US anti-war movement at the crossroads

The US anti-war movement is currently facing a serious test with the build-up to the presidential elections in November. The main test will be in its ability to maintain an anti-imperialist standpoint and thus a principled position in regard to the elections. September saw a week of protest centred around the ruling Republican Party’s National Convention (RNC) in New York. An examination of the forces involved is necessary to measure their effectiveness in building a genuine movement against imperialism.

New York has a history of militant protests. In 1964 Harlem was the scene of the first post-1945 mass urban uprising against racism and police repression. 40 years on, the RNC began on 26 August and marked the beginning of a week that would see dozens of different protests. On the evening of 27 August the monthly ‘critical mass’ bike ride grew into hundreds. As a taste of things to come the protest was attacked by police and over 260 were arrested. Another protest centred around an 8,000-strong unemployment line.

Two days later saw a climax as 500,000 marched to the RNC at Madison Square Gardens. This day saw countless other demonstrations. Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition applied for a permit to hold a rally in Central Park – this was refused but ANSWER held the demo anyway in defiance of police orders. This militancy stands in stark contrast to the Stop the War Coalition’s behaviour in Britain, where the protest outside the Labour Party Conference in Manchester followed a route devised by the police and the destination was half a mile away from the conference!

On the night of 29 August activists attempting to confront Republican delegates partying on Broadway were attacked by riot police. Those arrested included 25 activists holding a ‘kiss-in’. Every time an arrest was attempted, stiff resistance was met. The following day a ‘Still We Rise Coalition’ march was stopped by police for entering a street without a permit and after militant resistance the police backed down.

Under the auspices of the ‘war on terror’ New York police and the Bush administration used all the means at their disposal to forestall a militant Seattle-type protest. Their friends in the media endorsed the gross violations of democratic rights and police-state tactics just as they cheered on US aggression in Iraq. $75million was spent on one week’s ‘security’. 30,000 police were deployed and advanced weaponry and crowd control techniques used. By 1 September 1,460 people had been arrested (official figures) but the fact that demonstrations continued all week is a defeat for the government. The Conference itself was heavily guarded but despite this it was infiltrated twice by protesters who managed to get within 15 feet of the stage.

However, there is a visible split in the US anti-war movement between an anti-imperialist wing, led by ANSWER, and liberal reformists, United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ). The latter has pledged support for the idea of a UN-led coalition in Iraq, places much more emphasis on the number of US soldiers killed than Iraqis, and has attempted to prevent the issue of Palestine being raised at a number of demonstrations. The UFPJ is also leaning towards the opportunistic ‘Anyone but Bush’ camp in the coming election.

The ANSWER Coalition, unlike its British counterpart, the Stop the War Coalition, has maintained a principled anti-imperialist standpoint. It was formed after 11 September when other groups had refused to continue with previously-planned demonstrations. The fact that ANSWER has broad support from the most oppressed sections of US society, including the Arab-American community, and that it has fought successfully to prevent support for the Intifada being sidelined, is indicative of the Coalition’s strength. Its current slogan is ‘Iraq, Haiti, Afghanistan, Korea, Philippines, Colombia, Cuba… US OUT! FREE PALESTINE!’ and it maintains a stance against both the Republicans and Kerry’s Democrats in the presidential election.

The future of the US anti-war movement is at stake unless this anti-imperialist position is maintained. Planned demonstrations include a two-day march for immigrant and labour rights in Los Angeles and Washington on 16 and 17 October called by Latino Movement USA and supported by ANSWER. ANSWER has organised a big protest for 20 January in Washington DC when the elected President will be inaugurated ‘demanding from the first day of office, regardless of who is elected: End the occupation of Iraq! Bring the troops home now!’.

Louis Brehony

FRFI 181 October / November 2004


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