I just see what I think I saw? Has a growing anti-war movement suddenly become
dormant, for the umpteenth time in the past few decades – in this case before
the war at hand was even over? Has the US Left once again turned its back, or at
least its side, to an ongoing crisis brought about or conflated by the US
itself? That’s certainly what appears to have happened in the case of the
current NATO war on the people of Yugoslavia.
of course these crises don’t end when a peace agreement is signed. The strife in
Kosovo and Serbia is still very real. Out of sight, out of mind doesn’t apply so
well in such cases. The reality we’re facing here at home is an endless host of
issues with which activists must be concerned, each distracting attention from
the others. We aren’t even close to a unified movement with a holistic approach
to social change and resistance. Instead, we have a fractured array of
struggles, each vying for the attention and allegiance of concerned people
everywhere, seldom acknowledging connections between causes, never mind
combining forces to act on broader issues with common roots. So while this or
that crisis may attract extraordinary attention for a time, eventually we return
to our cause of choice and devote most of our energy to it.
come and go, as do upsurges in anti-war activity. The problem with this ebb and
flow, so to speak, is that while we’re retreating to take on various other
causes, the Pentagon and State Department get a head start at building toward
the next war. Then we play a game of catch-up, over and over again. The problem
being there is no significant Left infrastructure capable of struggling against
war during times of relative peace.
this latest case, did we ever become a threat? Some have suggested that the June
5 demonstrations in DC and San Francisco posed a major incentive for the US to
concede certain demands on Serbia, to which NATO had been holding fast, and rush
forward the peace agreement. It would be wonderful to believe that we had an
effect on US policy, but I hardly think five or six thousand demonstrating on
each coast had White House officials exactly shaking in their shoes. Our
movement never truly got past the pathetic phase. We were never a threat to the
status quo; we never actually raised the costs of waging war on the essentially
defenseless people of Yugoslavia. We never even managed to convince the
population here that the West’s intentions were anything other than misguided
alarming consistency, we see a few activists vigilant enough to work on
unpopular struggles for international peace, only supported in their endeavors
when the issue at hand is on the front pages of mainstream dailies. In other
words, the Left itself is allowing the corporate media to choose our agenda.
After the late 1997 massacre at Acteal, in Chiapas, Mexico, there was an upsurge
in activity supporting the Maya people of Southern Mexico who are directly and
extremely victimized by US neoliberal policies toward our neighbors to the
South. But then, when fewer and smaller massacres were being reported, activity
and even awareness declined. Almost exactly a year later, when at the end of
1997 the US resumed a full-scale bombing campaign against Iraq for alleged
noncompliance with UN weapons inspectors, there was a flurry of activity. Those
who had been organizing long-term against the despicable sanctions which are
killing thousands of Iraqis each month, overnight became leaders of a
temporarily expanded movement. But since the bombing has slowed down (it’s still
going on, by the way, sporadically but without halting), so too have our efforts
to bring US policy toward Iraq to an end, or a reversal.
that a (preposterous) deal has been signed with Serb leaders, and fully-armed
NATO troops calling themselves K-FOR have moved into Kosovo to protect Kosovars
from each other, we are taking that long-awaited deep breath. I’ll admit, I was
extremely relieved when the bombing stopped. I got around to seeing my family,
and finally slept more than 4 hours in a single night. But when I breathed in
again, looking to engage in a new phase of awareness-raising and resistance, I
found nearly everyone, including members of my own anti-war collective, had
moved on or returned to other pursuits.
can’t argue with anyone that anti-war work is more important than anything else.
Working against police brutality, sexualized violence, the threat of nuclear
disasters, and an endless laundry list of oppressions is vital, no doubt about
it. But since nearly everyone on the seems to stand or even rally against war
when one "comes around," it seems to make sense that we start
preventing wars instead of periodically scrambling to stop them. The protracted
movements against proposed US interventions in Central America during the 1980s
were largely successful, by most reasonable standards. They didn’t reflect the
glory attributed to movements which helped put and end to the Vietnam war, but
that’s because they helped prevent invasions rather than curtail them.
February of 1998, a hastily-organized campaign against impending assaults on
Iraq was responsible for knocking that option off the Pentagon planning table.
At that time, Washington made the mistake of allowing CNN to broadcast a
national "town hall" meeting with State Department notables, which
radical anti- war activists crashed and spoiled while the whole world looked on.
That action forced the government to act more swiftly, with little deliberation,
when it moved to crush Iraq that December, perhaps hurrying and thus crippling
the effort somewhat. To the degree we are prepared – and make no mistake,
preparation requires constant vigilance and organizing efforts which transcend
periods between outright warfare – we can make it that much more difficult for
our leaders to bring us to war. Which means more time to devote to other issues
of domestic or international importance.
what, really, are our options when a so-called humanitarian crisis like the
Yugoslavia turmoil presents itself? First we should be asking which other
struggles are presently looming. The primary goal should be not to get caught by
surprise, ever again. And to remain consistent in our efforts to expose flash
points wherever they are heating up. We need to be keeping our eyes on Iraq,
East Timor, Indonesia, Iran, Korea, Sudan, Turkey, and especially Colombia and
Chiapas, as well as any number of other crisis areas around the globe.
also have to remain solution-oriented, from the beginning. Looking at a given
crisis, we have to come up with means by which it can be resolved without
resorting to invasion forces. In cases like this decade’s Balkans crises, many
have seriously suggested the use of "nonviolent armies." This refers
to large numbers of activists trained in nonviolent tactics, medicine, conflict
resolution, counseling, observation and investigation, and so forth. The
activists become (1) a physical and political barrier between oppressors and
victims, or two warring sides; and (2) aids in the rebuilding of a society and
the establishment of peace and tolerance. This may well be the only alternative
to exacerbation, or the dreaded "doing nothing" which our leaders only
advocate when the "humanitarian crisis" is one they don’t care about
(like most of those in Africa, for instance).
we need to start developing national coalitions and local organizations which
can carry on the important work of raising awareness and maintaining contact
with organizers on the ground in every city, every neighborhood. Most of the
national organizations are either strongly religious or ideological in their
bases for unification, which is reflected in their preferred strategies, tactics
and overall approaches. No one organization will meet the concerns and interests
of all activists, to be sure. But the important thing for now is to keep people
involved, to maintain connections between those doing anti-war work, to support
those doing intellectual work that will help us stay in touch with various
crises, and to support those doing grassroots outreach and organizing. These are
all key roles of consistent anti-war organizing efforts – each needs to be, and
can be, carried out by many more people.
is a member of the On the Ground collective in Syracuse, NY. He is at present
working tirelessly on the Z Sustainer Program’s technical infrastructure and
content (which you’re simply going to love).