Issue 8 - Winter 2004
Moving From Protest to Politics: Dumping Bush’s Regime in 2004
by Carl Davidson and Marilyn Kat

Despite 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 they choose.

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 American hegemonism.

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.

The antiwar 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

Finally, and 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.

Decisive progress 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.”

Removing the 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.

These differences 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.

Among those 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.

Further, the 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.

Every component 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.

Theoretically, 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, unity-building way?

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 work.

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 >>


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