Unprecedented in size, breadth and diversity, the world-wide February 15 demonstrations proved invaluable to the campaign against renewed war on Iraq. The millions of us who rallied and marched for peace in well over 600 cities from New York to Rome to Ramallah to Melbourne, communicated in no uncertain terms that the entire world really does say no to war. The level of our effectiveness can be debated, but there is no question we significantly impacted the discussion taking place at high, narrow levels. Millions of us.
Our organizing efforts succeeded in many ways. The demonstrations captured the eyes and ears of the mainstream press, and for the most part we have received relatively positive and accurate reports, including coverage of our numbers and our message. Clearly, we have broadened the debate, and we have opened a window of opportunity. What we do with that opportunity will be decisive.
The Next Step: Regroup
The International ANSWER coalition is calling for a demonstration in Washington, DC on March 15. That is only three weeks away, and many of us are deciding whether to heed their call and work to organize people in our communities to attend that demonstration. Still reeling from last weekend’s mobilization efforts, we must weigh seriously the costs of expending more energy traveling to big cities for long, cold days, instead of doing more education and outreach work at home.
We have seen that large, impressive demonstrations are crucial to our movement and provide us with great opportunities in terms of media coverage, coalition building, and collective expression. But at this point most organizers are probably better off regrouping and recouping in our communities. Now that we have expressed ourselves massively, it is time to lay better and more solid foundations for a continued antiwar movement, making community-based connections and doing real, on the ground educating and organizing. We need to work towards deepening the commitment of those who are already opposed to war and organizing locally to inspire more people to take action.
We aren’t at all suggesting people not go to DC on March 15. What we are saying is, if you want to contribute in a fundamentally different way, at this critical moment your energy is almost certainly better spent on local outreach and education, or developing stronger organization and dedication at home. Washington isn’t going to think we’ve all evaporated if we don’t show up in the hundreds of thousands on March 15. Millions of demonstrators dispersed throughout the country, accompanied by massive worker strikes, student walkouts and thousands committed to civil disobedience and direct action would exhibit resistance power on a radically new level.
So what are the keys to attracting millions more to active opposition and amplifying the commitment of those already involved? The answers are simple, but of course they will involve substantial work.
Outreach and Education
Without a doubt, we have piqued the interests of the general population. Tireless effort has begun to pay off, and suddenly dissent is not all that unpopular. There has never been a better opportunity to change minds than this very moment. And lest we get caught up in the fervor of our own ruckus, we must remember many Americans still support the war, and many who oppose it are irresolute in their antiwar convictions.
A recent poll conducted by Knight-Ridder News Service revealed that most Americans do not even know rudimentary facts about the Iraq crisis. For instance, 86% of respondents were not aware that there were, in fact, no Iraqi-born hijackers involved in he September 11th attacks. Two thirds of Americans think Iraq has a nuclear weapons arsenal. The list goes on, and it is sufficiently disturbing.
The same poll also showed that the more people are familiar with the facts, the less likely they are to support an invasion of Iraq. Though this may be obvious to most of us, the results of the Knight-Ridder poll illustrate conclusively that there remains much ground to be covered. It does little good to make sophisticated arguments about the nuances of international law or the particulars of various alternatives to invasion and occupation, when most pro-war Americans still think Iraq stands accused of planning 9/11 or that Hussein has recently threatened Israel with biological and chemical weapons.
Lacking the ability to seize control of television stations, we need to bring information to the public through more customary methods. Rallies and marches show our strength, but sloganeering is largely unpersuasive (and understandably so). We need to be producing more alternative media and disseminating it widely. We need to hit the streets with leaflets and bring the antiwar message to every neighborhood, every workplace, every place of worship, every community center, every shopping mall, every living room. Now is the phase for teach-ins and canvasses, coffee houses and soap boxes.
Intensification and Radicalization
In a front page New York Times article published Monday, February 17, reporter Patrick Tyler states:
“In his campaign to disarm Iraq, by war if necessary, President Bush appears to be eyeball to eyeball with a tenacious new adversary: millions of people who flooded the streets of New York and dozens of other world cities to say they are against war based on the evidence at hand. Mr. Bush’s advisers are telling him to ignore them and forge ahead, as are some leading pro-war Republicans.