Skip to comments.Behind the Placards: The odd and troubling origins of today’s anti-war movement
Posted on 12/31/2002 7:22:30 PM PST by 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
FREE MUMIA. FREE THE CUBAN 5. FREE JAMIL AL-AMIN (thats H. Rap Brown, the former Black Panther convicted in March of killing a sheriffs deputy in 2000). And free Leonard Peltier. Also, defeat Zionism. And, while were at it, lets bring the capitalist system to a halt.
When tens of thousands of people gathered near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for an anti-war rally and march in Washington last Saturday, the demands hurled by the speakers extended far beyond the call for no war against Iraq. Opponents of the war can be heartened by the sight of people coming together in Washington and other cities for pre-emptive protests. But demonstrations such as these are not necessarily strategic advances, for the crowds are still relatively small and, more importantly, the message is designed by the far left for consumption by those already in their choir.
In a telling sign of the organizers priorities, the cause of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the taxi driver/radical journalist sentenced to death two decades ago for killing a policeman, drew greater attention than the idea that revived and unfettered weapons inspections should occur in Iraq before George W. Bush launches a war. Few of the dozens of speakers, if any, bothered suggesting a policy option regarding Saddam Hussein other than a simplistic leave-Iraq-alone. Jesse Jackson may have been the only major figure to acknowledge Saddams brutality, noting that the Iraqi dictator should be held accountable for his crimes. What to do about Iraq? Most speakers had nothing to say about that. Instead, the Washington rally was a pander fest for the hard left.
If public-opinion polls are correct, 33 percent to 40 percent of the public opposes an Iraq war; even more are against a unilateral action. This means the burgeoning anti-war movement has a large recruiting pool, yet the demo was not intended to persuade doubters. Nor did it speak to Americans who oppose the war but who dont consider the United States a force of unequaled imperialist evil and who dont yearn to smash global capitalism.
This was no accident, for the demonstration was essentially organized by the Workers World Party, a small political sect that years ago split from the Socialist Workers Party to support the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. The party advocates socialist revolution and abolishing private property. It is a fan of Fidel Castros regime in Cuba, and it hails North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il for preserving his countrys socialist system, which, according to the partys newspaper, has kept North Korea from falling under the sway of the transnational banks and corporations that dictate to most of the world. The WWP has campaigned against the war-crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. A recent Workers World editorial declared, Iraq has done absolutely nothing wrong.
Officially, the organizer of the Washington demonstration was International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism). But ANSWER is run by WWP activists, to such an extent that it seems fair to dub it a WWP front. Several key ANSWER officials including spokesperson Brian Becker are WWP members. Many local offices for ANSWERs protest were housed in WWP offices. Earlier this year, when ANSWER conducted a press briefing, at least five of the 13 speakers were WWP activists. They were each identified, though, in other ways, including as members of the International Action Center.
The IAC, another WWP offshoot, was a key partner with ANSWER in promoting the protest. It was founded by Ramsey Clark, attorney general for President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s. For years, Clark has been on a bizarre political odyssey, much of the time in sync with the Workers World Party. As an attorney, he has represented Lyndon LaRouche, the leader of a political cult. He has defended Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic and Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, who was accused of participating in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Clark is also a member of the International Committee To Defend Slobodan Milosevic. The international war-crimes tribunal, he explains, is war by other means that is, a tool of the West to crush those who stand in the way of U.S. imperialism, like Milosevic. A critic of the ongoing sanctions against Iraq, Clark has appeared on talking-head shows and refused to concede any wrongdoing on Saddams part. There is no reason to send weapons inspectors to Iraq, he told CNNs Wolf Blitzer: After 12 years of brutalization with sanctions and bombing theyd like to be a country again. Theyd like to have sovereignty again. Theyd like to be left alone.
It is not redbaiting to note the WWPs not-too-hidden hand in the nascent anti-war movement. It explains the tone and message of Saturdays rally. Take the question of inspections. According to Workers World, at a party conference in September, Sara Flounders, a WWP activist, reported war opponents were using the slogan inspections, not war. Flounders, the paper says, pointed out that inspections ARE war in another form, and that she had prepared party activists to struggle within the movement on this question. Translation: The WWP would do whatever it could to smother the inspections, not war cry. Inspections-before-invasion is an effective argument against the dash to war. But it conflicts with WWP support for opponents of U.S. imperialism. At the Washington event, the WWP succeeded in blocking out that line while promoting anti-war messages more simpatico with its dogma.
WWP shaped the demonstrations content by loading the speakers list with its own people. None, though, were identified as belonging to the WWP. Larry Holmes, who emceed much of the rally from a stage dominated by ANSWER posters, was introduced as a representative of the ANSWER Steering Committee and the International Action Center. The audience was not told that he is also a member of the secretariat of the Workers World Party. When Leslie Feinberg spoke and accused Bush of concocting a war to cover up the capitalist economic crisis, she informed the crowd that she is a Jewish revolutionary dedicated to the fight against Zionism. When I asked her what groups she worked with, she replied that she was a lesbian-gay-bi-transgender movement activist. Yet a May issue of Workers World describes Feinberg as a lesbian and transgendered communist and a managing editor of Workers World. The WWPs Sara Flounders, who urged the crowd to resist colonial subjugation, was presented as an IAC rep. Shortly after she spoke, Holmes introduced one of the events big-name speakers: Ramsey Clark. He declared that the Bush administration aims to end the idea of individual freedom.
Most of the protesters, I assume, were oblivious to the WWPs role in the event. They merely wanted to gather with other foes of the war and express their collective opposition. They waved signs (We need an Axis of Sanity, Draft Perle, Collateral Damage = Civilian Deaths, Fuck Bush). They cheered on rappers who sang, No blood for oil. They laughed when Medea Benjamin, the head of Global Exchange, said, We need to stop the testosterone-poisoning of our globe. They filled red ANSWER donation buckets with coins and bills. But how might they have reacted if Holmes and his comrades had asked them to stand with Saddam, Milosevic and Kim? Or to oppose further inspections in Iraq?
One man in the crowd was wise to the behind-the-scenes politics. When Brian Becker, a WWP member introduced (of course) as an ANSWER activist, hit the stage, Paul Donahue, a middle-aged fellow who works with the Thomas Merton Peace and Social Justice Center in Pittsburgh, shouted, Stalinist! Donahue and his colleagues at the Merton Center, upset that WWP activists were in charge of this demonstration, had debated whether to attend. Some of us tried to convince others to come, Donahue recalled. We figured we could dilute the [WWP] part of the message. But in the end most didnt come. People were saying, Theyre Maoists. But theyre the only game in town, and Ive got to admit theyre good organizers. They remembered everything but the Porta-Johns. Rock singer Patti Smith, though, was not troubled by the organizers. My main concern now is the anti-war movement, she said before playing for the crowd. Im for a nonpartisan, globalist movement. I dont care who it is as long as they feel the same.
The WWP does have the shock troops and talent needed to construct a quasi mass demonstration. But the bodies have to come from elsewhere. So WWPers create fronts and trim their message, and anti-war Americans, who presumably dont share WWP sentiments, have an opportunity to assemble and register their stand against the war. At the same time, WWP activists, hiding their true colors, gain a forum where thousands of people listen to their exhortations. Is this a good deal or a dangerous one? Whos using whom?
Organizing against the silence is important, Bob Borosage, executive director of Campaign for Americas Future, a leading progressive policy shop in Washington, said backstage at the rally: This [rally] is easy to dismiss as the radical fringe, but it holds the potential for a larger movement down the road. Borosage did add that the WWP puts a slant on the speakers and that limits the appeal to others. But history shows that protests are organized first by militant, radical fringe parties and then get taken over by more centrist voices as the movement grows. They provide a vessel for people who want to protest.
Thats the vessel-half-filled view. The other argument is that WWPs involvement will prevent the anti-war movement from growing. Sure, the commies can rent buses and obtain parade permits, but if they have a say in the message, as they have had, the anti-war movement is going to have a tough time signing up non-lefties. When the organizers tried and failed to play a recorded message from Al-Amin, Lorena Stackpole, a 20-year-old New York University student, said, This is not what I came for. And an organizer for a non-revolutionary peace group that participated in the event remarked, The rhetoric here is not useful if we want to expand. After all, how does urging the release of Cubans accused of committing espionage in the United States a pet project of the WWP help draw more people into the anti-war movement? (In a similar reds-take-control situation, the Not in My Name campaign which pushes an anti-war statement signed by scores of prominent and celebrity lefties, including Jane Fonda, Martin Luther King III, Marisa Tomei, Kurt Vonnegut and Oliver Stone has been directed, in part, by C. Clark Kissinger, a longtime Maoist activist and member of the Revolutionary Communist Party.)
Lets be real: A Washington demonstration involving tens of thousands of people will not yield much political impact especially when held while Congress is out of town and the relevant legislation has already been rubber-stamped. (The organizers claimed 200,000 showed, but that seemed a pumped-up guesstimate, perhaps three or four times the real number.) The anti-war movement wont have a chance of applying pressure on the political system unless it becomes much larger and able to squeeze elected officials at home and in Washington.
To reach that stage, the new peace movement will need the involvement of labor unions and churches. Thats where the troops are in the pews, in the union halls. How probable is it, though, that mainstream churches and unions will join a coalition led by the we-love-North-Korea set? Moreover, is it appropriate for groups and churches that care about human rights and worker rights abroad and at home to make common cause with those who champion socialist tyrants?
At the rally, speaker after speaker declared, We are the real Americans. But most real Americans do not see a direct connection between Mumia, the Cuban Five and the war against Iraq. Jackson, for one, exclaimed, This time the silent majority is on our side. If the goal is to bring the silent majority into the anti-war movement, its not going to be achieved by people carrying pictures of Kim Jong-Il even if they keep them hidden in their wallets.
As yet another WWP-in-disguise speaker addressed the crowd, Steve Cobble, a progressive political consultant, gazed out at the swarm of protesters and observed, People are looking for something to do. Good for them. But they ought to also look at the leaders they are following and wonder if those individuals will guide them toward a broader, more effective movement or toward the fringe irrelevance the WWPers know so well.
Jonathan H. Miller contributed to this report.
Workers World is at http://www.workers.org/, ANSWER is at http://www.internationalanswer.org/. I think this is an important story. Does anyone else?
Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins were mentioned in the O'Reilly segment.
That doesn't mean they aren't dangerous, of course.
Maybe I'm ignorant, but I haven't seen the case made yet. I grew up in an America who waxed those who attacked us. I haven't seen evidence of an Iraqi attack yet.
How many enemies are more real? North Korea is an obvious choice.
Interestingly, almost all of them operate out of a single address: 55 W. 17th St, New York, NY 10011.
Corn has done us all a favor by calling them out. The legitimate left, in particular, has ample reason to be concerned about those with whom it is sharing the nest.
Can one of you good people help me out here? Clinton and Kosovo was why I turned to the internet for news, the national news was so lacking, but at the time I wasn't glued to the net like I am now.
Was Milosevic that evil? I don't know.
Since I've started to keep a heads up I've seen Muslims concoct massacres for international support, I know the news media will twist everything for a leftist bent and to support the bent one, and that Kosvo was overtaken by Muslims after their Albanian ponzi economic scheme failed, they decided to move to someone elses land and declare it their own. (Much like they plan to do the rest of the planet.)
Can someone give me links to the real Milosevic? Is he true evil or just PC evil??? I really don't know.
There are two cases against Iraq. One is the very legal, but somewhat technical, case of his flaunting the terms of the UN Armistice after Gulf War I. There is every legal reason to pursue hostilities on this basis. Though I suspect that you, as well as I, don't find it compelling -- on its own merits.
But as to the second case...
Truly, it hasn't been made. Yet. In public.
But where do you think the anthrax came from...???
Am I missing something or is America behind the REPUBLICAN PARTY?!?!
a-yep. Smelly communists. A good friend of mine is mixed up with these people. Real smart lady too, other than her inability to tell socialist agitprop from reality. Jes*s.
I can't wait til her lefty husband, who is a straight-up ISO socialist, shows up in Philly, as he surely will one day, to protest about Mumia. I work about one block from the courthouse and City Hall where they hold their shoutfests. I'll ask him if he'd like to take a little stroll and see where Mumia blew the cop's brains out. It's not far. Can't wait to see the look on his face - very few if any of the Mumiacs realize how close they are to the crime scene when they come to center city to do their little charade. In the meantime, I will content myself with asking other Mumiacs the same question - if I can get close enough to ask the question (see above). Try it - it's fun!
Communists and their "progressive" ilk are against a war with Iraq.
That isn't the question. The question is whether it's right or wrong, not the commies' viewpoint.
You've posted a thought provoking article, and I thank you for it.
My point is, if we're going to give up on hanging Osama from the nearest light pole, we should really consider if we want an aggressive war or not. By aggressive, I mean an aggresive war on people where we're lacking evidence of an attack on us.
Personally, I'm very much in favor of killing all those who've attacked us. Clearly, Bin Ladin and his buddies.
Saddam is a horrible guy. But compared to Kim Il Sung and his progeny there's no comparison in depth of evil.
Sorry, I'm not credulous. Why Iraq? Why now? Why not North Korea?
I served in South Korea. The north Koreans are rabid and evil nutsacks. They're also a much tougher target. Are we attacking Saddam (sh*t be upon him) because he's an easier target, while we ignore the extreme evil in North Korea?
Inquiring minds want to know.
To the punks who want to accuse me of being un-American, this voluntary US Army veteran says "Think again."
There were three reasons -- and three reasons only -- for the US to attack Serbia over the Kosovo issue.
1. The recent impeachment.
2. The Cox Report.
3. Juanita Broaddrick.
The Clinton administration desperately needed a major distraction for the media and the public, who might otherwise have chosen to linger on the above three items.
And that is, in my estimation, the only reason that we attacked Serbia: Bill Clinton's ass needed saving. Note that one of the major lobbyists for a Balkan War was CNN, who were totally duped (perhaps willingly so) by the staged "massacre" at Racek.
Serbians (and Kosovars) died so that Bill Clinton's political career could survive.
I have never been so ashamed of my country's policies as I was in this affair.
In my view, Milosevic was "no Boy Scout", as you say. But he and the Serbs had every right to defend themselves against a brutal ethnic insurgency. This was totally a domestic matter. Moreover, only twelve years prior, the New York Times (!!!) was demanding assistance to the embattled Serbian minority in Kosovo.
Please don't tempt me into unrealistic conspiracy theories. I've heard zip for evidence that it came from the Iraqis. With these disgusting bio-weapons, they could have come from lots of places. Believe me, I'm not like Tom Clancy's mythical president, Jack Ryan. If somebody BIO'd us, I'd be real hard pressed not to nuke them.
But you and I, as citizens, haven;t been offered diddly as proof. Sure, some of that is protecting intelligence sources, but in this case, some compromise would equal universal backing.
Sorry, our goobermint has not re-earned my trust.
Having been somebody who grew up there, I can verify what you said. But I moved to Texas, and we don't love commies here.
But opposing unilateral attack on Iraq is NOT communist. It seems common sense to me, at least so far.
If there's truly a nation-state guily of 9-11, let's not just attack them with conventional weapons - let's make 'em a glass parking lot.
But let's see some PROOF.
But, basically I agreed with your case at the time and still do. Look at all the lefties and dems in congress who are now so vehemently anti-war (Daschle, Biden, others) who were pounding the table and wanting to bomb Serbia back to the stoneage.
It sure was a strange, almost parallel universe time. The bombing of the Chinese embassy, and the excuse that it was due to old maps (when you could go to yahoo or mapsquest and see the embassy in its present location) was one of the weirdest episodes of the whole affair. You can never go wrong saying this, but I do think there is much we don't know about it all! I do know that the impeachment evidence that was in the Ford building is still under lock and key. Another weird episode was Bush 41's speech to 100 Senators in Executive Session, behind closed doors, asking them to spare clinton's sorry ass.
OK, I'm going to hazard a guess that you are under, say 40, so would not have been paying much attention in the 1960's when the anti-war movement brought down two American presidents, led to a communist victory in Viet Nam, changed the course of history forever, and has impacted in a fundamental way American foreign policy and the perception of America both home and abroad for the past 30 years?
No. It most assuredly does not.
The article is specifically designed to separate the WWP nutballs from those who are against war on Iraq for more defensible reasons (as Corn himself is).
Corn is an anti-war leftist (The Nation magazine), who rightly wants no association with the WWP.
Not a requirement but in many cases it helps a great deal. Thanks for answering my question :)
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