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Discontent with Bush and the right wing needs to be organized
Building opposition from the bottom up

January 21, 2005 | Page 3

GEORGE W. BUSH will face thousands of angry protesters January 20 when he takes his oath of office for a second term. Surrounded by an unprecedented combination of the U.S. military, federal police agencies and local cops from across the U.S., Bush will display the power of the imperial presidency to try to portray himself as unstoppable.

But the anger with him runs deep--as was obvious during the polarized presidential campaign, where the vast majority of voters started out either firmly against Bush or for him, leaving only a tiny fraction "undecided."

So large numbers of people ought to be preparing to take action--to take to the streets to say no to the Bush agenda, as they did in the hundreds of thousands before the invasion of Iraq was launched in March 2003. Yet the demonstrations at this year's inauguration are expected to be smaller and "tamer," according to reports in the media, as well as the comments of leading figures in the movement.

That's because of the lackluster performance of liberals and progressives who spent most of the past year trying to get a pro-war, "centrist" Democrat elected to the White House, instead of mobilizing against the right-wing policies championed by both mainstream parties.

The small size of the active opposition to Bush is even more striking in comparison to the scale of the problems his administration faces.

Bush's approval rating today is the lowest for any president entering a second term since polling began. The Republicans' floated proposals to partially privatize Social Security, to restrict--and possibly outlaw--a woman's right to abortion and other initiatives have added to the discontent felt by large numbers of people.

And the centerpiece of the Bush presidency--the invasion and occupation of Iraq--continues lurching from one crisis to the next. Some of this has been hidden since Bush won in November, as the mainstream media reverted to uncritical cheerleading of the U.S. war machine.

But the disaster in Iraq has reached a point that is even forcing a debate within the Republican Party. Thus, while Bush clings to his claim that Iraqi elections scheduled for January 30 are "an incredibly hopeful experience," Brent Scowcroft--Bush Sr.'s national security adviser and until recently the chair of Bush Jr.'s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board--said in a recent speech, "We may be seeing incipient civil war at this time."

"[A]ll over Washington," the New York Times reported last week, "there is talk about new ways to define when the mission is accomplished--not to cut and run, but not to linger, either."

Meanwhile, the Pentagon hawks around Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are talking about the "Salvador option"--a terrible escalation of violence modeled on the dirty wars the U.S. fought in Central America during the 1980s. That the proposal is getting a serious hearing is a sign of weakness, not strength. "We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents," a senior military officer told Newsweek magazine. "Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing."

So the Republicans' united front on Iraq has broken down, with the developing cracks at the top reflecting the depth of the crisis. Yet the national antiwar movement is in political and organizational disarray.

Over the past year, many activists--and in particular, those in the position of giving a lead to the movement--abandoned organizing to participate in the campaign to elect John Kerry as president.

Kerry was adamantly pro-war. His criticisms of Bush were limited to bickering over the details, not questioning the invasion itself. He continually repeated the charge that the takeover of Iraq was a diversion from the wider "war on terror."

And sadly, in working to elect Kerry, many progressive figures ended up adapting to this position. The most explicit case is Michael Moore, who recently commented in an interview that the Democrats' best bet for challenging the Republicans was to find a candidate who wants to "kick some ass" in the "war on terror."

When Socialist Worker criticized progressives for supporting a pro-war candidate, we were asked why we made such a big deal about it. What harm would it do to support Kerry in order to get rid of George Bush?

Such comments indicate the harm. In fact, by ceding discussion of Iraq to Kerry's campaign--and ceasing to protest anywhere but at the Republican National Convention--the antiwar movement allowed the Democrats to pull the entire political debate around the war to the right.

The impact has been felt in the post-election period. Among the liberal organizations who worked for Kerry, there's a thorough lack of energy and commitment to organizing that was all too obvious leading up to January 20.

Perhaps it was no surprise that the National Organization for Women (NOW), oriented on the middle class, did little to mobilize. But it is also true that the main liberal-left antiwar coalition, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), while it endorsed the anti-inauguration protests, did little to build them.

The most obvious future focal point for a national antiwar protest is March 19, the two-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq--and there have been calls for demonstrations around the world. But with less than two months to go, there's confusion over whether protests called by UFPJ in New York or the International Action Center in Washington, D.C., will be local or national.

The consequence of this lack of initiative to confront Bush on the war and other issues will be to allow the right to retain the momentum it gained from the election.

At the same time, the potential to build opposition is clear. The administration has said it will step up its assault on abortion rights--which could produce a response from a generation of women who have faced declining access to this basic right all of their adult lives. Bush's Social Security plan is a bald-faced scheme to steal benefits from retirees, and hand super-profits to Wall Street--exactly the opposite of what ordinary people want, according to polls.

And with the deepening crisis of the occupation of Iraq, the issue of the war continues to simmer away beneath official politics.

A number of local initiatives have taken advantage of the possibilities. For example, in Seattle, meetings of the new student antiwar coalition at Seattle Central Community College--formed in the wake of the election--yielded a plan for a student walkout on January 20, and four other campuses in the city are following suit. In Philadelphia last month, homeless activists organized by the Kensington Welfare Rights Union took their demonstration at a Housing and Urban Development building to the city's main military recruiters' office for a sit.

Meanwhile, networks of military families against the occupation are growing, and later this month, members of the recently formed Iraq Veterans Against the War will begin an 18-stop tour of schools and community forums in Boston.

These are the raw ingredients for revitalizing the antiwar movement. Organizing at the local level is crucially important for building a grassroots base for the movement that can lead to larger initiatives in the future.

Local protests can also serve as a way of bringing together individuals and groups for a collective effort, in contrast to the maneuvering of different forces that has often dominated the national scene. National antiwar organizations have a responsibility to take their lead from these local initiatives and redouble their efforts.

The potential exists for a huge opposition to the assaults of the Bush administration and the right wing. The only way to tap that potential is to start mobilizing now, wherever people are willing to fight.

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