Detroit demonstration on March 15, 2008 against the 5th anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The march was sponsored by MECAWI and MCHR. (Photo: Abayomi Azikiwe).
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
The Lady Doth Protest, but It’s Harder
By CLYDE HABERMAN
New York Times
Her first protest march? That would have been in the 1950s, a “ban the bomb” demonstration, Leslie Cagan said. Her parents took her. “I was quite little,” said Ms. Cagan, now 60.
Was she, by chance, what used to be called a “red-diaper baby”?
“Pink diaper,” she said. Her parents “were never in the party” — that’s the Communist Party, for those of you with imperfect memories — “but they were active and obviously influenced by the politics of the era.”
Actually, that figurative diaper might have been a few shades closer to red than Ms. Cagan recollects. So said her mother, Jessie Cagan, still politically active well into her 80s. The elder Ms. Cagan works with her daughter at United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of antiwar groups that Leslie Cagan has led for many years.
There has been no shortage of demonstrations since those “ban the bomb” days, just as there has been no shortage of American wars. Year No. 6 of the latest conflict, in Iraq, begins this week. As might be expected, marches, vigils and acts of civil disobedience are planned in many cities. New York is hardly exempt.
Much of the planning has taken place in the headquarters of United for Peace and Justice, on Ninth Avenue near the Port Authority Bus Terminal. It is the seventh office that the group has occupied since just before the start of the war in March 2003, a reflection of the eternal quest for affordable space in Manhattan.
“At one point I said that moving the office was our most consistent programmatic work,” Leslie Cagan said with a laugh. “We’re good at it.”
Certainly, she and her colleagues have been better at it than at ending a war whose unpopularity is undeniable — whether among Americans who deemed it unjustified or unwise from the beginning, or among those who initially supported it but have had second thoughts as it drags on.
In this city, the American flags that flew everywhere after Sept. 11, 2001, are far less visible. The same goes for those “Support the Troops” stick-on yellow ribbons that used to adorn countless cars.
And yet, Ms. Cagan acknowledged, “we don’t see the level of public engagement that one might hope, or one might expect, given the depth of sentiment against the war.”
Don’t misunderstand, she said. Hundreds of local demonstrations are planned this week. Throughout the year, she added, “There are 200 weekly vigils throughout the country, and maybe more.”
Still, anyone with even a dim memory of the Vietnam War knows that five years into that conflict, the country was aflame in protest and counterprotest. But in this unpopular war, the streets are largely quiet. What gives?
What gives, Ms. Cagan said, is that there is no military conscription, as there was in the 1960s. So young Americans today do not have the self-interested motivation that many of their parents had. Perhaps some people are also turned off by the radical nature of many demonstrations, with all sorts of left-wing causes — Cuba, Venezuela, Palestinian statehood, cries of “Free Mumia” — typically getting tossed into the mix.
What gives, too, is that the war has faded from television screens and newspaper front pages.
The Project for Excellence in Journalism, a part of the Pew Research Center in Washington, examined the amount of television and radio air time, newspaper front-page space and Internet attention that is given to the war. The project compared the first 10 weeks of this year with the same period in 2007. Iraq, it found, now fills 3 percent of the “news hole,” well below the 23 percent of a year ago.
IN the Vietnam era, “every night on the news you saw the blood and guts,” Ms. Cagan said, adding: “I’m not saying we would like more blood and guts now. But it kept people aware and motivated and engaged. There was also mainstream coverage of our activism.”
Then there’s the “dilemma” of the Internet.
“On the one hand, it’s a terrific tool,” she said. “We are able to get word out to massive numbers of people like that.” She snapped her fingers to make the point. “But the downside is that some people think that if they sign an online petition, that’s it.”
Whether one is for or against the war, nothing can substitute for the street.
“When you do something online, you do it in your home or your office,” Ms. Cagan said. “It’s not public. For the sake of trying to ensure something like a democracy, there has to be the public debate. There has to be conversation, and it’s got to be out there and visible.”
So she’ll keep plugging away. At least she now has an office where she can expect to stay for three years. “Hopefully, the war will be over before then,” Ms. Cagan said. “But as my grandmother used to say: From your mouth to God’s ear.”
Five years of occupation
WWP on Iraq
Published Mar 13, 2008 12:53 AM
The U.S. has now occupied Iraq for five years. This has been an unrelenting nightmare for the Iraqi people. It has also been U.S. imperialism’s worst military debacle. It has drained the living standards of the working class in the United States.
It has made some U.S. corporate owners very rich. It has killed 1 million Iraqis and destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of U.S. youth. It has turned 70 percent of the population against the war and the president. But the anti-war movement has not grown.
Only by holding onto those contradictory ideas at the same time, can we begin to understand what five years of occupation of Iraq has meant. Let’s look at them one at a time.
Before 1990 and the U.S.-imposed sanctions, Iraq was relatively affluent. Children didn’t go without food or medical care then. Sunnis and Shiites intermarried. But in 2003 the U.S. bombed its way into Iraq, promising a quick victory over Saddam Hussein and “democracy” for Iraq—while U.S. corporations prepared to take over Iraq’s oil wealth.
Since then, an estimated 1 million Iraqis have been killed and hundreds of thousands maimed. Nearly 5 million Iraqis are refugees, 2.5 million within Iraq and another 2.2 million in Syria and Jordan. According to U.N. reports, 43 percent of Iraqis live in abject poverty on less than one dollar a day; 60 percent to 70 percent of the workforce is unemployed; 70 percent of the population can’t get adequate supplies of drinking water; and 80 percent lack basic sanitation. Cholera epidemics now rage in nine of Iraq’s 18 provinces. Child mortality has risen sharply. Sectarian fighting—for which the occupation is responsible—makes daily life hell.
Yet for all the suffering the Pentagon unleashed upon the Iraqi civilians, the U.S. has lost the war. “Shock and awe” made Iraqis suffer but failed to make them submit. Instead, a resistance has endured that can only be described as heroic. This resistance, while not unified, has exposed the weaknesses of the Pentagon.
The big one facing recruiters right now is that insufficient numbers of U.S. youth are willing to volunteer as cannon fodder in their war of conquest. U.S. troops are stretched to the breaking point, forced to return for two and three combat tours. The generals wonder when the 158,000 still in Iraq will break.
The latest study shows the war costs $12 billion each month. The Bush gang had promised in 2003 that the whole war would cost $60 billion, and that this would be paid out of Iraqi oil revenues. One economist, adding in the future care of seriously wounded troops, says the war will cost U.S. taxpayers $3 trillion.
Not everyone has suffered. Dick Cheney’s Halliburton, Blackwater and some other companies got rich and are getting still richer. Big Oil makes record profits, playing with the oil shortfalls that have driven petroleum prices to $100 a barrel. When George W. Bush, speaking recently without a canned speech, dared to claim that the war was good for the economy, he was thinking about his partners in crime who own these industries.
Iraqi death and suffering defies mere words. But to add to the toll, the U.S. stepped up its air strikes sixfold in 2007. It doubled the number of Iraqis held in captivity. Anti-war activists and experts meeting in Berlin March 7-9 concluded that the U.S. occupation has brought “chaos” to Iraq. There is no doubt that in a just world the U.S. corporations behind this war would have to pay immeasurable reparations to the Iraqi people.
U.S. troops were dying somewhat less frequently toward the end of 2007. The generals claimed success for the “surge.” But the news on March 10 was that two bombs had killed eight U.S. troops in one day. Besides the 4,000 killed in combat, at least another 30,000 are severely wounded, and tens of thousands more live in psychic pain.
These extreme sacrifices for imperial conquest are limited to a narrow section of the population, those who “volunteer”—usually out of economic necessity. With Iraq now out of the headlines and off the top of television news, the anti-war movement has slowed down. The exception is the movement of Iraq veterans and active duty troops who are exposing this war’s crimes at the Winter Soldier hearing in Washington March 13-16.
In addition, polls show that 70 percent of the population think the war must end as soon as possible and a majority believe the war has wrecked the economy. They also look to the elections to resolve this horrible situation, which has been a damper on initiative and militancy.
The record is grim after five years. There are no heroes except the Iraqis who keep resisting the occupation. They have humbled the most powerful military in human history. After five years the first step in resolving Iraq’s nightmare remains the same: U.S. out of Iraq now!
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