Unleashing Your Candlepower

It's the weekend, like any other weekend. Time to kick back, relax, and . . . protest.

Seemingly every weekend for the past months, one or another combination of events has served to focus global concern, outrage, and demands that the United States government not invade Iraq. In the United States and in a host of other countries, the outpouring of publicly displayed political sentiment outstrips any in memory.

Now, George Bush is threatening a timetable that may have Baghdad incinerated by next weekend. As with diplomacy, protest to prevent this invasion is in its endgame. But the larger anti-war movement -- the movement to thwart the Bush cabal's empire-building, map-redrawing, generations-long "War On Terror" -- is still in its infancy.

That truth does not make any less urgent this weekend's efforts to put sand in the war machine's gears or sugar in its oil-dependent gas tank. Beyond continuing to bombard the White House, Congress, and the United Nations with phone calls, faxes, and e-mails, efforts include Sunday's globally coordinated candlelight vigils; over 2,000 are known to be scheduled so far, beginning Saturday afternoon (U.S. time) in New Zealand and circling the planet one time zone at a time.

World cities will also once again see their plazas fill with scorn for George Bush. Meanwhile, an enormous e-mail campaign, launched by Australian anti-nuke icon Dr. Helen Caldicott and others, is beseeching the Pope to maintain a personal presence in Baghdad to prevent war. In the U.S., there's also ANSWER-sponsored protests Saturday in Washington (noon at the Washington Monument), San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities. On Monday, a civil disobedience campaign begins in New York (11 AM silent procession from St. Stephen's Church to the U.S. Mission to the U.N.), Washington, and elsewhere.

On Friday in San Francisco, a protest aimed at shutting down the Pacific Stock Exchange blocked traffic and streetcars for hours. By mid-morning, 70 protesters had been arrested, including the former president of the Pacific Stock Exchange and several prominent local religious leaders.

Such protests, in a sense, have already been enormously successful. The Bush team wanted to launch a unilateral, preemptive invasion of Iraq last fall. At the time, the political and media voices within the U.S. objecting to such a move were few and far between. It was the resurgence of a previously somnambulant peace movement, particularly in the days and weeks before October's Congressional vote on war, that put this debate in the public eye.

The phenomenal growth since then in global and domestic opposition, helped in large part by the Bush Administration's transparently false attempts to invent legal or moral authority for war, has been a major factor in twice forcing the U.S. to the UN Security Council, forcing it to watch as weapons inspectors launched a successful program with unexpectedly full Iraqi cooperation, and repeatedly delaying a U.S. invasion timetable.

George Bush never imagined that he would be facing the prospect of launching an invasion, financing a subsequent occupation, and defending against the inevitable blowback while being utterly isolated on the global stage. Public opposition has created that situation. With the notable exception of Tony Blair, in country after country democratically elected governments that would normally line up with the United States have been unwilling to go against the wishes of often 90 percent or more of their citizenry.

In France -- currently the object of much scorn among dittohead types -- Jacques Chirac is the most pro-U.S. leader in 50 years; even he has not been able to justify countenancing Bush's plans. Virtually every country that has signed off on the invasion has had to be bought, at further great cost to Bush's seemingly bottomless federal treasury; these "allies" have needed such payments precisely because they've needed the fig leaf of benefit to their own countries to justify the decision to their own publics.

Opposition to Bush's invasion, ironically, by forcing governments to be accountable to their constituencies, has been a global triumph for democracy. But the greatest challenge still lies ahead: re-installing democracy in the country that fancies itself democracy's champion.

Diplomatic and public pressures are creating enormous costs for the Bush team. In 1991, allies financed virtually all of the Gulf War; it was a cost-free war for the United States. This time, elements in the Republican Party are increasingly concerned about not only the financial cost to an isolated United States, but the potential personal cost to George Bush in next year's election. This weekend's protests, if well-attended, may help underscore pressures that could yet force a Bush climbdown from invasion.

But if they don't -- even if, or especially if, there's a clean, seemingly easy military victory that deposes Saddam, even if the United States then "discovers" the phantom Iraq weapons that are the invasion's purported justification, even if and especially if the media jingoism reaches a crescendo, efforts to stop the larger war must not flag. They must, in fact, be redoubled.

While the world focuses on Iraq, the Bush team and its bottomless treasury are also fighting wars in Afghanistan, Colombia, and the Philippines, and considering it in North Korea; selling weapons, training secret police, setting up military bases, and cozying up to dictators in dozens of other often unsavory regimes; developing its own far more horrific future weapons of mass destruction for use in land, sea, air, and space; and using the world's inevitable resentment as an excuse for more invasions abroad and further 4 a.m. raids, secret detentions and trials, and evisceration of the Bill of Rights at home.

It will be far easier to reverse the Bush move to permanent war now, before an invasion of Iraq, than after. However, history teaches that the will of the public has a way of overcoming insurmountable obstacles. Six months ago, few dreamed that such opposition to Bush's militarism was possible. Today, while what the Bush regimes proposes to inflict on a global scale is literally unprecedented in human history, the global opposition to it is also unprecedented. And despite tepid stands by many Democratic leaders and relentless media stenography of the Bush team's deceptions and jingoism, the opposition at home in the United States is not very far behind. That opposition must turn out now, but also be focused on the long haul.

Between the candlelight vigils and endless other variations of public protest, virtually every U.S. city, large and small, will have some form of anti-war activity this weekend. Seek out activities in your local area, and make your voice heard. Escalate as necessary. If, in the next or coming weeks, the missiles are launched and the media cheerleading reaches a dull roar, don't let it silence you. As Bush's empire-builders well know, the battle -- for America's soul -- has only begun.

Welcome to the weekend.


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