war have sprung up around the country. Faculty against war. Students against war. Women for peace. Neighbors for peace. Veterans for peace. Christians for peace. Unions against war. Professionals against war. Millions came and marched with us across the USA. We came, marched and went back home. We stood on a makeshift podium and shouted “No to War on Iraq”. Which was good. But we did not say what we could do in our own lives and in our communities to change anything. There was no vision that took us from the here and now to the change we wanted. There was no vision that discussed what peace on Earth meant and what our role was in such an effort might be. For participating in marches, shouting slogans, and petitioning Senators does not peace on earth bring. It only makes us aware of the need and place for such a possibility. And in the absence of the vision, all that was possible was to organize rallies, take our marches, and protest at the office of senators. We have marched. And we have chanted. Now what? Do people go back home to their own islands, once the war ends? Or does the anti war movement have anything else to say?

A Vision for Peace

One thing that has become clear to me during the anti war movement is that we cannot just protest the war. We will also have to build peace. This can become the core of the vision for a Peace and Justice Movement. There have been signs at anti war rallies that have said “Peace”. However, it has merely stayed as a slogan. In formulating a vision of peace, we need to address many questions. For example:

Peace for whom? For those in susburbia, USA? For all in USA? For all of the wealthy peoples? For all on Earth?

How is peace in my life – or yours – connected to peace in the community we live in? Or how is peace in USA related to peace in Afghanistan?

And in trying to build peace, we will have to answer the question – How? How do we build peace?

What can I do to bring peace in my life, in the life of those around me and in my interactions with those around me? How do my actions affect peace in my community, in my nation and what can I do to help establish peace? How does this relate to peace on Earth?

It is a vision of Peace. Rebuilding our communities as communities of peace. Rebuilding our nation as a nation at peace. For peace on Earth.

And in defining a vision, we are forced to address how we will work towards our vision. For Bush & Co has said that it wants peace too – a peace defined by its own terms. And it will achieve it by bombing people into submission. It will liberate Iraq by bombing the regime. In opposing such action, the anti war movement has already begun to define its own path for peace which is embodied in the slogan “Peace is the means and the end”.

Are we opposing Bush because we wish to oppose the establishment? Or is it because we have a principled stand? Do we really believe that peace is the way – that we must resolve conflicts with those we disagree through peace? In which case, our path also begins to be defined. Just as we believe Bush cannot destroy his enemy in his quest for his peace, we cannot annihilate those we disagree with. It posits that we must rebuild peaceful communities through peace. We must rebuild our nation through peaceful means. To build peace, our interactions with other individuals, organizations and communities must be based on peace. It also lays the guidelines of how we interact with those whose ideas and actions are in conflict with ours. If we oppose Bush in using violence to achieve his definition of peace, we cannot use it to achieve our definition of peace either.

Where Now?

The anti war movement achieved what it did owing to the participation of a number of groups. The indymedia groups and other independent media resources were critical in dissemination of information when the mainstream media either shunned the protests or misreported on them. Lawyer guilds have provided legal advice and have represented anti war activists who were arrested during these protests. Yet other groups have provided medical help and first aid, arranged for food and helped with training activists in civil disobedience and in organizing rallies. In summary, a number of resource groups provided for expertise and resources that made this movement the success it was.

At the same time, a number of new grass roots organizations took the anti war discussion to parts of the country that a centralized movement, which was constantly under surveillance and short on cash, could not have. Older organizations (relatively speaking) – Veterans groups, Women against Military Madness, labor unions, groups working with minorities and other groups working on issues of peace and justice – brought in their members into the effort. Newer organizations – Neighborhoods for Peace, Educators for Peace, Faculty for Peace – took the discussions to suburbia, to neighborhoods, to universities that have remained apolitical for most of the last two decades.

Now, the support for the anti war movement can be used to rejuvenate the Peace and Justice Movement. Let us rebuild a peaceful world by rebuilding peaceful communities and a peaceful nation. Let us use the support groups that have been formed to re-energize the various grass roots organizations that are working on these issues. In such a movement, different groups will find their place. Support groups for minority rights will find a place. As will labor unions. Groups opposing WTO will find a place. As will environmental groups. Groups working on issues of criminal justice, prison systems or housing and homelessness will find a role. As will civil liberties and human rights groups. Groups working on policy will find a place. As will grass roots organizations.

Much needs to be done now, while the energy of the anti war movement still lives. First, the connections between issues of homelessness, of marginalization of minorities, of racism, of crime and punishment, of chemical abuse, of child abuse, exploitation of fear, to peace in our communities must be made apparent to the anti war support as well as the society at large. Connections between injustice and poverty in our communities to peace must be highlighted. And connections must be made between peace in our communities and domestic as well as international policies of the administration and their consequences on global peace. This task requires the help of all individuals, groups and organizations who participated in the anti war movement. We need faculty at universities and those involved in areas of evolution and implementation of policies to research these connections, and their implications. We need neighbors for peace to validate and interpret this research vis-à-vis their own neighborhoods. We need student groups to continue these discussions at places of learning and critically evaluate what the implications of these correlations and the policies are. We need educator groups to encourage children in schools to think critically, ask questions and search for their own answers. We need resource groups – media groups, lawyer guilds, civil rights groups and theater groups for example – to protect the rights of those who are participating in such nation building but also in helping to disseminate these discussions and debates widely.

And having understood the connections, we need to ask how we can change our own lives, our actions, in fact our selves so that there may be more peace in our communities. We need to ask what kinds of processes could evolve that allows discussions of conflicts in our communities. And we need to work within our communities to see how they may be put in place. In working with our communities, we actually strengthen our democracy. Again, every group has a role to play in this project of nation rebuilding.

When Bush says that this is a historic moment, he knows not how true he is. This is indeed a historic moment, an opportunity of a lifetime. It is a moment that brims with potential for the Peace and Justice movement. We can either let moment pass us by when we go back into our islands of strategic maneuvering and isolated goals. Or we can use this momentum to rebuild our communities as communities of peace. To rebuild the nation as a nation at peace. For peace on Earth.

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