The Peace Movement Lives
In the coming week, Congress may vote on a resolution authorizing use of the American military to invade Iraq. That's the timeline President Bush wants because questions about the wisdom of such an invasion -- relegated to the fringes of discourse among political elites for the better part of a year -- have suddenly gained the upper hand. The White House is desperate to forestall an anti-war movement that has seemingly materialized from thin air.
In a sense, of course, it has. Thank you, Mr. Internet. The challenge has been obvious: to insert into the public debate a moral critique of an invasion, the part that says that killing is wrong and killing on the pretext of a manufactured crisis is criminal. The critique needs to be linked to the logistical and political objections, which have been raised mostly by conservatives, and that were, only three weeks ago, the only widely visible opposition to the war. The challenge is also to connect with the large numbers of non-activists who simply had their doubts about the wisdom of Dubya's folly, or who sensed that the ceaseless drum-beating for war simply didn't add up.
The only reason -- the only reason -- that Congressional Democrats this past week started speaking out against invasion, in more than their previously token numbers, is because they have been deluged with phone calls, faxes, and emails expressing the public's opposition. Polls show widespread doubt. Congressional office intake valves, a measure of the people passionate enough to contact their public officials, has been running more than 90 percent against the planned invasion. And volume has been high.
Without that pressure, Congressional Democratic leaders like Tom Daschle amd Richard Gephardt -- who two weeks ago sneered at Iraq's offer to allow "unconditional" access to U.N. weapons inspector -- would never be resisting the White House's timetable for a Congressional vote on war. They now want to delay the vote, which would allow more time for anti-war opposition to build, and, of course, more time during election season for Dubya to insert his size 238 cowboy boots into his mouth on a daily basis.
The timing of a Congressional vote will be the first actual test of how far and for how long Democrats are willing to use their newly-discovered spines. Will they postpone a vote? Maybe. Will they water down the resolution? Perhaps. Will they vote against it? Maaaay-bee.
Only further, more widespread, more intense opposition can stiffen Congressional backbones -- on both sides of the aisle -- and raise the political price for Dubya high enough to stop this catastrophe in the making. But the anti-war movement cannot hinge on the Congressional vote, nor stop if a resolution is approved. In all likelihood, it will be. The point of pressuring Congress is to generate enough debate and opposition at that level of government to create legitimacy for the much wider, ongoing public opposition -- and to give time for that opposition to build and organize further.
The infrastructure is there, and the public visibility is starting to kick in. Three different groups have called for nation-wide demonstrations on coming weekends (see below). But there is no need to wait. There are plenty of anti-war resources and web sites on the net, and some of them are very good. My favorite lately is a fine libertarian-oriented site called www.antiwar.com. The new publication War Times also merits a plug; it is distributed free in many cities, and can be reached at www.war-times.org, or 1230 Market St. PMB 409, San Francisco CA 94102.
Other than these sites, there are the national anti-war groups -- each with local affiliates, flyers, publications, and other resources designed to aid your efforts. There are far too many to list here, but these are a dozen that, depending on your personal leanings, are worth checking out:
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC): A group with regional and local offices across the country, AFSC is active on a number of social justice issues, but its roots are in the pacifist Quaker church ("Friends") and they are always eloquent and effective opponents of war. www.afsc.org, 215-241-7000, 1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia PA 19102.
Central Committee for Conscientious Objection (CCCO): The nation's best source of information and counseling for Selective Service registrants, enlistees, and active military personnel seeking information on their options if they don't want to fight. www.objector.org, 1-888-231-2226 (toll-free), 630 20th St., Ste. 302, Oakland CA 94612.
Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR): The nation's oldest pacifist group, the Fellowship is an interfaith ecumenical outfit founded, nationally and internationally, in 1917 to oppose World War I. They're still at it, and are active on a variety of issues -- including, in recent years, Iraq sanctions -- but resisting war is foremost among them. www.forusa.org, 845-358-4601, 521 N. Broadway, Nyack NY 10960.
International Action Center (IAC): A Ramsey Clark-led activist group that, behind the scenes, is actually controlled by the Workers World Party. The IAC has managed to attract support broader than its roots, but it still raises the interesting question of how fans of Stalin can plausibly claim to be the nation's preeminent "peace" group. Their focus in recent years has also been on Mumia and anti-racism work, but the IAC and especially former U.S. Attorney General (under Johnson) Clark have been in the forefront of challenges to U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq. They've called for a "National Day of Action" and a large protest in Washington D.C. on Oct. 27, the weekend before elections. Hard to imagine that Ramsey Clark and John Ashcroft held the same office. www.iacenter.org, 212-633-6646, 39 W. 14th St. #206, New York NY 10011.
Jonah House: As good an entry point as any for the wildly diffuse, but militant and well-organized, radical Catholic left. Phil Berrigan and Liz McAllister founded this urban Catholic Worker outpost in Baltimore three decades ago, and it has inspired imitators across the country. It served as a way station for the mostly anti-nuclear Plowshares movement. But when war threatens, you know they'll be there -- or, more likely, getting hauled off while bleeding at the White House gates. email@example.com, 1301 Moreland Ave., Baltimore MD 21216.
National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee: The nation's best clearinghouse for information, counseling, and local contacts for those interested in refusing to pay for war. NWTRCC offers a realistic assessment of the risks of not paying income and other federal taxes -- and the risks, especially moral, of paying them. www.nwtrcc.org, 1-800-269-7464, P.O. Box 6512, Ithaca NY 14851.
Not In Our Name: The sectarian left loves to hide behind front groups. Worker's World has the IAC, and now the Revolutionary Communist Party (Maoists, for those not up on your commies) has spawned a new one, Not In Our Name. But like the IAC, Not In Our Name has attracted support far beyond its radical sectarian roots, and NION is what appears to be the larger of two national efforts to sponsor local "National Days of Action" on the weekend of Oct. 6-7, the anniversary of the beginning of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Their focus is somewhat larger than the war, but if you can avoid gagging on the cliched rhetoric, it's worth checking out. www.notinourname.net.
Pax Christi USA: This is a more traditional Catholic peace group than the type of liberation theology represented by Jonah House, with over 200 local groups scattered across the country. www.paxchristiusa.org, 814-453-4955, 532 W. 8th St., Erie PA 16502
Peace Action: This is the answer to the question "Whatever became of the Freeze Movement?" It merged with the anti-nuclear power group SANE to become Sane/Freeze, and then changes its name in the early 90s to Peace Action. This is the Sierra Club of the peace movement -- cautious, with a focus on lobbying combined with grassroots activism, and lots and lots of members. www.peace-action.org, 202-862-9740, 1819 H St., Ste. 420 & 425, Washington DC 20006.
Voices In The Wilderness: Not specifically an anti-war group, but included here because Kathi Kelly's Chicago outfit has been at the forefront in challenging Iraq sanctions: delivering donated food, medical, and public health supplies to Iraqis in regular defiance of the U.S.-led embargo, collecting the horrific stories of the Iraqis they meet, and bringing those images back to America. Nobody is better equipped to describe what the U.S. has already done to the Iraqi people, and what further war would do. www.nonviolence.org/vitw, 773-784-8065, 1460 W. Carmen Ave., Chicago, IL 60640.
War Resisters League (WRL): The nation's oldest secular pacifist group, founded in 1922 in the wake of World War I. Like FOR, it has both an international network -- War Resisters International -- and local groups and contacts. "War is a crime against humanity." Full disclosure: I've been on their National Committee (essentially, their board) for 17 years. www.warresisters.org, 202-228-0450, 339 Lafayette St., New York NY 10012.
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom: WILPF is a creation of the feminist movement -- specifically, the movement to win the right for women to vote. It's been around that long, and while it's not very active in some cities, it's very active in others, bringing the wisdom of women not just as the people most likely to suffer in any war but the people most likely to stop it. www.wilpf.org, 215-563-7110, 1213 Race St., Philadelphia PA 19107.
These groups have their differences -- it is notoriously difficult to get them all to work together -- and none have distinguished themselves for their ability to craft a message with broad public appeal. That is the challenge at hand because it requires not relying solely on the same old messages and tactics. But these groups also represent, among them, centuries of experience at anti- war opposition and resistence. There's a lot of knowledge, skills, and expertise afoot.
In the end, their particular visions for an ideal world are not what matters; stopping the war is. And in the words of Gandhi, the patron saint of nonviolence, "Whatever you do, it is most important that you do it."
Let's get busy.