Believe it or not, this is Washington, D.C., not the West Bank

April 20th Protest - A Huge Step Forward

On Saturday April 20th, 80,000 people marched through Washington, D.C., to protest the war, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings, and against Israeli terror. The protest has re-invigorated the anti-war movement - there are tens of thousands in the streets, with no new bombing by the U.S.! - but more importantly, it put the movement squarely in the camp of the Palestinians. The National Campus Antiwar Network, an organization made up of campus anti-war groups, voted in favor of a resolution calling for the end of the current occupation (Israel had re-invaded the West Bank), and calling for an end to all U.S. aid to Israel. NSAN also endorsed a resolution to protest Israeli Prime Minister (and war criminal) Ariel Sharon's visit to Washington.

In Washington, there were 4 separate marches, which all fed into one march. One was a general anti-war march organized by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition and a host of other pacifist/left-leaning organizations. Act Now to Stop War & End Racism (ANSWER) - which is the anti-war front group for, the International Action Center, which is a front for the (Stalinist) Workers' World Party - had a march scheduled for April 27th, one week after the main march. But because of enormous pressure from below (NSAN voted at its conference to call on them to have a united march on the 20th), and the absurdity of having two separate anti-war marches in the same city within 7 days of each other, they moved their march to the 20th. The third march was the anti-World Bank/International Monetary Fund march, organized by Mobilization for Global Justice. The fourth march was the Palestinian march, organized by Stop U.S. Tax Aid to Israel Now (SUSTAIN).

The way the march was organized caused problems, because each mobilization was organized in an undemocratic, top-down, uninclusive way. But there were 4 "tops", and so the protest was weak in terms of coordination. The National Campus Antiwar Network, for example, was supposed to be at the head of the anti-war march, but the march just marched by us, and we had to jump in and cut into another contingent.

The ANSWER march had about 10,000 people at it, the MGJ had only 1,000, the anti-war march had 5,000, and I have no idea how many people came to the Palestinian march. When the marches met up, the Palestinian march engulfed everyone else - pacifist, anti-war, anti-globalization groups alike. We were engulfed in a throng of Middle-Easterners and Muslims, and a sea of Palestinian flags and kafiyas. It was great. The most popular chant was "Free, free Palestine!" Some of the other chants were, "Down, down with Sharon! End the occupation now! Free, free Palestine!" "Not another nickel, not another dime! No more money, for Israel's crime!" "Sharon and Hitler are the same, the only difference is the name!" "No justice, no peace! U.S. out of the Middle East!" "Shame, shame, USA!"

This protest was important for a number of reasons. First of all, it was the largest Palestinian solidarity protest in U.S. history. Secondly, it was the largest anti-war protest in decades. Thirdly, it shows that its not only well-off college kids oppose the war (which I think is a false stereotype to begin with), its also ordinary working class people - in this case, Middle-Easterners and Muslims who were targeted by the government after September 11th.

The issue of Palestine, in the past 30 years or so, has been dominated by pacifist and soft-zionist approaches. Most groups or people thought that "Israel has the right to exist," or "suicide bombers are just as bad as F-16s and military occupation" and confined themselves to condemning "both sides". Today, the anti-war movment is squarely on the side of the Palestinians in their struggle for justice and freedom. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to be a pacifist, when the Palestinian people are confronting the longest running military occupation of the 20th century and one of the most well armed military machines in the world. You can't hold a sit-in or protest or have a candlelight vigil in the West Bank or Gaza - the Israeli army will shoot you! You can't stop a merkava tank or apache helicopters by singing "we shall overcome". Many people in the movement see this, or grasp this instinctively, although they don't really have a set of ideas or politics that can takes its place.

And given the renewed struggle in Palestine, due to the new Intifada, but also to the Bush administration's green light for Israel's own "war on terrorism", its likely that the war in Palestine will continue. On top of this, the U.S. is planning to attack Iraq sometime in 2003, which will probably destabilize the governments of the entire region, as well as mean a full U.S. ground assault in Iraq itself. The U.S. economy is not likely to be out of recession at that time either; layoffs will continue unabated; the social safety net is in shreds; state governments are slashing budgets mercilessly, and military spending is being pumped up and up and up.

All these things point to a growing audience for anti-war ideas and organizing, and within that milieu, a minority who want to rip up the roots of war altogether = an audience for socialist politics.