Now More Than Ever, The World Needs A Bold U.S. Antiwar Movement

 

by Kevin Gosztola    
 
In response to the proposed escalation of U.S. military actions in the Middle East and the further institutionalization of lawlessness by the American government, Chicago
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activists came together for a rally in Chicago Saturday afternoon called “Now More Than Ever, No More Wars for Empire.” The event, held in Federal Plaza right in front of Obama’s transition office, was part of plans for two days of action; tomorrow the activists plan to be in Obama’s neighborhood calling for an end to U.S. wars of aggression.
 
Those present at the rally strongly demanded that Barack Obama end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by immediately and completely withdrawing U.S. forces from the Middle East and by bringing the “war on terror” to an end. The protest specifically called for antiwar activists to step up their efforts to call attention to important issues and declared, “Now is the time to speak out and demand real change and justice.”
 
 The action was held on the same day as the United for Peace and Justice National Assembly. That and the weather, which consisted of cold 20 to 30 mph gusting winds, all had an effect on the number of people who came out to participate.
 
As one activist named Neal (who is with Jews for Justice) said, “This is the first speak out of this sort [that I know of] since Obama has been elected [which pointed] out how the president-elect is going to continue all the policies to achieve what he said would be another American century. This means war and injustice for U.S. Empire. It’s very important [that] we’re out here.”
 

 

It didn’t matter that the activists’ numbers looked small---that they looked like what Bush would call a “focus group.” What mattered was that the activists were there speaking out and calling for an end to wars for empire.
 
The “No More Wars for Empire” action, whose primary organizers were from the Chicago chapter of World Can’t Wait, was endorsed and supported by a range of citizen groups: UIC Campus Antiwar Network, Chicago Peace Vigil - Art Institute, Lone Lantern for 9/11 Truth, Chicago Labor Against the War, Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism, Campus Antiwar Network, Chicago Peace Vigil - Art Institute, Lone Lantern for 9/11 Truth, Chicago Labor Against the War, Gay Liberation Network, Neighbors for Peace, West Side Greens, North Side Greens, Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban 5, 8th Day Center for Justice (and others).
 
Neal with Jews for Justice explained that this was not only the 60th Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. It was the 60th Anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s Resolution 194.
 
“[Resolution 194] recognizes the right of return to anyone dispossessed by an occupation. Specifically, it recognizes the right of return to the Palestinians who were chased out of their homes in the 1940s by the Zionists and then again in 1967,” said Neal.
 
Neal went on to explain that the “U.S. government has done nothing to ensure the rights of the Palestinians” and that “Obama is for the exclusion of the democratically elected government of Hamas from the Palestinian political process.”
 
“This is part of U.S. policy in labeling anybody that opposes U.S. domination as terrorists,” said Neal.
 
Two notable speakers, Bob Schwartz, who is with the Gay Liberation Network that organized the successful Prop 8 protests in Chicago and Father Bob Bossie, who is with 8th Day Center for Justice, shared their wisdom those who came out to rally for real change.
 
“We can warm things up a little bit by reminding ourselves and others---particularly the man who’s so called transition office is in this building in front of me and behind you, the president-elect---we know that change doesn’t come from on high,” said Schwartz. “It comes from below. When people get organized, then change can occur. Not just talk about change, but real change can occur from the bottom up.”
 
“The gay movement sustained a serious setback in California. The campaign to beat back the right wing that framed our oppression out there---the defeat of marriage equality as an exercise of religious freedom of all things---didn’t work. [The gay movement] didn’t mobilize gay and lesbian people and our allies to go door-to-door. They didn’t put a gay face on the issue. In fact, they did the opposite. They de-gayed the campaign in an effort to appeal to the people they thought would be offended by the images that most people in fact found very compelling---the images of gay and lesbian people getting married in California. They de-gayed the campaign and they sustained a serious defeat.
 
I want to contrast that to what happened in this very plaza several weeks ago when 5,000 people --- GLBT and our allies --- came out here in angry denunciation of the defeat in California to demand equal rights.”
 
Schwartz also spoke about the Republic Windows workers and cited it as an example of why we must demand change and work for it from the ground up.
 
“We saw a second example of grassroots activity that delivered the goods. The Republic Windows workers occupied the shop floor and demanded them what was due to them," said Schwartz. "They demanded backpay due to them under federal law. They achieved an important victory in getting six to eight thousand dollars in benefits that were due to them. These are examples that we should look to do when seeing how change comes when organized from the bottom up.”
 
Father Bossie appropriately put this organized event into perspective:
 
“I was thinking of Margaret Mead’s comment, “Never doubt that a small group of people that can change the world cause that’s all that ever has.” I was riding down on the bus here this morning and I was thinking of Che Guevara’s great words that a true revolutionary is motivated by feelings of great love. I really firmly believe that.
 
There’s a silence over our land today deeper than the cold and snow of winter itself. That silence is being broken by us today as we say no to U.S. aggression to Afghanistan and Pakistan---an aggression to which the Obama Administration has already committed itself.
 
I hope that he is up in his office today looking down upon us as his most dedicated friends.”
 
As each person stood up to speak from these groups and later 9/11 Truth and the Green Party (the person who spoke was the Green Party candidate running in the special election for Rahm Emanuel’s seat in Congress), each person spoke about truly bringing real change and justice by advancing their agenda further. While it may seem like many people were simply advancing pet projects, all called for an end to the “war on terror,” something the activists find to be sorely needed in this country not only because the American people will benefit but because innocent civilians are being tortured and killed because of the endless ideological conflict being waged by America.
 
 Activists there were very cognizant of the fact that this country needs bold and courageous individuals to step up and take a stand.
 
The leaders planned, in advance, a "sidewalk walk" up and down State St in the Loop. This area where many Chicagoans come to shop especially during the holiday season made it possible for the groups who had come together to make an even bigger impact than they did in the plaza near Obama’s transition office.
 
While this was an important action for the fact that the antiwar movement had a presence, organizers were not able to get people to attend like the Prop 8 organizers have been able to get people to attend their protests. Unfortunately, it seems like too many simply think the wars are going to end all by themselves now that Obama is going to be president or some think the wars are in fact really over because they do not see regular reports on the news or the people just do not think their voice matters.
 
Some members of the antiwar movement, who have been regularly protesting for the past six to seven years, have grown weak in their opposition. Feeling the need to cautiously ask Obama for change, these people have gone from fueling a vibrant inspirational force to being a poor, sorry advocate for so-called hope and change.
 
The UFPJ assembly this weekend was important because UFPJ is in a position to bolster the antiwar movement in this country and give it a charge that will bring about real change and justice. If what David Swanson writes in his report on the assembly is the truth, Americans might see a truly organized and united antiwar movement take shape and make an impact like the Prop 8 protests over the past month have.
 
It would be great to give UFPJ the benefit of the doubt, but typically, they have wanted to handle Obama as gently and as little as possible.
 
 The coalition of many groups that has a lot of clout in the antiwar movement in America refused to participate in an antiwar march at the DNC. The march would have easily had 10,000 or more people had they supported it. (Thankfully, IVAW was there to challenge Obama because they and Rage Against the Machine mobilized nearly 10,000 people when they conducted their action on Wednesday during the DNC.)
 
Based on history, World Can’t wait put out a letter to the antiwar movement which particularly highlighted the pitiful state of the antiwar movement throughout the past decade:
 
“The antiwar movement of the last several years which confined itself to lobbying and campaigning served to demobilize mass protest. Now this movement must shake off this passive complicity and act once again in a way that is so visible and powerful it can be seen all over the world, especially in the countries that have been targets of this aggression.
 
An antiwar movement that does not have the principle and the conviction to oppose the crimes carried out by our government; that dodges the immediate escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and the threat of war on other places; that chooses to focus on “domestic issues” when people of the Middle East are counting on us, will commit unconscionable betrayal.
 
An antiwar movement needs to show common cause with the people of the world and not common cause with war criminals. Too much is at stake for the progressive movement to consult with or sound like the generals or the Commander in Chief. Too much is at stake to “wait and see” whether this is all going in the direction Obama says it is.”
 
This statement, fully supported by those behind the action held in front of Obama’s transition office, is what drew people together. The conviction that the antiwar movement must be something more than what it is brought people together.
 
That is why I was there. That is why I spoke on behalf of World Can’t Wait and youth in this nation.
 
That is why I stood in the cold and told people about Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) idea that Obama may have to continue using some controversial torture or interrogation techniques. That is why I highlighted how the U.S.-Iraq Security Pact is a slap in the face to all those seeking an immediate end to the Iraq War. That is why I declared an Afghanistan surge of 20,000 troops to continue this conflict for 10-15 more years (as Robert Gates is saying) is unacceptable.
 
That is why I highlighted the following key questions which the antiwar movement must face---
 
How will this movement grasp with the dilemma many of its members created by voting for Obama who was and still is diametrically opposed to much of what progressives, liberals, or peace activists stand for?
 
How will this movement handle the economic turmoil or the financial meltdown in this nation without diluting the clarity of its antiwar message?
 
How will the movement challenge the idea that Obama appointments will not have any effect on Obama’s policymaking because as one diarist over at Daily Kos said Obama will be like Don Corleone?
 
What will the movement do when Obama takes office and does not challenge the crimes committed by members of the Bush Administration or call for the prosecution of former members of the Bush Administration?
 
If Obama refuses to challenge or prosecute war crimes, he becomes a war criminal. How will we grapple with this reality? Will we speak up so that Obama does not become a war criminal? Will we save a president we desperately want to do good? 
 
Will we take advantage of the recent report released and supported by Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. John McCain and call for the prosecution of people like Donald Rumsfeld who are responsible for the torture which has occurred in our country’s name?
 
How sad would it be if John McCain is a stronger advocate for prosecution of crimes than Obama?
 
This movement has a decision to make. It needs to decide which side it’s on.
 
Dedicated people are ready to act and compel others to join a movement for real change and justice, and so those who seek to stall or detract a movement which wants to be bold and courageous for humanity should reconsider how they organize against wars for empire.
 
Visible action is needed. If you think you are a member of the antiwar movement get on board or get out of the way.
 

Kevin Gosztola goes to Columbia College in Chicago where he is studying film. He hopes to become a documentary filmmaker. He is currently working as a production assistant on a documentary called "Seriously Green" which traces the development of the Green Party throughout the 2008 election.

 

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.