US: Activists surge against Iraq occupation

Serving soldiers join mass demonstrations

Anti-war activists dubbed this a "peace surge" against Bush’s escalation of the war. The largest of the demonstrations was in Washington, D.C., where "a raucous and colorful multitude of protesters…danced, sang, chanted and shouted their opposition" in front of the Capitol (‘Washington Post’, 1/28/07). While most estimates put the crowd in D.C. at 100-150,000, organizers for United for Peace and Justice claimed up to 500,000 attended.

There were also smaller demonstrations in dozens of cities and towns across the country, including rallies of several thousand in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Significantly, there was a small contingent of active-duty soldiers at the protest in Washington, representing the growing opposition to the war among the rank-and-file of the US military. Recently, over 1,000 active-duty soldiers handed in a petition known as "Appeal for Redress" to Congress calling for an end to the war. Jonathan Hutto, one of the founders of the group, told the crowd: "We come here today…to speak out against this war, an imperialist war, a war for profit, not for people, a war for death, not for people, a war against the working class, not for justice."

At the protest in Seattle, Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse to deploy to Iraq, spoke. Watada, who faces a court-martial on 5 February, received a rousing ovation. In addition, there were sizable contingents of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out. Garrett Reppenhagen told the D.C. crowd that IVAW has "quadrupled in size in the past year," as more troops and vets speak out against the war.

The protests were timed to coincide with the opening of the new Congress, now with a new Democratic majority in power. Over two-thirds of Americans oppose Bush’s "surge." Many of the protesters carried banners or signs calling on Congress to cut off funding for the war and bring the troops home now. A recent poll found 61% of Americans want Congress to block funding for the surge (CNN, 1/19-1/21/07).

Democrats under pressure

Despite this massive public opposition, Democratic and Republican politicians in Congress are refusing to take decisive action and cut funding for the surge – let alone cutting funding for the entire war. Instead they have limited themselves to non-binding resolutions against the surge. Once again, the bulk of the Democrats in Congress are acting as enablers of the policies of the Bush administration, paralyzed by fear of assuming political responsibility for the defeat in Iraq.

Nevertheless, several of the most ‘left-wing’ Democratic politicians spoke at the rally, including Maxine Waters, John Conyers, and Dennis Kucinich. This reflects the pressure from below on the political establishment. But not a single leading Democrat was anywhere to be found at the rally.

While these left-leaning Democrats harshly criticize the war, the reality is that the Democratic Party is totally complicit in the war, having voted to authorize Bush to go to war and continually voting to spend hundreds of billions more to fight it. If anti-war Democrats like Kucinich want to consistently struggle against the war, they should leave the Democratic Party and work to build an independent antiwar, pro-worker political alternative to the two parties of big business and war. Instead, fearing that the growing anger at the polices of the Democratic Party will lead to anti-war activists breaking from the Democrats, the role of these Democratic politicians at the protest was unfortunately to try and channel the anti-war movement back into the Democratic Party. Regardless of their intentions, this will only serve to dampen opposition and help to limit the demands of activists to what is acceptable to the Democratic Party leadership and its corporate backers, as occurred during the 2004 presidential elections when Kucinich and others backed the pro-war John Kerry. The anti-war movement will be most effective by being independent of the Democratic Party. We should use the political debate and discussion that is already beginning around the 2008 presidential elections to mobilise around the call for an immediate end to the occupation by building the strongest possible independent anti-war challenge for the 2008 presidential elections. Such a campaign would expose the true nature of the Democratic Party and the stranglehold that Corporate America currently has over the US political system, and uncompromisingly mobilise protests against the war.

While the protests on 27 January were very important, they only tapped into a small portion of the existing anti-war sentiment. There is an enormous potential to build the anti-war movement. Activists now need to seize this opportunity to establish anti-war groups in their schools, communities, and workplaces, and to build for the local demonstrations called on the 4th anniversary of the war, during the week of March 17-24.

Continued mass demonstrations are extremely important in that they can draw in new forces and help the movement feel its strength, but activists also need to discuss tactics that can take the movement forward. In Seattle, Socialist Alternative (CWI), is working with Youth Against War and Racism to organise a student walkout on 18 April, against the war and against military recruitment in schools. Bold, mass actions like student walkouts can help convince other sectors of society to take action against the war.

Socialist Alternative and 27 January

Socialist Alternative members from across the country attended the 27 January protests. We sold hundreds of copies of our newspaper, ‘Justice’, as well as dozens of "Fight the Rich, Not Their Wars" t-shirts. In Seattle, our leaflets for the student walkout on 18 April got an excellent response from young people at the rally, with many enthusiastically signing up to get involved in building it, agreeing to take stacks of leaflets to help spread the word at their school, donate money, etc.Socialist Alternative will be energetically building for the 4th anniversary protests in March, striving to build a democratic, mass anti-war movement based among youth and working-class communities. We recognize, however, that as long as capitalism persists, war is inevitable, as corporations and their governments compete over resources and markets. In his State of the Union address, Bush announced, to bipartisan applause, that he wants to add 92,000 troops to the US military over the next 5 years, to rebuild the strength of the US military in preparation for future conflicts to defend the interests of US corporations. Socialist Alternative opposes a world of growing poverty and endless war. We fight for a socialist world in which working people democratically control the resources of society in the interests of humanity, rather than a world dominated by a tiny elite who are always willing to sacrifice the lives of working people in their endless quest for more profits.

Over 2,000 march in Seattle anti-war protests

Ramy Khalil, Socialist Alternative (CWI), Seattle

The anti-war protest in Seattle, last Saturday, was far bigger than expected, with over 2,000 people marching (‘The Seattle Times’ claimed they were 2,000). The turnout was huge given how little publicity there was for the event.

There was a very positive, upbeat mood at the protest. The protestors were very encouraged and surprised by the large turnout and felt the winds in their sail — they felt public support behind them, given the recent voter rebellion against Bush and the war, as well as the Iraq Study Group’s report.

People were very inspired by the Iraq vets [veteran US army personnel] marching and the panel discussion with Iraq Vets and the Officer First Lt. Ehren Watada speaking out against the war. There were more Iraq vets in these marches than in the past, which shows growing fault lines in the military. The contrast to the mood after the 2006 elections, with the mood of demoralisation and outright depression, just 2 years before after the 2004 election, when Bush was re-elected, was noticeable.

A high school member of Youth Against War and Racism spoke at the rally, publicizing the city-wide student walkout we are organising on 18 April. We publicly launched the walkout at this protest, and we got a terrific response form the vast majority of the young people we talked to about it. There was a lot of interest in it and a lot of people enthusiastically signed up to get involved in building it, agreed to take stacks of leaflets to help spread the word at their school, donate money, etc.

Socialist Alternative (CWI) and YAWR had an energetic contingent, with huge banners – one banner announced the walkout on 18 April and we also held up a Socialist Alternative banner.

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January 2007