"Peace is controversial. But so is war. The fruit of peace is so much sweeter." -- Jesse Jackson addressing protesters at rally, 1/27/07
Those of us who have been opposing Bush's militarism got another chance this weekend to exercise our own individual role in our democracy after we failed to unseat him in 2004. In the last election, Democrats opposed to Bush's blundering militarism replaced his party's legislative majority in Congress with Democrats pledged to end his bloody occupation. Saturday, Americans exercised another privilege that's protected by our constitution as hundreds of thousands of Americans from all over the country came to Washington to march in protest of Bush, and to demand an end to his deadly, unaccountable failure in Iraq.
Like most of these D.C. protests, this one drew a diverse crowd who carried many different versions of the same anti-occupation message to Bush and Congress as we gathered on the mall behind the Capitol. Our message wasn't clipped or nuanced like many of the responses this week that we got from the folks we elected to represent us in our cause in the House and Senate. Marcher after marcher, speaker after speaker, and protester after protester called on Bush and Congress to end the Iraq occupation and bring our troops home. There was no debate among protesters on the grounds of the National Mall about whether they stood for partial, staged, or phased withdrawal from Iraq; only their insistence that Bush act now to save our soldiers lives from being unnecessarily lost for his lost cause.
This protest march on Washington and the Capitol had a different feel from the last several I've attended. There was an army of reporters and their cameras blocking the stage of speakers from the clear view of the surging throngs who packed in behind and around the sides of their platforms to see and hear the several celebrities and legislators who had come to Washington to urge us on. Reps. Maxine Waters, Lynne Woosley, John Conyers, Dennis Kucinich, and other politicians were there. Dedicated activists were also present, like Dick Gregory and Kim Grandy.
Name-dropping notables in attendance included Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Danny Glover, and some other famous folks whose familiar faces didn't make their names any more rememberable. And, the speaker's platform was graced with the presence of Jane Fonda, who participated in past protests of the Vietnam war which patronized the forces our troops were fighting and served as a lightening rod for demagogues to paint all war protests, thereafter, as appeasement and sedition, sensationalizing a generation of patriotic anti-war activism. She sounded as contrite as ever as she gave a nod to the service folks there and explained her opposition to Bush's militarism, echoing MLK's admonition that "silence is not an option." Afterward, I couldn't help but feel that we had really committed ourselves to something trans-generational and defining as Fonda joined the veterans at the head of the procession as we marched to the Capitol.
I've been to rally after rally in D.C. over the years. I live on the outskirts, and coming to Washington to take over the streets for some cause or another has always been as easy as rolling out of bed; so I've indulged. My father was a black American who found extensive work in the civil rights movement in the '50's and '60's because that was where a great deal of opportunity lay for young black men who had finished college and were looking for a position which fit their abilities outside of the mostly unwelcoming private sector. That experience led him to Selma and other hot spots where his activism was needed, and drew him to the many protests and actions held around Washington. Even when we moved out of D.C. and into the suburbs, my father would 'sneak' off and join with folks like Dick Gregory in local protests, stashing his picket signs in the garage.
I guess Earth Day observances first drew me to D.C. for something other than sightseeing, even though you couldn't miss the protests as we drove through town, like the tent city of vets in '71. I remember as a teenager, attending rallies for the ERA, abortion's rights, No Nukes, U.S. out of El Salvador and Nicaragua, and any rally I'd come across in one of the city parks. There were the 'smoke-ins' across from the White House where we'd toke and toke in front of the mounted Secret Service and police who'd lined up in front of us to prevent us hippies from storming the gates to play frisbee on the lawn and duck into the rose garden to sit in a circle and share the doobies we just nabbed from the guy in the clown suit throwing joints into the air like some far-out confetti.
We marched from one gathering in front of the White House to the Mall to hear Root Boy Slim groovin' on 'Boogie Till You Puke." I got an egg-sized knot on my forehead after hanging back in the procession and yelling, "Pigs!" at the cops herding us on ahead like cattle and setting off tear gas canisters to scatter us. Across the street I could see a man running with his children in his arms . . . I was having way too much fun with my political freedom.
I grew up and found more serious challenges than lobbying for psychedelic emporiums, but there just weren't any massive protests in my day like the ones we've been compelled to take up during the Bush term. Right from the beginning of the rumors of war with Iraq, our faithful activists have organized and led us to rally against the invasion. There was a remarkable amount of premonition and intuition which launched our strident opposition to Bush's invasion. We knew his claims and justifications of terrorist threats and weapons associated with Saddam were false and a pretext to a wider war. We knew then that Bush had military ambitions which went far beyond his aborted hunt for the 9-11 suspects in Afghanistan which had nothing to do with any threat to the U.S. whatsoever. We said so, loudly, in our neighborhoods and town centers; on the street corners and in front of the halls of our democracy, as we had been taught by our fathers, mothers, and others who defended their own rights and liberties, and protested the extremes of their government before we even imagined we could or should.
We've parroted their slogans and the cadence of their past rants as we've challenged our own system from without and within. Millions of Americans have taken to the streets over the four years from the revelation of Bush's plan to invade Iraq to his present escalation of our soldier's presence and mission. Many veterans of the past protests have been drawn back into service against this generation's warmonger's military madness, and are lending their voices, their experience, and their time to stand down the present threat to world peace which has sprung, once again, from the Executive's arrogant misuse of the awesome power of our military defenses.
Saturday's march on Washington was significant in many ways, not the least of which was the degree of participation from Americans who's place of origin, ideology, income, race or nationality, age, sex, or otherwise, made no difference at all in the solidity of our message to the Bush administration and whoever is left to support their continuing occupation of Iraq. It is a clear and unambiguous call for Bush to either change course. or have his power to conduct his military muckraking in Iraq reduced to packing up our troops and equipment and bringing them home.
That call for a quick end to American military involvement in Iraq is reflected by the majority of Americans who voted in the last election for an end to the fiasco. That vote to end the occupation is reflected in our protests this weekend, held in D.C., and in several other states. Our protest will, next, spill over into the halls of our government to be acted upon, or so ignored as to trigger yet another round of protest and action from the people. The more Americans invest themselves in protest of this duplicitous, destructive Bush regime, the more they'll expect and demand a change in its course and direction.
Taking our protests to the streets is a healthy flexing of our democratic system, who's agenda and direction is best served when it is initiated from the ground, on up; then, entrusted to the caretakers and managers of the levers of our democracy. Baynard Rustin, a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, argued in his book, 'Strategies for Freedom', that for a movement to have a permanent and transforming imprint, it should have a legislative goal attached which will transcend the whims of the emotions of the moment. Describing a different struggle that America faced with the advancement of civil rights, he wrote that:
"Moral fervor can't maintain your movement, nor can the act of participation itself. There must be a genuine commitment to the advancement of the people. To have such a commitment is also to have a militant sense of responsibility, a recognition that actions have consequences which have a very real effect on the individual lives of those one seeks to advance."
"Far too many movements lack both a (legislative) perspective and a sense of responsibility, and they fail because of it," Ruskin wrote.
Another important point Ruskin made in reference to unity among blacks within the movement rings true for our own diverse anti-war coalitions which have massed to march together in protest, and will be advocating within the system, together, against the occupation.
"In a pluralistic democracy," he wrote, "unity (among we who agree) is a meaningless goal. It is far more important to form alliances with other forces in society which share common needs and common goals, and which are in general agreement over the means to achieve them."
Ruskin's advice about alliances is just the lesson we need to heed as we face off against the republican opposition without the benefit of enough Democratic senators or representatives to overcome a certain filibuster or a presidential veto of any and all important legislation which intends to reverse the Bush regime's destructive course. The more alliances we can make between our legislators and republicans on ending the Iraq occupation, the more we can plant a wedge between Bush's ambitions and the resources he'll need to continue his military meddling.
That doesn't mean rolling over and compromising our principles or our positions. If we are to effectively begin any substantial withdrawal of troops from Iraq it will have to come in the form of some sort of compromise, but, for our side of that compromise to carry weight, Democrats will need time to pressure republicans on the other things they want legislatively. That won't be as transparent an effort as the resolution approach, but they can pressure the republicans by controlling the access of their initiatives and proposals with the levers of their new majority, in committee and on the floor, to get them to bend their way on Iraq. This will take time. This will also, more than likely, take even more protests.