by CLARE BAYARD and SARAH LAZARE
Posted by Bulatlat.com
Think back seven years ago to this day. Where were you on March 19th, 2003, when the invasion began? Did you see “Shock and Awe” footage of the orange explosions in the clear Baghdad sky, piped in grainy TV shows, lit at night with the green glow of CNN cameras? Did you read the tickertapes under these images of neighborhoods lit on fire? Over those next days, did you, like many of us, collapse in overwhelmed grief and rage, frantic at not knowing how we could stop our government’s onslaught?
It’s important to remember how we channeled this into organizing that built dynamic alliances, influenced public opinion, and communicated to the rest of the world that people inside the United States were not all united behind the war. At the same time, we failed to prevent the invasion and have not yet ended the occupation of Iraq, or Afghanistan. We say this, recognizing how many of us tried to put our bodies in the way as best we could, in a million different ways. Many people suffered burnout and heartbreak. The sheer numbers of antiwar demonstrators, which just a month before the invasion of Iraq coordinated the biggest street protests in the history of the world, have dropped precipitously each year as we hit this awful anniversary.
But the antiwar movement is not dead. Over the past seven years, while the number of people in the streets visibly protesting this anniversary has shrunk, what the news cameras have not shown is the building movement that has been happening, off the streets, under the radar, in communities. We are now seeing this organizing pick up steam as people have become disillusioned by the Obama administration’s continuation of Bush’s wars.
Many antiwar organizers shifted focus from prioritizing street protests to strategically directing their work towards pressure points where a mobilized grassroots can directly impact these wars. Strategies of supporting resistance inside the military have focused on withdrawing labor from a war that depends on soldiers’ participation, thereby directly undermining the war effort. Iraq Veterans Against the War, one of the leading organizations of veterans of post September 11th wars, has effectively transformed from a speakers’ bureau into an actively organizing body, with active-duty chapters and recruitment on bases, and a platform of open support for GI resistance and opposition to the war in Afghanistan. Counter-recruitment movements have been building their bases in schools and communities, organizing against the military’s practice of disproportionately targeting and recruiting low income and poor youth and youth of color. Oakland’s youth-led group BAY-Peace leads workshops providing information to young people about the truth of military recruiting and to help build alternatives to militarism. U.S. Labor Against War continues building U.S. labor solidarity with Iraqi trade unions.
Another promising development is the slow resurgence of the G.I. Coffeehouse movement that played a major role in fomenting resistance to the Vietnam War. Over the past few years, a handful of coffeehouses in military base towns are supporting resistance within the military. One example is Virginia’s Norfolk OffBase, where coffeehouse staffers have also built solidarity relationships with local racial justice organizing, connecting related struggles in their heavily militarized community.
The Iraq war has already outlasted World War II, World War I, and the U.S. Civil War. The most recent Iraqi elections on March 7th were hailed by the Obama administration as a sign of the war’s success in “bringing democracy,” because of 62% voter turnout and less election violence than expected. The U.S. mainstream media is applauding Iraqis for voting despite 136 election day attacks, including bombings, rocket fire, and shootings. This message reflects the extent to which this violence has become normalized and expected; no one should have to face the threat of violence in order to vote. Additionally, we question the extent to which “democracy” has been achieved when one million Iraqis have been killed and 10 million displaced, a whole region destabilized, and ethnic tensions flared by the occupying presence. President Obama has pledged to remove all “combat troops” from Iraq by next September. But even if this timetable is followed, 50,000 occupation troops will remain, in addition to mercenary troops and corporate profiteering personnel. We dispute the reality of a “non-combat” distinction in conditions where the U.S. has clearly established intent to use its infrastructure and influence in Iraq as a strategic base in the Middle East.