By Debra Sweet
Since hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. marched against the Iraq war in 2002/2003, I've been part of hundreds of conversations with people who wonder: what happened? Those mass mobilizations (which happened because the Democrats were so paralyzed they could neither get out in front of them nor offer a peep of resistance to the oncoming war themselves) were not futile. Worldwide, that was the largest, quickest mobilization against a war in history. Our combined action deprived the Bush regime from having the coalition it wished for, when the "willing" nations dwindled in the face of world public opinion.
But yes, Bush & Cheney, surely the most unpopular leaders in generations, held on, wreaking havoc abroad and here. We failed to mount to level of protest necessary to drive them from office in disgrace; instead, Bush was succeeded by an unlikely Democrat, elected largely to overcome the outrage at the Bush regime. Two occupations, and a couple of secret wars, continue in the longest-running active military campaign by the largest-ever military (I know "combat" troops have left Iraq; yet 17 U.S. bases remain, along with 50,000 troops and uncounted private contractors).
All sorts of protest, from weekly vigils, to large street protests, civil disobedience, active duty military resistance, droves of soldiers going awol, high school walk-outs, protests inside Congress, dramatic die-ins, involving tens of thousands of arrests have not stopped them. I know people are agonized, and wonder which tactics will work. If we avoid Saturday protests and focus on weekdays, will that get their attention? If we put all our energies into one great Saturday march, will that be enough to get national media attention? If we throw our bodies across arbitrary lines to get arrested? Will they who make the wars ever be made to stop?
All those actions - and more - are part of what it would take to force the U.S. to withdraw from Afghanistan, and to abandon the ground war and drones in Pakistan. It's not a matter of protest tactics. We need controversy dividing every institution in society, from religious to educational, over whether these wars, and those who advocate them, are legitimate. We must find a way to bring in those under 18, who may not even remember the evil Bush regime, but who will be pressed into service for Obama's successor.
We can't rely on mainstream media to relate our demands; we can't fail to challenge them to do so. We've got to use every outrage as a way of educating people to understand that these wars are fundamentally against the interests of the people living in this country, and of those who are occupied" and that your government is lying to you.
All that said, World Can't Wait will continue to be in the streets with visible protest, weekdays, weekends, and when it can make a difference. We're determined to expand the We Are Not Your Soldiers program, bringing veterans of Iraq & Afghanistan into high school classrooms.
There is nothing like coming face to face with someone who has "been there" to burst illusions about what being an occupier is like. There's an 85% chance that someone joining the military now will be sent to a combat zone. They will be trained to follow orders that involve the commission of war crimes and violations of civilians' rights, and not to question those orders. Someone who has seen what that training does to themselves and those they occupy can stop kids from going into the military.
That's a worthwhile effort to stop the wars.