On the late afternoon of the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, a grim, surreal procession made its way up DC’s Capitol Hill. Down Independence Avenue alongside the House office buildings marched a single file of protesters, each clad in a black T-shirt, wearing a haunting white mask and holding a sign with the name of a civilian killed in Iraq. As they trudged up the Hill, a drummer rapped out a spare and mournful beat. Aside from several police escorts on bicycles, few were there to bear witness. Congress was in recess, the usual passel of commuters away or shuttered indoors, the streets empty under a misting gray sky. Like the real-life funerals for the Iraqi dead they represented, this re-creation, too, would pass with hardly a notice.
That morning in Washington, as protesters marched and danced and chanted, as progressives assembled for the Take Back America conference and as thousands of soldiers’ families mourned their dead, Vice President Cheney gave an interview to ABC’s Martha Raddatz. When she pointed out that two-thirds of Americans thought the war was not worth fighting, he answered: “So?”
“So?” Raddatz replied. “You don’t care what the American people think?”
“No,” said Cheney.
There you have it. To the millions who marched before the war began, to the hundreds of thousands who have protested since, to the tens of millions who voted for candidates in 2006 who pledged to end it, the Bush Administration says, more or less, Go fuck yourself.
We are now faced with two problems. One is a war that grinds on, subject only to its internal logic, each day further embedding an imperial occupation. The other is arguably even more profound, a terrifying breakdown in the basic mechanisms of democracy whereby the will of the majority is transferred into policy. We have two ostensible democracies (the United States and Iraq), each with a polity that wants an end to the war (the most recent polling from Iraq shows that 70 percent of Iraqis favor US withdrawal), yet the war does not end.
In the face of this official indifference to public opinion, it is tempting to succumb to despair. The antiwar strategy, after all, has not been static. In the run-up to the war, organizers managed to pull together the largest simultaneous worldwide demonstrations in history. That didn’t work. Then the antiwar movement channeled much of its energy into electoral politics, helping to elect Democratic majorities in both houses. That hasn’t worked either. So we find ourselves in the situation of Beckett’s protagonist in Worstward Ho: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Although the electoral strategy has not yet borne fruit, it is still the most viable option, barring a draft or a radical turn in public opinion that would once again bring people en masse into the streets. (There are, of course, parallel strategies to be pursued. Passing a ban on mercenaries in Iraq would make the occupation untenable.) The question, then, becomes how to create the electoral conditions that maximize the power and representation of the majority who want the war ended. The antiwar caucus doesn’t have enough votes to override a delusional President or enough members willing to bear the political risk of cutting off funding for the war. The solution to this impasse is, in the words of Congressional candidate Darcy Burner, to elect “more and better Democrats”–Democrats who have publicly committed to pursuing a legislative strategy to end the war.