CPR For the Antiwar Movement

It is fair to say that the antiwar movement in the US is moribund. A movement that put a million people in the streets a month before the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and has drawn as many as half-a-million protesters to protests as recently as January 2007 has failed to mobilize anything even near those numbers since then. Part of this is because of differences among the leadership of the two primary antiwar organizations, part of it is because many people opposed to the war have put their energies—however misplaced–into working for Barack Obama, and part of it is attributable to the belief that there is nothing one can do to stop the bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The most recent example of this occurred during the week of March 15th, 2008. Despite the announced intentions of both antiwar organizations to organize some kind of national march marking the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, there was no such protest. Instead, hundreds of cities and towns around the country held smaller observances.

In the wake of the failure to organize a national protest, some folks from the US who had formed a coalition following a 2007 international antiwar conference in London decided to step outside the existing organizational stasis. They formed a steering committee with the intention of reigniting the national movement against the war in the United States. The primary movers behind this effort include members of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), US Labor Against the War (USLAW), military veterans and individuals with decades of experience organizing against imperial war, and representatives of numerous local antiwar committees. Characterizing themselves as the mass action wing of the antiwar movement, the steering committee in early spring 2008 put out a call for a national meeting of antiwar activists and citizens in late June of this year —a call which has been answered by hundreds of organizations and individuals from across the US. Organizing under the name The National Assembly to End the Iraq War and Occupation, the steering committee has garnered the endorsement of several labor organizations and individuals like Cindy Sheehan, Howard Zinn and Mumia Abu Jamal. In addition, a multitude of local peace and justice organizations, church groups and student organizations have signed on.

When I asked AFSC organizer and coordinator of the Northeast Ohio Anti-War Coalition Greg Coleridge, who along with Marilyn Levin of Greater Boston United for Justice with Peace, is one of the national spokespeople for the National Assembly, why this conference should be held now, he responded this way.

The ever-increasing human carnage, economic costs, and desire for US military conquest connected to the Iraq war and occupation demand effective resistance. There is an urgent need for greater coordination, collaboration and cohesion among US anti-war organizations without giving up their own missions and identities. The upcoming elections provide ample opportunities to distract attention from the current permanent nature of the war and occupation. Now is the time for anti-war activists and concerned citizens to come together and call on the anti-war movement to organize mass actions which communicate to the public and pressure elected officials that US troops, bases and contractors must leave Iraq immediately.

It is important to note that there is not a call for a withdrawal timetable here. As Coordinating Committee member Jerry Gordon told me in a conversation, the only correct demand for the U.S. antiwar movement is for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq. Furthermore, it is assumed that the best way to make this demand is through mass action and a unified antiwar movement that utilizes democratic decision-making and remains independent of any and all political parties and organizations. It is not the intention of those on the steering committee to supersede UFPJ or ANSWER. Indeed, they have the utmost respect for the two organizations and the work they have done to this point. This respect is evident in the fact that both organizations have members from their coordinating committees on the speakers list for the Assembly.

The Assembly, which will take place on June 27th and 28th 2008 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Northeast Cleveland, is open to all. A five-point action plan will be discussed and voted on during the weekend. Although there are several speakers slated for the podium and a number of workshops scheduled, there will be ample time for anyone to speak and it is hoped that those who have serious ideas on how to organize a movement that will stop this war will attend and speak up. As Greg Coleridge put it in an email to me, “I see the Assembly as a collective facilitator — enabling the many different voices against the war to coalesce and create a massive roar to force an immediate end to the war and occupation.” He continued, hoping that a “greater trust” can be developed among those working to end the war. As for concrete outcomes, he said the organizers “ hope that Assembly attendees will agree to urge that the broad antiwar movement unite in calling for mass actions this year and next.”

Reminding me that the vast majority of people in the US oppose the war and occupation, Coleridge explained why he believes mass action is not only important but essential. “Unfortunately,” he wrote in an email. “the US Constitution doesn’t permit national initiatives or referendums.” If it did, he “believe(s) most people today would vote for a federal initiative calling to end the Iraq war, bring US troops home, close military bases, and end funding beyond required to transport the troops back.” Coleridge continued, explaining that “Organized mass street actions have played a historically important role in producing social change in this country. A government that ignores public opinion and mass mobilizations loses credibility, authenticity, and legitimacy. No government can effectively govern without support from the majority of its citizens. A vast majority of people oppose the war and occupation. The anti-war movement has a responsibility to provide forums where those feelings can be expressed. National and coordinated mass action is certainly not the only strategy required to end the Iraq war and occupation. Over the last couple of years, however, it is a strategy that has not been utilized for maximum effect. That must change.”

Conference speakers include Jonathan Hutto, Navy Petty Officer, author of Anti-War Soldier and Co-

Founder of Appeal for Redress; Donna Dewitt, president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO; Cindy

Sheehan (by satellite); Colia Clark, long time civil rights activist; Fred Mason, President of the

Maryland AFL-CIO and National Co-Convenor of USLAW; Jeremy Scahill, author of “Blackwater:

The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army; and Clarence Thomas, Executive Board

member, ILWU Local 10, the trade union that initiated the May 1 one day strike that closed all U.S.

West Coast ports from Canada to Mexico.

For information and to register for the National Assembly, please go to their website or call 216-736-4704.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

16 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Edwin Pell said on May 24th, 2008 at 8:41am #

    I would like to see peace walks. That is every say Thursday at 7pm the pro-peace people in a town walk from point A to point B. For the fun and suuport of the company of like minded people.

    I am thinking of the fall of East Germany. Walks in the street that just keeped getting bigger and bigger until they had won.

  2. evie said on May 24th, 2008 at 5:30pm #

    The “anti-war movement” is misreading the public. The public does not trust the anti-war movement’s leadership or feel there’s any long-term goal or benefits.

    As you said “many people opposed to the war have put their energies—however misplaced–into working for Barack Obama.” Others into Hillary.

    There is no “vast majority” against the war. They are against high pump prices, high food prices, high utilities – and foolishly believe Obama and/or Hillary will “end the war” and make gas and big screen tvs more affordable.

    Of course some folks are aware of the long-term and indirect “costs” of war but only 0.5% of the populace is directly effected by the war (troops, families, friends). And of those, many support the war.

    Finding voices other than guys like Michael Moore, Zinn, Cindy, and Mumia, etc. might attract more folks (most Joes are just not fired up by a fat capitalist, an old Jew, a whiner, and a murder felon).

    A military draft might get Joe into the streets – more direct effect on people.

    I would say the “anti-war movement” doesn’t need CPR. It need’s a coffin and after the funeral perhaps another social movement can be born – one that addresses the root cause which gives rise to wars and which directly effects everyone – corruption in government.

  3. ron said on May 24th, 2008 at 5:39pm #

    Some people give up before the battle has really begun. This conference is to get the movement going again–that requires those with past experience and those with youthful energy. Those who have decided that cynicism serves them best might as well stay home until they can convince themselves that there is a possibility that people can make positive history. If they can’t, then they will sit on the sidelines of history making droll and pointless commentary that makes it easier for them to justify their inaction.

  4. evie said on May 24th, 2008 at 6:34pm #

    And some folks are fighting the wrong battle.

  5. ron said on May 24th, 2008 at 6:45pm #

    if the shoe fits, wear it.

  6. samson said on May 25th, 2008 at 2:11am #

    Don’t confuse the ‘leadership’ of the anti-war movement with the anti-war movement. The so-called ‘leadership’ we’ve had up till now has been self-appointed. Given the poor record of its actions, it deserves to be replaced. But, how do you replace a self-appointed leadership?

    On that measure alone, this conference sounds like good news.

    The American people are strongly against this war. They have been for some time according to public opinion polls. Long before the price of oil reached $100 a barrel. But, on some level that sounds like the stupid arguments about why we went to war. Its simple and naive to ever believe there’s one reason for anything. If the price of oil makes more people against the war, then great, use that to our advantage. Don’t use it as a reason to form a circular firing squad and shoot the people on our side.

    We’ve had that most successful anti-war movement in history. When you see 70% or so of the American people against the war, that’s the proof. The problem in America is that we no longer have a democracy that represents the will of the people.

    Its hard to get people out to an anti-war protest because most people have figured out that a protest isn’t going to do anything to stop the war. What we need now in America is a democracy movement. Get back to democracy, and the war will end. But its democracy that we must restore.

    Good luck to those gathering in Cleveland.

  7. evie said on May 25th, 2008 at 6:24am #

    Samson, You would make a decent diplomat.

    The keynote speakers at this assembly are basically the same old same old. The “endorsers” and promoters are basically the same (ANSWER,UPJ, etc.). The list of endorsers include those with Socialist in the title – a word that many average Joes run from, and Progressive Democrats (the left cheek on the corporate ass) with such notables as Medea Benjamin, John Conyers, Tom Hayden, Reverand Yearwood and the hip-hoppers, etc.

    I’m not particularly trusting of polls as they are generated by mainstream media, think tanks, or foundations – all which lean left or right and interpret data accordingly. Even so, as of March 2008 a pew poll showed 49% favor bringing troops home as soon as possible and 47% favor remaining until Iraq is stabilized. Where this vast “majority against the war” comes from is not “fact” but cherry picking, perhaps from a USA Today or Gallup or Newsweek or other pollsters, the same folks who told us Bush has had a high of 90% approval rating, and even 61% approval in 2004. Either the public is very fickle or in a state of constant bamboozlement.

    It’s possible the ruling class is ready to “end the war” and will install a democrat to draw down troops, declare mission accomplished, all while congress continues to pump billions into Iraq for “security” and/or “reconstruction”. The peace movement will say they won, the conservatives will blame democrats for the resultant austerity programs, $9/gallon gas (we can begin that walking Edwin) and shortages in the basics and staple products, etc. Government corruption will continue merrily along, and your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren can attend their own anti-war movements.

    For those who make it to Cleveland ($50 registration fee) – be sure to agree with the 5 points on the agenda and do not make any pointless commentary about focusing on government corruption, rah rah rah. And don’t forget to buy tee-shirts, bumperstickers, music CDs, books by speakers and endorsers, etc.

    P.S. … get back to democracy and war will end? The US has been at war overtly or covertly since the inception of the Republic.

  8. Lloyd Rowsey said on May 25th, 2008 at 6:46am #

    The website to which Ron refers is still accessible at 6:47 PST. Send money ESPECIALLY if you can’t make it.


  9. Edwin Pell said on May 25th, 2008 at 10:47am #

    Folk’s it is about the oil. Neither the dems nor the repubs will give away 10 trillion dollars of oil. The ruling class will mantain control of Iraq until the oil is gone (about 30 years).

    America has never been a Democracy. It is a Republic. I agree going to a Democracy will help (it is not a return it would be a new experiment).

  10. Edwin Pell said on May 25th, 2008 at 10:48am #

    Folk’s it is about the oil. Neither the dems nor the repubs will give away 10 trillion dollars of oil. The ruling class will maintain control of Iraq until the oil is gone (about 30 years).

    America has never been a Democracy. It is a Republic. I agree going to a Democracy will help (it is not a return it would be a new experiment).

  11. hp said on May 25th, 2008 at 11:46am #

    “Democracy too is a religion.
    The worship of jackals by jackasses.”

    “In the long run, it may turn out that rascality is necessary to human government, and even to civilization itself – that civilization, at bottom, is nothing but a colossal swindle. I do not know: I report only that when the suckers are running well the spectacle is infinitely exhilarating. But I am, it may be, a somewhat malicious man: my sympathies, when it comes to suckers, tend to be coy. What I can’t make out is how any man can believe in democracy who feels for and with them, and is pained when they are debauched and made a show of. How can any man be a democrat who is sincerely a democrat?
    H.L. Mencken

  12. sk said on May 25th, 2008 at 12:13pm #

    According to Jim Holt it’s worth “$30 trillion at today’s prices”. That was written more than 6 months ago.

  13. joe blow said on May 25th, 2008 at 1:18pm #

    hp and EP –
    Did you ever read The Poisonwood Bible?
    In it, there’s a great conversation between a white missionary and a black tribal chief. The conversation takes place in Africa. They are talking about politics and society. The missionary tells him proudly of “American” democracy. The chief responds ( roughly ):
    “So, if I have 100 people to take care of, and 51 of them do NOT want something, but 49 DO want something, your democracy says that I have to tell 49 of my people that they can’t do what they want to do because 51 of them say they can’t?”
    “Yes, that’s democracy!” says the missionary.
    “Oh, I wouldn’t last even an afternoon as Chief with a stupid attitude like that,” the chief laughs…

  14. Lloyd Rowsey said on May 25th, 2008 at 3:15pm #

    I don’t quite understand how or why everyone wants to go off on “democracy.” What the fuck does trying a new way to unstop the central blockage to progress in our time — the Iraq War — have to do with democracy? For OR against? I just don’t get it. Sorry. It sounds like nothing more than gasbagging to me, by people who can’t concentrate, who are disrupters or worse, or who simply can’t feature themselves making a contribution to ending That Thing.

  15. Edwin Pell said on May 25th, 2008 at 8:20pm #

    In the current system less than 1% have controlling ownership. 10% are in the retainer class and have a reasonable life and so will defend the system.
    In this system voting or marching in the street will change nothing.

    In democracy at least 51% of the people would have a good life.

    I would propose a Constitution constrained Democracy. Of course we see how well constitutional constrains are working now. It all comes down to what people are willing to fight for. So maybe more than democracy we need real militias. Say at the county level armed with rifles, anti-tank and anti-helicopter weapons and artillery. At the State level armed with F-22 Raptors, B2s, nuclear weapons and ICBMs. To defend our selves should the central government ever violate the Constitution.

  16. hp said on May 27th, 2008 at 10:17am #

    Joe Blow, no but I have read “The Devil’s Dictionary.”