Comment on this article |
Email this article |
News :: Organizing
Interviewing the Youth Anti-War Movement
Email: slum_villa (nospam) yahoo.com
30 Dec 2004
Earlier this month M. Junaid Alam of Left Hook asked four of CAN's elected representatives about the political imperatives and realities the movement faces, including internal debates, the effect of linking up with anti-war veterans, the extent of right-wing harassment, and mobilizations planned in the near future.
Interviewing the Youth Anti-War Movement
- M. Junaid Alam with CAN Reps.
As the disastrous consequences of the war on Iraq continue to unfold, millions of Americans are becoming increasingly disillusioned and angry with the war effort. In the struggle to translate that sentiment into a formidable anti-war movement, progressive youth will undoubtedly play an important role. Spearheading this effort on the national level is the Campus Anti-War Network (CAN), comprising many anti-war student groups on college campuses across America. Earlier this month M. Junaid Alam of Left Hook asked four of CAN's elected representatives about the political imperatives and realities the movement faces, including internal debates, the effect of linking up with anti-war veterans, the extent of right-wing harassment, and mobilizations planned in the near future.
Monique Dols, Mid-Atlantic Representative, Columbia University
Josh Karpoff, Northeastern Representative, Rochester Institute of Technology
Desmond G., Southern Representative, Georgia State University
Daniel Saver, At-Large Representative, University of California, Berkeley
Alam: What effect did the elections have on the anti-war movement in your experience and in your region? Do you feel there was a major demobilization or diverting of resources and energy because of pressure to line up behind Kerry? Was there some internal friction within the movement over the Anybody But Bush phenomenon?
Monique: The surrendering of the antiwar movement to the Kerry campaign had a devastating impact on the student antiwar movement. I choose my words carefully when I use the word surrender. But that is exactly what happened. The greatest tragedy of these past elections is that the US based antiwar movement didn't have an electoral expression for our antiwar opinion like the people in Spain did. The antiwar movement should have been pointing out the sham and illegitimacy of the US elections and the lack of a real antiwar alternative. Instead, we surrendered to the terms of the elections as they were given to us and mobilized for a man with interests that were diametrically opposed to everything that we stand for.
We had Bush the warmonger, and Kerry the other warmonger who had no regret for voting for the war, promised to send more troops to Iraq and pledged to do a more efficient job of slaughtering Iraqis. When the leadership of the antiwar movement mobilized people to vote for Kerry it had disastrous repercussions. This diversion of resources meant that when the Abu Ghraib tortures story broke there was almost no response. When Fallujah was crushed, no national protests.
And this certainly had an effect on campus organizing. Regional and national demonstrations have set the pace for campus organizing since the February 15th protests. They give us something to mobilize and educate around. Without that, people feel isolated. Sure people still hate the war, but without big demonstrations to validate and organize that anger people are alone.
This surrendering has not just held back the antiwar movement but it has brought it backwards. The politicians and the corporate, pro-war media set the terms of the debate around the war. But a strong, self-confident antiwar movement can have an impact on that debate. Imagine if instead of mobilizing people to vote for Kerry, the antiwar movement was pointing out the hypocrisy of the idea that the US could bring democracy when we don't have democracy at home. This could have seriously changed the stultifying terms of the debate rather than pouring everything we had worked for right into the laps of the undeserving Democrats.
You can see the effect that this has had ideologically as well. When the antiwar movement was at its height people would say that the war was wrong because it was all about conquest and oil. Today on campuses you hear the argument that it was wrong because it was a diversion from the real war on terror. This is straight from Kerry's speechwriters. While the antiwar movement was sitting on its criticisms of Kerry he was actively undoing the gains of our movement, and unfortunately we failed at waging the right fight during this period.
Josh: The 2004 Presidential elections pretty much brought the student antiwar movement to a grinding halt. Everyone in Western New York seemed to suddenly drop everything and start campaigning for one of the candidates. It seemed that nearly everyone was putting all of his or her hopes of stopping the war in the outcome of the election. With everyone campaigning for someone there was pretty much no one left to work on antiwar work so the groups that were able to keep one or two people active went into holding patterns, just struggling to stay afloat and wait out the election. The Anybody But Bush Phenomenon didn't cause that much friction inside the group, as it did outside, preventing us from successfully intervening in any events or recruiting new members.
Desmond: In Atlanta, most student antiwar organizations fell apart after the invasion, before the elections became an issue. Once the elections became an issue, there was also a problem of us antiwar activists, who were still around, not asserting ourselves as much as we should have. We still aren't as visible as we should be. At Georgia State, I've been meeting a lot of students who were active before the invasion, and they've been trying to find us for a year.
The biggest effect of the elections here has been on a political level. We still have to gain a lot of ground in arguing that the US should leave Iraq immediately and that the "war on terror" is wrong, plain and simple.
Daniel: I think that in Berkeley, like most other places, there was certainly a lull in the anti-war movement during the election campaigns. The elections were on the forefront of everyone's mind, so mobilizing around the war specifically was slightly more challenging. And in Berkeley specifically, I believe that more organizational resources were actually diverted into the Nader campaign as opposed to Kerry; many of the core members of our Coalition were very active in supporting Nader, which probably (though by no means certainly) detracted from our focus as an antiwar group. The "anyone but Bush" theme was a central talking point among many of our discussions, but it was not so devise as to create a substantial rift in the Coalition. We were able to acknowledge the fact that regardless of who won the Presidency, the antiwar movement would still have our work cut out for us in the next four years. We built upon the common ground that we all stood upon (being against the war!), and were able to have a rather successful semester despite the drain that we felt because of the election.
Alam: It seems that in the election's aftermath, the number of meetings and mobilizations has been on the rise. Has this been true in your area? Is the movement seeing just old faces returning, or is there a new layer of freshmen and other youth showing up at meetings and demonstrations?
Monique: Most people are feeling a combination of depression and outrage at the fact that Bush will be in office for four more hears. Overall there is a renewed sense on campuses that we need to stop Bush. In some places this has exploded into a lot of activity, like at City College in New York City where a group of students kicked military recruiters off campus in two separate incidences and are now launching a campaign to kick them off for good. But there are some very real political challenges and obstacles that we face that are connected to the challenges of the election.
Since the elections all the corporate media have drawn the conclusion that Kerry lost because he went too far to the left. But that's just their newest way of telling us to sit down and shut up. During the elections it was by telling us to vote for Kerry, and now it is by telling us that we need to moderate our goals if we ever want to reach "middle America." Unfortunately no one is pointing out that maybe Bush won because he faced no real opposition. And as long as there is no opposition to this unending war on the world we can rest assured that Bush-ism will be carried out by every administration- Republican and Democratic alike.
Josh: There has most definitely been a serious upturn in struggle, which has translated into definitive growth. In Rochester a new high school CAN chapter has recently formed in the city and participated in several demonstrations. While a few of the old faces have been around, they haven't been very active, largely coming around to events. On my campus we've lost a lot of our original members to graduation, financial problems, transfers (one transferred to another school and is now also on the coordinating committee as an at large representative). The bulk of activity has been from people new to the movement. A lot of the members of the group on my campus are first year students, which is really great, because it means that we can have a much stronger long-term outlook.
Desmond: There was a relatively large, angry protest after the election in Downtown Atlanta, right near GSU. We planned for it in advance. A lot of high school students came out, a couple of students from other universities showed up. At almost every school there's an opportunity to win people away from the bankruptcy of the Democratic Party as the main "vehicle for change," and to a left, activist alternative.
There is a mix of old and new in the student antiwar movement here. The old faces are really old faces--people haven't been active since the US toppled Saddam's statue. I think activists should try to re-involve students who haven't been around for a while. They might be ready to get active again.
The new students are really encouraging. There are a lot of high school and even middle school students who show up at antiwar rallies in the city, and they have a sense of urgency that has been lacking for so long.
Daniel: The Berkeley campus felt a significant political and emotional backlash after the election was over: there were many students who felt outraged, disillusioned, and disconnected when Bush was re-elected. These emotions did not exacerbate the problems facing the movement, but instead acted as a fuel to redouble our efforts and concentrate on the job at hand: ending the war. The aftermath of the election, combined with the assault on Fallujah that occurred shortly afterward, were used by the Coalition as ways of engaging potential members in political and organizational discussion. This has led to a significant number of new faces at our weekly meetings, which has brought a lot of great ideas and new thought patterns to our group. Attracting new members has been a large concern of the Coalition, and our almost daily tabling efforts have thus far proved to be very valuable in building our presence on campus.
Alam: No doubt the anti-war formations across campuses come across resistance from Republicans and perhaps college administrations as well. What has been the intensity and coordination of groups hostile to the anti-war movement's politics? Have you or others you know faced organized harassment and intimidation in your experience?
Monique: Yes this has been a huge problem on campuses since Bush won. While Bush has been moving to cash in his "political capital" a lot of right-wingers have taken his lead and gone on the offensive. This includes incidences of racist scapegoating at San Francisco State from the College Republicans, a burst of FBI Raids and visits from the office of Homeland Security as well as a very coordinated effort to thwart Pro-Palestine organizing on campuses.
At Columbia University the administration has played a very harmful role in initiating an investigation against the Middle Eastern Studies Department by caving to a Pro-Israel group called the David Project and their campaign to marginalize professors who are critical of Israel and the US. President Bollinger is setting a dangerous precedent by creating a committee "investigate" claims of intimidation in the classroom. Rather than protecting his professors, Bollinger is giving credence to the accusations which amount to little more than politically motivated moves against pro-Palestinian professors for their criticism of Israel's "right" to exist as an exclusivist, apartied state.
Josh: On my campus the College Republicans formed in response to the emergence of left wing groups, I guess that's why you could call them reactionary. They however are fairly disorganized and have had little practical impact on campus. At a mock debate before the elections which featured representatives for the democrats, republicans and Nader supporters, the Republicans made total fools of themselves the by insisting that the solution to air pollution was to pump it underground. They were also able to antagonize a very large former marine into nearly strangling them. The campus administration is another matter entirely. While they have been outwardly tolerant of our actions, we've had to deal with a lot of administrative junk, such as our improper use of the Institute "brand" on our website, which required a hearing and paperwork.
We've also had disagreements over the posting of flyers, where I personally was brought up on charges with the housing administration that were later found to be totally bogus but wasted much of my time. Rochester Institute of Technology is run by and for the military industrial complex. The CIA has in the past had direct involvement in the orientation of classes and whole programs to meet their needs. A lot of the research used for spy planes and satellites is done at RIT, as well as the retrofitting of military equipment, such as armored personnel carriers and fight bombers so that they can continue to serve past their designed usefulness. On several occasions we've been followed by a suspicious individual whose appearance screams ex military (crew cut, sunglasses, pants tucked into his polished combat boots), who according to our administrative sources works for the office of the president. This individual has shown up at the doors of several of our members, apparently asking for someone else, which we find hard to believe. One of our previous presidents was actually fired for his direct ties to the CIA. Lately though its been fairly easy going.
Desmond: I don't know too much about student antiwar activists outside of Atlanta on this issue. But as for Georgia State, our main battle with the right-wingers was during the invasion, at our on campus demonstrations and through the student newspaper. Mostly, we only get the usual two or three pro-war guys who swear the US is fighting to liberate Iraqis and that the majority of Iraqis want the US to stay, but are "just too intimidated to show it." But I suspect that will change as we become more visible.
There have been a lot of right-wing attacks on, and off, campuses across the country. Racists have targeted Arab, South Asian and Muslim students relentlessly.
I think the antiwar movement needs to build broad coalitions to wage fight-backs whenever something happens.
Daniel: Berkeley has seen little outright, organized resistance to our antiwar movement. I know that SF state has had some harassment problems in the past few months, but the Berkeley right has not done any serious attacks on us.
Alam: What are the major political and theoretical questions affecting the trajectory of the Campus Anti-war Network? What kind of debates have there been around the issues of supporting dissenting GIs, the nature of the Iraqi resistance, the issue of Palestine, and organizing and demonstration tactics?
Monique: In short the major political questions facing CAN are questions that face the larger antiwar movement as a whole. They include questions about how to best maintain and build an independent opposition like what we faced during the elections as well as questions about the nature of the war on terror as a whole. After much debate at the last CAN conference, we decided to pass a resolution in opposition to the whole logic of the war on terror, which was a big step forward for us. But the work doesn't stop there. We have a lot of work to do on our campuses to undo the damage that Kerry and Bush did in revitalizing the war on terror and making the repression of the Iraqi resistance about fighting terror. Somehow they have been able to paint people who fight tanks and fighter jets with homemade bombs and Kalashnikovs in Iraq and Palestine as terrorists, and we have a lot of work to do reverse that.
There was a lot of consensus at the last CAN conference that we need to do everything that we can to support dissenting GIs. These resisters signed up with the military to go to college, and we need to do everything we can to support them when they decide they can't take it anymore. They risk a lot more than we do when the refuse orders and it is our duty as the US based antiwar movement to have their backs so that they don't get punished and so others can feel confident to do the same. This means making a place for them to speak out when they are ready, so that they can decompress and feel supported by people who hate the death and maiming that this war has wreaked on Iraq and on working class GIs.
Josh: What a loaded question. The short answer is the debated have been long and incredibly political. The longer answer is that much of the discussions have not been so much disagreement with the stance for political reasons, its been more about how these stances will affect our relations with other groups we want to work with. So far I don't think we've chased away any allies, which to me says that we're doing fairly well. The debate seems to always arise when we try to be sure that CAN is at the political tip of the sword being thrust into the heart of the logic of imperialism. Wow that was a slightly over the top metaphor, but I like it nonetheless.
Right now I can't really hit on any defining questions of the movement, which to me is kind of annoying, I want to identify the problem and solve it, but when the questions aren't clear its kind of frustrating.
Desmond: Coming out of our November national conference CAN was unified in the idea that reaching out to soldiers and doing counter-recruitment work would be our main long-term focus. Most of us recognize that GI resistance is what stopped the war in Vietnam, and it is the job of the antiwar movement to make sure soldiers are a part of this movement.
Daniel: The issue of Palestine has been a large issue facing our Coalition for the past semester. We organized a small presentation at one of our meetings on the issue, which was followed by an engaging discussion. As a whole, our group fervently supports the Palestinian cause and views the issue as inextricably linked to the war in Iraq. American support of the Israeli occupation is nothing more than another manifestation of Western imperialism, and therefore the plight of the Palestinian people is intricately interwoven in the work of the antiwar movement. That being said, this is not the unanimous opinion of the Coalition (though it is certainly the majority), and the discussion that we typically have concerning Palestine can be rather heated.
This semester the Coalition has also fielded discussion about the methods and tactics that are used by the antiwar movement. This has resulted in quite a bit of discourse on what could be called "small victories" for the antiwar movement. That is, we feel that the best way to increase interest, participation, and belief that the antiwar movement can actually do something is to accomplish veritable results in our local area. Part of the dilemma facing the movement is that there are many people who oppose the war, but they do not feel confident that any sort of grassroots organizing can actually cause any change. If the Coalition is able to demonstrate the value of small scale organizing by winning a definitive victory, then more people will have faith in the antiwar movement as a whole. Several ideas that we have floated on this subject are to field/support a peace candidate for local office and to expel military recruiters from campus.
Alam: All the major pretexts propping up the case for war prior to the launch of the invasion have clearly been demolished in the past 18 months. Has this had a tangible effect on the confidence of anti-war activists, or on the ability to persuade undecided students to anti-war politics? What kind of arguments and rationalizations do the pro-war groups come up with in response?
Monique: Certainly, the fact that all of the justifications for the war-that Iraq had weapons of Mass Destruction, that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat the US, that there were any links between Hussein and al-Queda-have all been laid bare. This is definitely important for the antiwar movement as a whole. But in the process of invading and occupying Iraq, the US has created facts on the ground (to borrow a phrase from Israeli tactics in the West Bank and Gaza) by entrenching their occupation, sowing the seeds for rivalry between the Kurds, and the Sunni and the Shia. And then the very conditions of instability and nepotism that the US has created by being there become the excuse for why they can't leave. What a difference a year makes.
We need to be able to take the lead of groups like Military Families Speak Out and the Iraqi resistance itself in order to get the troops home from Iraq now. They have been saying from the beginning: "Out Now!" And this is because they know first hand what it means to live under as well as execute an occupation. This requires cutting through the rationale that we can't "cut and run" in Iraq, that there will be "chaos" if we leave. And this requires a historical sense that this is exactly what every colonizer from the British in India and Iraq to the French in Algeria said to hold onto their colonial territories.
The pro-war campus groups just take their lead from the warmongers themselves. They rely on jingoism and deception to back up their arguments. And they don't have to work very hard because they get their arguments from the politicians and most major media outlets. We, on the other hand have a lot more difficult work ahead of us. But we don't have much of a choice.
Josh: The Bush Administration should be totally discredited in every way imaginable, but they haven't been. The biggest arguments we seem to come up against from the undecided are the "Chaos Theory," in which if we leave now Iraq will just descend into total anarchy, the "Pottery Barn Theory," where we've broken Iraq and now we have to stay and fix it and to a lesser extent the idea that elections will solve the problem. The aggravating thing is that I encounter these arguments amongst those who I had thought already opposed to the war. For now I'm going to leave the explanation and refutation of those theories up to others like Left Hook and Counter Punch, cause you've done a good job of it already, a much better one then I could do now.
Desmond: I think the US is pretty much caught with its pants down in the eyes of most students at GSU. The pro-war groups really haven't had to rationalize the situation, but they have anyway. Their argument is that America will be make weaker if we "cut and run" and they throw in something about "fighting terror," etc. A lot what we wave been struggling against is not from conservatives, but liberals who think "well we broke it, now we have to fix it," as if Iraq was something they bought from a store.
Daniel: I have personally been involved in the movement for only one semester, so I cannot judge the relative confidence of the movement. But I can say that our Coalition is utterly confident in our cause, and I believe that many of us knew that the pretexts of the war were bogus before any of the recent information came out. The publicity surrounding much of the recent evidence refuting Bush's pretexts (such as WMD, the al-Qaida links, etc.) has defiantly aided our outreach efforts, as most people we encounter recognize the "misinformation," even if they still believe that the US is doing the right thing. The arguments that our opponents put forth are generally echoes of the "Freedom" and "Liberty" jargon used by the Bush Administration, as well as continued reinforcement of Iraq as the new front in the "War on Terror". Many people who believe that war was an injustice (and of course, the pro-war people as well) will nonetheless argue that the US must now remain in Iraq, for they believe that a complete withdrawl will result in chaos and disorder. We have done our best convey the necessity of military withdrawl, but this remains a prevalent attitude among the general student population. In the coming semester, we are hoping to better utilize the case for withdrawl and break through this argument.
Alam: What kind of protests and actions are being planned on campuses in your area? Are there any large-scale mobilizations or new initiatives being undertaken?
Monique: On January 20 many students are going to protest Bush's Inauguration. There will be protests in DC and San Francisco as well as solidarity protests in cities all across the country. Some schools will still be on break and some will just be getting back, but students will find a way to get there. Unfortunately the large antiwar groups are not really mobilizing for it so we are kind of on our own to organize caravans and busses. It won't be like in 2000, but we just can't let this man be inaugurated without an opposition.
In January CAN will be developing our strategy for how to best take advantage of the recent court ruling making it illegal for the Feds to pull funding from schools that kick military recruiters off campuses. This is very important because federal funding has been the major stick that the government has used to keep schools from challenging the presence of recruitment on campuses and we need to find a way to take advantage of it. There is a really strong sense at schools that people want to target military recruitment in some way because it gives people a very concrete, goal oriented way to oppose the war and all of its domestic ramifications.
We also need to find ways to fight back against right wing and racist campaigns. Like at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York State where in order to graduate, seniors will be forced to listen to a lecture by Daniel Pipes, Islamophobe extraordinaire. Locally, the antiwar and Muslim groups are working together to expose Pipes for the worthless racist that he is. We have a long way to go to push these people back on a national scale. It's clearly going to start on a local level but we need to find ways to support local initiatives and roll back all of the attacks on Muslims, Arabs and South Asians. Unfortunately, what's happening at RIT is only a small sample of the racist onslaught that has plagued the US since September 11. Campuses are by no means immune to this climate.
Josh: We recently mobilized to protest retired general Tommy "Shock and Awe" Franks when he came to speak in Rochester. It was really inspiring to see the handful of people who braved the pouring rain and strong winds when there was another progressive event going on two blocks away, indoors. Our plans include a lot of publicity stunts to begin rebuilding awareness of the antiwar movement, as well as more protests and educational events. On a national level there's going to be mobilization for the presidential inauguration, not sure what the turnout is going to be, but it should be pretty militant. Also we're discussing a nationwide demilitarization of schools campaign, to kick recruiters and ROTC off of our campuses. If we could win that we'd be well on our way to mortally crippling the war effort.
Desmond: We're trying to have speak-outs at Georgia State; there aren't any plans for broad student actions, yet, but I think it's really important for campus antiwar groups to make sure they're visible on campus every week, with information, buttons, stickers, flyers, and all that.
For some actions you'll be lucky enough to bring out a large crowd just on publicity, but groups need to make sure they have a base. It's the difference between just seeing a flyer on the wall and having someone hand it to you. It's much better to have someone hand you the flyer and talk to you about why this protest, or meeting is so important.
Daniel: Our chapter is organizing several events for the upcoming semester. The first event is still rather tentative, but we are determined to organize some sort of large scale demonstration on campus to highlight the massive toll the war has taken on human life. We are hoping to construct several hundred cardboard tombstones to symbolize the number of human lives that have been taken (probably on a scale of 200:1, which means about 500 tombstones). These will be places on the main glade at the school where there is a consistent and large amount of foot traffic. We hope that the demonstration will raise awareness of the Coalition and provide a rather shocking visual that will spur students to become involved in organizing. The demonstration will also act as a venue to publicize a forum that we will be putting on the next week, at which an Iraqi Veteran (or two) and a professor will speak.
Last semester we held a similar forum with a member of Iraqi Veterans Against the War, but her addition to the speaker's list was on such short notice that we were not able to spread the word sufficiently. We hope to use the forum as a way of educating the student body of the real situation in Iraq, as well as a means of engaging potential new members. Both of these events will be held as part of the framework of our larger campaign for the semester, which is to kick military recruiters off campus. We view the recent decision to allow Colleges to expel recruiters as an opportunity to achieve a "small victory" that can instill confidence in the movement (and of course, to actually do something).
Alam: What is the relationship between the youth anti-war movement and anti-war GI veterans of the Iraq war and from previous wars? Is this becoming an increasingly relevant issue?
Monique: This is of course a relevant issue. Students are vets and vets are students. We invite members of veterans peace groups and military families groups to speak on panels on campuses all the time. It has helped us significantly to drive home the reality of war and occupation, which can so often be missing from academic discussions about war. People realize that these are real people with real experiences and real grievances. And that is something that people want to become a part of- a movement that is trying to make a real difference and stop a war that is destroying so many people's lives. We are beginning to meet vets on our campuses that are coming back from Iraq and we are telling them about groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Military Families Speak Out. Vets need to know that if they speak out they will be supported.
Josh: This has been a generally positive relationship, though some friction has occurred over our support for the Iraqi's right to self-determination and the resistance, which is totally understandable. On that point I like the line that Tom Barton of "GI Special" uses, "If you don't like the resistance, End the occupation." I think that in order for all of us to successfully end the war, we're going to need to work together and this means that we're going to have to have these debates out and that we may have to learn to agree to disagree with each other. In the end, I think that our combined efforts here and the efforts of those in Iraq, both Iraqis and US soldie
This work is in the public domain