On March 23-25, hundreds of antiwar and international solidarity activists, students, and Occupiers are coming together in Stamford, Conn., for the United National Antiwar Coalition conference. A major task of the UNAC conference will be to build national support for the May 19 protest against the NATO/G8 summit convening in Chicago. Leaders of every social struggle responding to the obscene war drive and military expenditures of the White House and its allies will be on hand to say “No!” to the wars of the 1% abroad and at home.
Today, the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and the continued drone attacks on Pakistan are generating new and militant resistance on the ground. Afghans have been mobilizing in large demonstrations, and officials in Pakistan have announced that they will not be deterred from finalizing an agreement for a Pakistan-Iranian gas pipeline by threats of U.S. sanctions. It is exactly the right political moment for the U.S. antiwar movement to renew itself and visibly demonstrate its support of the right of self-determination of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and, of course, Iran.
Yet, there has been a disturbing claim put forth by a number of leaders of the broad peace movement. They argue, often behind the scenes, that this year is not the time for antiwar demonstrations in the U.S. The assumption behind this whisper campaign is that protests against the imperial policies of the current White House will somehow lead to the election of a “greater evil”—i.e., the Republican candidate for president. The antiwar movement, they imply, should lay low until Barack Obama has been re-elected in November.
This perspective is not always laid out in a direct fashion. Sometimes those deeply invested in mounting an all-out campaign for the re-election of Obama argue that the issue of the wars has taken a back seat in the public mind to the fight for economic equality. Those who are against the U.S. wars abroad should not organize independent activities, these forces advise, but simply participate in community meetings and labor activities, and educate there about the way that the war budget leads to cuts for social services.
While no committed activist opposes taking the antiwar message to every single community and labor organization in the country, there is no reason to counterpose neighborhood outreach to mobilizing visibly in the streets at major gatherings of the war-makers. One effort should strengthen the other.
Protests at NATO/G8 Summit
In truth, the people suffering under U.S. occupation and military overseers the world over will be watching the NATO/G8 summit, an event that will garner extraordinary global media coverage, to determine whether or not they have allies in the belly of the beast. Their calculations about the odds of beating back U.S. aggression if they dare risk mounting a resistance are based in part on their reading of U.S. politics. Antiwar activists have the most elementary obligation to show the world that the Occupiers and working people of the U.S. understand that the elementary obligations of the slogan “An Injury to One is An Injury to All” are international at their root.
An organizing pole that centers on opposition to U.S. wars can only strengthen the movement for economic justice. Without vital public antiwar organizations that are constantly educating and mobilizing, the fight for jobs and human needs will be more vulnerable to chauvinism and xenophobia, and, thus, infinitely weaker when confronting the bosses and the government. An organizing pole that consciously connects war abroad with the war at home does not have to be manifested in demonstrations the size and character of past U.S. peace movements to be central to U.S. politics and critical to the development of an effective working-class fightback today.
The notion that opposing U.S. intervention abroad should be subordinated to the U.S. election cycle is weak in its very foundation. There is no historical precedent that demonstrates that a Democratic administration will be less ruthless in the protection of U.S. corporate interests abroad than a Republican one. Quite the contrary!
Indeed, on Feb. 19, the U.S. marked the 70th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s issuance of Executive Order 9066, which initiated the internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps. FDR, considered by many of those bound by the framework of lesser-evil politics as the most saintly Democrat of all time, presided over one of the most brutal eras of U.S. conquest in the modern era.
The backdrop for internment—part of the U.S. war for economic dominance over the Japanese Far East colonies during World War II—is once again in the news. President Obama’s strategic and military “return to Asia” demonstrates that in times of economic crisis, imperialist powers will leave no stone unturned in efforts to maintain a competitive edge. Indeed, the U.S. ships belligerently patrolling the Persian Gulf and the scab-herding Coast Guard vessels called into service offshore from Longview, Wash., are part of a many-pronged effort by U.S. elites to maintain their economic hegemony through a combination of driving down costs and using the threat of military force to shape trading patterns and capital flows worldwide.
The war by embargo on Iran’s oil sales, the threats to sanction Pakistan for a gas pipeline involving Iran, the growing military presence in Central and South America are all related to the efforts of U.S. elites to compete successfully with weaker but still threatening capitalist powers such as China, Brazil, and India.
As Vijay Prashad explained recently in the Asia Times, “Iran” has become a code word for the efforts of the U.S. to demand the acquiescence of India and China to their own economic subordination. And the deeper the global economic crisis faced by the corporate and financial world, the more desperate will be the use of military adventure as a tool of economic dominance.
It is difficult to believe that working people and students in the U.S. will be able to stand up to the bosses’ drive against their standard of living, and to forge the political tools for a victory on this front, without coming to grips with the deeply intertwined efforts of the U.S. government to drive down their competitors abroad. Therefore, those who seek to build a movement for economic equality must also use obvious opportunities to strengthen visible opposition to the wars abroad and in the process contribute to the overall understanding of the working people about the nature of the opposition to their demands.
The NATO/G8 summit to be held in Chicago in May is the most important date on the calendar for these kinds of actions. By its very nature, this meeting, which brings together the military and financial arms of the global 1% to discuss Afghanistan, Pakistan, the so-called War on Terror in Africa, and approaches to making working people pay for their economic crisis worldwide, must be at the top of the antiwar agenda.
The seven-month campaign to make the right to protest war and austerity in Chicago a national and international issue has been quite successful. Permits have been granted, and the momentum is growing to win more victories against Chicago’s Rahm Emmanuel administration and the Dept. of Homeland Security.
The fight for civil liberties
These endeavors are a critical component of assembling the forces to roll back the current attacks on civil liberties—a new COINTELPRO and the codification of indefinite detention without due process or court trial—emanating from the Obama White House. Unfortunately, in the midst of these efforts, new voices are coming forward to confuse the issues.
The most destructive has been that of columnist Chris Hedges. In a Feb. 6 article, Hedges, with extremely broad strokes, equated the “Black Bloc” to a deadly cancer out to destroy the social justice movement. His promotion of a tiny group to the stature of a deadly danger to peace activists was an unnecessary political gift to government and police spokespeople who have mounted an aggressive campaign to paint those who protest war and austerity as violent threats to the social order.
In order to defeat the government’s attempts to use the NATO/G8 summit as the launch pad for an even more Orwellian security state, we must take the opposite approach. We must turn the tables on the city of Chicago and Homeland Security, explaining that the protests that are being organized for Chicago are around the issues of the 99% and must be not be suppressed. These demonstrations include one developed by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United to demand a tax on Wall Street, as well as the May 19 permitted march initiated by the United National Antiwar Coalition and being organized by the Coalition Against the NATO/G8 Wars and Poverty Agenda.
Several other important political figures have misrepresented by omission the range of protests currently planned for Chicago in May. Tom Hayden, whose Feb. 15 column “Occupy Chicago? 1968 Again?” usefully urges the involvement of the AFL-CIO and the Sierra Club, unfortunately suggests that without them and their messaging, the “Chicago spectacle is likely to be one of street battles, tear gas, police brutality, and mass arrests.”
Similarly, Staughton Lynd on Feb. 28 wrote an “Open Letter to Other Occupiers,” in which he noted concerns “about the impending confrontation in Chicago in May between the forces of Occupy and those of capitalist globalization.”
Hayden’s and Lynd’s missives both seemed to be predicated on a call by Adbusters for Occupiers to come to Chicago in May. And inexplicably, since the original call by Adbusters for the Occupation of Wall Street resulted in a historic, peaceful, and inspiring mobilization of youth willing to endure all kinds of hardship to non-violently represent the simple aspirations of the 99% for equality, they focus on presuppositions that the Chicago protests will be inchoate, without leadership, and immature. Instead of focusing his fire on the powers that be, Hayden warns that protest in Chicago might lead to “political platforms imposing law and order,” just as Chicago 1968 allegedly led to Republican conservatives winning elections and to J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO program to spy on political activists. This turns both history and current reality on their heads.
Obama has already re-launched an even more virulent form of COINTELPRO. Targeted executive assassination of U.S. citizens is already occurring. The indefinite detention without trial of U.S. citizens has been recently codified. The only possible response to these sweeping attacks is building mass movements in the streets. The fight to build such a movement cannot be on hold until after the election.
Those strategic debates, networking, and coalition building are underway internationally, nationally, and in Chicago. This work will deepen at the United National Antiwar Coalition conference in Stamford at the end of March. In the run-up to Chicago, all the forces of the peace, justice, and civil liberties communities must be united in one effort to place the blame for violence where it belongs—on the city of Chicago, the White House, and Homeland Security.
With or without the Sierra Club, responsible and serious forces are organizing the political discussions, the civil liberties campaigns, the local and national activist community to deal with every challenge thrown at them by the Emmanuel administration in Chicago and the Secret Service. The path toward the new social justice movement about to be fully born must go through the struggle for the right to protest without serious repression in Chicago. That fight is not over. It has just begun.
> The article above was written by Christine Marie, and first appeared in the March 2012 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.