By Albert Samaha
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The effort to build a powerful anti-war presence has also been hampered by divides that have bedeviled the left for years. In New York, for example, there are now half a dozen peace coalitions, from the CHARAS-based War Is Not the Answer to the people-of-color-led Third World Within's Peace Action Coalition. Let a hundred flowers bloom, certainly, but achievements have been thin. The latest public demo, assembled by the New York Coalition for Peace and Justice, drew several hundred largely white stalwarts to Rockefeller Plaza, where they were nearly lost amid a sea of shoppers.
On a national scale, September 11 exposed schisms on the left that have supposedly been closing since Seattle famously brought Teamsters and Turtles together. The AFL-CIO's John Sweeney is now denouncing Bush's "domestic war" against workers, though labor by and large backs the overseas version, while progressive organizations have had trouble thinking outside boxes. Organizer Ted Glick, who helped put together the 9-11 Emergency Network, proposed the idea of a broad anti-war umbrella for folks working on different issues to the National Coalition for Peace and Justice, but the peacenik group demurred, suggesting that it could be the peace coalition within a coalitionif someone formed one. Washington, D.C.'s Mobilization for Global Justice begged off September protests in part because many thought war was beyond the purview of the anti-WTO outfit. The result, says activist Zein El-Amine, is that the group became paralyzed.
Students have been nimbler. With a quick infusion of global-justice veterans"ready-made organizers" as George Washington University activist Eleiza Braun puts itstudent peace actions quickly spread to more than 400 schools. Grappling with their minority status on hugely pro-war campuses, students turned to peace camps, short fasts, and teach-ins, forums designed to draw the uninitiated and allow for exploration of issueslike the links between U.S. militarism and multinational corporate control. Now they're planning demos for February in New York and April in Washington. Already, they've been successful enough to provoke a whine from a conservative group founded by Vice President Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne. "The message of much of academe," complained the American Council of Trustees and Alumni in a November report, "was clear: BLAME AMERICA FIRST."
Most promisingly, the student peace movement is cross-fertilizing. The National Youth and Student Peace Coalition includes the youth section of the Black Radical Congress and the Muslim Students Association, along with United Students Against Sweatshops. At least among students, then, the war has had this silver lining: It's thrown activists of color, urban organizers, and immigrant activists together with anti-corporate summit hoppers.
The search for silver linings can obscure as much as cheer, of course. Take the argument put forward recently by University of Wisconsin law professor Joel Rogers and The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel, that the war created "the opportunity of a lifetime" for the left by bringing back "the idea of a public sector." The "hot Christmas dolls this year," the two note, "are firefighters, emergency medical personnel, and municipal police." Unhappily, the hottest action figure of all this season appears to be Vietnam-era spawn G.I. Joe, according to toy industry folks. And the growth in the public sector has thus far been entirely in its police state wing.
Given the climate, it's understandable that liberals might try to surf in the wake of the waravoiding the issue, as it were. The right wing, on the other hand, is piling right onto the juggernaut. Tucked inside a recent New York Times Magazinefeature devoted to the trendy ideas of 2001 comes the news that American imperialism is back. Is this a new-world response to a new kind of antagonist? Who cares? The new imperialists, sailing the flagship of the Project for the New American Century, propose to virtually triple the military budgetenough, suggests a PNAC official, to allow the U.S. the berth of Pax Britannica.
Then, from the $15 billion bailout of airlines (which did nothing for the 100,000-plus laid-off workers) to the $25 billion tax rebate Republicans were trying to shovel mega-corporations to the $50 or $60 billion bonus headed for a military-industrial complex that already spends more than the next 10 countries combined, the country is awash in an astonishing and obscene power-grab by the powers that already, voluminously, are. And they are using the war to push far-flung agendas. As James Albertine, president of the American League of Lobbyists, recently told The New York Times: "What happened was a tragedy, certainly, but there are opportunities. We're in business. This is not a charity."
In the end, all roads lead to the imperial United States. U.S. trade rep Robert Zoellick invoked the war to squash opposition at the recent WTO meetings in Doha. Richard Bernal, a Jamaican delegate to Doha, complained to British journalist John Pilger, "We feel that this WTO meeting has no connection with the war on terrorism, yet we are made to feel that we are holding up the rescue of the global economy if we don't agree to a new round of liberalization measures."
Activists here are making the connections. Jerome Scott, an organizer with the Atlanta-based Project South, which works with farmworkers, welfare recipients, and others, says, "My folks are beginning to ask how we can afford to dump billions of dollars into wars that may not end, and we can't afford to do something about the poor. Believe me, people are patriotic, but because of everything that's going on they are talking about U.S. foreign policy and 'structural adjustment' programs."