by Christine Marie / May 2006 issue of Socialist Action newspaper
“Not only we do want the troops home from Iraq, we do not want the maniacs to invade Iran! We are standing here with the people of Iran,” Cindy Sheehan declared at the press conference that kicked off the massive April 29 March for Peace, Justice, and Democracy in New York City.
Sheehan’s focus on tying the hands of an administration seriously flirting with military intervention against Iran was reflected in signs and chants from many of the contingents that were strung down Broadway from Union Square to Foley Square.
Daniel Ellsberg (who uncovered the “Pentagon Papers” during the Vietnam War) called on government functionaries to leak the plans and details of the government disputes over using nuclear weapons against Iran. Together, speakers and marchers soundly repudiated the U.S. government’s crude attempts to demonize Iran as part of the buildup of U.S. military action in the region and demonstrated the growing sophistication and resolve of the ranks of the antiwar movement.
The decision of United for Peace and Justice to add a demand about Iran about three weeks before the march helped to galvanize last-minute enthusiasm for April 29 at the grassroots and contributed to turning out at least 100,000 marchers.
Equally significant was the mobilization by US Labor Against War of perhaps 10,000 trade unionists from throughout the Northeast and Midwest. According to USLAW coordinator Michael Eisenscher, “the trade-union contingent was the largest, broadest, and most spirited of any in 50 years or more.”
April 29 was certainly the first occasion in which the results of several years of patient education and cautious organizing around antiwar resolutions inside the house of labor were actually visible to the movement as whole. The presence of a significant layer of labor militants at the demonstration, coming just one month after the first large actions of Latino workers and their families around their victimization as part of the war at home, hinted at the potential for a more powerful working-class response to the Iraq War in the near future.
Veterans Against the War spokesperson Geoffrey Millard appealed especially to unionists and military families by demanding that the billions more just allocated for war be diverted to care for the injured veterans who have already been created.
The April 29 march against the war was called by a coalition of groups including United for Peace and Justice, the National Organization for Women, Rainbow Operation Push, Coalition for Climate Control, and others. With the exception of UFPJ and USLAW, few major organizations seemed to have actually tried to mobilize their constituencies. Yet the demonstration attracted many first-time marchers.
One of the most inspiring aspects of the march was the visibility of Latino activists and families, many undoubtedly feeling newly empowered by the massive mobilizations around immigrant rights. Local immigrant rights organizations carried large banners that clearly established their presence and heralded their future leadership role in the antiwar movement.
One of the most popular costumes at the march was a T-shirt that proclaimed, “No Human is Illegal” in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic. These shirts—which appealed directly to marchers’ sense of the deep connections between anti-Arab racism, anti-immigrant racism, and the war—as well as the crowded Palestine Solidarity tent at Foley Square, were visible acknowledgements of the relationship between the war in Iraq and continued U.S. support for the Israeli land grab underway in the West Bank.
While the demonstration was a clear expression of the desire of the movement for big unified mobilizations, there was one very visible political division on display between forces that consciously identified with the Democratic Party foreign-policy initiatives and those who are fighting for a movement independent of all the war-making political parties.
The presence of speakers and signs promoting U.S. intervention into the Sudan were a surprisingly prominent part of the demonstration. Numerous printed placards proclaimed, “Out of Iraq, Into Dafur!” Jesse Jackson likewise declared at the opening press conference that today we are marching to bring the troops home, but “tomorrow we march for the end of genocide in Dafur.” Jackson was promoting the April 30 march on Washington, D.C., at which righteous horror about the genocide in Dafur was cynically
tied to calls for expanding the U.S. presence in the region.
The decision of the April 29 demonstration organizers to avoid holding a rally at which the diverse forces of the antiwar movement could share a stage meant that Jackson’s controversial call went unchallenged and that considerable confusion about the role of U.S. interventions in Africa has been introduced into the antiwar movement. Jackson’s intervention represented part of the larger threat to the antiwar movement posed by those from the Democratic Party who want to entice the antiwar movement out of the streets and into electioneering during the fall congressional campaigns.
So far, United for Peace and Justice has failed to project a calendar of antiwar activities for the summer and fall months that are genuinely independent of the war-making political parties. Upcoming regional antiwar conferences are projected as skills workshops that will, in fact, organize activists into Voters for Peace campaigns. While ostensibly non-partisan, these campaigns will certainly devolve over the autumn into “get out the vote” initiatives for Democratic Party politicians who continue to oppose immediate withdrawal from Iraq.
On the other hand, many antiwar activists will necessarily spend the summer educating about the need for an independent antiwar movement and pointing to the example provided by the immigrant rights movement—which overnight has managed to show that the power of working people is most effectively manifested in massive actions in the streets.