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Iraq War buttonAfter Protest Comes Politics by Jo Freeman

April 21, 2003

I marched and protested the war on Iraq from the time President Bush announced his intentions last year, but I didn't participate in the latest march in Washington, D.C. on April 12. I can understand the anger and grief of those who did, but "end the occupation" doesn't make as much sense as "stop the war." Invading Iraq made a bad situation worse but withdrawing now won't make it better.

Once the shell has been cracked, you can't put the egg back in. All you can do is make the best omelet possible, and try not to break another one

Making an omelet — i.e. nation building — is not something America is very good at.

In the 20th Century the US replaced 18 regimes by force but succeeded in establishing democratic rule in only Germany, Japan, Italy, Panama, and Grenada. This is not a reassuring track record. We're already engaged in nation building in Afghanistan and we're not doing too well there either. Nonetheless, our public promises to get out soon make better public relations than a practical program. Getting out soon will simply leave the Iraqis with the mess we've created ˜ sometimes a bad government is better than no government. Having taken out their bad government, we have a moral and practical responsibility to leave them something better, and that won't happen quickly.

President Bush needs to demonstrate his commitment to give the Iraqis something better by canceling the tax cut for the wealthy he submitted to Congress in order to use the revenues to provide for the needs of the Iraqi people. In particular the corporations and their stockholders which will get contracts to rebuild Iraq should pay for the privilege.

We need to demonstrate our commitment by saying NOT AGAIN. There are plenty of bad regimes and evil empires in the world but war is not the way to change them. America should lead by example, not by force.

One example we can set is to show how democracy works. We can change our own regime. We can do it by defeating for re-election an incumbent President who took us into an unnecessary war without good reason (no, I don't believe wiping out weapons of mass destruction was the real reason, though I don't think it was an oil grab).

Defeating an incumbent President requires extensive grass roots mobilization— something which the Democratic Party has forgotten how to do. The Democratic Party has never been as well organized as the Republicans (Will Rogers quipped in the 1930s: "I'm not a member of an organized party; I'm a Democrat"). But in the last few decades it has lost what the Republican party has gained: namely, grass roots activists.

Instead there has been a disconnection between the national party campaign and what's left of local party organizations. The national party relies on TV and mass advertising to persuade and cajole voters. Instead of neighbors going door-to-door on election day, it relies on union workers passing out leaflets on street corners or making calls from phone banks. If party poll watchers had been in Florida's polling places helping their voters to understand the butterfly ballot, the 2000 election might have had a different outcome.

In a normal election, it takes good local organization to maximize a candidate's vote. Those of us who marched against the war on Iraq can't let 2004 be a normal election. Our marching shoes must become precinct-walking shoes. We need to do what young people did for Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D. MN) in 1968 when he ran in the Presidential primaries to oppose the war in Viet Nam: take time off from our jobs and our schooling to go to wherever we are needed — states where the vote could go either way, and where there are new voters who can be registered and slack voters who can be brought to the polls on election day.

Nor need we wait for 2004. While we know who the Republican Party candidate will be, many Democrats are running for the nomination. Send them letters. Go to their meetings. Tell them you will only work for a candidate who will speak against another war.

Democracy has many faces. Marching is only one. Ultimately it's the voters who decide the country's direction. And it's local campaign workers who mobilize the voters.

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