US: Anti-war protests sweep US

Fourth anniversary of Iraq invasion

Over the last several days, mass demonstrations and civil disobedience erupted in cities and towns across the US, marking the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Popular discontent with the war and the Bush administration reached new highs in the last months, particularly following Bush began the “troop surge” of 21,500 into Baghdad.

The most significant demonstrations were held in Washington DC, where on Friday, March 16th, a procession of 3,000 marched out of a cathedral toward the White House. 222 people were arrested during the protest. Last Saturday, a march on the Pentagon drew over 20,000, despite the bitter winter storm that swept through the region the previous days. This protest was a modern day version of the 1967 March on the Pentagon that was widely seen as a turning point for the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Tens of thousands demonstrated in other cities across the US, as well over the weekend. This week, small student walkouts and protests occurred on well over 100 campuses across the country. In cities and schools, Socialist Alternative (CWI in US) had a strong presence and helped build for the protests. In Boston, Socialist Alternative plays the central role building for a major protest on Saturday, March 24th.

While the wave of protest around the fourth anniversary were not huge, it seems clear the general upturn in anti-war struggle in 2007 is continuing. The March on the Pentagon was significantly smaller than the January 27th protest in Washington, which drew up to 200,000. Aside from the weather, the main explanation for the smaller turnout in DC can be found in the political character of the organizers. Whereas the 27 January protest was organized by the liberal United for Peace and Justice, which is seen as somehow ‘legitimate’ and has ties to the Democratic Party, the 17 March protest was organized by the sectarian group ANSWER, whose methods turned off many in the movement. Similar leadership factors played into the size of demonstrations in other cities as well.

Anger at Democrats

The protests gave voice to the growing alienation from the political establishment within US society, and, in particular, the growing anger at the Democrats. Speaking at the March on the Pentagon, former Congresswoman from Georgia, Cynthia McKinney, said “We are shocked that the Democratic majority in Congress chose war over us, and we say bring our troops home now. Our country has been hijacked. What about a livable wage for America’s workers? What about the right of return for Katrina survivors. What about repealing Patriot Act, the secret evidence act, and the military tribunals act? Why is impeachment off the table?”

McKinney was unceremoniously pushed out of her seat in Congress in the 2006 Democratic primaries by her own party leadership and the powerful pro-Israel lobby groups after regularly speaking out against the war, US support for Israel, and social justice issues. She is now courted by many in the Green Party to run as their presidential candidate in 2008.

Notably, McKinney’s speech appeared to advocate breaking from the Democrats: “Its hard to believe, but the Democrats are now full partners in Bush’s wars. And by funding his wars, the Democratic Congress is explicitly complicit; complicit in war crimes, complicit in torture, complicit in crimes against humanity… In 1957 Martin Luther King observed that both political parties had betrayed the cause of justice, and so it must be repeated today… I sadly declare my independence from the leaders who let this happen.”

Such statements reflect the growing pressure from below on the Democrats to act decisively against the war. However, in the coming days the House Democrats will pass a resolution giving Bush $124 billion more for the war machine! Nancy Pelosi and other Democrat party leaders try to call this an “anti-war” bill because they attached provisions demanding a substantial troop withdrawal 18 months from now, in September 2008. However, its clear Bush will veto any bill setting a timeline for withdrawal, and there is no indication the Democrats will then use their power of the purse to force Bush’s hand.

As the war rages on in Iraq, the rage in the US will also grow. The anti-war movement needs to redouble efforts and broaden its appeal to many more workers and youth. Only a truly mass social upheaval in the US can force the ruling class to pull back from their murderous pursuit of oil profits and imperial control in Iraq and the Middle East.

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March 2007