Well, school’s about out for the year, but that doesn’t mean that all students are merely partying and taking exams. In fact, antiwar students have mounted what could be called an offensive in the last few weeks of the 2006-2007 academic year here in the US. As previous readers might know, there have been a number of sit-ins in legislators’ offices and a number of protests in Washington State against military equipment shipments. In all of these actions, students have been participants and organizers. In addition, there have been a number of rallies on campuses and, at the University of Vermont in Burlington, there was a statewide student antiwar conference. Vermont is unique in a number of ways, with its small size being prominent among those differences. This size enables people to actually feel that they have a say in their government. Of course, like everywhere else, this say is merely an illusion, but at times it truly makes a difference. In addition, Vermont has the highest number of per capita deaths in from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This latter fact is most certainly part of the reason for the intensely antiwar feeling that runs across the state’s population. In order to get elected in Vermont, politicians have to at least come out in opposition to the war. Unfortunately, those words don’t always seem to hold up once those politicians head to Washington where human lives become matters of corporate party politics.
I am writing this piece from Vermont. I am here on a visit to see old friends and get away from my new digs for a week. It’s refreshing to be in a place where the mindset matches one’s own. However, that’s one of the reasons I moved–I figured it was getting to comfortable and that it was time to go where the opposition was more present. So I moved to North Carolina, where the opposition is more vocal and considerably greater than it is here in Vermont. Yet, in today’s United States where people move constantly, it is becoming rarer and rarer that any regional stereotypes can hold up for long. In addtion, the continuing homogenization of our culture into one great big land of Gap and generic coffee shops and chain restaurants continues to push us all towards a megaculture determined by the profit margins of WalMart and Clear Channel.
Anyhow, while I am here, I decided to check in with a couple friends involved in different aspects of the antiwar movement in Vermont. The first one I ran into was Mary Coleman-Howard, a student at the University of Vermont and one fo the primary organizers of the recent VTCAN conference. My first question regarding the conference concerned numbers and the general mood of those attending. Mary estimated that between forty-five and fifty students from six campuses were in attendance. Their general mood was one of excitement and a desire to do everything they can to end the war, including civil disobedience and extralegal forms of direct action. If there was one drawback to the conference, it was the lack of high school students.
Mary attributed this to the fact that she and other organizers focused mostly on colleges this time around. She next step is to reach and organize in the high schools. When I asked her about the feeling among the conferees concerning elected officials, she told me that “people seemed to hold few illusions in the Dems, but (they) also think we should continue pressure on them so that they stop voting for the war. This is very much a step forward than in 2004, when the Dems were seen as the saviors of all humanity. This really shows what the 2006 elections have done and the (result of the) Dems inaction.”
There is also an impeachment movement in Vermont that has the support of most of its citizens. Just this weekend, the state’s popular third party-the Progressives- passed a resolution supporting the movement to impeach Bush and Cheney. The resolution was passed unanimously with one abstention. This action by the Progressive Party puts the organization in sync with the Vermont Democratic Party, the Vermont State Senate, and 37 Vermont towns that have already passed their own impeachment resolutions, although the newly elected Democratic Congressman from Vermont, Peter Welch has yet to support the resolution, telling his constituents that “history will impeach George W. Bush.” IVAW member Adrienne Kinne responded to Welch’s sentiment in an email with these words: “With all due respect, that is not how a constitutional democracy works. It is our duty, and his, to defend the Constitution from all attacks today.”
Although the impeachment movement represents a clear challenge to the Bush administration, its dependence on the Democrats for its success makes it a distant hope. If we are to learn anything from this, it should be that there is a reason the Democrats do not want to jump on the impeachment bandwagon. As far as that goes, the best reason I can come up with is that they have more invested in the goals of the Bush administration’s foreign policy than they do in the preservation of the Constitution. So, as my friend Michael B. noted in a conversation we were having over a pint here in Burlington, the best even the impeachment people can probably hope for is that a few more rats will be tossed overboard-Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, maybe Gonzales and maybe more-just so us citizens think that some changes are being made. Meanwhile, the wars drag on.
So, as we head into the final year of the Bush-Cheney administration, it looks like the wars of Washington are not going to diminish. Indeed, given Cheney’s rather bellicose statements on his most recent trip to the Middle East, they could even expand. If we are to prevent this, it is essential that the antiwar movement also expand its efforts and breadth. Even impeachment should be a means to ending the war, not an end in itself. As for the 2008 elections, organizing for the elections is not our job. Leave that to the politicians. Of course, if a candidate comes along who shares our desire for immediate and unconditional withdrawal, then we should of course support them, but our energies must not be diverted into anyone’s campaign. Let them join our movement to end the wars. We shouldn’t join their movement to get elected.