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The Relevance of Marching

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David Corn,, published an article today on his site and on arguing that last weekend's march on Washington to end the war was a waste of time and money and energy and won't help end the war. I disagree, but think Corn makes some useful points.

Corn's arguments include:
1-these marches always result in debates over how many people showed up
2-not enough people showed up
3-there's nothing novel about marching anymore
4-more people watched "Desperate House Wives" than marched
5-the marchers are all from blue states, so the Republicans don't care
6-only one national march in the past 20 years has accomplished anything
7-we'd be better off targeting vulnerable Senators and Members of Congress

1.-Yes, there are always debates over how many people showed up. Some among those organizing this march made proposals that I supported but which were not accepted or acted on, to either carefully estimate the crowd as the march began and passed through a marked off area, or to acquire a good enough satellite photo to estimate crowd size. But the media coverage - lousy and insufficient as it was - did not focus on the crowd size as much as organizers and activists have. Most of the stories in the corporate media communicated that there was a huge, diverse march of people from all over the country who wanted to end the war. If there's also debate over the crowd size, what's so bad about that? The issue is at least in the news, and those in search of harder numbers can refer to opinion polls, which all now support the anti-war movement.

2.-Corn says a million people would have meant something. But it would not have meant eliminating the debate over what the right number was. And it will not happen without smaller marches first and recognition of what they achieve. It certainly won't happen if we write off marching as an outdated tool, the way the Bushies write off the labor movement.

3.-How many people really believe that the marches against the Vietnam War worked primarily because they were novel? In fact, was there anything novel then about marching? What works about marching, I think, is mostly not dependent on it being novel. For one thing, it puts an issue into the media and reaches more people. While a majority of Americans currently oppose the war, only a tiny minority knows that. Most people who oppose the war believe falsely that they hold a minority opinion. A march helps people learn that a mainstream opinion is mainstream. Each person at the march is understood to represent many more people who could not take off work, travel, physically march that distance, or risk arrest. And each person goes home and tells many other people about the inspiring experience of the march. The internet and activist networks are now a-fire with proposals and initiatives and hope. The bus tours and lobby visits and local protests and congressional hearings that preceded the march did not produce this.

Local energy is higher now, not depleted by the national march or any of the regional marches that took place the same day. This is not a zero-sum game. It's closer to the reverse. The more we do, the more people come in with more energy to do more. And it's not just Americans who are excited. National marches in DC excite people around the world, build alliances with them, and restore some credibility to our country in the eyes of others. What generated excitement this past weekend, though, was not just the march, but also the civil disobedience at the White House on Monday. On that day 384 people accepted arrest to demand that the war end now. They sacrificed, and that moved people. And we know the exact count (384) because the police know how many arrests were made. There was also a ton of lobbying done by hundreds of people, some of it very aggressively, on Monday; and that was useful, but it did not accomplish the same things the march did.

4.-Of course, more people watched television. Many people work long hours and can't do much else. But of those supporting the war, all but a few hundred watch television. Of those opposing it, all but a few hundred thousand watch television. That's the difference. And this argument seems to be one that Corn has invented. I haven't seen it in the corporate media coverage of the march. Why invent arguments for the other side?

5.-The marchers were not all from blue states. Who said they were? And the supporters of the war in Congress are not all Republicans. In fact, Corn later asks why New Yorkers didn't stay home and challenge their Democratic senators. Well, because they came to DC to do so, by marching and then by meeting with them. In the process, they built solidarity with others and helped build the movement.

6.-Most marches don't result in immediate total victory. There is a dangerous tendency to expect that and then grow frustrated. But many of us never thought they would. We see marches as part of an ongoing movement. In this case, the march was combined with lobbying and civil disobedience and various other meetings and strategy sessions. I'd have thought this was a step in the direction Corn favored, but instead he didn't mention it at all.

The idea that only one march in the past 20 years has had a noticeable effect is bizarre. Most marches I've been part of have resulted in positive change. The marches against this war have very likely helped prevent it being more of a slaughter than it's been. A few years back, ACORN and others organized a march on the Department of Health and Human Services, protesting their new policy of eliminating the minimum wage for workfare jobs. Within 8 hours, the White House reversed that policy. Numerous other marches at the Capitol and White House, even under Bush, have immediately resulted in improvements in horrible legislation, if only very rarely reversals of plans.

7.-I agree that we should target vulnerable senators and House members, both Republicans and Democrats. In fact, there have been discussions about this among the organizers of the recent national march. But the campaign, among other groups, was doing this in the weeks leading up to the march, and it did some good, but no one noticed. No one even bothered to write dismissive articles about it. It did not, I expect, do as much to bring in new people as this march did. We need both types of actions if we are going to have an effective movement. For upcoming plans, watch
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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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