The Long March to the Muddle

I’ve been catching up on articles about yesterday’s anti-war marches in D.C. and elswhere, as well as bits about the counter protesters, and there’s recurring theme that’s occurred to me, though I didn’t get it until I red this editorial from the Orange County Register.

Ms. Sheehan’s statements have sometimes gone beyond understandable anger about the war to embrace a range of radical causes. We think that is a mistake. Ordinary Americans who love their country and don’t see it as the source of most of the evil in the world but are upset about the Iraq war need to see a reflection of themselves, of a broader Middle America, in this weekend’s events. Otherwise they are likely to dismiss the protests as the work of people who will leap at any opportunity to “blame America first.”

Some signs are less than hopeful. The Washington organizers might have asked for a speaker from Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine, which has opposed the war steadfastly from the beginning. But the speakers we saw listed on the United for Peace and Justice Web site were all from the left side of the spectrum.

When the anti-war movement, to borrow a phrase, starts to look like America, the politicians will start to pay attention.

It’s that phrase “look like America” that gave me pause, and — even though I didn’t march yesterday, I did march in the first anti-war march in D.C. before the start of the war in Afghanistan, with hundreds of others — leads me to ask “What? I don’t look like America?”

What does “America” look like? Does it look like or sound like the counter-protesters from yesterday.?

Counter-protesters will hold their major event of the weekend today at noon: a rally on the Mall at Fourth Street NW to support the troops.

At yesterday’s rally at the Navy Memorial, one man carried a poster with a picture of a World War II soldier on it and the words: “How about rooting for our side for a change, you liberal morons?”

Betsy Deming, 47, of Takoma Park was holding a sign that read: “U.S. soldiers are true heroes. Our mission is just and honorable. Stay the course.” In front of her passed a steady stream of antiwar protesters coming up from a Metro station.

“Follow the stench down the street,” Deming said to them as they passed. “Follow the stench of urine and burning American flags. That’s where your rally is.”

Does success for the anti-war movement mean, as it seems to for political parties, moving away from it’s base; away from those of us who were anti-war when anti-war wasn’t cool or popular?

I remember that first march pretty well and, while it wasn’t as large as yesterday’s by any stretch of the imagination, and it included people from a wide range of the political spectrum, it was pretty much attended and supported by progressives. And it happened at a moment when being anti-war was anything but popular. In fact, it was so unpopular that people who would have defined themselves as liberal were reluctant to be associated with an anti-war movement.

Remember that this was right after 9/11, when being opposed to war was taken as being pro-terrorist, as was expressed by the lone counter-protestor who stood at the front of the rally with a sign that read “Osama thanks his comrades for their support.” Note that besides terrorism there was the implication that those opposed to going to war were also pro-communist, re: “comrades.”

But that was also basically the beginning of what has been the anti-war movement in the post-9/11 era, when only an extreme minority of Americans were vocally anti-war. And, as with any other political movement or party, it the people on “far left,” as the writers of the OCRegister editorial called them, who kept the anti-war movement alive — with grassroots communication and organizing — until this moment when a majority of the country supports ending or starting to end the war in Iraq.

Meteor Blades puts it rather effectively.

But guess what? A.N.S.W.E.R. has done yeoman’s work at making the antiwar protests happen. Except for United for Peace with Justice, nobody else even comes close to the diligence and skills and hours that A.N.S.W.E.R. has brought to the effort. So, why should anybody be surprised that their protest agenda is going to be implemented? That speakers from groups included on their steering committee get billing on the stage? That issues you consider to be peripheral – or not related at all – to U.S. policy in Iraq are going to be part of the program? It’s not as if they didn’t advertise the demands of their protest long beforehand.

MB also has some pretty good alternatives to sitting around waiting for someone more politically palatable to sponsor an anti-war march, but the basic gist is that the anti-war movement belongs to those who move it.

Instead, found a group of your own or join one you can agree with and get yourself added as the group’s representative to the A.N.S.W.E.R. steering committee so you can influence the coalition to stick to one subject, Iraq. Or, build a nationwide counter-coalition to A.N.S.W.E.R. and steal their fire with protests that are bigger and better organized and deliver only the message you want them to say. Goooood luck.

Or, since the chances are about 100 to 1 that you live in a city or town where A.N.S.W.E.R. doesn’t have a presence, organize locally or join an existing local organization that challenges Bush’s policies in Iraq. Then when the call to protest comes along, don’t go to DC or New York or wherever the national demonstration gathers. Instead, put hundreds – or thousands – of people into the streets of your own city. Show the Administration and all Americans that the antiwar movement is everywhere.

The answer isn’t necessarily to move the anti-war movement to the middle, but for the middle to simply get up and move.

The problem is that the middle is muddled. The muddle is perfectly illustrated in a comment I got when I crossposted the previous post on my Kos diary.

In the run-up to the war, I plastered donnellycolt’s beautiful red “the war” signs on stop signs around my area. Over and over. It isn’t hard to figure out who’s who around here, and discussion ensued.

Arguing with some of the local repugs, they said, and I quote “Well I’m not for the war, but we have to support the president.” When I suggested that if you’re not for war, maybe you should be against it, the fog descended. There is a core group, product of our educational system, that simply cannot think critically.

To be sure, some of the folks in the middle came to the march yesterday, and managed to live with whatever parts of it they didn’t agree with or couldn’t come to terms with, but some of them could have just as easily stayed home or taken MetroBlades suggestions and started a movement on their own. In other words, be it or build it.

But it’s also just as plausible that the middle is opposed to what’s happening in Iraq, but isn’t ready to move on it because the middle is muddled about issues of “supporting” the president, the troops or the Iraqis themselves. Or because they think we should withdraw troops from Iraq, but have differences on when or how that should happen. So, as far as an anti-war movement is concerned, if you built it they won’t come, unless it’s built to their specifications.

But they don’t know what their specifications are, because there is no one middle. They’re all over the place. So they won’t come because ya can’t build an anti-war movement to satisfy them anyway.

Of course, the flip-side is that there really isn’t one anti-war movement either. You’ve got people for whom the priority is Iraq and Iraq alone on one end, and on the other you’ve got people who — in the truest tradition of the left — see the war in Iraq as connected to a host of other issues and conflicts that they can’t ignore or set aside. In between the two, you’ve got another muddle.

So, the middle is muddled and the movement is muddled, but never the twain shall meet. Meanwhile, there’s a war on. If it’s gonna end or anything about it is gonna change somebody has to move.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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