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Monday, November 28, 2005

Anti-War Insurgent: Building an Effective Movement Against the War in Phoenix

From the looks of it, the local anti-war leadership is stuck in a rut. The protest on Monday the 28th looked like an almost perfect copy of the September 24th (S24) demonstration: same location (24th St and Camelback); same target (Jon Kyl); same tactic (sign-holding and praying). But the last time we did this it had no discernable affect. Jon Kyl did not change his position on the war and the killing in Iraq continued unabated. One wonders why, then, the local anti-war leadership has chosen to repeat itself. Do they even want to stop the war?

In fact, anti-war organizing in Phoenix has routinely stayed away from any kind of action that might actually affect the prosecution of the war. And both before and since S24 there has been plenty of sign-holding and praying, including a celebrity candlelight prayer vigil with Cindy Sheehan in October. The organizers are so afraid of direct action that they regularly recruit “peace police” to keep protesters in line, out of the street and well-regulated. Because the protests these days have been boring and ineffective for so long, it’s easy to forget that before the war in Iraq we had protests in Phoenix which took to the streets, defied police attempts to contain us and disrupted traffic. But, as the presidential election closed in radical voices and militant tactics were marginalized in favor of electioneering.

Increasingly since then, the anti-war movement has become a tool of the Democratic Party. First, MoveOn.org, pushing pro-war John Kerry, leeched onto the movement with the help of anti-war organizers. Democrats admonished anarchists and radicals, previously at the forefront of the movement in the US, with a reactionary and pro-war “anybody but Bush” line. The fear of a second Bush term provided the argument fertile soil, despite the obvious contradiction between voting for a pro-war candidate while otherwise opposing the war. With the election over, and the “anybody but Bush” strategy a clear failure, Democrats now look towards the mid-term and 2008 presidential elections, hoping again to steer anti-war sentiment towards their pro-war party.

In Phoenix, we see this strategy manifested in the local organizers’ bullheaded determination to focus their actions exclusively against symbolic targets on the Right, despite the clear complicity of the Democratic Party in this war. So far no one within the organizing cadre has bothered to articulate the reasons for this orientation, but it is probably safe to assume that they are afraid of broadening the debate beyond “anybody but Bush.” Developing a systematic critique of the war, which sees both parties as war parties beholden to the same capitalist interests, would surely undermine the Democrats in the anti-war movement.

We also see this pro-Democratic tendency manifested in the tactics chosen. Rather than opting for a more militant plan, utilizing direct action against the system’s war-making capacity and profiteers, the organizers have stuck to a “making our voice heard” strategy, with the Democratic Party as the primary audience. The problem with this is that being heard doesn’t stop the war. It relies on the false assumption that once enough people speak out against the war the system will change its policies. But the system does not exist primarily to respond to people like us. It’s designed to reflect the interests of the rich, and in the end, as far as the political parties are concerned, only their opinions matter. Since the rich control both parties, appealing to the conscience of one over the other will have only very limited effect. Further, in the end it cedes the process of defining just what an end of the war would look like to the very ruling class that wanted it in the first place. Our struggle is about the lives of ordinary working class folks, and so we have to make sure that we, not the political parties, are in the driver’s seat.

In order to do this, we need to build our own autonomous power, independent of the institutions of the rich, like the political parties. We need to refocus our attention on meaningful, rather than symbolic targets, and we need to use direct action and civil disobedience against those targets. Rather than focusing on Republicans or elections, let’s start hitting weapons manufacturers, police departments, government offices, recruitment centers and banks – the people planning and profiting from this war.

We need to recognize that the power of the elites to wage this war manifests directly in proportion to their ability to keep us all complicit and under control. The Iraqi insurgents understand this and it’s a lesson we ought to take to heart. French Arab and Muslim youth drew similar conclusions in their recent insurrection against the racist French government. For our purposes, being out of control and disruptive to the everyday, banal routine of the war-making machine at home is the best way to bring this war to a close in a way that benefits the Iraqi people and the American working class. By our actions we need to bring about a crisis of the system, so that it no longer functions reliably for the elites.

Of particular importance to the every day functioning of the American society is the system of white supremacy. Under white supremacy, the white segment of the working class has been bought into a cross-class alliance with the rich against the rest of the working class. Significant advantages, ranging from longer life span, access to health care and better opportunities for home ownership to lower incarceration rates, reduced exposure to police violence and higher wages have been deliberately bestowed on the white working class in exchange for loyalty to the system as a whole. We see this loyalty manifested in a variety of ways, but in Arizona it has manifested clearly in anti-immigrant vigilantism (the Minutemen) and reactionary electoralism (Prop 200, Rep. Russell Pearce). This division in the working class enables the capitalist class to accumulate vast profits and to wage war throughout the world.

As people interested in bringing the system into crisis in order to stop the war, we would do well to focus our attention on subverting the system of white supremacy. We ought to start supporting the struggles of working class people of color here at home, thus undermining the cross-class alliance so important to American imperialism abroad. We should abandon the failed strategies of the past for direct action. A strong, militant working class is the only force that can smash the state and overthrow capitalism, two prerequisites for a world without wars. The sooner we in the anti-war movement recognize the links between the oppression and division of the working class domestically and the war abroad, the sooner we can bring this war to an end.

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