Protests, a Reflection

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

At this time of frustration and anger over U.S. aggression against Iraq, the question of what can be done to thwart the seemingly inevitable and devastating course of events has arisen.
There are questions about the usefulness of the protest movement in view of the failure to deflect the military aggression. It may be useful therefore to reconsider the nature and purpose of the movement, to take stock of its achievements and what its future is likely to be.
Have the protests been in vain? Have the millions here and abroad who have gone into the streets, to the web pages, and to the letters columns of the newspapers to express their deep opposition to war – their anger and indignation that such an unjustifiable aggression could even be contemplated – did it have any beneficial effects? The answer must be yes. Here are some reasons:
Certainly we who have participated in the protest rallies have had our spirits buoyed by being amidst those large, thoughtful, tolerant, diverse, peaceful, and determined crowds.We came to know that our views represent an important fraction and large cross section of the US population. This has given us at least the illusion of power and hence the hope that our messages of peace and justice would be heard and war could be prevented.
The fact that web sites seemed to spring up on the internet to call for, organize, and coalesce a virtual audience into a real mass movement seemed miraculous and inspiring to those who participated.
Overseas, the mass outpouring of protest against US intentions had tangible consequences: It strengthened the hands of those governments who opposed US efforts to get a U.N. Security Council resolution for military intervention in Iraq and it encouraged wavering governments to stand against US pressures.
The extent of the protests in the streets throughout the world could hardly be ignored by the mass media outlets – the TV channels and the major newspapers – so that the reasons for opposing war and the manipulations of the Bush government received more exposure than otherwise would have occurred. It is noteworthy that in the US, the initial blatant distortions in much of the reporting of the protests made so obvious the deceit to a witnessing public that subsequent reporting of the protests was much improved.
Finally, the mass protests, in emphasizing the moral objections to the war, seem to have mitigated the “collateral damage” inflicted by the invasion. It more clearly shaped the propaganda– at the present juncture, the full extent of the casualties and devastation is hidden, and we may never know it. Now the situation has changed: the feared aggression has occurred, and we must decide how to confront it and how to avoid future aggressions.
With the present Bush administration, it seems clear that a deflection from its militaristic quest for dominion over the world will occur only if there are credible threats to its continued existence.With our government , and in the absence of a credible foreign military opposition such as existed in the cold war, the ultimate threats reside in politics and elections. It is useful therefore to list various factors or events which could threaten the present political support for the administration. Although it is unlikely, failure by the Bush regime to subjugate and to control Iraq, with substantial losses of American lives and slaughter of Iraqi civilians, could cause disgust, disillusionment, and dissatisfaction. It happened in Vietnam, and Lyndon Johnson abandoned the Presidency as a result.
Attacks on US bases and US economic interests, in Iraq or elsewhere, as a result of the hostility engendered by our policies, could do the same. Economic hardship at home while the military budget continues to increase can turn opinion sour. Even the corporate/business sector may become disaffected. A widening sense that our civil liberties are in danger, that our civil society will be undermined by perpetual war, could contribute to a disillusionment with the current regime. It therefore seems clear that the protest movement can profitably act on two fronts. 1) It can use educational processes to increase public knowledge of what is and has been going on, in the hope that this will change the public’s consciousness and conscience. 2) It can act politically to only support candidates for national office who oppose the militaristic and repressive Bush policies and oppose those who are acquiescent of those policies. It can act as a huge pressure group. We have to decide on the strategies and choices to be employed to obtain the greatest pay-offs, not what to do so much as how to do it. It is this question of the “how” that I now address.
The outpouring of protest against the war has been largely mobilized by a repugnance to a war of aggression, a war whose victims are seen to be the innocent and the vulnerable, an aggression whose stated justifications have been felt to be hollow, inconsistent, deceitful, and hypocritical. Many have also joined in protest because they’ve seen in the Bush policies a grave danger to society itself, a rejection of the United Nations and its charter, a danger to a just world order, and a turning backwards towards the barbarism of “might makes right” and the law of the jungle.
People have turned out in order to make a show of strength, to have their voices heard, or to release their frustrations.
We hoped that others, including political and cultural leaders, would join in so that our message would resound across the nation, forcing national leaders to take heed. In order to affect the uncommitted and those uncomfortable with public displays, the protest movement emphasized its peaceful commitment in non-disruptive rallies. It sought to avoid being marginalized by an antagonistic media prone to characterize the protests as unlawful, radical and uncivil. In this it was largely successful. A broad cross-section of society responded, and media coverage followed, as mentioned above. However, this failed to prevent the aggression, because the Bush stage managers took  the gamble that the Iraqi resistance would quickly crumble, that the media would minimize the havoc while stirring up patriotic fervor, and that our glorious military would be shown successful in getting rid of Saddam Hussein.With propaganda about humanitarian aid and reconstruction in the headlines, there then would be little left about which to protest, especially if the surviving Iraqis seemed to welcome the invaders. That justification for the aggression, the weapons of mass destruction and links between Iraq and terrorism might be revealed bogus could be finessed by various propagandistic devices.
There has been a debate in the protest community about the advisability of disruption. Some have argued that courteous and non-disruptive mass rallies are not sufficient to change the course of events, that opposition to war needs to be more forceful, that it needs to be demonstrated that business as usual in the face of death and disaster is not an option, that when lives and livelihoods are at stake, drastic actions are called for. Of course, such is stuff of the making of revolutions. Lying on roads or railroad tracks to impede weapons deliveries, invading military bases to disrupt and cast light on their activities, hammering and shedding blood on intercontinental ballistic missiles — all such actions are done to make a lethargic public take notice. Those who have gone to Baghdad or to the West Bank to act as witnesses or human shields cannot help but win admiration for their courage and humanitarian convictions, even if their actions seem foolhardy and futile.
On the other hand, many feel that disruption is counterproductive.
It frightens people and is said to belie the peaceful intent of the protestors. Moreover, it provides state authorities excuses for repression. Indeed “agents provocateurs” are known to have been used by States to discredit protest movements.
However, there are no general rules. Even arguments for nonviolence have limited applicability or may be self defeating in cases where one is being attacked or brutally repressed. Was it wrong to have a Boston Tea Party and to start the American Revolution? Was it wrong to storm the Bastille? Each situation has to be analyzed on its merits. If we could have stopped or hindered the war on Iraq by certain actions, e.g., by staging a general strike, by shutting down military installations, by a siege of the White House of Pentagon or State Department, or by disrupting the military transportation system, would that have been wrong? It should be obvious that answers to such questions hinge crucially upon the ability to carry out such actions in the first place, the prospects for their success, and the consequences that are entailed. Unfortunately, we may not know the answers beforehand, although we may be able to estimate the chances of success in some instances. I would therefore argue that that there is strength in diversity of ideas and of actions.
Opinions will differ about whether specific actions hinder rather than promote the desired outcome; but let us be flexible and pragmatic.
Let there be non-disruptive mass rallies, vigils, teach-ins, etc., but let us also be tolerant of marches which, while making a political gesture, may impede traffic or impinge on state or corporate property. Let us indeed support efforts such as entering military compounds for weapons inspections or to identify weapons of mass destruction. Let us support those who would impede military convoys, who would picket munitions manufacturers, or contest military recruiters. Let us admire those with the courage to engage in acts of civil disobedience, for they inspire the anti-war effort as well as bring wrongs to light. It is useful to show that empire building may have costs to our domestic tranquility.
What do we now protest? Do we gather to mourn the deaths and destruction? Do we continue to rally to express our points of view before a public drugged by the corporate media? Do we protest in common cause with a world aghast at our government’s actions and arrogance, showing that an active opposition to Bush persists here in the United States?
Why not all of this, with the notion always to build our political strength? Together with public rallies, let us use our anti-war organizations to pressure our electoral candidates to oppose the Bush policies of perpetual war, empire, and the security state. These can be winning political issues, but we must figure out how to best implement them. The controversy over the Nader third party candidacy in the 2000 election is illustrative; compromise versus principle – the lesser evil –will remain a divisive issue which we should anticipate. It is hard to know whether our voices will be effective without a political party voice that can find a public outlet or without a political party organization.
Meanwhile, let us continue to demand that the US refrain from further aggressions, that the war on terrorism be fought by removing the causes – humiliation, injustice, and repression– that the administration of Iraq be a U.N. responsibility until stability is established, and that a just solution to the whole Middle East mess be enacted.We must demand that the quest for empire by the current Bush administration cease, and that the needs of the American society be addressed. We should see to it that the present administration is replaced by something better.
Finally, let us synchronize our efforts against injustice and inequality with the wider world community – with the idea that a better world is possible.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.