Rallies Across the Nation
After the Rally: What Next?
Speech Prepared for Washington Rally
The following pieces were contributed in response to an invitation to HAW members to share their experiences and thoughts about the September 24–26 anti-war protests, especially the big march and rally in Washington, D.C on Saturday, September 24. For future issues of the Newsletter, members are invited to submit news items or op-eds to email@example.com. In addition, you can contact HAW at http://www.historiansagainstwar.org/contact.html. This issue was edited by Jerise Fogel and Jim O’Brien.
A Turning Point in Anti-War Consciousness in This Country
Margaret Power (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Many parts of the September 24 anti-war demonstration in D.C. were uplifting. However, I found the presence of members of the Veterans of the Iraq War and Military Families Speak Out to be particularly moving. Their visible repudiation of the war in Iraq offered vivid testimony by people whose views and experiences are a vital example of why this war is so wrong. Some of the military families held signs with pictures of their sons, with messages to Bush, asking “Why did my son die?” One poster read, “Bush, why did you kill my son?”
The pictures of the murdered children and the parents’ palpable anguish reminded me of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina and the Families of the Disappeared throughout Latin America. Just as these Latin American women were the first to rupture the fear and silence that the military dictatorships instilled in much of the region throughout the 1970s and 1980s, these family members who have lost their children to the criminal war in Iraq represent a moral vision that cannot be denied.
It is of inestimable importance that the family members of those who have died or are currently serving in Iraq speak out against the war. Their denunciation of the war effectively breaks the lie that those who oppose the war do not support the troops. It is also important because it is new. During the Vietnam War military families and the mothers of troops serving in battle did not publicly call for an end to the war. The fact that they are doing so now is both a legacy of the anti-war sentiment generated by the Vietnam War and an important turning point in anti-war consciousness in this country. It is important that we seek out and project the voices of anti-war military families and returning veterans of the Iraqi war. They are some of the strongest, if not THE strongest, spokespersons our movement has.
John Oliver Mason (email@example.com)
I boarded my bus in Philadelphia, in front of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO building, to join a trade union delegation to the march. I thought this was great, the so-called “silent majority” of Richard Nixon was speaking for itself. Another trade union delegation boarded the bus from District Council 47 of AFSCME. Along the way we had great political conversations, some of it focused around the protests against the Viet Nam war, of which this reminds one. One trade union veteran said that this was “the Liberals’ war,” and talked about how Liberals bent over backwards to try to prove how not-soft-on-Communism they were. Another trade union official had this saying: Conservatives believe in something, and Liberals believe in everything. I agree – Liberals try to accommodate Conservatives, who in turn try to suppress any Liberal ideas, which is what is going on now in Washington.
We came close to Washington, and we could see the Washington Monument. As we passed through the District, we saw low-income families, mainly African-American – this is the Washington you don’t see or hear about, the real Washington, not the stuff that goes on in the Capitol or the white House or the Pentagon. This is within easy walking distance from the Capitol and the White House, but the rulers of our land, or the media, would not show up here, to mar the image of America as the land of prosperity.
I called out, “Look, the Cato Institute!” – the geniuses behind the privatization of Social Security – and that was good for a boo. We stopped off at the AFL-CIO headquarters for a rally sponsored by US Labor Against the War. Hurricane Katrina, and the devastation it made in the Gulf States, was on the minds of everyone. The government of the most powerful nation on the planet could not protect against a natural disaster they were warned about for so long, just like they were warned about 9-11. Curtis Muhammad, a civil rights activist from New Orleans, spoke of the racism that was part of the neglect of the levees in New Orleans, how money was diverted from boosting the levees to fattening the fat cats in Washington, and for paying for the war in Iraq.
Our group, along with unionists from all over the country, started to march at 11:30 AM, from the AFL-CIO building. We marched down 15th Street NW, and at a location near the Treasury Department building, we were joined by another river of marchers, American Students Against the War. I thought, great, another generation of activists is coming up. The streets were rivers of marchers, with tributary streams. We chanted, “What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!” and “Support the troops, bring them home!” that was what was great about this campaign, we were not at all opposing the troops, our sons and daughters, our neighbors, we were opposing the lunatic regime in charge, which sent them there to be killed.
We got to a spot close to the Washington Monument, in time to hear the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and then Cindy Sheehan, who was eloquent as hell. The area was packed with people, and it was tough to move around. I saw the ladies from Code Pink, who livened things up with chanting, “Condi, Condi, Condi Rice, your policy suck, but your shoes look nice!” One of them had on a pink gown, with the words “No peace, no pussy”. I can go along with that.
by Shanti Singham (firstname.lastname@example.org)
After a long all-night drive with a flat tire, two teenagers, and my husband, I arrived in DC tired but exhilarated by the unexpectedly huge crowd. The large numbers delayed our entry into the march by two hours and so we were able to find Marv Gettleman beside a large HAW banner and accompany him on the march.
Contrary to the claims of KC Johnson (History News Network, “Iraq and Vietnam, the Anti-War Movement”), echoing a Yale professor of genetics, the Palestinian flag was not the “dominant one” at the anti-war demonstration. I would be hard-pressed to say which “flag” was dominant, but the visual image that most impressed me quantitatively was probably that of t-shirts and posters proclaiming “Make Levees Not War.” The leader and unifier of the march was Cindy Sheehan, not a group of extreme leftists.
I consider myself somewhat of a veteran peace activist and I have gone to peace marches consistently since this war began. This march was without question the most impressive, both quantitatively and in terms of the diversity of voices and political agendas expressed. It was a real cornucopia of all that is best in the American democratic tradition. Trade union activists, African Americans, Haitians, Muslims, Catholic nuns, mid-westerners, Texans, the old, the young, families – and yes, historians – all these were fully in view. The Democratic Party, however, was largely absent; this was a lost moment reflecting the gulf between the party’s leaders and its rank and file base.
Besides reveling in the festive, highly creative, side of the march – with fascinating hand-made signs, street theatre, displays, political costumes, the Camp Casey tent – I was especially happy to see and meet so many college students, especially those from local universities. Even without the draft, these students are a natural base for antiwar activism. They are smart, educated, anti-racist, environmentally conscious, and internationalist. It behooves us to work with them, especially in the forum of teach-ins, to help support their important first forays into responsible citizenship.
The students’ presence, as well as that of so many families with young teenagers, like mine, convinced me in the end that some of the blogs posted after the demonstration are wrong about this type of action no longer being relevant or useful as a means of political action. Yes, it is true, the U.S. press did not give us adequate or fair coverage. Thankfully, via the web, the rest of the world did hear about us and was grateful. But the purpose of the march was as much educational and inspirational as an act of civic expression and in that it was supremely successful. Here, we historians, the old and middle-aged, acted as responsible role models for the next generation and began to pass the baton to the extremely impressive youth – humane, intelligent, and creative – who surrounded us.
by Thomas M. Ricks (email@example.com)
I was at the September 24 grand March on the White House/for Peace against War, and enjoyed very much the very large crowd of people, funny and serious protest signs, and general good spirits of everyone.
Knowing that there will be more public demonstrations of protest to end US wars and empire building, I missed the teach-ins of yore and long for more public discussions on how to turn our national resources (human and material) towards assisting and supporting our own peoples (poor, minorities, women and children) and those of the world, and away from corporate greed and foreign adventures.
By Marvin Gettleman (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The New York-Philly HAW contingent was supposed to meet at the National Archives (an appropriate spot for our craft) at 10:30 AM on September 24. My bus left the upper west side of Manhattan soon after 6:00 AM, the riders confident that we could make it to DC in 4.5 hours. But by the time we reached Baltimore it was clear that we wouldn’t. Taking the Metro from Greenbelt Maryland where the busses parked, I did go to the National Archives, the HAW banner rolled up in my backpack, but as expected no one from HAW was around by 11:30 – although a right-wing orator denouncing the demonstrators as “objective supporters” of Osama bin Laden attracted a few listeners.
Then I walked to the Ellipse, the area around Washington Monument, shared by anti-war demonstrators, regular tourists, and people attracted to Laura Bush’s Book Festival. On the way down I had read The Nation, with poet Sharon Olds’s eloquent refusal to attend. She should have come. The people at the Book Festival proved interested in our many reasons for opposing the Iraq war.
At the Washington Monument I spread out the 8-foot HAW banner on the front of a low stone wall, and waited for anyone to show up. And, lo! they did. Perhaps it is a bit of an exaggeration to say that historians flocked to the banner, as did gawking tourists and folk with digital cameras who thought that “Historians Against the War” was a piquant subject for lenses and shutters. All of these people got the double-sided HAW leaflet, which (I realized too late) ought to have listed the HAW pamphlets.
Historians as yet unaffiliated with HAW (with partners, children and other folk, whom I promiscuously deputized as honorary historians) helped carry the banner on the circular (actually rectangular) march route past the White House. One of these historians was none other than Shanti Singham of Williams College, whose father I knew at Brooklyn College. She came with her daughter and husband, who took a photo of our handsome HAW banner. Getting to the speakers platform was impossible for those of us marching with banners, and who had to get back to Greenbelt for the 5:30 bus departure. Too bad Rusti Eisenberg’s superb talk (reprinted in this newsletter) wasn’t delivered.
I am proud to say that one of my Queens College students not only came to the rally but in the midst of the crowd that may have numbered more than 200,000, actually found me in front of the White House. Despite George Bush’s absence on a photo-op designed to show his concern for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, snipers walked ominously along the White House roof line.
Many intending to go to the Washington that day were unable to travel by Amtrak, since power was out on the eastern corridor. Ellen Schrecker was holed up in NYC’s Penn Station, where writer Judy Levine organized a lively demonstration among those unable to get to DC. A group from Philadelphia gave up on Amtrak early enough to rent a collective van for a one-way trip to DC (somehow they knew they could get back), and one of them became a honorary HAW member and helped carry the banner. Perhaps HAW can recruit more historians if we make it known that HAW membership empowers people to deputize psychologists and lawyers as historians-for-a-day.
by Beth Barnes (email@example.com)
What I noticed first was the absence of riot gear. Certainly, the police were engaged in the standard practices of occasional motorcycle motorcades, roaring in pairs down the streets with sirens blaring and making enough noise to frighten the normally indifferent pigeons into pinwheels of surprise. But the phalanx of black suited riot cops, with plastic restraints adorning their belts were nowhere to be found. It set the tone for the day, and proved once again that the police have a sophisticated methodology for predicting crowds and crowd behavior.
I have attended multiple protests, from rallies in Philadelphia for Mumia Abu Jamal to illegal direct action activities that were part of a larger “sanctioned” march. In each instance, the memory of the protesters stretched only to the level of the march, and not much beyond. At the National Conference of Organized Resistance, held every year at American University, I listened to the organizers of the Miami anti-IMF/World Bank protests dissect the multiple successes and failures of the months of planning and organizing leading up to the events. Nowhere in the discussion was the sense of gathering information about the practices, the types of decisions made and the effectiveness or lack thereof, or of an attempt to learn from the official responses during the event. For all practical purposes, each protest happens independently of every other protest – unless there happens to be continuity of people in attendance.
At the September 24 march in Washington DC, the theme was clear and unified. It was distinctly an anti-war protest, heavily sprinkled with anti-Bush sentiments. So close on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, many of the protesters carried signs that said, “Make levees, not war.” Many signs called for the impeachment of Bush, while on the positive side many other signs showed support for Cindy Sheehan, one of the catalytic elements behind the protest. The marchers were generally middle-class, white, pacifist, and ranging somewhere between 20 and 50 years old. Certain organized groups were well represented, in particular the SEIU, whose headquarters are located in the metro DC area. The crowd was well beyond the numbers hoped for by the sponsors, although crowd count has become a point of unnecessary contention and distortion.
What can be learned from the protest? Different from many of the other protests I have attended, this somehow turned into a Cindy Sheehan v. George Bush showdown. Again, each protest seems to exist only in the moment, with no common thread to learn from. What were those people to do with that momentum – what is to come on the day after? No one knows, really, and if there were ever a need for a record to be made, a working record of planning and logistics and events, these series of flashbulb protests demonstrate this.
A peaceful march is a relatively simple affair, really – more about timing and bathrooms than about actual change, whether that change is reformist or radical. But without a record, without some way to refine the tactics and the practices of the left, without a way to learn, each protest will start from the same place. And when we continually start from the same place, there is only so far that we will move over the course of one day, no matter how many people we gather together.
A Big Crowd in Seattle
by Maria Pascualy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A friend and I participated in the Seattle Peace Rally. Folks at the rally said we had about 4500 people- the press said about 1500. It seemed closer to 4500 to us. Mostly a subdued over 40 crowd, although there were pockets of younger people. Some unhappiness expressed that there had not been enough PR about the march in the community, but all in agreement that given the lack of PR the numbers were good. We gathered at Westlake Mall – Jim McDermott (D-WA) spoke, as did a number of other people, then the group marched to the Federal Building and back.
Construction workers at the Seattle Art Museum expansion site flashed peace signs as we passed. Much positive talk as folks headed for home of a planned November 2 walkout in the Seattle schools to protest the war.
Busted for Peace on September 26
by Alan Dawley (email@example.com)
On September 26th, 2005, I was among the 370 protesters arrested in front of the White House in what was the largest act of civil disobedience in DC in decades, perhaps since the Vietnam era. Let me pass along three points. First, unlike the split between protesters and the public after the Chicago disorders of ‘68, there was a strong sense of connection between those of us risking arrest and the “silent majority” opposed to the war in Iraq. That bodes well for future protest actions, which, it seems to me, will need to escalate resistance while keeping it within civil bounds. No trashing this time. Second, as we think about whom to target, I think it is time to put Democratic feet to the fire, along with Republican. Let’s politely ask Congress members to sign on to the Woolsey resolution, but if they refuse, maybe a sit-in in the office would concentrate their attention. Third, civil resistance (the term that is replacing civil disobedience) is a sign of strength, not desperation. Willingness to break the law and suffer arrest, confinement, and financial loss means that authority has lost that part of its hold over people that derives from fear of arrest, confinement, and financial loss. Getting arrested after putting “crime scene” tape on the White House fence felt empowering.
By David Applebaum (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Efforts to gain support and build upon the successes in Washington continue. For the first time, “out now” is on the table at the local level. On-line discussions are historically rich. Participation in the debate is greater than ever before on any issue. There is a “buzz” and strangers are talking to one another. On Monday, October 17, there will be a vote in the local chapter of AFT. People who did not go to DC will be able to act. They can “add our voices to the movement urging the United States government to commence the orderly and rapid withdrawal of United States military personnel from Iraq as expeditiously as possible, and to provide the peoples of Iraq with the necessary aid to secure their citizens the right to rebuild Iraq.” The resolution details publicity that can open the door to work with other unions and campus groups.
[Update by David, 10/17/05: The resolution was approved, and will be published in the student paper, presented to the Board of Trustees and the Student Government Association, and the Southern NJ Labor Council of the AFL-CIO. The hope is that similar resolutions will be made by some of the groups and others will be encouraged to speak up and speak out. The next step is the work on the local resolution in support of the statement of the Working Group in Defense of Academic Freedom – accompanied by a local action plan to convert it into concrete efforts.]
9/26 United for Peace and Justice Lobby Day
By Carolyn (Rusti) Eisenberg (email@example.com)
On Monday September 26, approximately 800 people from around the country participated in a UFPJ coordinated Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. This reflected a growing sentiment among the affiliates that it is vitally important for the peace movement to keep a focus on Congress. At a time when most Americans say that they want an immediate or rapid troop withdrawal from Iraq, that outlook is not yet being reflected by our elected representatives.
Training for Lobby Day took place at American University on Sunday. This was an exceptionally valuable event because it enabled activists from around the country to meet each other and to exchange experiences. Many of the participants reported on the changing mood in their home districts and their own desire to be part of a national network that keeps up the pressure.
On Monday there were approximately 400 meetings at Congressional offices, many of these with staffers. The most adversarial session I attended was at the Clinton office. Thirty-five people, representing peace groups, labor organizations and some women’s groups from around the state, expressed strong disapproval of Senator Clinton’s efforts to position herself as a “national security hawk” in her quest for the Presidency and emphasized that she should not take her “liberal base” for granted.
Other sessions were less polarized, with staffers indicating a growing willingness by their representative to adopt a more critical stance. One result of Lobby Day is that several new Congresspeople affiliated themselves with the “Out of Iraq Caucus” in the House and signed on to some moderate legislation, including HR 55 calling for a plan to begin withdrawal by the end of next year.
The overriding feeling among the participants was that the situation in Congress is now fluid enough for the peace movement to make an impact. During the next month, UFPJ will be developing a formal Legislative Action Network that will function in an ongoing way. Its fundamental goal is to get Congress to stop funding the war.
Last spring, quite a few HAW members indicated a desire to be involved with such legislative efforts. Once this United for Peace and Justice Network is set up, it will be much easier for historians to participate. Historians are vitally needed all over the country to contribute their skills to this legislative work. Anyone interested, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
What Will History Say?
By Carolyn (Rusti) Eisenberg (email@example.com)
Carolyn Eisenberg is a Steering Committee member of Historians Against the War. She is also a professor of U.S. foreign policy at Hofstra University. Her prepared speech was not given at the Washington rally (because the program was running late), and so we include it here.
Donald Rumsfeld encouraged the Pentagon press corps this week to forget the short term and start thinking like historians. In looking at the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, “We should ask what history will say.”
Let us follow that advice and ask Rumsfeld’s question: “What will history say?”
History will say that a reckless President and a coterie of cynical advisors tricked a frightened nation into an unnecessary war.
History will say that a reckless President and his cynical advisors dissipated the good will of countries around the world and turned compassion into fury.
History will say that a reckless President and his cynical advisors multiplied 3000 deaths in the World Trade Center into tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths.
History will say that a reckless President and his cynical advisors turned volunteer soldiers and National Guardsmen into national hostages, and sent them as conquerors into a place they had no right to be, without a reason, without a plan, without adequate equipment, without proper training and without international support.
History will say that a reckless President and his cynical advisors ignored the environment, ignored the poor, ignored the health care system, ignored the cities and then one day they ignored the weather. And in their arrogance and indifference brought the devastation and suffering of the Iraqi town of Fallujah to the American city of New Orleans.
History will also say that this reckless President and his cynical advisors had a great many helpers. That when it mattered, the American media did not do its job, that journalists asked too few questions and repeated too many lies.
History will say that when it mattered America’s opposition party – the cowardly Democrats – changed the subject and voted for war, knowing all the time and in advance that going to Iraq was a fool’s errand and a disastrous mistake. Knowing they would never send their own children to such a place. But not sufficiently ashamed of putting Cindy Sheehan’s son and the children of other people in harm’s way.
We could also tell Donald Rumsfeld that history is a work in progress and that we are gathered here today to write a new chapter, transforming sorrow and anger into hope. As we look around us, we feel our potential strength and we know what history might say if we act on our convictions.
History might say that in 2005 the people of America regained their wits and found their voice, recognizing that you cannot defeat “terrorism” by terrorizing others and that you cannot build democracy by shooting at checkpoints, breaking down doors and bombing towns.
History might say that in 2005 the American people had enough of war, enough of torture, enough of lawlessness, enough of lying, enough of corruption, enough of “Yellow Alerts and Orange Alerts” and hyped announcements of captured “ringleaders” and vanquished enemies, who always seem to multiply.
History might say that in 2005 the American people became weary of politicians, who were evading the war or supporting it. And that they sent a message to all the would-be Presidents – to Hillary Clinton, Kerry, Biden, Bayh, Frist, McCain and anyone else – that nobody goes to the White House, who wants an expanded military or who just want “to get it right,” when the compelling need is to get us out.
History might say that in 2005, the American people fired Donald Rumsfeld and sent him for trial to the International Criminal Court, which the United States finally joined.
History might say that in 2005, the American people closed down Gitmo, shuttered Abu Ghraib, returned the National Guard to the places they were needed, and brought 147,000 of our troops back to the United States, to the homes and families where they belong.
History might say that in 2005, the American people realized that there was no easy path to safety, not from “terrorists” nor from hurricanes. And that our best hope as a country depends on doing justice, relieving suffering, respecting difference and honoring the rule of law.
Will history actually say these things? That depends on what we do – whether we leave Washington DC today with the energy, the commitment, the belief in our own country, the faith in our fellow citizens to find a new direction and to replace the President’s message of war with a fervent call for peace.