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Size Didn't Matter; It was the Message, and it was Big

by Dave Lindorff Monday, Sep. 26, 2005 at 7:56 AM

The Sept. 24 march on the White House brought a power of message and a unity of purpose to the antiwar movement that it has been missing until now. Bush, Cheney and Rove can try to hide and deny it, but the country is listening.

100,000? (DC police, AP) 250,000? (my unscientific count) 300,000? (organizers) 500,000? (Truthout’s William Pitt and CNN).

Really, who cares how many marched and rallied in Washington on Saturday?

The important thing is that huge numbers of people of all ages, races, and walks of life, from all over the country--more people than the right could hope to entire to any event, even if it paid them--converged on the White House to condemn the War on the people of Iraq, and to condemn administration whose domestic policies are destroying the country.

As a conservatively dressed middle-aged woman from Buffalo, NY, riding the Metro back to her hotel, said, explaining why she had trekked all the way down to the nation’s capital with a friend to join the protest, “I just got tired of sitting around the house being angry all the time.”

If the presidential election last November left a lot of progressives and anti-war Americans in a funk of debilitating doom and gloom, the remarkable phenomenon of Cindy Sheehan’s vigil in Crawford, Texas, which culminated in this mass movement to confront the White House over the Iraq War, was the antidote, and a sure sign that people are over their depression and ready to renew the struggle.

Clearly the disaster in New Orleans gives this movement an extra shot in the arm. The most widely heard and popular slogan at the march was a takeoff on an iconic line from the ‘60s: “Make levees, not war!”

The Saturday march was important in another way, too. It marked an end to the petty bickering between various groups on the left over what stance to take on the war. The two main sponsors of the event, A.N.S.W.E.R. and United for Justice and Peace , have been at odds for the past three years over positions on Israel and Palestine and other touchy topics, with A.N.S.W.E.R. being supportive of the Iraqi resistance, while UJP has limited itself to calling for an end to the U.S. invasion and occupation. For this march, they put their differences aside and liked up around Sheehan’s unambiguous call: “Bring the Troops Home Now!”

Even more cautious groups allied with the Democratic Party, notably MoveOn, while timidly declining to sponsor the demonstration and carefully noting their “disagreements” with A.N.S.W.E.R., offered their help in calling for a massive rally. MoveOn gave details about the march and rally schedule on its widely read website and in mass emails, as did Progressive Democrats, who were well-represented on the march.

One big change, readily apparent at this march, was that there was much greater participation by younger people than at earlier anti-Iraq War marches, which had looked more like reunions of veterans of the 1960s marches. Masses of college-age students carried home-made signs saying things like “Campus, not combat!” while others, including high-schoolers, carried signs condemning the lies of army recruiters. There may be no conscription yet, but clearly the young are seeing that this war of choice is being fought by them and their age cohort, who are being lured or forced into the military by an economy that is leaving them with few other choices.

The other big development, spearheaded by Sheehan and Celeste Zappala and their Gold Star Families for Peace organization, and by groups like Military Families Speak Out, Veterans for Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War and more recently by Iraq Veterans Against the War, has been the huge role being played by those either in the military or out of it or by their families. While VVAW was an important part of the anti-war effort during the campaign against the Indochina War, soldiers and veterans in that movement were never at the head of the campaign. In today’s anti-war movement, they are its heart and soul.

It remains to be seen how the movement will build from this point. The phenomenon of Cindy Sheehan has clearly not run its course. With the war going from bad to disastrous, with the US death toll approaching 2000, with gas and heating oil prices soaring, and with the Bush administration becoming a national laughing stock, the focus will now surely be the off-year Congressional elections that are just over a year away.

For other stories by Lindorff, please go (at no charge) to This Can't Be Happening! .

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