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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

So Many Candles, So Little Fire: The Sad State of the Phoenix Anti-War Movement

The Phoenix anti-war movement delivered Monday the latest sequel in its seemingly never-ending series of boring and ineffective protests against the war in Iraq. The Arizona Republic reported that "Demonstrators marched a favored route for protests, making the short walk from Sen. Jon Kyl's central Phoenix office to McCain's office, where the names of Arizonans killed in Iraq were read during a candlelight vigil [my emphasis]." But preferred by who? That question goes unanswered, but overall this was a generous characterization indeed by the Republic, given that in fact every protest against the war in recent memory has followed this template almost exactly, except for the occasions where there was no march at all and protesters simply remained in front of McCain's office, pathetically pleading with passersby to support their cause.

As on previous occasions, demonstrators also delivered a petition demanding that the politicos change their positions on the war. Callers to the Charles Goyette show, a local Libertarian morning radio show, were largely self-congratulatory, and the organizers' dual strategy of boredom and begging politicians went largely unquestioned. The hope seemed to be that the decline in support for the war itself would somehow bring an end to the war, and that therefore our effectiveness with regards to that goal should be measured not in terms of the escalation of the war (i.e., the amount our protests have actually impacted the elites' war in Iraq), but rather in terms of the number of honks of support subjectively recorded by participants. The obvious and painful fact is, if we have protested the war for more than four years (we protested before it started as well, it should be remembered) and yet the elite has escalated it, our actions are not having the desired effect.

Indeed, as the war bleeds into its fifth year, the local anti-war movement has displayed an almost criminal lack of creativity and a total failure of analysis. Within the movement, tactics are non-existent or stale and, perhaps even more importantly, the strategies have failed utterly. Despite the limited heat of the protests, or the 50-odd percent of Arizonans against the war, there is almost no chance that Republicans Kyl and McCain will be persuaded to alter their stance on the war, especially given super-hawk McCain's desire to escalate the war. This despite years of protest at their offices by local anti-war organizations.

The East Valley Tribune put it this way:
The protesters would be heard by his staff and the message would be passed on, but the event would be unlikely to change the Republican senator’s stance on the war, said Paul Hickman, McCain’s state director.
“Sen. McCain is always happy to hear people on all sides of whatever issue is in question,” Hickman said. But McCain “obviously doesn’t agree” with the demonstrators, he said.

McCain, a Vietnam War veteran and 2008 presidential candidate, has long advocated sending more troops to Iraq and said he supports President Bush’s recent decision to do so.

Hickman said he would call the senator this morning “just to keep him apprised,” though most of the event took place after the office closed and its staff went home at 5 p.m.

Still, some demonstrators made their way into McCain’s office before closing time and read aloud the names of Arizona soldiers killed since the invasion.
Even Arizona's Democratic governor has taken a 'pragmatic' stance on the war, resisting the tide of public opinion and refusing to advocate for withdrawal of troops there. The governor clearly hopes for a national appointment under a future Democratic administration and has opted to get her ducks in a row with regard to the largely useless Democratic Party, whose leaders likewise refuse to call for immediate withdrawal. Both parties - any party - is by nature dependent on the good will of the elite class. This reality is reflected in both parties' pro-war policies, therefore, not as an aberration, but as a natural effect of it.

Expressing a perhaps previoulsy unknown appreciation for irony, the governor recently called for giving the war in Iraq "one more shot" and told reporters, "People that I met with were cautiously optimistic that they're at least seeing improvement. I think we're restoring stability." "Restoring stability", of course, is nothing more than code for the imperialist project in Iraq, so we should not be surprised to see a politician with national ambitions committed to the successful application of state violence towards these ends. Indeed, despite the obvious schism with its largely frustrated and confused base, according to Democratic Party Chairman David Waid the governor's position is "entirely consistent with Democrats." This despite the clear national vote against the war less than six months ago!

Naturally, Democratic leaders and their supporters in the anti-war movement will forever tell us that the solution to our problems lies with a properly cast vote, but what's interesting about the anti-war movement, both here and nationally, is the disconnect between the national trend against the war and the stagnating or shrinking turnout at anti-war protests. Protests here in Arizona have never again approached the numbers achieved right before the war, thus revealing that the problem lies in part with a profound disenchantment with the movement itself, not just the political parties. And this blame lies with the movement's leadership, who continue to call again and again for the same boring protests despite the glaring evidence of their complete failure to achieve their alleged goal of ending the war.

In fact, many Americans, frustrated with the bloodbath in Iraq and seeing little alternative in the boring and impotent anti-war movement, opted to hold their noses and vote against the war by choosing the lesser of two evils, checking the Democratic box in the voting booth rather than joining the obviously ineffective anti-war movement. This tactic has clearly, and predictably failed, despite the equally unsurprising, infantile and self-serving "vote Democratic or else" threats of the liberal left before the election.

However, there is hope, because even if the anti-war leadership in town fails to realize the obvious impossibility of convincing politicians to end this war by begging and vigiling, not everyone at the protest Monday was similarly confused.
"I have more faith in the people than I do in the politicians," said 19-year-old Rosela Martinez, an Estrella Mountain Community College student, explaining her reason for joining the Phoenix protest.

"I think it's still possible for the people to have the real power," she said.
Which brings us to the point. If appealing to politicians is not going to stop the war... and, if voting for politicians is not going to stop the war, perhaps it's time to re-evaluate our tactics and strategies. Rosela Martinez hints at a different direction, a direct action direction.

Several places around the country have broken out of the stale politics of pleading and have begun to take matters into their own hands, opting for a systems disruption strategy that relies on direct action. In Tacoma, Washington, protesters tried to prevent the deployment of a Stryker brigade to Iraq, and faced a brutal attack from police in response. And, in New Brunswick, NJ, several hundred protesters Monday took to the streets, shutting down a recruitment center and storming a freeway offramp, cutting off traffic. One organizer declared, "We're going to try to shake things up!" In Milwaukee, militants descended on a recruitment center, smashing windows and setting off smoke bombs. Displaying what must be a near critical level of irony, Army public affairs officer Pat Grobschmidt expressed consternation at the attack on the violent institution she works for, saying, "Soldiers defend the right of all Americans to peacefully express their point of their view. We're dismayed that their actions are anything but peaceful." Yet, are we surprised by the violent reaction of Iraqis to the US Army?

But isn't that the point? If we are to end the war, we must accomplish four tasks that the anti-war movement so far has failed to achieve. First, we must push the contradictions in the system, forcing the evaporation of the pragmatic middle ground now occupied by the Democratic Party. The existence of this middle ground allows the Democrats to stand between us and our goal of stopping the war. The illusion of the Democrats as an appropriate vehicle for opposing the war must be revealed for the bankrupt fantasy that it is. Politicians, clearly useless to us, must be ignored and refused access to our movement. Our attacks on the pro-war right must not obscure our opposition to the equally pro-war left. We must save ammunition for both our opponents in this fight, as we have no place with either.

Second, we must make irrelevant the local leadership of the anti-war movement, rejecting their stale tactics and failed strategies. Their lack of creativity has directly led to the state of the current movement and, along with it, the failure to achieve after four bloody years the end of this criminal and imperialist war. Unlike Janet Napolitano, we must not give the leadership yet another shot. Their time is done. We have tried their way and it has failed. Power and the right to make decisions must now be reconstituted in the hands of the base of the movement, and new, militant strategies will help to bring new blood and ideas into the movement. Direct action must be the watchword of the day. We have to develop broadly participatory and accountable forms of protest rooted in affinity, militancy and solidarity.

Third, these strategies must be applied with an eye towards systems disruption. That is, making the every day functioning of the war-making apparatus impossible, or at least difficult and politically costly. This, in fact, is a much more historically rooted strategy than that pursued by local anti-war leaders. Petitioning and begging have not historically proved successful strategies for ending wars. Vietnam was brought to an end by three forces: the sabotage of the war machine from inside by deserting, refusing and resisting soldiers; the attack on the military by the Vietnamese guerrillas and regular army; and, the resistance and sabotage of citizens in the United States, who engaged in far more resistance than mere sign-holding. This is the combination that will force an end to the war this time as well.

Fourth, we must connect to local struggles, such as the immigrant movement. The parallels are striking. Between 1846 and 1848 an illegal war, based on lies, took Northern Mexico and delivered it to the US. Since then, Mexicans and immigrants have been repeatedly stripped of their rights and alternately brought in and driven out of the US, depending on the needs of the elite class and the compliance of a large section of the working and middle class.

Like the imperialist alliance that binds many middle class folks to the foreign policy of the ruling class in this country, the white supremacist immigration and policing policies in this country bind the white working class domestically to the interests of the ruling capitalist class by offering them privileged access to jobs and other resources. When the authorities crack down on immigrants, this is a clear signal to the white working class that this "devil's bargain" is alive and well and that their elite benefactors will continue to honor that special relationship, just like when the state frames its foreign wars in terms of protecting Americans from terrorism abroad. Indeed, at the core of what drives white participation in the anti-immigrant reaction is a desire to reassert this alliance in the face of a broader attack on the entire working class. Because it is primarily the working class that fights this war, if we cannot break down this alliance we face little hope of breaking down the second in any meaningful or long-term fashion. This white supremacist history repeats now, as so-called 'illegal immigrants' now risk being labeled domestic terrorists for even minor crimes - a measure that 50 percent of Arizonans support! Our support for the immigrant movement must be strong and unopportunistic, and we must highlight the necessity of building a movement committed to free movement and rights for all people at home as a crucial element of our fight against the war abroad.

It's time for a radical departure for the anti-war movement in Phoenix. We need a broad coup from below against the current leadership and a sharp break from the strategies that currently dominate. Energy, vitality and fresh ideas are sorely needed if we want to end the war. The time for action is now.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haven't I read this critique before?

Sun Mar 25, 11:36:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Phoenix Insurgent said...

It's true that to a fair extent I articulated many of the ideas in this piece more than a year ago in another article featured here and widely circulated (as this one has been). Nevertheless, the state of the Phoenix anti-war movement has not improved in the interim. If anything, it has become even more entrenched in bad tactics and boring ideas. In addition, the election of the generally useless Democratic Congress (a goal of many anti-war locals) has created an opportunity to revisit the point. The movement needs to ask itself if it even really wants to stop the war. Judging by its tactics and strategy, one would be hard-pressed to come to any other conclusion than, "no."

Sun Mar 25, 09:32:00 PM 2007  

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