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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Phoenix Anti-War: Lessons from Saturday's Protest

Saturday's anti-war rally in Phoenix looked awful familiar. The organizers chose a well-known location in a wealthy, white part of town. Peacekeepers worked diligently to maintain order, although without a clear set of political goals, it wasn't clear why. Most importantly, though, by having the event where and when they did, and by shifting the blame for the war onto Republicans, the organizers proved that they would rather have an event that has no chance of success than risk pointing out the hypocrisy and complicity of the Democratic Party.

Rather than taking action, bearing moral witness to the war seemed to be the main point of the day. Senator Jon Kyl's office, the symbolic target of the event, bolstered the anti-rightwing unity that so defines the movement these days. In fact, so overwhelming was the anti-Bush message that one man watching the demonstration was quoted in the East Valley Tribune saying, "I’m not exactly sure if this is supposed to be anti-war or anti-Bush."

The event itself was disproportionately white, and it said a lot about the isolation of the Phoenix anti-war movement that it took place the same day Immigrants Without Borders rallied at 24th Street and Buckeye to protest racial profiling on Greyhound buses. Was it a question of priorities? Or maybe it was only an unfortunate coincidence but, if so, it wasn't the first time. Several years ago locals organized a large anti-war march that competed with the valley's Juneteenth celebration. The two events snaking seperately through downtown spoke volumes. Little has changed.

The deja vu didn't end there. As mentioned, this rally saw the return in force of the peacekeepers, after having been rejected a couple years before. Apparently unaccountable, these folks urged people to stay out of the streets and offered positive reinforcement when folks remained within the organizers' narrow parameters for dissent. Since no goals for the event were clear, the reason for the peacekeepers was likewise unclear. Order for its own sake seemed to be the purpose. Or order for the sake of legitimacy.

There was to be no direct action. When a couple hundred or more people, apparently spontaneously, began circling the intersection in the crosswalks en masse, some peacekeepers became agitated. One peacekeeper hypocritically put his hands on a friend of mine to push him out of the street and onto the sidewalk. Though pretty low on the civil disobedience scale, even that minor level of disruption disturbed them visibly. Apparently, no one was to be inconvenienced by Saturday's event. The next day, the right-wing Arizona Republic remarked approvingly that the march had been "energetic but orderly." Legitimacy achieved.

But what was the goal of the event? The theme, "What noble cause?" offered no answers, and signs sporting the slogan proliferated like so many question marks as the afternoon went on. The organizers' guidelines implored marchers to avoid "violence, verbal or physical," though they left just what constituted verbal violence conveniently undefined. I saw several peacekeepers thank police for helping, despite the fact that police clearly violated guideline number 2 by coming to the demonstration quite heavily armed. Police violence at past anti-war marches had apparently been, perhaps conveniently, lost to history, and the guidelines, just like the cops, were meant explicitly to police the participants.

In keeping with the location, the event targeted the luxury car driving shoppers at the upscale mall which shared one corner of the intersection. It was an interesting choice - becoming even more so when organizers read aloud the names of the Arizona dead, few of whom owned luxury cars themselves, it is probably safe to assume (although they may have driven Hummers in Iraq - the one place a poor person can drive one). While Arizona's working class dead seemed worth manipulating for the event's vague political objectives, the organizers seemed to consider the living working class generally unworthy as an audience.

When the march - and I use the term loosely since we only covered two blocks - finally headed out, peacekeepers and organizers herded us on towards Jon Kyl's empty office. Whatever the tactical reasons for choosing Kyl, strategically it focused the attention squarely on the Republican Party. Whether out of habit or for lack of new ideas (and despite the clear failure of this strategy in 2004), the anti-war movement still carries with it much residual "Anybody But Bush" attitude from the election.

But, focusing our anger solely at Republican politicians is a bad idea. Pure numbers don't persuade them, as the massive, though generally polite, street demonstrations that preceded the war proved. And "Anybody But Bush" certainly has limited possibilities now that he has been re-elected.

But widening the spotlight to include Democrats would be problematic from the point of view of party sympathizers. Many of the Democrats, including the leadership, in the House and the Senate voted for the war. Pointing that out would undermine the Party by highlighting its obvious complicity in the war. The decision specifically to target Republicans in this context says a lot about the unstated sympathies of the anti-war organizing cadre in town. If this misguided strategy continues, we can expect to see more wannabe politicians and voter registration cards showing up at anti-war rallies as we draw nearer to the mid-term elections.

Most importantly, however, focusing on Republicans as the cause of the war does little or nothing to end it. Further, obscuring the Democrats' role in backing it not only contributes to a flawed analysis, it also opens up the opportunity for the continued co-optation of the anti-war movement by a party that supports the war. If the movement's closest ally supports the war, that's an obvious roadblock to stopping it.

So, what can we do about it?

First, it's time to stop laying all the blame on Bush and his cronies. We must insist on an honest accounting from the two war parties. Further, we need to reject the proposition that we need a political party at all to negotiate on our behalf for the end of the war. We can build an anti-war movement that directly pushes our demands, which are simple enough: stop the war now; withdraw all foreign forces.

Second, we must eliminate the peacekeepers, who are a needless conservative influence and a means for a small group of people to exert control. Now is the time for creative resistance, not for holding back. Getting rid of the peacekeepers will allow us to engage in the kind of direct action against meaningful targets that can actually stop the war machine.

And, third, we need to link up with the local struggles of working class and poor folks in this city, particularly the struggles of people of color. We must increasingly build bridges between anti-war organizing and ongoing local struggles rooted in solidarity and support, not leadership and co-optation. The links between the war abroad and the war at home must be made clear.

If we don't do these things, we can expect more of the same ineffectual, boring protests. The war will continue, or if it ends it will be on the terms of an elite with nothing but contempt for most Americans and Iraqis. A new wave of useless politicians will ride the anti-war movement to cushy government jobs, where they will become increasingly pragmatic and resistant to the kind of social change we so desperately need. It's time for some changes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Accurate review of the march. I posted this on DC Indymedia. Another similar sentiment can be found at http://gegner.dailykos.com/story/2005/9/20/11253/3520.

Sun Oct 02, 06:46:00 PM 2005  

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