From Protest to Politics: Dumping Bush’s Regime in 2004
Carl Davidson and Marilyn Kat
our arguments and the overwhelming presence of our numbers on the
streets and in city councils across the country, the anti-war movement
was not successful in preventing the invasion and occupation of
Iraq. While hardly anyone has mourned the downfall of the brutal
and corrupt dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and the Baath party,
the triumphal U.S.-led invasion for “regime change”
has exacted a terrible cost on the Iraqi people. To be sure, many
Iraqis have expressed joy at the downfall of Hussein. But tens of
thousands of Iraqi citizens and ordinary soldiers are dead, hundreds
of thousands are wounded, and millions are suffering from social
chaos and the breakdown of the infrastructure of normal life. Many
are now mobilizing around demands for the U.S. to leave quickly.
Bush is certainly
not out of the woods in Iraq. As his hegemonist policy now enters
the phase of occupation, it faces the already evident dangers of
factional fighting, popular resistance and growing Muslim resentment.
The escalating threats against other countries in the region, especially
Syria and Iran, show there is still grave danger of additional slaughter
in Iraq and wider war elsewhere.
Making a Realistic Assessment
The White House
is riding high for the moment. More than 70% of the people are now
expressing support for the war and approval of Bush’s performance.
Celebrity critics of the war are being attacking in the media and
public life. “Support Our Troops” rallies are being
mobilized by the right wing media, while continuing antiwar protests
are often being met with massive police intimidation and arrests.
Hate crimes against Muslims and other minorities are breaking out,
and civil liberties are under fire. The upsurge in mass participation
in antiwar events reached a peak in the first days after the invasion,
but has now subsided considerably. In addition, Republicans now
control both the administrative and legislative branches of government,
thus able to pass virtually any law or take any executive decision
What does this
mean for the antiwar movement? What new assessments do we need of
our situation, and how do we reshape our strategy and tactics?
To begin, we
must look at the other side of the coin. In a few short months,
more than a million Americans took to the streets, with many more
in support, to express their opposition to war with Iraq and the
radical shift in U.S. foreign policy to “unilateral, preemptive
war” launched by the Bush White House. They joined with nearly
10 million others throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin American
who where also outraged at the arrogant assertion of a new era of
While the upsurge
in mass participation in antiwar events reached a peak in the first
days after the invasion, and has now subsided considerably, the
millions remain a force to be reckoned with—they mobilized
once, and most likely, under the correct circumstances, they would
be desirous of taking action again.
At the same
time, the pro-war majority is very uneasy. It many ways, its support
is a mile wide and an inch deep, capable of reversal with a negative
turn of events. Only 30% are firmly pro-war in the sense that they
express support at this time for additional adventures against North
Korea, Iran or Syria, while another 25-30% at the other end of the
spectrum continues to maintain opposition to the current war.
minority is thus still substantial, active and relatively well organized.
The African American community continues to register a solid super-majority
opposition to the war, even as their sons and daughters are highly
represented among the troops in Iraq. Trade unions and many local
governments and schools have expressed deep concerns over the costs
of the war and the state of the economy; in fact, when Bush’s
job performance is measured in economic terms, it drops considerably.
And among a broad grouping of Americans, even those who tacitly
supported the invasion of Iraq, there is a great unease about an
increasing restrictiveness on civil liberties and civil rights.
Importance of Differences at the Top
not to be discounted, there is still a deep and intense division
between globalists and hegemonists within the country’s ruling
elites. The more multilateral-oriented globalists are deeply disturbed
over the policies of Bush’s hegemonist “War Party,”
the neoconservative faction of Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Donald
Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney. Headquartered in the Project for the
New American Century thinktank, this is the group that opportunistically
seized on the 9/11 attacks to implement its 10-year-old plan for
“regime change” in the Middle East, beginning with Iraq.
Despite some on-again, off-again opposition from Colin Powell and
others in the State Department, they are now embraced by Bush and
shaping U.S. foreign and military policy.
It is this ruling
group, the War Party, that must be the antiwar movement’s
strategic target if we are to effectively harness the power of dissent
unleashed during the past year to effect any significant immediate
change in U.S. foreign or domestic policy. This clique is the principal
architect of the war in Iraq and the main immediate danger to peace
in the Middle East, and to any semblance of democracy or equality
in the United States.
on these fronts requires that the War Party be exposed broadly,
combated, undermined and, along with Bush, removed from power. This
is the concrete meaning of the popular slogan, “Regime change
begins at home.”
War Party will require a sophisticated multi-pronged strategy and
a variety of tactics.
First, the antiwar
opposition must stay active and visible though a creative array
of mass demonstrations and public events against the occupation,
the danger of wider war, and the war’s impact at home. . Any
public space not expanded will be contracted by the War Party’s
desire and need to quell dissent.
Second, we need
an educational and media campaign to deepen people’s knowledge
about the War Party and the Patriot Act, and expose all their implications
to a wider public. . The past five months of public and internet
education have provided the fullest public education on issues of
foreign policy and power that this nation (and others) have ever
seen; it must continue
Third, we must
develop an approach to the 2004 election. Defeat in 2004 is the
best and earliest opportunity to reverse the War Party’s hold
on a power and danger it poses to the world.
How should we
approach voting and the elections? For many people in the peace
movement, this is the natural next step. Working in campaigns and
getting out the vote is their normal approach to politics, and many
of them are highly energized by a call to throw Bush out of office
by getting behind any candidate who stands for a different policy
and has a chance of winning. But for many other people in the peace
movement, electoral activity is controversial, if not considered
a diversion. They want to keep the movement in the streets, which
is perceived as a more radical and effective opposition, and away
from any support for any candidates of the Democratic Party.
will simply have to be debated, openly and respectfully. Agreement
may be found in some areas, while differences in other areas will
simply remain unresolved. While still maintaining an ability to
come together in united actions, different sectors of the peace
movement may have to launch projects that take different directions.
opposed to an electoral project, some will argue that replacing
Bush with a Democrat is simply replacing the representative of one
group of imperialists with a representative of another group of
imperialists. Since imperialist plunder and imperialist rivalries
are the main cause of war, they might argue, this is a direction
that diverts and thwarts the real aim of the peace movement.
Anticipating Some Criticisms
How would we
reply? First, it is true that the next president of the U.S. will
represent one or another imperialist grouping, most likely either
the Globalists or the Hegemonists. In this period, given current
domestic and international forces, the election of an anti-imperialist
president in 2004 is simply not possible. However, the differences
between the Globalists and the War Party at this time are not unimportant
and cannot be a matter of indifference. The War Party is the greater
danger; if not defeated this party will move to control the world.
In the process, it not only deepen the misery of those who suffer
in this nation, but narrow the opportunity for dissent as well.
Not only will the War Party’s capitalist rivals benefit from
its defeat, all the progressive forces will also benefit.
peace movement, it should be noted, is not an anti-imperialist movement,
nor should it be. Rather, it is a broad, multiclass, multitendency
alliance against a particular war, the impact of that war and danger
of more like it in the region. While it includes a minority of socialist,
anticapitalist and anti-imperialist components, it also includes
larger numbers of Independents, Democrats and Greens; liberals and
moderates; and even a few Republicans and conservatives.
of the movement, naturally, would like to see its ranks grow. The
socialists would like to recruit more socialists and the Greens
more Greens. The anti-imperialists want more people to see the imperialist
system as the cause of war, to make greater solidarity with all
movements against it around the world and bring it down. The anticapitalists
want to get rid of capitalism; the reform Democrats want to expand
their ranks and defeat Republicans and conservative Democrats; the
Republican peaceniks want to rescue their party for moderates like
Colin Powell rather than hawks like Rumsfeld.
in the short run, it’s possible for everyone to succeed. The
movement simply has to keep expanding by drawing in more and more
of difference varieties of new people, who would then gravitate
to whatever political grouping suits them. Practically, however,
there will be competition and debate; some will gain at the expense
of others. The real test for success for anyone will be their ability
to demonstrate in practice their clarity of political leadership,
organizing skills, and ability to unite the majority and move forward.
The main burden on all will be a need to maintain civility and a
democratic style of work.
What kind of
electoral option could bring together large numbers in a creative,
The first step
would be to focus on voter registration. The best way is to do it
independently of any party or candidate, by forming Peace and Justice
Voter 2004 committees. Their main task would be to project a position
that reflects the opposition to the international and domestic policies
of the war party and to target key constituencies and neighborhoods,
registering unregistered voters, and building lists of voters, their
addresses, emails and a database of their political inclinations
on our issues. These committees would build their own independent
funding base and organizational strategies. Working in concert with
public mobilizations, local organizing and outreach, they would
engage in educational and organizational activities, providing literature
on the issues, organizing nonpartisan candidate forums, and voter
education scorecards showing where all candidates stand on the issues.
A good starting point would be to make use of the nationwide Cities
for Peace network of activists and elected officials who helped
pass city council antiwar resolutions, and such networks as those
forged by MOVEON and United for Peace and Justice. While focused
on 2004, a committee could also have a longer range perspective
for building an independent political organization.
The second step
would be to focus on the primaries. Here the aim would be to demonstrate
to the political conventions that a large and dynamic base of campaigners
exists that are motivated by peace and justice issues. Activists
could work for those with the clearest antiwar stands, like Dennis
Kucinich, Al Sharpton Carol Mosley Braun or Howard Dean, with the
aim of winning delegate seats at the Democratic convention to move
the entire process in our direction as much as possible. Others
might choose to work in the campaigns of those whose stance they
felt they might influence. This would also help to build a national
network of peace and justice voters for future endeavors.
The third step
would be to focus on November 2004. Here the task is to get the
largest number of non-Bush voters to the polls. Some people will
simply work through the Democratic or Green parties. Others could
form independent Peace Voters for Candidate X or Peace Voters to
Defeat Bush committees and carry out the same work independent of
the existing party structures, which would lay a basis for future
All this sounds
fine, but is it in the cards? Is Bush vulnerable in 2004? Is it
actually possible to defeat him and the War Party at the polls?
The answer is
“Yes, but it will be difficult. It will require a combination
of considerable skill on our part and some mistakes and setbacks
on their part.” To make a long story short, Bush is especially
vulnerable on the economy and the Democrats are vulnerable on national
security issues. However, if the Democrats downplay national security
and simply try a replay of “It’s the economy, stupid,”
they are likely to lose in a big way. More