Climate change, healthcare, housing, pensions, labor rights, education, civil liberties, women’s rights, impeachment—these were some of the myriad issues put on the table in Saturday’s march. As Susan Sarandon put it, “so many different organizations that are fighting for very specific changes on a lot of issues.” Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice says marchers “know that ending the war in Iraq is only the first step to turning this country around,” citing civil liberties, women’s rights, labor rights, immigrant communities, the environment.
The question is whether that diversity is a blessing—adding heft to the movement by strapping disparate issues to the antiwar cause—or a curse. Will the cornucopia of causes confuse the people watching at home, or more relevantly, their media filters? “Isn’t that next week’s march?” one radio reporter asked a pal this morning, after hearing someone mention global warming.
“The diversity of organizational and political energies is an indication of how deep the opposition is to war in this country,” Ibrahim Ramey, Climate Change Coalition, told the Voice as the march was about to kick off. That was Sarandon’s argument as well: that other issue groups, from women’s rights to tree huggers, are seeing that until the war dies their causes cannot live. “Everyone here needs to emphasize at every opportunity that the war in Iraq is linked to the war at home against working people,” said recently released TWU leader Roger Toussaint.
If the push to end the war succeeds, organized labor will have played a key role in fashioning that over-aching message. SEIU, for example, is connecting the financial cost of the war to the closing of hospitals and nursing homes here. Toussaint linked the war to the fight to kill off guaranteed pensions and decent health benefits. “There are more union members participating in this great action today that in any antiwar activity in this city n the last 50 years,” said John Wilhelm of UNITE HERE, adding that “there is something happening in this country, something profound and powerful taking shape in this country, and not a minute too late.”
Labor could also be key to the practical political problem of how to get middle-of-the-road politicians to actively seek the war’s end, since so many Democrats depend on union members to win re-election. “We are determined to set the agenda for the next election,” Cagan said. “Every single person running for Congress has to answer to their constituents and the people around the country: What will they do to stop this war?”
And if those candidates say, “nothing at all”? ” We have to go out in November and not elect phony Democrats,” said Nancy Wohlforth from the Office and Professional Employees International Union. Outgoing Brooklyn congressman Major Owens agrees. “The pressure should be applied full force to the Congress of the United States, especially my Democratic party,” he said, noting that only 110 Democrats had signed Rep. John Murtha’s plan to pull out of Iraq. “Make sure every Democrat who has not signed that resolution knows he is a coward.”
To date, the only political victories scored by the antiwar movement have been confined to local measures, like the Vermont towns that have called for impeachment or restricting the use of their National Guard in Iraq—measures which, by definition, are just symbolic. But that doesn’t make them worthless,” says Steve Rand from Waterbury, Vermont. “It starts at the community level,” he tells the Voice. “It works its way up.”
Of course, the biggest victory would be scaring incumbents into voting to end the war without actually mounting the massive efforts to defeat them. Barbara Walls of California thinks that’s what’s happening with Sen. Diane Feinstein, the Democrat who faces reelection this year. “She’s starting to see the writing on the wall.”