Below is Katy R’s contribution to the discussion on anti-war strategy. She responds to
Police formation in response to anti-war protest at the Port of Oakland in April 2003
Mike Ely’s piece on the state of the anti-war movement which we posted below.
I hope I’m not being facile, but it seems to me that regardless of what kind of united front one enters, or whether the slogan on one’s banner calls out economic issues, Obama, or the murder of Iraqis, the anti-war movement loses or gains effectiveness based on other strategic and tactical questions.
It is simply objectively true that we cannot vote, nor march, nor wave signs out of any imperialist war. I believe that deep down, people who are at the very least sympathetic to the anti-war position don’t see the value of participating in any more symbolic sheep-crawls, and for the last several years (with some notable and short-lived exceptions) that has been the face of the anti-war movement.
The only way to stop the wars is to cut off their oxygen supply at strategic choke-points. Concerted shutdowns at ports, preferably by port workers and their allies, along with soldier refusals to deploy and fight, are just the minimum necessary activities. I’m not denying that a critique of the tacit support for “Obama’s war” is necessary, but I believe that drawing a line between so-called real anti-imperialists (people who never fell for the idea of voting for a new capitalist imperialist president, regardless of party) and anti-war progressives who voted for Obama or professed support for his campaign or presidency diverts attention from engaging in effective anti-war action.
It may be true that “both the current wars are kept well below both the pain and awareness threshold for many people here in the U.S.” But people are in pain, and people are aware, if not of the direct suffering of the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, then of the way jobs are being lost, services shut down, homes foreclosed, and so on. Drawing the link between these immediate social problems in US communities and the engagement in war and militarism is not, as Ely suggests, a frivolous and self-centered activity. It may be troubling to confront the fact that many people are not motivated to action based on a strict anti-imperialist line, but I would argue that it is less about the line, and more about the actual, objective effectiveness of our tactics that will embolden folks to participate in a revitalized anti-war movement. In other words, I’m more troubled by a rally at the SF Civic Center with an impeccable anti-imperialist message, than a port shutdown that is motivated by the fury over military spending and its impact on our local communities’ economic health.
Ely criticizes the sentiment expressed in the O’Neill/See piece which states, “We need to build activity at the local level that’s easy for people to engage in and doesn’t require signing on to a whole stew of anti-imperialist statements. We also need to bring our bodies and signs to the marches and vigils against budget cutbacks in our communities, instead of just waiting for people to show up at an anti-war rally. We need to make the connections in our messages; ‘Healthcare Not Warfare’ at the rallies on the congressional showdown. ‘Books Not Bombs’ when folks march in defense of public education.” I’m skeptical, too, but for a different reason: it worries me that the question is being boiled down to which “marches and vigils” we should bring our message to. That we are still talking about marches, vigils, and rallies, rather than blockades, occupations, and strikes, is the most worrisome aspect of the whole debate about the anti-war movement.