Photograph by Paul Smith
Anti-war protesters marched on the Pentagon and military contractor headquarters on the sixth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. While the numbers were down from previous marches, organizers say the "honeymoon with President Obama will end if he persists with Bush-administration warmongering.
To activists accustomed to participating in peace marches involving hundreds of thousands in Washington, D.C., the March 21 march on the Pentagon, which commemorated the sixth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, was disappointing: no more than 10,000 protesters participated in the rally and march.
According to Michael T. McPhearson, executive director of Veterans for Peace and co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, this demonstration was critical in guiding the Obama administration from the ground up.
"We must confront [the power brokers and financiers] at their seat of power," McPhearson wrote in an e-mailed letter. "President Obama must know that we hold him accountable for his promise to bring the troops home from Iraq. He is now the Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces. Their use is up to his discretion."
Mike Ferner, president of Veterans for Peace and speaker at the rally that preceded the march, said in an e-mail the small number of demonstrators "tells me the antiwar movement is pretty reflective of society at large. Interest in the war among the public is way down. I haven't seen any polls lately, and I'd love to see that concern about the war continues at significant levels, but intuitively I doubt it.”
"I have not been part of a demonstration that focused as much on war profiteers as did this one."
- Christine Glaser, BPAC
"Still," said Ferner, who is slated to speak in Bloomington on April 29 at the Monroe County Public Library, "that drop in concern may be in response to a 'what issues are you most concerned about?' question, whereas even though the war is down a few notches in that answer people are still opposed to it and think it's a dumb idea -- even while it's not relatively as important. Frequently wars get people's attention off economic crises. Seems to go the other way around this time."
Another possible reason for the middling attendance is complacency from the election of Barack Obama -- failure to face the fact that despite the new rhetoric of his administration, foreign policy is essentially the same under Obama as it was under Bush. As one speaker said at the rally, despite the language of change, "for the military-industrial complex, it's business as usual."
According to Christine Glaser, a member of the Bloomington Peace Action Coalition (BPAC), "Many believe President Obama when he says he wants to end the war in Iraq, even if he says it will take almost three years to do that. Many people seem to be unaware that Obama has not spelled out what will happen with the massive U.S. military bases in Iraq, and with the army of military contractors.
"This occupation is still as wrong today under Obama as it was three or five years ago under Bush, and the people who rallied and marched in D.C. on March 21 stated that clearly. Many [in the antiwar movement] supported the Obama campaign because they hoped that was the most effective thing they could do to end the war. If that turns out not to be the case, they’ll not just quietly accept it."
"In terms of numbers," said BPAC’s Timothy Baer, "the anti-war movement has been in decline since early 2008, when the election campaigns started heating up. The average person is now still in their 'honeymoon' phase with President Obama or in their perpetual state of apathy concerning issues beyond what they perceive as their own sphere of existence.
"However, I feel that the intense energy and camaraderie of the 'March on the Pentagon and the War-profiteers' was a palpable sign that the movement is on its way back up."
As Baer implied, what the marchers lacked in numbers, they compensated for in enthusiasm. The mood of the demonstration was resolute but exuberant as the marchers made their chief demand -- troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan immediately. Threatening Iran and bombing Pakistan were high on the agenda. Using U.S. taxpayers' money to fund Israeli attacks on Palestinians was criticized, also.
Beforehand, the demonstration was billed as a rally and march on the Pentagon, but it passed about a block away from that engine of the war machine because of the heavy police presence and continued on a four-mile hike to the corporate offices of several military contractors, including KBR, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. On the corporate doorsteps marchers deposited some 100 mock coffins draped with the American flag and flags of countries the United States has taken military action against recently.
With this action at the corporate offices, corporate war profiteers became as much the focus as the federal government. In fact, the demonstrators exhibited a high level of political sophistication about the role of corporate war profiteers (or, more euphemistically, military contractors) and the interrelationships between corporate domination, imperialism, class struggle, war, poverty, hunger and other social injustices, as several of the chants showed:
"Obama needs to be reminded he's not getting a pass on this issue."
- Mike Ferner, Veterans for Peace
War and occupation
Will never bring liberation.
It's bullshit, get off it,
This war is for profit.
Disease and starvation
Will never be solved by corporations,
It's bullshit, get off it,
The enemy is profit.
Exxon, Mobil, BP, Shell,
Take your war and go to hell.
Eat the rich,
Feed the poor,
Jail the rich, bail out the poor,
Stop the foreclosures, stop the war.
Money for jobs and education,
Not for war and occupation.
According to Glaser, who has participated in several marches on Washington in the last few years, "I have not been part of a demonstration that focused as much on war profiteers as did this one. The main focus of most demonstrations that I participated in was trying to influence Senators and Representatives to use their power to end the war in Iraq by denying approval for war spending bills."
Asked if the demonstration indicated any progress the peace movement has made toward success, Ferner answered by e-mail, "One indication of a success is the diverse crowd [the demonstration] drew and the fact that people got to see activists of a different age, cultural background, race, nationality, etc. than they're likely to see in their hometowns unless they live in New York City."
"I feel that the intense energy and camaraderie of the 'March on the Pentagon and the War-profiteers' was a palpable sign that the movement is on its way back up."
- Timothy Baer, BPAC
He went on, "The energy and chants of the young activists was inspiring to many of us old timers who enjoyed it more than plodding along to the same old same old. And just the fact that it happened is a good sign.
"Even though I have frequent doubts if this kind of activity has any effect on the body politic, in the end I have to agree with those who say it's important to do even if the numbers are down. Obama needs to be reminded he's not getting a pass on this issue -- another reason it would've been good to have a massive showing, but a reminder nonetheless."
Also, he observed, "One other success associated with [the march] is the relationship building that happens with these events. Again, it would've been better if many more relationships had been forged, but the ones that were will bear fruit at some time. Admittedly, the above is ‘success’ defined in limited terms. But better small success than none, I'd say."
Baer concluded, "Key now is educating the public and the 'Obama-lovers' among the Peace Movement to what the statements and foreign policies of the Obama Administration really mean for the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and of this country.
"We need to continue to speak and act with clarity and authority even if it often seems that no one is listening."
Linda Greene can be reached at email@example.com.