It was at the time of the October 26 antiwar rally in Washington–where tens of thousands of demonstrators heard speakers oppose war against Iraq and demand the destruction of capitalism, the end of Zionism, the liberation of convicted cop-killers Mumia Abu-Jamal and Jamil Al-Amin (a.k.a. H. Rap Brown), and the release of five imprisoned Cuban spies–that longtime nonviolence advocate David Cortright and several other activists decided there was a pressing need to put together what Cortright calls “a broader, more mainstream coalition” to oppose unilateral US military action in Iraq.
The October 26 protest–one of the more prominent antiwar actions so far–had been organized by International ANSWER, a group dominated by the Workers World Party, a small revolutionary-socialist outfit with a fancy for North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il and the goal of abolishing private property. So it was no surprise that the antiwar message–which, according to polls, resonates with at least one-third of Americans–was accessorized with the demands of the fringe far-left. Nor was it a shocker that many speakers did not adopt a give-inspections-a-chance position. The WWP, which hails world leaders that stand against US hegemony (such as Slobodan Milosevic), opposes weapons inspections in Iraq and has assumed the task of trying to steer the antiwar movement away from endorsing them. ANSWER eschews criticism of Saddam Hussein.
Cortright, who was executive director of SANE from 1977 to 1987 (when it was the largest peace organization in the United States) and his colleagues in Washington were looking to assemble an opposition that would possess wider appeal, that would press a message that extends beyond a no-to-war demand and endorses an alternative to military action. In the meantime, television actor Mike Farrell (M*A*S*H and Providence) and longtime movie producer/director Robert Greenwald (Steal This Movie) had weeks earlier begun an effort to round up Hollywood folks for a statement opposing unilateral war against Iraq and supporting the United Nations’ weapons-inspection process. “It was just the two of us with two computers,” says Greenwald. “We sent out an email to friends, who sent it to their friends. We were surprised the response was so positive so soon. We thought people would be more hesitant.” (Greenwald has just finished a movie for CBS on the Enron scandal, in which Farrell plays disgraced Enron chief Kenneth Lay; it is set to air on January 5.)