June 9, 2003
It is time, my friends, to demonstrate a universal political truth -- that
brave stances rooted in principle are rewarded, while hollow regurgitation
of popular sentiment gains you nothing as a politician.
Senator John Kerry voted to give President Bush the power to wage war on Iraq despite serious misgivings, because he thought that playing it safe was the only path towards political gain. If you can stand firmly in the middle of the road, he assumed, then you create no passionate enemies from either side. What he neglected to realize, however, is that neither will this calculating moderation gain you any passionate allies. Furthermore, political calculations in decisions of war do indeed gain you committed opposition.
The peace movement, marginalized again and again by the mass media, has taken serious hits to its momentum and focus. Its one near-fatal flaw is that it is reactionary -- and currently there is no clear campaign to react to. The warmongers' thirst for Iraq was obvious. Easy military conquest meant easy decision. For the heartless, Iraq was a no-brainer. But where does the game-theorizing on Syria, Iran, and North Korea take us? If any of these decisions have already been made, then the plans are under wraps and the strategizing is ongoing. While it is tempting to take the Bush Administration at its word that no plans exist for an invasion of Syria or Iran, the Bush Hawks do not deserve the benefit of the doubt, and their actions to date illustrate that such a claim should be translated into "plans to invade Syria and Iran are being laid."
The sophistication and survival of the peace movement, then, is dependent on its ability to elevate the public discourse beyond what the mainstream press has initiated. While the media take for granted that the 2004 presidential elections will be a trade between Bush's foreign policy success and his domestic policy failure, the peace movement needs to carve out an entirely different discussion. In fact, not only is Bush unsafe as far as his war agenda goes, but every single United States senator and congressperson who voted for this war is on equally shaky ground. Regardless of the failures and successes of the Iraq War, it was a categorically undemocratic abuse of the good will of the American people. The peace movement can not remain silent about that, especially when this war was fought cynically in the name of democracy.
As a Green Party activist, it is resoundingly clear that the peace movement needs an increasingly independent political stance. In 2004, the two political priorities must be to a) target every senator and representative who handed Bush his blank check to wage war and b) vote George W. Bush out of office. In terms of the presidential elections, this creates a potential dilemma -- in which the Democratic nominee is himself one of those congressmen who gave Bush war powers. Senator Kerry, along with Senator Lieberman, Senator Edwards, and Representative Gephardt, left their Constitutional duty to wage war in Bush's hands. Senator Bob Graham voted against the Iraq War resolution because it just didn't go far enough. "The reason is that this resolution is too timid," he proclaimed on the Senate floor. "It is too limited. It is too weak. This resolution fails to recognize the new reality of the era of terrorism."
The answer to the above dilemma is beyond me, but up until the time the Democratic primaries are over, it is a useless distraction. Other potential quagmires, like whether or not the Green Party should run a presidential candidate at all, must be answered sooner. While the answer to this question also escapes me, it is clear to me that the Greens should only run a presidential candidate to the extent it helps turn the public discourse against Bush. Had Ralph Nader been allowed in the presidential debates of 2000, he probably would have proved a more effective critic of Bush than Gore was, and he certainly would have forced Gore to distinguish himself from Bush. Nevertheless, what's more urgent than a potentially polarizing Green Party run for president is a focused run by a peace candidate.
Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, and Al Sharpton have all entered the Democratic primaries with strong stances against the Iraq War. What they need to do is work together, and with the peace movement, to run the type of primary campaign that sprung John McCain in 2000 to his current near-heroic status. McCain's campaign had Democrats and Independents registering Republican in order to support him. The peace movement cannot afford to let the self-proclaimed peace candidates control the fate of the primaries and eventually the presidential elections. Instead, they must determine for themselves what they demand of a candidate -- such as someone who speaks powerfully to all Americans who opposed this war -- and the candidates will follow. Other demands might be that the candidates urge their supporters to vote for whomever has the best chance of beating Bush, perhaps only with serious concessions by that frontrunner (e.g., formation of a Department of Peace).
The peace movement must set its own agenda, instead of reacting to Bush's. With the Bush Gang working largely in secret to formulate its plans and policies, the anti-war movement cannot merely provide a reaction to what's reported in the media. Though anti-war protestors provided a solid rebuttal to the rhetoric of the war hawks, and must continue to do so, they cannot fail to coordinate an organized resistance to the plans they are in the dark on, as well as thoughtful and robust alternative policy visions.
Continued marginalization of the peace movement is the signature of a mass media that is complacent with US aggression and too timid to investigate matters of truth and justice. It will be necessary to work around this marginalization by building an independent media, an independent political movement, and a coherent foreign policy alternative. Where the neo-conservatives have succeeded, the peace movement needs to out-do them.
This weekend, the United For Peace and Justice Coalition is holding a national conference to help build a sustained resistance to the militaristic designs of the United States government. However, what's just as crucial as resistance, which is inherently reactive, is an inventive solution to the global crises that are ripping apart both the physical and spiritual fabric of this earth. Is there any reason to believe that the dejected anti-war movement is once again picking up steam, or focused enough to even begin building a world superior to the neo-conservative/neo-liberal world vision? Absolutely. Indeed, the National Network to End the War Against Iraq just held their own national planning conference in May, in which they decided to form a "National Security Strategy" document based on peace, among other promising action items that they elected to pursue.
Signs abound that those who advocated for peace -- in their neighborhoods as well as the streets of major cities across the world -- knew that they were close to affecting change. That the war went ahead was actually a surprise to many who felt they had helped turn the tide of public opinion and political consequence against the warmongers. While many war protestors felt utterly powerless against the US military and propaganda machines, a great many more felt something different -- a debilitating appetite for more power, and the knowledge they'd use it for good. That doesn't create a sense of debasement or resignation; that's precisely the stuff that creates the requisite drive and focus of a sustained purpose.
The seeds have been planted. They need sustenance. They need nourishment. And they need care. But a highly sophisticated, organized, independent peace movement is about to bloom.
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America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Eli Beckerman is a Green Party activist.
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