Two Marches in 2007 Illustrate Friction and Factions in the Anti-Iraq War Movement by Jo Freeman
On Saturday, March 17, 2007, the fourth anniversary of the March 20, 2003 invasion of Iraq, roughly fifteen thousand people marched from the Lincoln Memorial to the Pentagon in windy, wintry weather to denounce the invasion and its consequences. The fact that it followed close on the heels of a much larger march only a few weeks earlier on January 27 illustrates that all is not harmonious within the anti-Iraq War Movement.
The March 17 march was organized by ANSWER, which was formed on September 14, 2001 "to counter the Bush Administration's endless war drive, its so called war on ‘terrorism'." Behind ANSWER was the International Action Center, which itself was created by the Workers World Party.
The WWP broke away from the Socialist Workers Party in1959 after a long-running disagreement over the meaning of the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary. The SWP supported the popular revolt; the people who organized the WWP supported the Soviet Union. The WWP itself split in 2004. The West Coast groups became the Party for Socialism and Liberation. PSL kept ANSWER. The WWP kept the IAC. In order to have its own anti-Iraq war group, the WWP founded the Troops Out Now Coalition (TONC).
While it was small compared to other anti-Iraq war marches, the Pentagon march was probably the biggest anti-Iraq war march organized by ANSWER. While still with the WWP, ANSWER organized the first of these marches but it was soon overshadowed by United for Peace and Justice.
It was partially to pre-empt ANSWER that UfPJ was formed in New York City on October 25, 2002, by 70 different organizations to co-ordinate opposition to the invasion before it happened. While most of these groups are left of center, they are not sectarian. The 1300 groups that currently mobilize their members for UfPJ events are largely local groups (e.g. DC Anti-War Network, Brooklyn Parents for Peace, campus and religious groups), but only UfPJ has the resources to organize the big national marches that bring buses to New York and Washington, D.C. Its largest march was the one which drew 400,000 people to "Say NO to the Bush Agenda" on August 29, 2004 right before the Republican Convention.
ANSWER has chapters in many urban centers and on campuses so it specializes in organizing multiple local marches on the same day, especially around the invasion anniversary. It co-ordinates these with anti-Iraq War groups in other countries. Not to be outdone, UfPJ also issues calls for local marches on the invasion anniversary. These fine distinctions in who organizes what are ones that the press seldom captures. Even most local anti-war groups don't know or don't care, and will support whatever action is going on. Both UfPJ and ANSWER claim credit for whatever happens but don't work together.
They tried to work together — once.
When both ANSWER and UfPJ got permits for mass marches near the White House in DC for September 24, 2005, the numerous local groups who didn't want to chose sides forced them into a shot-gun marriage. The result was a very large multi-day event. However, divorce quickly followed as each said "never again."
In the last year UfPJ has organized two very large marches – one in New York City on April 29, 2006 and another in DC on January 27, 2007. For both of these marches it had significant participation from some major labor unions, organized by U.S. Labor Against the War. By actively mobilizing their members and carrying union signs, the unions vastly increased both the numbers and the respectability of these marches. Unions don't mobilize their members for ANSWER actions.
Still stinging from Sept. 2005, ANSWER boycotted the April 29 march, but it did come to the January 27 one to advertise its March march on the Pentagon. It wanted to repeat the confrontation that took place on October 21, 1967 when the anti- Viet Nam war movement held a large march to "Levitate the Pentagon," tried to invade it, and stayed the night facing off against several lines of troops.
ANSWER obtained a permit for 30,000 folks to congregate near the Viet Nam memorial and walk across the bridge to a rally in the north Pentagon parking lot as the "anchoring event" for protests all over the country.
What Happened in Washington
Now that anti-war protest has become almost respectable, many different groups wanted to do something for the fourth anniversary in DC as well as at home.
Christian Peace Witness for Iraq distributed 3,200 tickets for an anti-war service at the National Cathedral Friday night, with two smaller churches hosting overflow crowds. Several hundred people marched to the White House in the cold and sleet, where 222 committed civil disobedience.
TONC held an "encampment" on Capitol Hill for March 12 -19. No one is allowed to sleep on the grounds, but hanging out all night is permitted.
From this strategic spot, small groups invaded House office buildings to march and chant. At least nine were arrested. They got out in time for a 10:30 a.m. rally before walking down Constitution Ave. to the main march.
World Can't Wait was founded by the Revolutionary Communist Party in the summer of 2005 to "Drive Out the Bush Regime." Anti-war protests are only part of its agenda but it has become increasingly active in organizing for them. From its designated meeting point dozens of people dressed in orange jump suits and black hoods to represent the detainees held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay joined the main march.
Both ANSWER and WWC have an active printing press and passed out thousands of posters stapled to sticks. ANSWER yellow and WWC orange dominated the visual image of the march. There was a fair scattering of flags, though only some were the stars and stripes. Underneath the speaker's platform at the post-march rally was a large sign in Arabic and English: The National Council of Arab Americans is all it said.
With so many different groups contributing, 30,000 people might have come to DC on Saturday if it hadn't snowed, rained, and sleeted the day before. Long distance busses were canceled.
Certainly more buses would have come from NYC if UfPJ hadn't organized a competing march down Sixth Avenue on Sunday.
UfPJ encouraged its constituent groups to participate in local actions all over the country and those in DC, Virginia and Maryland did just that.
At the western end of the Mall they were greeted by men in motorcycle jackets chanting "USA, USA." A hundred feet onto the grass hundreds of flags surrounded a stage where a sign declared "United We Stand. Together We Kick Ass." The two thousand anti-anti-war protestors were the largest contingent of anti-antis to show up at an anti-Iraq war march. Most of them were Viet Nam vets, primarily from Rolling Thunder, a large organization of biker vets who come to DC every Memorial Day to remember POWs and MIAs.
They were activated by Gathering of Eagles which calls itself "the silent guard of America's memorials." Until now those vets who don't oppose the Iraq war have largely stayed away from the anti-war marches. GoE and Rolling Thunder brought them to DC to protect the Viet Nam memorial from being defaced by anti-Iraq war protestors.
Fear that this was being planned was prompted by a rumor that after the January 27 march a small band of anti-war protestors had spray painted the west front steps of the U.S. Capitol with graffiti. When ANSWER announced that "people will be gathering at Constitution Gardens near the Vietnam Memorial prior to the March," the vets connected the dots and jumped to the wrong conclusion.
What really happened in January? After the UfPJ march around the Capitol building, a group of anarchists (the black bloc) charged up the west front of Capitol Hill. Their way was blocked by the capitol police while they were still in a public area. There were a couple dozen anarchists (identifiable by their black clothes), more than a couple dozen cops, and a couple hundred observers (including me). After a non-violent confrontation punctuated by chants and shouts, and a little milling about, everyone dispersed.
Two days later Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) sent a letter to U.S. Capitol Police Chief Phillip D. Morse stating that "It is my understanding protesters were allowed to spray paint the Capitol steps and deface buildings around the area while Capitol Police were instructed to not arrest anyone engaging in these unlawful acts."
Conservative groups, in particular the Family Research Council, which is based in Colorado, demanded an investigation. FRC President Tony Perkins said, "For any group, such acts would mean immediate arrest. This time, the Capitol Police's hands were tied because they were ordered to stand down by their chief of police, who answers to the speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi."
On January 31 Chief Morse issued a statement denying that this had happened. He did say that "Some members of this group did covertly mark the pavement on the Lower West Terrace during their confrontation with us. Had this been observed, I would have directed arrests to be made. However, the size and continual movement of the crowd provided concealment and made detection of their actions impossible."
They were certainly concealed from me, and unlike the police I was free to walk around among the anarchists and the observers while taking photographs. So were the other protestors I spoke to later, who also saw no markings, let alone spray paint. The web pages on which the black bloc brags about its exploits (e.g. http://dc.indymedia.org) have been silent on this though not about other illegal acts. The only reconciliation I can make between the Chief's statement that there were marks on the pavement and what I and other protestors did not see is to assume that they were chalk marks. It's quite common for demonstrators to chalk pictures and comments on the pavement during protests, and not worthy of note. Because such marks are quickly cleaned with water – or rain – the police ignore chalkers. Arrests are costly. Cleaning up chalk is cheap.
What was invisible to police and protestors was a bright neon light for the Right. When the Republicans grabbed another opportunity to attack the new Democratic Speaker it morphed into a major blogfest as right wing web pages and media all over the country beat their breasts over the protestors who sprayed painted graffiti on the Capitol steps. Putting a few key words into Google results in over a hundred thousand hits.
The disinformation campaign persuaded Sgt. Artie Muller, Founder and Executive Director of Rolling Thunder, to send out a call to action. On their webpage he wrote "In order to ensure that the Wall and other Memorials in the general area are not defaced, like what happened at the anti-war demonstration at the U.S. Capitol on January 27th, I am requesting that as many Rolling Thunder, Inc. chapters, members and supporters that can make it, meet at the Wall no later than 8:00 AM on the 17th. We do not want, nor will we tolerate a repeat of what happened at the U.S. Capitol."
By the time the biker vets showed, the National Park Service was already protecting the Viet Nam memorial. The area within several hundred feet was fenced off with a metal detector at the only entrance. The various police forces beefed up their ranks in order to keep the protestors and the anti-protestors apart. Mounted police, their horses wearing head armor, lined the street around the Lincoln Memorial as anti-war protestors packed the north side, and anti-anti-war protestors lined up on the south. The defacement rumor cost local taxpayers a lot of money.
I heard a lot of name calling, but saw only one woman (an anti-anti) break through the police line to attack someone on the other side. She was quickly removed. I also heard a couple of degrading comments about Jane Fonda, who was not there. One large sign said "Why Call it ANSWER – Workers World Party is a Commie."
What was most striking was not the ignorance of left wing splits displayed by this sign, but the cultural metamorphosis. The twenty-something protestors of the anti- Viet Nam War era were ridiculed for beards and long hair. The fifty-something Viet Nam vets were a hairy crowd, adorned with a lot of metal. By comparison, the anti Iraq-war protestors were rather clean cut. In age, sex, race, and attire they looked more like America.
Nor did the protestors try to repeat the confrontation of the 1967 Pentagon March. Once marchers entered the bridge, the anti-antis disappeared and the police presence became minuscule. The north parking lot where the rally was held is not that close to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon Metro stop was closed. No soldiers were in sight, and no protestors stayed the night. Some things have changed.
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