So we have arrived at yet another anniversary of the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq. Again we observe milestones of inhumanity. We’ve reached over 1000 U.S. soldiers dead from our occupation of Afghanistan. We read weekly reports of the murder of innocent civilians by U.S. soldiers, war planes, and unmanned drones.
Again we headed to (a few) city centers and registered our complaints. In my heart I was really hoping we’d have a robust turnout on March 20 like the March 4 Day of Action for Education. But in my head I knew that the anti-war movement has mostly shrunk to the point where it consists mostly of the core activists.
The march and rally wasn’t puny, but it wasn’t significant either. The local CBS headline ran, “100’s Protest…” Once the march began, it was closer to a couple thousand, but, well, you get the idea. A couple hundred, a couple thousand, apples and more apples. The point is it should be millions, along with coordinated direct actions and strikes. We saw a glimpse of the possibility 2 years ago when the west coast longshoreman stage a strike on the 5th anniversary, stopping the ports at least for a time. That’s the sort of thing decision-makers notice.
Shortly after I arrived, Daniel Ellsberg spoke, after having keynoted at the Plumber’s Hall down Market Street. Two years previously, on the 5th anniversary, I had been in jail with Ellsberg, after multiple direct actions broke out across the city. The turn out that year was tremendous. Yet much of it was anchored around anti-Bush sentiment. Perhaps that anger and that personality was something more people could organize around. Its perhaps much harder to organizer for peace under Obama.
Not to say that there wasn’t a good size and diverse group. This year, unions and teachers and Latin American activists were represented. Churches, and families, and schools made their appearance. I was happy to note Lake Merritt neighborhood association against the war and a SF Pentecostal church were pounding the pavement. The marchers met up with the striking workers at Hilton in solidarity half-way.
But I’ve racked my brain trying to figure out why so few show up, why the peace movement is much smaller than it should be. I know there is lots of frustration out there. Was it lack of interest? Is war and occupation passe’? Are the majority of people merely passive consumers now rather than active citizens? Afterall, more people turn out to shop at Westfield Mall than to support a sane, peaceful foreign policy. Why protest war when you can play Call of Duty? More people turn out for Michael Jackson vigils or sign up for celebrity gossip alerts than peace list-serves.
Or is it actually support for the “good war” in Afghanistan and a mistaken perception that the war in Iraq is winding down? Is it the dampening effect of Obama-philia? Afterall, we have a peace president, right? Perhaps people have other things on their mind, like finding a job. Or keeping the crappy one they have to work overtime to pay the rent in the Bay Area. Perhaps the organizing was simply poor? Perhaps the main fragments of the peace movement can’t agree. Perhaps the main “host”-ANSWER Coalition–turns some people off?
Protest has become routinized, as Naomi Wolf has put it. It has become ritual.
Or maybe people just think they won’t make a difference regardless of what they do. How often have you heard, “What difference will it make?” It’s a good question. Then again, so is the rejoinder, “What difference will not protesting make?”
Perhaps people have come down with a nasty case of protest fatigue. After 8 years of protesting under Bush and now over a year under a President who is continuing and increasing militarism, it’s no wonder some are pretty damn tired. Obama has signed the biggest military budget ever, he has escalated the wars/occupation in Afghanistan, he is expanding military bases in Columbia, he is increasing money for nuclear weapons, he has been silent (in his actions) on the Palestinian issue–all this should be sufficient to shake any peace-minded Obama-voters out of their hope-cage.
Trust me, I completely understand. I too feel it. In fact, I was fairly unenthusiastic about going on March 19 to the rally and march.
Yet, in the end, I couldn’t not go because I have to at the very least say to myself and whoever else is listening,”I do not accept this! I refuse to allow normalization of a permanent war economy. I reject these values and stand for something more humane, more just. I hereby submit my objection.”