In March 2008 the world will mark five years since the US invasion of Iraq and for many this sad, painful occasion will be a time of reflection and questioning. This is true for no-one more than the antiwar activists whose opposition to the Iraq war has been consistent as it has been outspoken. Hundreds of thousands of us the world over, from New York to Nagoya, London to Los Angeles have, over the past six years mobilized and protested against the war. And if public opinion in the US and internationally has been any indication, our opposition to the war has been echoed by a majority of the world’s people.
Nevertheless, the question of how effective the movement has been in terms of altering the course of events in the halls of power and the facts on the ground has been debatable. The anti war protests held regularly in Washington and countless lesser locales across the country have not brought back a single soldier, nor did they succeed in dissuading the Bush administration from attacking Iraq in the first place. The mind boggling sums of taxpayer dollars being spent on the war continue to drain from the state’s coffers and the bellicose rhetoric being used against Iran by the Bush administration continues unabated. Aside from mobilizing public opinion on our side – a November 2007 survey by Angus Reid Global Monitor recently showed 62 percent of Americans thought the Iraq war was a mistake – it is difficult to see whether the antiwar movement has made any difference.
Five years on, we antiwar activists have to understand what we got right – as well as what we got wrong. We were right to argue from day one that attacking Iraq would be a diversion from the War on Terror. We were right to question the validity of the oxymoronic ''intelligence’’ about Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction. We were right to suggest that any war against Iraq would be a catastrophe for the long suffering Iraqi people and that it would blacken Washington’s global image. Perhaps most significantly of all, we were right to muster up the courage and protest on the streets and question the morality – and indeed the wisdom of an illegal war, often in a climate of intimidation, counter protests and endless boos jeers and attacks from the supporters of the war.
But where did we go wrong? An amalgam of apathy and disorganization, in varying degrees are perhaps to blame. Here in Buffalo, for instance, opposition to the war is concentrated in a few antiwar groups as well as an umbrella of liberal, leftist and ethnic communities. But how frequently do we meet, exchange ideas, try to understand each other’s vantage point, rationalize the views of the ''other’’, or even try to map out a collective strategy to oppose the war effort locally ? Improved organization skills and better coordination amongst the different sections of the anti war movement locally is a definite starter. More collective pressure on the local elected representatives of Congress and Senate – yes the emphasis is on the word collective – would help. And the Peace Center’s Outreach programs, designed to build popular support amongst the public at large don’t hurt either. A powerful and galvanized anti war movement would probably benefit from more vigor, more determined cooperation amongst anti war organizations at a local, regional, national and perhaps even international levels.
Above all, a recognition and remembrance of the countless victims of this senseless war – nearly 4000 US soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who for far too frequently are depicted as nameless faceless statistics who may or may not be mentioned depending on the whims and political persuasions of the mainstream media - should be the ultimate motivator for every single one of us. To make it to that anti war demo or vigil – there is one at Bidwell Park at noon every Saturday – no matter how icy the weather or rude the counter protesters. To call up our local representative to let them know what we think of this senseless war. To vote in local and national elections for candidates who at least pay lip service if nothing else to ending the madness. To sit down and talk some sense into youngsters lured into the army by pushy recruiters and sugarcoated illusions about ''serving’’ their country by occupying someone else’s. To support the war resisters – many of whom face ostracism, attacks and even prosecution for their conscientious objections – with financial, moral and legal aid. To hold the mainstream media accountable for its factuality at a time when its gun-ho Iran bashing seems eerily reminiscent – on both sides of the political picket fences – to the incessant campaign of misinformation that set the stage for the Iraq misadventure in the first place.
Above all, the best shot in the arm for a newly galvanized anti war movement is the recognition that the ideological inertia that prevents us from being as well organized, vocal and influential as we deserve to be comes from within. We have to work harder and smarter to make ourselves heard – and in a way that appeals to ordinary people from all walks of life so that they understand just why the anti war movement is not just about placard waving idealists, but also about common folks who want to seek peaceful solutions, non violent alternatives to some of the most serious problems of our time.
Helen Keller, that deaf, dumb and blind source of inspiration for millions once said ''Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much’’. Perhaps as we ask the all important question – where next for the peace movement – we should recognize that it is in a sense of togetherness, encompassing determination, cooperation, patience and outspokenness, also a determination to speak the raw, hard facts that we can seek answers to that question.