After President Bush’s “win this war” speech to Congress Thursday night, Senate majority leader Tom Daschle and Senate minority leader Trent Lott strode to a podium where Lott declared, “Tonight, there is no opposition party.”
On the streets of America, however, there is an opposition. In growing numbers, and in every region of the United States, a new peace movement is delivering a message summed up by Harvard Initiative for Peace and Justice organizer David Jenkins. “It’s OK to be scared; it’s even OK to be angry,” Jenkins said at a September 20 rally that drew more than 500 war foes to Harvard Yard. “But it’s not OK to lash out violently as a result of those emotions; it’s not OK to target groups of people; it’s not OK to accept ‘collateral damage’ of the lives of innocent people for a retaliation against terrorism.”
The September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were followed almost immediately by George W. Bush’s announcement that “we’re at war.” Congress authorized the use of force by Bush against unnamed enemies with only one dissenting vote–that of Representative Barbara Lee, the California Democrat who is frequently a lone voice for peace on Capitol Hill.
Lee may have stood alone on the floor of the House to say, “Let us step back for a moment. Let us just pause for a minute and think through the implications of our actions today so that this does not spiral out of control.” But beyond the Washington Beltway, her voice is being joined by tens of thousands of activists who say–as posters in the San Francisco Bay Area declare–“Barbara Lee Voted for Me.”
The size of the demonstrations has varied, of course. In traditional hotbeds of antiwar activism, such as Madison, Wisconsin; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and the Bay Area, thousands of demonstrators are already filling the squares that protests against the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars once occupied. In Portland, Oregon, Thursday’s peace rally and march drew a crowd estimated by organizers at 3,000, marching with banners and posters that read, “The cycle of violence stops with us” and “The people of Afghanistan are not our enemies.”
This antiwar movement is not limited to a few campus towns and hotbeds of progressive politics. The Student Peace Action Network (SPAN) reported that its members and allies organized antiwar demonstrations, rallies and teach-ins on 105 campuses Thursday. Peace vigils in New York, New Jersey, Missouri, Maine, Oregon and California have drawn thousands, as have teach-ins on the Middle East, Islam, terrorism, peace and related topics on campuses from the University of North Carolina to Indiana’s Goshen College.