Thousands marched in Washington D.C. today in protest of the continuing U.S. wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The demonstration was timed to mark the seventh anniversary of the U.S. military invasion of Iraq. Organizers put the number of participants at 10,000 with a strong representation of student activists.
The anti-war movement has hit something of a low point in the past few years as political energy was funneled into the electoral process, particularly the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. Today, Obama’s administration became the target of dissent instead of a point of organizing energy. Participants were hopeful that this political corner had been turned.
The march was one part of weekend of protests. On Friday, activists in Charlottesville, Virginia mobilized to protest against torture memo author John Yoo. Nearly simultaneously, in D.C., anarchists scaled the wall of Treasury Department to drop a banner protesting the war as part of the “Funk the War” event. Demonstrations continued today with a mass pro-immigrant rights demonstrators headed into town.
The highlight of the speakers today was Ralph Nader, who argued that the election of Obama produced one main difference from the foreign policy of George W. Bush – Obama’s speeches are better. The crowd responded positively and was then whipped into a mini-frenzy by Iraq Veterans Against the War activist Matthis Chiroux. Chiroux ended his speech by taking out an American flag and a lighter and proceeded to burn the flag on stage.
The march ended in front of the White House as a weary but determined crowd collapsed on the grass in Lafayette Park. Just then, D.C. police surrounded “peace Mom” Cindy Sheehan, slapped handcuffs on her and took her away. It was unclear what prompted the arrest, but it angered the crowd and brought home the desperate situation faced by many military families.
This certainly was a positive step for the anti-war movement, but it is far too early to describe a resurgence of the anti-war movement. Groups essential to any serious struggle were absent. War resisters such as Chiroux as well as small number of Veterans for Peace did participate, but there was little presence from more mainstream peace organizations. In addition, there was no organized section of trade union workers.
Strategically, the main challenge for anti-war forces is to transition from the argument that war is bad in the moral sense, to connecting the functioning of the war as an economic drain on the domestic economy. Since the beginning of the economic crisis there has been a clear inward turn for working people all over the country. Most are now concerned about things like available social services, or saving their houses from foreclosure, or the extension of unemployment benefits. A clear case needs to be made that such things are crippled by a war budget that consumes more than 50% of the annual Federal Budget.
A good step forward, one can only hope that some of the spirit in the streets today will filter back to campuses throughout the country. We need a smart resurgent anti-war movement that begins to target not only the Obama administration, but war profiteers such as Haliburton and L-3 communications.
Billy Wharton is a writer and activist whose articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Counterpunch, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine.