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VIEWS AND VOICES
Back to the case for "out now"

October 12, 2007 | Page 6

IN THE September 21 issue of Socialist Worker, Eric Ruder aptly points a way forward for antiwar activists: "The challenge facing the antiwar movement, given the weakness of the forces involved at the moment, is to combine large national mobilizations with a focus on strengthening the local, grassroots base of the movement. This means careful attention to building local chapters of Iraq Veterans Against the War, campus antiwar coalitions and citywide antiwar networks."

I've had the opportunity to help build a citywide antiwar coalition in Portland, Ore., over the last year, and I wanted to provide some tactical and strategic advice for those interested in implementing Ruder's call to action.

First, I think we need a sober assessment of where public opinion stands right now. While nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose the war in Iraq, many remain conflicted on how to end it.

According to a recent New York Times poll only 22 percent of those polled favored a complete withdrawal in the next year, while the majority (56 percent) supported reducing troops in Iraq, but leaving some in place to train Iraqi forces, fight terrorists and protect American diplomats.

This demonstrates that in the absence of antiwar activity, the major Democratic presidential candidates--all of whom leave loopholes in their plans for "withdrawal" that could keep U.S. troops in Iraq for decades--have successfully framed the antiwar debate.

Even many who are opposed to the war are questioning the immediate withdrawal of troops and buying into the "we broke it, we fix it" argument which tries to justify U.S. presence in Iraq in order to quell sectarian violence and rebuild the country. Using this logic, we might well expect a thief who breaks into your house, murders your family and steals all your possessions to come back the next day with a truckload of new furniture, anticipating a positive reaction.

Antiwar activists who find it absurd to imagine the U.S. military and the private corporations in Iraq as a peacekeeping or rebuilding force need to return to the case for immediate withdrawal to reopen the debate.

While most activists understand the importance of taking a "Troops Out Now" position, many still can't argue the reasons behind that perspective with the average person. By combining our antiwar organizing with political discussion, we can learn from each other how to better articulate our antiwar positions.

This means taking some time out of organizing meetings to discuss an article or various political issues related to the antiwar movement. This also means not just organizing actions, but also organizing discussion panels and teach-ins, and coming prepared to these events with a way for people to get involved.

There are a number of local campaigns that can combine discussion panels with actions and build local antiwar networks:

-- Counter-recruitment campaigns: Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, all military recruiters have access to all students' private information for the purposes of recruitment and identifying potential enlistees.

Students have the power to "opt out" from the military database but they can only do so the first month of the school year in September. Activists have used "Opt Out" campaigns to provide one-on-one education about the realities of military service and encourage students to opt out of the military database.

By adding teach-ins, counter-recruitment actions and protests at school boards or city councils aimed at passing resolutions to ban military recruiters from high schools and campuses these campaigns can be extended beyond the month of September and used to build the antiwar movement.

-- Sanctuary city campaigns: Antiwar activists can learn from the immigrant rights sanctuary movement and begin pushing for their towns and cities to be safe havens for war resisters.

When someone in the military decides to resist or goes AWOL, they can't turn to the police for help, and they can be picked up for a broken taillight or other minor violations and turned into the military, where they likely will face a court martial and months in military prison.

In Portland, we are trying to get our city council to pass a resolution banning Portland police from turning vets or active duty GIs into the military for political reasons. Again, a combination of tactics, from teach-ins and petition signing to marches and walkouts, is key. A sanctuary city campaign has immense potential to help build local IVAW chapters and connections to active duty GIs in your area.

-- Veteran-specific campaigns: Building campaigns around specific veterans in your area who were denied care by the Department of Veterans Affairs or who are battling the military for speaking out against the war can be one of the most effective ways to build resistance.

Not only do these campaigns cut right to the heart of a system that claims to "support the troops" while denying them health care and free speech, they also can serve as a powerful way to encourage other veterans to protest. When activists show their willingness to fight for veterans who speak out against the war, it encourages others to do so.

All of these campaigns can produce tangible results and small victories at the local level that encourage us to keep fighting.

Keeping the local momentum moving can help build for larger national and regional protests. Connecting sanctuary campaigns with the immigrant rights movement and emphasizing the racist nature of war can help engage communities typically left out of the antiwar movement.

Organizing marches and protests that show where the antiwar movement intersects with other issues--such as the "Fund the Wounded, Not the War" march in Seattle or a "Stop the Raids, Stop the War" protest--can help engage new people and build local networks.

By combining our organizing with political education, connecting local struggles to larger mobilizations, supporting veterans and active duty GIs who choose to resist, and broadening the focus of our work to include communities organizing around other issues we can begin to build the type of movement that can topple U.S. imperialism.
Adam Sanchez, PDX Peace Coalition, Portland, Ore.

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