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Six years since the invasion of Iraq and still protesting

by Jo Freeman

Six years after the United States invaded Iraq, anti-war activists are still protesting against war. But which war? Obama has promised to get US troops out of Iraq as soon as he can, but they are not all leaving the middle east in the foreseeable future. However, the fact that the anti-war movement has won its primary demand that the US leave Iraq meant that not many people came out for any of the organized protests this Spring. Those that did marched behind banners with a broader scope of concerns than just Iraq.

The anti-war movement has never been unified and its many divisions were apparent in the many protests. All of the main groups call themselves "coalitions" but at the core of each is a primary organizing group.

ANSWER organized the first of the Spring protests, a march on the Pentagon on March 21, the closest Saturday to the actual anniversary of the 2003 invasion. Demanding that the US "End Colonial Occupation," speakers at the two-hour noon rally denounced US policy in Afghanistan, Palestine and Haiti as well as Iraq.

This was one of the smallest of the many anti-war marches that ANSWER has organized in the last six years. Between one and two thousand people gathered near the Lincoln Memorial before walking across the bridge to the Pentagon. They then went to offices of some major corporations — Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and KBR — whom they called the "merchants of death." At each they placed symbolic coffins (cardboard boxes) wrapped in flags to illustrate the cost of war.

Behind ANSWER is the Party of Socialism and Liberation, which split from the Workers World Party in 2004. PSL is particularly strong on the West Coast, so was able to organize a few hundred people to demonstrate in Los Angeles and San Francisco on the same day. Other groups organized numerous small actions throughout the Bay Area. There were a few arrests in San Francisco.

These were the largest of the many marches, rallies and actions that different groups organized throughout the country to commemorate the sixth anniversary.

Among the many groups passing out their own flyers on March 21 to promote their forthcoming events was the Bail Out the People Movement (BOTP). Behind it is the International Action Center (IAC), which was created by the Workers World Party. When PSL took ANSWER from the WWP, it kept the IAC and then organized the Troops Out Now Coalition to replace ANSWER. The WWP and the IAC regularly organize new "coalitions" as new issues arise.

BOTP planned marches in New York on April 3 and 4 to "bail out the people not the banks." But it ran into a problem — United for Peace and Justice. UfPJ actually is a coalition, albeit mostly of left-wing groups, which has allowed it to mobilize the biggest of the anti-war marches for the last six years. It had planned its own spring action for April 4.

After extensive negotiation, UFPJ and the WWP reached an accommodation. According to Leslie Cagan, National Co-ordinator for UfPJ, it kept April 4 for its March on Wall Street in exchange for publicizing BOTPs April 3 March on Wall Street. UfPJs e-mailings about its forthcoming actions said "On Friday, April 3, United For Peace and Justice will join Bail Out the People's program on Wall Street. On Saturday, April 4, Bail Out the People Movement will gather on Wall Street and join United For Peace and Justice's March on Wall Street that will end at Battery Park."

BOTP picked April 3 because it wanted to make its economic demands on a day Wall Street was open for business. Demanding an "End to the wars" (note the plural), it also added support for the Employee Free Choice Act, jobs, immigrant rights, and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. Unfortunately, the weather did not co-operate. Only two to three hundred people braved the rain to rally in front of the New York Stock Exchange.

UfPJ picked April 4 not only because it was a Saturday at a time of year that is normally warm, but because of its historic significance. That was the date in 1967 that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out against the Vietnam War from NYCs Riverside Church. (It was also the day he was assassinated in 1968). UfPJ announced that this march was in honor of Dr. King as well as to oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While it did not rain on April 4th in New York City, it was a cold, blustery day. Most of the side streets that the police had blockaded from traffic so marchers could congregate were empty. The noon rally, on one of those side streets, had an audience of a few hundred. The march itself proceeded down one lane of Broadway while traffic flowed on the other side. When the four or five thousand people who marched detoured down Wall Street to pass in front of the New York Stock Exchange, they were confined to the sidewalk.

Most dispersed when the march reached Battery Park; only a few hundred stayed to browse the offerings of the many groups who put up tables to hawk their own issues and their wares. What began with a bang in 2003 is ending with a whimper. But the left-wing groups that organized the protests against the invasion of Iraq arent going out of business. They are expanding their agenda.

Afghanistan is an emerging issue, and Palestine is bubbling to the top. On January 10, ANSWER sponsored a much bigger rally specifically on Gaza. After speeches in Lafayette Square across from the White House, protestors marched around the empty streets of DC chanting "End the occupation."

Labor unions have provided bodies and respectability to the anti-war protests, and the UfPJ is aiding them in return. The top issue on Labors agenda is passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. Its moving up on UfPJs.

©2009 Jo Freeman for SeniorWomen.com

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