What a contrast between the French demonstrations and the vast and exciting marches here against proposed immigration laws, as contrasted to the limp turnouts against the US war on Iraq!
Across a few explosive weeks the first two series of protests have surged in numbers and political impact. In France there were 3 million on the streets one day. Just in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, there were more than half a million. In Paris Dominique de Villepin, the author of the hated law loosening curbs on employers’ right to fire new hires, is fighting for his political life. In Congress US senators revised the language of their bill in step with the magnitude and passion of the rallies.
Meanwhile, though two out of three here in the United States disapprove of the war in Iraq, there’s no energetic leadership from above, no irresistible shove from below.
Why? There’s no draft. There’s no reason to fear that your number will come up. No draft, hence no burgeoning antiwar movement, moving from strength to strength, terrorizing the politicians. What’s the degree of separation between most of us and the 133,000 US military in Iraq? The closest I get to people who have served in Iraq is to the parents in Military Families Speak Out when I share platforms with them.
So how do we narrow the degrees of separation? By vets counseling students against enlisting, by inviting Military Families Against the War to speak locally. Remember, the antiwar movement reached its peak last year, because Cindy Sheehan connected millions to the war; also–this is crucial–her vigil outside Crawford allowed for buildup. She didn’t fold her tent in a day.
The war’s coming home all right, in the form of people dreadfully wounded in body and spirit. Thousands of tragedies will unwind, often violently, for years to come. But for now, for the most part it’s pictures on TV, not tears and terror on the hearth rug. So the Democrats in Congress aren’t too worried about pressure from their antiwar constituents. The awful six-termer Jane Harman faces a primary challenge from Marcy Winograd in Southern California, after a couple of unions defied tradition and endorsed Winograd. Meanwhile, at the other end of the country in Connecticut, Senator Joe Lieberman faced a decidedly cool audience at a big Democratic dinner at the end of March and got bailed out by brother senator Barack Obama from Illinois, who told the crowd to haul out their checkbooks and make sure Lieberman gets returned for another term.
What kind of a signal is this? Here is Obama, endlessly hailed as the brightest rising star in the Democratic firmament, delivering (at a closely watched political dinner, with Lieberman’s primary opponent, Ned Lamont, sitting in the crowd) a ringing endorsement of his “mentor,” Lieberman, Bush’s closest Democratic ally on the Iraq War, one of the architects of welfare “reform” and overall pretty much a symbol of everything that’s been wrong with the Democratic Party for the past twenty years. What a slimy fellow Obama is, as befits a man symbolizing everything that will continue to be wrong with the Democratic Party for the next twenty years. Every time I look up he’s doing something disgusting, like distancing himself from his fellow senator Dick Durbin for denouncing the torture center at Guantánamo or cheerleading the nuke-Iran crowd.
How many degrees of separation do I have from people without green cards, people who just come across the border, people awaiting relatives coming across the border, the guy behind the bar in an Irish pub, the fellow in the gas station, the woman at the cash register? It’s a one-degree world.
Try to pass a bill–as the House of Representatives did–that makes a significant chunk of the population co-conspirators in the commission of a felony, and you’re going to get some action. And so they did: half a million in Los Angeles and then the demonstrations and student walkouts that have put maybe 1.5 million on the streets in the past few weeks.
The horrible part of the story is that this is a moment when the antiwar movement should be at full effective stretch. A couple of weeks ago Tony Swindell, a newspaperman in north Texas, wrote to me as follows: “Begin paying attention to stories from Iraq like the very recent one about U.S. Marines killing a group of civilians near Baghdad. This is the next step in the Iraq war as frustration among our soldiers grows–especially with multiple tours. I served [in Vietnam] with the 11th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, and My Lai was not an isolated incident. We came to be known as the Butchers Brigade, and we also were the birthplace of the Phoenix Program.”
We’re running in our next CounterPunch newsletter Swindell’s parallel narratives of the United States in Vietnam and what he sees happening now. “There’s a numbness in my guts as I see the same nightmares becoming reality again in Iraq and I wonder what’s happened to America’s soul. Is this what we want, another generation suckled on the poison of another renegade leadership? Gooks have become ragheads, every adult male is an insurgent eligible for torture and every Iraqi home filled with men, women and children is a free-fire zone.”
There is some sort of slow-motion semi-mutiny going on in the Democratic Party in bits of the country at the moment, and much of its rather tepid steam comes from the antiwar movement, aghast at the complicity of so much of the Democratic leadership in the war. But set the tempo of this mutiny next to what has been happening in France or on the streets of Los Angeles and, like Swindell, one feels a numbness in one’s guts. The peace movement hasn’t got fire in its belly. If it had, Obama, the rising star, would have passed up the invitation to pitch for Lieberman, and two-thirds of the crowd would have hissed him when he did. As things are, they gave the new star a big cheer, instead of treating him the way the folks in Lancashire did Condoleezza Rice. Meanwhile, not one Democrat in Congress will stand up for Representative Cynthia McKinney, a victim of racial profiling by Capitol Police right in their own hallway.