avatar
Signs of Movement? The State of Anti-War Activism in the U.S.


As the Western media proclaimed a cowardly victory for the US/NATO bombing

campaign in Yugoslavia this past weekend, the stability of "peace

talks" was already beginning to waver, and thousands were turning out to

demonstrate against the war on each coast of the United States, as well as the

UK, Canada, Greece, and other places around the world.

It has been a tense several days for those of us paying close attention to

the war, as we evaluate both the status of so-called "negotiations" in

Europe and that of the anti-war movement here at home.

In Washington, DC, on Saturday the fifth of June, a significant crowd turned

out to bear witness to the continuing ravages of war and demonstrate our

movement’s disbelief in the impending peace process. Even assuming near- total

surrender on the part of Milosevic’s Serbia, it is clear that nothing resembling

true peace will beset Yugoslavia in the near future. And though we may have

wavered a bit while sorting through the myths and realities of this latest phase

of negotiations, it is clear that the anti-war movement here is growing, quite

necessarily.

 

The DC Action

Estimates of participation in the June 5 demo in DC range from 2,000 (the

Pentagon’s figure, conspicuously settled on by UPI news service), to 10,000, the

number favored by lead organizers, the International Action Center. A trusted

companion of mine counted 4500 heads passing one point during the march from the

Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the Pentagon lawn. This is the most reliable and

believable figure I can convey. Those of us who participated would like to

believe we were more, but the reality is this anti-war movement is still taking

baby steps.

During the march, most activists seemed beleaguered, probably not just from

the heat. Demonstrators appeared to lack committed unity and passion. Chants

were weak in both volume and content, in some cases making misogynist references

to Madeleine Albright, or calling for continued Serbian domination of the

province of Kosovo. While there was some refreshing creativity in the form of

artistic floats, slogans and signs, most people toted stale, mass-produced

placards.

More than 25 speakers addressed the crowd during rallies before and after the

march. The vast majority of these, invited by the International Action Center (IAC),

either failed to mention or outright denied the repression, expulsion and

execution of Kosovar Albanians by Milosevic’s troops — popularly referred to as

"ethnic cleansing."

IAC founder and icon Ramsey Clark summed up the dominant position of his

organization by urging us to remember that Serbs are the main victims of ethnic

cleansing in the Balkans. He passively denied recent history by proclaiming

Serbia a peaceful land prior to 1990, implicitly suggesting that Kosovar

Albanian resistance instigated troubles, instead of Serbia’s annexation of the

once-autonomous Kosovo. Western leaders were repeatedly referred to as "the

real war criminals," thus exonerating Slobodan Milosevic for comparatively

fewer, but no less deplorable crimes against humanity.

One speaker overlooked Serbian atrocities but harped on the (far fewer)

crimes of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) against Serbian civilians. He went

still farther, referring to allegations that KLA funding is derived from

smuggling heroine and marijuana (!) which in turn is "destroying this

society," referring to the US. This misdirection, apologetics and

exaggeration were disturbingly common throughout much of the day’s speeches.

Gordon Clark, executive director of Peace Action, and Amy Goodman of Pacifica

Radio’s "Democracy Now," provided rare, refreshing perspectives in a

sea of otherwise largely banal ranting. Clark’s insistence on an appropriate,

reasonable stance was welcome in the midst of bizarre apologetics: "I want

to be very clear here today that I am ADAMANTLY pro- Serbian and ADAMANTLY

anti-Milosevic! That I am ADAMANTLY pro- Kosovo Albanian, and ADAMANTLY

anti-Kosovo [sic] Liberation Army!"

Positive responses to emotional speeches by both Clarks were similarly

intense, leaving some of us confused as to whether people were hearing the

difference.

No matter how hard I tried to get involved in the various elements of the

demonstration, constant reminders of our movement’s schizophrenia, in the form

of counter-productive messages, repeatedly dampened my mood. Marching along side

Serbian nationalists who sported glossy stickers proclaiming "Kosovo is

Serbian" did not exactly inspire an air of solidarity in those of us who

support popular self-determination in the struggling province.

 

Movement Implications

One major lesson of the day was entirely predictable: the International

Action Center, a front group of the notorious marxist-leninist, state terror

apologist Workers World Party, doesn’t have the integrity required to build and

lead a mass movement. Though the IAC isn’t short on organizational capability

and energy, it does lack respectable leadership. Carrying the notion of

"the enemy of my enemy is my friend" to a disturbing extreme is

dangerously counter-productive. Workers World/IAC have not only downplayed the

crimes of Milosevic and Saddam Hussein against ethnic populations, but even

rationalized and lauded Beijing’s contemptible 1989 massacre of dissidents at

Tienanmen Square. An article on the IAC web site refers to criticism of

Milosevic for ordering atrocities against ethnic Albanians as

"victim-blaming." ("Message to the Anti-War Movement: Don’t Blame

the Victim," Deirdre Griswold, http://iacenter.org/blamvict.htm)

IAC relies on trumped up self-adulation methods including the inflation of

demonstration sizes — their pattern seems to be doubling numbers, having

reported a wishful but preposterous 25,000 at the April 24 Millions for Mumia

demo in Philadelphia. In their own report, they are disproportionately

self-referential of their own group, as well as Workers World — especially for

an effort that was supposedly organized by a coalition of organizations,

including Peace Action and War Resisters League, among others. ("Ten

Thousand March…," http://iacenter.org/65tentho.htm)

Still, it is argued, at least the IAC is actively "doing something"

against the NATO war. I can’t count how many times I heard well-meaning

activists say this in the weeks leading up to the June 5 mobilization. But

doesn’t that logic sound eerily familiar? Have most of us lost our initiative to

organize alternatives to these types of awkwardly-formulated demos because

someone else is "doing something"? Is the only other option to

"do nothing"? What if the "something" we fall back on is

actually impeding the growth of active resistance to US policy by turning off

people who rightly acknowledge the prerogative of Kosovar Albanians to

self-determination?

An important element was lacking throughout the day’s talks. Rare were

reflections on the strength and potential of the growing peace movement.

Essentially non-existent was analysis of strategy and program, or even

suggestions for future activism. In light of the near-total media blackout with

regard to the demonstration (see "Media Ignores Major Anti-War March,"

FAIR, http://www.fair.org/activism/march.html), this passing over of internal

movement assessment was an enormous mistake. Speaker after speaker criticized

NATO and Pentagon policy, preaching to a fatigued choir, but none discussed

specifics of how we could be expected to actually make gains as a movement.

Nevertheless, these are the key questions with which we are faced. As ever,

impediments within the movement are equally as debilitating as those set in

place by our establishment adversaries. There are plenty of leaders with

abundant integrity. Hopefully, in the near future, they will emerge more

clearly, and those less reliable will not be relied upon to "do

something," which is too close to "do anything." Our message has

to be clear:

(1) we support Kosovar democracy and independence;

(2) we oppose NATO involvement in the region’s affairs;

(3) we oppose KLA dominance of an interim government, prefering the actual

elected government of Kosova;

(4) we support the rebuilding of democratic, grassroots resistance in Serbia

and here at home.

Only by taking a consistent, humanist stance on this crisis, like all others,

can we hope to build an authentic anti-war movement. We must rely on truthful

reason, not sloganeering and distortions, to garner sympathy toward and

participation in continued resistance.

 

What Next?

For several reasons, now that the perception of victory has been successfully

spun by the US State Department and their corporate media cohorts, a very

dangerous precedent has been set. First of all, the bombing campaign has been

rendered a sensible strategy, which means the public will likely have even fewer

reservations about its employment in the future.

Second, the mainstream media has demonstrated a willingness to regurgitate

establishment stances more so than any time in recent memory. Officials can rest

assured that the real causes and effects of war will not be portrayed, much less

questioned, in the public sphere by "respectable" institutions.

For these reasons, anti-militarist organizing must not relax but rather

accelerate in the immediate future. We need to be better prepared to identify

crises, disseminate crucial facts, and popularize anti-interventionist

sentiment. We should be looking toward Iraq, Turkey, Indonesia/East Timor,

Korea, Colombia, and Chiapas, Mexico, as well as other regions where Western

interests are at stake.

Finally, while the conflict in Yugoslavia has taken a new turn, it is by no

means over. We now have the opportunity to take a more pro- active stance on the

situation. While continuing to resist NATO involvement in Yugoslav affairs, we

should demand that the Democratic League of Kosova be given a predominant role

in the reestablishment of society in the battered province as refugees return.

The democratically-elected government of Kosovo should replace the KLA — the

alternative is top-down administration of reconstruction. Only through continued

vigilance can we educate the public as to what just occurred in the Balkans and

what needs to happen presently, hopefully garnering still more support in the

process.

———————–

RealAudio broadcasts of speeches by both Ramsey Clark and Gordon Clark can

found at Democracy Now, http://www.webactive.com/webactive

/pacifica/demnow/dn990604.ht

ml

The original version of Gordon Clark’s speech, highly recommended, is

posted at http://www.peace-action.org/rally_speech.html

—————————-

Brian Dominick is an organizer and journalist. He is a member of On the

Ground, a collective presently distributing a variety of anti-war materials

and activist aids, including a self-titled newspaper. http://kosovo.rootmedia.org;

grounded@rootmedia.org.

=====================

ON the GROUND — KOSOVO CRISIS A newly formed collective in Syracuse, NY,

of which I am a member, has published a newspaper and is producing an activist

kit regarding the current crisis in the Balkans. We are calling it, and

ourselves, "On the Ground." For more info go to http://kosovo.rootmedia.org/otg

or write grounded@rootmedia.org. We very much need your support, and you

really need to see this project.

 

Leave a comment