Many astute social commentators have done a great job of pointing out that one of Bush’s purposes for planning to attack Iraq is to distract the public from other important domestic issues.
While we on the radical left point out that the public is getting the wool pulled over its eyes, many of us are nevertheless preoccupied with the possibility of war. Huge amounts of energy are being put into anti-war organizing and the coming months will see many large demonstrations on both local and national levels. But as we pour our energies into mobilizing against a war-to-be, we run the danger of ignoring all of those issues that Bush and others want us to forget about.
By saying this, I’m not arguing against protesting war. If the Bush administration is hell-bent on attacking Iraq, and if congress is willing to give him the no-holds-barred go-ahead, then we need to try to stop the aggression before it starts. It’s also extremely important, however, that our strategies for anti-war organizing don’t set us up to abandon all of the other really important fights.
War is horrible and opposing it in its own right on moral grounds is important and necessary. But for those of us who hope to see radical change to the systems of oppression, we need to look for strategies that have both the potential to stop the impending war and lead us closer to our longer term goals of (might I say it) revolution. We should see preventing the war on Iraq as a short-term goal and find strategies that treat that goal as a means to an end—the end being wholesale transformation into a radical society. This means we cannot afford to abandon the critical struggles that Bush and friends so desperately want us to forget about.
We are in a good position because the same strategies that will be most effective in preventing a military aggression against Iraq are consistent with strategies that will be most effective for achieving our longer-term goals. Continuing to demand and struggle for social change is one of the most important components of effective, sustainable antiwar strategy.
We must be focused on bringing more and more people into antiwar activism and channeling the energy of those involved into activities and organizing that threaten the elite’s war efforts and their policies at home. Only by raising the perceived costs of war for those in power will we convince them to change these policies. Since those in power are corporations and power-hungry politicians, we can best raise their costs by challenging not just their authority to declare war on Iraq but also their economic and political authority in general.
This is exactly what happened in the sixties during the anti-Vietnam War organizing. It was not enough that people were protesting war. What really scared elites was the fact that there was a large and growing movement that included not only antiwar activity but also anti-system organizing. The youth were challenging authority, questioning social norms, and generally rebelling against mainstream mentality. This is the type of energetic and broad movement that we need to build today, both because it will be the most effective and swift in bringing down Bush’s war plans and because it will help us in all of our struggles.
All of this means that we must add depth to our antiwar protest. We must work to educate our movement about the linkages between war and the problems that everyday people face at home. We must constantly highlight those connections and dedicate ourselves to working on issues that affect people at home as well as protesting U.S. foreign policy. This means holding events in which people from many sectors of the community are asked for input. These events may have an antiwar focus, but they should include other connected issues that people find important. There is also the possibility of planning events in which two or more issues are addressed at the same time. For example a rally which calls for the funding of free community health care instead of war. Many groups are already doing this type of organizing, and we should validate their work and support it.
Antiwar groups should seek to collaborate with and support their local area groups which are focusing on issues such as health care, police brutality and prison issues, labor, housing, education, etc. When there is a choice between coalition building with national groups that do hierarchical organizing on a mass scale and tend to co-opt events that take part in organizing or organizing with local groups to put on local multi-issue events, we should choose to work and build locally. This will not only help us get the word out in our own communities but it will bring us closer to building antiwar and anti-system infrastructure on a sustainable scale.
If we do not ground our anti-war organizing in a more holistic strategy for social change, then we will be left with very little when it is all over. Even if we do succeed in avoiding war with Iraq, we will still have to pick up where we left off with all of our other fights. While Bush and company will have failed at pursuing their wildest imperialist dreams, they will still have succeeded in distracting the public from domestic problems. If, on the other hand, we can combine our anti-war activism with our long-term struggles and use the momentum building in the anti-war movement to propel us forward toward even greater social change, we can thwart their war effort and foil their distraction caper.