They Protest Too Much

On Sept. 24, a couple thousand people gathered at Westlake Park for a rally and march to the Federal Building to protest the war in Iraq. It should have been so many more.

Given the generally liberal, antiwar nature of much of Seattle, there's no reason tens of thousands shouldn't be marching these days. The crowd that day represented the hard core, the Seattleites who always show up when a protest is called. It did not include the much larger number of people who aren't particularly political but who are telling pollsters and friends that the war, increasingly, is a dead end, a bad idea that America can't afford, and one that isn't helping Iraqis. Middle America is turning against this war, and with the Bush administration at its most politically vulnerable since before 9/11, now is the time to press the case.

It isn't happening in Seattle. Why?

Part of the problem is that the organizations here opposing the Iraq war are badly fragmented. In the run-up to the war, Seattle Nonviolent Opponents to War (SNOW) spawned scores of neighborhood groups that were effective in marshaling bodies. Vigils and protests were everywhere; congressional representatives were swamped with messages opposing an invasion.

Even though polls tell us that more people oppose the war now than before, SNOW has lost much of its energy. Many of the neighborhood groups have withered. The sort of grassroots organizing that should be the backbone of an antiwar campaign—phone banking, door-to-door canvassing—isn't happening. Very few people outside the choir are being mobilized.

The other problem is that the groups sponsoring public demonstrations are far more radical than most of the people they hope to attract. The Sept. 24 event was organized by Seattle ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, or, alternatively, America Needs Slogans With Endless Rhetoric). Seattle ANSWER is a chapter of International ANSWER, an opportunistic New York outfit that was founded in the run-up to the Iraq war by the Stalinist Workers World Party and its star, former Attorney General (under LBJ) Ramsey Clark.

It's safe to say that most antiwar protesters would be horrified by the WWP's politics. They're great fans of the regimes in North Korea and (until 2003) Iraq. Clark is not only on the defense team for Saddam but also Slobodan Milosevic and the Rwandan generals accused of genocide. These folks aren't antiwar. Indeed, they're pretty much consistently enthralled by the bloodiest regimes in the world. Except, of course, ours.

To be fair, at the local level many of the volunteers who keep Seattle ANSWER going are oblivious to the politics of their parent organization. Like Not in Our Name (NION), a "peace" group spawned by the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party, ANSWER attracts people because it's out on the streets doing things. But Seattle ANSWER, like its parent, has an agenda far broader than the war in Iraq—the tag line on the flyer for Sept. 24 was, "End Colonial Occupation from Iraq to Palestine to Haiti." The rally's speakers talked of a litany of causes dear to the left, with an emphasis on racism. It's a fine pep rally for the converted but not anyone else—and hardly the sort of event that's going to make the White House stand up and take notice.

As Cindy Sheehan has shown, military service members and their families carry enormous public legitimacy. There are plenty of such people in the Seattle area—veterans and their loved ones who can describe firsthand the futility and wastefulness of this war. That sort of personal witness carries far more power than harangues about colonial this and imperialist that—no matter how accurate they might be. And people need to be given something to do. Organize! Canvass! Revive the idea of neighborhood groups. Groups like ANSWER, NION, SNOW, and the Church Council of Greater Seattle should be able to set aside their ideological differences, focus narrowly on the war at hand, and turn out a crowd at the next rally that will mean something. Figure that more than half of the 3.5 million people in the greater Seattle area think this war is a bad idea. With momentum on the side of withdrawing the troops, there's no reason why 100,000 of us shouldn't show up next time to march.

Now that would get someone's attention.

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