We Told Them So. Now What?

EIGHT MONTHS AGO, tens of thousands marched in Seattle, and so did tens of millions around the world, hoping to forestall an invasion of Iraq. They didn’t know itexcept, perhaps, in their heartsbut it was a lost cause. The president who claimed he hadn’t made up his mind was lying. He’d set the date to invade months before. It went off right on schedule.

We now know that most of the marchers’ objections were on target. There were no weapons of mass destruction; there was no evidence of Al Qaeda connections with the Saddam regime. Anti-Americanism blossomed globally as a result of the invasion. With Saddam’s tyrannical hand removed, Iraq has dissolved into bitterly opposed factionsan outcome whose probability dissuaded Bush Sr. from “finishing the job” after the Gulf War. Most importantly, the Iraqis didn’t welcome the Americans as liberators. They wanted Saddam gone, but they didn’t want the Americans to stay. They still don’t.

All this was predicted, over and over, by former weapons inspectors, by diplomats around the world, and by the largest and fastest-mobilizing peace movement in a generation. Ordinary people in the street, the folks Dubya sneeringly dismissed as a “focus group,” understood Iraq better than the president of the United States.

So now what?

CONCERNS ABOUT Dubya’s proposed invasion transcended ideology, but most organized opposition to the war, especially in liberal Seattle, came from progressives. The organizations and coalitions, locally and nationally, were new, formed specifically to respond to the threat of war in Iraq. Most marchers had no organizational loyalties at all; they just knew a bad idea when they saw it, and signed on to the opposition, no matter who was sponsoring it.

But as those groups are finding, it’s easier to say no, and to mobilize people in the heat of the moment, than it is to propose solutions and influence policy over the long haul.

“Building infrastructure is the most critical component in ensuring longevity and effectiveness in bringing about the changes that we wish to see,” says Ellen Bovarnick of the Eastside Suburban Peace Network, a coalition of the neighborhood peace groups in seemingly unlikely venues like Issaquah, Bellevue, Redmond, and Woodinville.

As with other peace groups, ESPN’s interests have scattered since the war was prematurely declared over six months ago. Later this month, ESPN is sponsoring a forum on the Patriot Act. “We tend to be an action-oriented group,” says Bovarnick. “We tend to move to the action that resonates with a majority of the membership, and that’s the action that resonates right now.”

THAT’S OFTEN BEEN the problem on the leftso many issues, so little time. A march through Seattle on Sunday, Oct. 5, by the younger and more-militant group Not in Our Name featured a laundry list of slogans (“War is not peace,” “Occupation is not liberation,” “Immigrants are not terrorists, “Police-state restrictions are not security”) nearly as long as the march itself.

Bovarnick also talks of ESPN connecting with the sustainability movement and an Earth Charter eventnoble stuff, but for most of the public, the connection to Iraq is a bit of a stretch.

Ah, yes. Iraq. What to do? Like it or not, America is running the place. Soldiers are dying. So are a lot of Iraqis. Meanwhile, those tens of thousands who marched in February are still tabling, vigiling, and hanging banners on overpasses; or they’ve shifted to focusing on the 2004 presidential race; or they’re agitating on civil liberties or depleted uranium or veterans’ health benefits or immigrant rights; or, more often, they’re settling in for a new season of The West Wing.

“People will focus on different issues and problems,” says veteran national organizer Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice. She sees the biggest challenge as, “Can we develop an overarching strategy that pulls some of these different threads together?”

LAST WINTER’S peace movement didn’t fail. It played an enormous role worldwide in influencing both the Bush administration’s actions and how governments around the world responded. But there’s still work to do, involving more than just protest politics. When Iraqis begin to run Iraqwhich should be in weeks or months, not yearsthey should be people selected by Iraqis themselves, not by the United States or its hand-picked exiles, and they must be free to choose their own policies. Thatnot looting a country and installing a puppet kleptocracyis the democracy America promised.

The Bush White House still seems more interested in planning the next invasions than cleaning up after its past ones. We need that revitalized peace movement to stay on message and on taskproposing alternatives in Iraq, demanding accountability for past wars, and preventing future ones.

Sure, there are plenty of other worthy issues and causes out therebut there’s still plenty to do on this one.


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