It was a barely good week for the antiwar movement during the Denver convention, with lingering problems remaining ahead.
The numbers in the streets
First, it could have been far worse. All along the rhetoric about “recreating ’68” was inflated. Projections of 25,000 protesters were inflated. The incredibly hard work by organizers like Adam Jung at Tent State, the determined courage of the Iraq Veterans Against the War and, above all, the generosity of Rage Against the Machine (which kicked in over $100,000 at the last minute) salvaged what could have been a small and marginal turnout. In the end, the Obama campaign made the right choice to meet with the Iraq vets contingent and hear their opposition to the war.
The intelligence was fabricated again to justify a war on “anarchists”
The Denver police ultimately were agreeable to accommodating the protesters’ right to free speech and assembly. But the law enforcement establishment should be criticized and held responsible for spreading the same false and misleading information we have seen at every convention since 2000. The word went out that thousands of “anarchists” would descend on Denver–false. Officers I interviewed told me that weapons were being “stockpiled” alongside the 16th Street Mall for anarchist use–false. A FEMA “consequence manager” said privately that tunnels would be blown up–nothing so far. Another officer told me that riots happened at the last two Democratic conventions–false.
This nonsense is repeatedly used to herd protesters towards prison-like cages, where free speech is diminished to a debacle. I almost felt badly for the officials contending for this scary and confusing information, like the Denver police chief with whom I briefly conferred. But I knew it was a deliberate pattern that we have seen since Seattle in 1999, and writ large in the fabricated campaign to invade Iraq in 2002-2003. Not only does the pattern stimulate law-and-order politics but it is subsidized by huge money for weapons for local police–$50 million for Denver, $50 million for St. Paul.
It is amazing that so few politicians and mainstream media reporters have been willing to question this scandal of fabricating false information to stir up public fear and waste taxpayer dollars.
Of course, something still might happen before the convention closes, as it could at any time during this campaign, but it won’t come from antiwar protesters.
The Orwellian truth is that even if nothing happens to justify the buildup, the law enforcement officials will take credit for “preventing” it.
Democrats adrift on Iraq
The most significant question coming out of the convention is whether the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party will back away from their antiwar position to the traditional comfort level of domestic economic issues. This is written before Obama’s speech, but the pattern of the week was disappointing for those wanting to hear the antiwar message.
John Kerry spoke up. The moving Steven Spielberg film reminded us of the cost to veterans. There were frequent throwaway lines about “responsibly ending the war.” Joe Biden finally pointed out that Obama was right on the issue of setting a deadline, but then dampened that theme with a ringing call for war in Afghanistan.
There are only two reasons why the Democrats want to expand the war in Afghanistan, and it is unclear which is worse. If it is merely political, to avoid an “antiwar” image, it will disappoint millions of peace voters. If it is actually substantive, it represents a choice to bog down the United States in an expanding empire of wars and unwinnable quagmires.
The antiwar movement thus faces critical choices: on the one hand, to throw themselves into the campaign for Obama or risk electing McCain, while also opposing the expansion of the wars to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In sorting out these choices, it might be instructive to consider how isolated the antiwar movement will be if it doesn’t strive to create a “peace constituency” in the election. The movements and organizations representing civil rights, womens’ rights, human rights, gay/lesbian rights, labor’s agenda and environmentalists seem quite able to unify for the general election, expanding their base and returning to their advocacy positions after the election. The only groups left on the sidelines will be those opposed to all politics, those opposed to two-party politics and perhaps a few Hillary Clinton dead-enders.
The alternative course could be mobilizing more Americans starting with the September 20 Million Voters for Peace campaign, keeping up the pressure over Afghanistan, trade and other issues, and seeking once-promised funds for an independent campaign against McCain’s Iraq recession.