“You look beautiful,” shouted more than one speaker to the crowd that gathered in New York’s Central Park on Sunday, October 6, to protest George W. Bush’s “war on the world,” most urgently the impending invasion of Iraq. The lively and youthful demonstration–some 20,000 strong–was a beautiful sight indeed. A largely regional protest, it did draw some visitors from Ohio, Massachusetts and elsewhere, and a Swedish couple was overhead saying something incomprehensible–except for the words “Not in Our Name.”
“Not in Our Name” began as an indignant rallying cry among some relatives of 9/11 victims, who formed an organization called Peaceful Tomorrows to oppose the bombing of Afghanistan. The slogan was then embraced by other antiwar New Yorkers, and in March 2002 a broad coalition conceived the idea of a national gathering around the theme at which congregants would take a pledge of resistance. (“Not in our name will you wage endless war… Not in our name will you erode the very freedoms you have claimed to fight for.”) Somewhat infelicitous and arrhythmic on paper, the pledge is powerful when chanted out loud by thousands.
The all-volunteer Not in Our Name network established a national office in New York (sharing space with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom), and activists all over the world adopted the slogan and organized events on the same day. Demonstrations were held in more than twenty-eight US cities, including not only big cities like Los Angeles, Seattle and Chicago, and progressive strongholds like Chapel Hill (North Carolina) and Portland (Oregon), but also in Corvallis (Oregon), Kickapoo region (Wisconsin), Westerly (Rhode Island), Houston, Salt Lake City, Greenville (South Carolina), Atlanta, Fort Wayne (Indiana), Sandpoint (Idaho), Charlottesville, Nashville, Kansas City and Anchorage. Outside the United States, Not in Our Name events drew demonstrators in Adelaide, Rome, Brussels and London.
Despite a media blackout, a nascent US peace movement has gradually been gathering momentum. In September, at least 300 peace events were being held weekly in cities from Pensacola to Fairbanks. Organizers say they’re attracting many who oppose the war in Iraq but were ambivalent about, or supported, war in Afghanistan. Reecha Sen, a volunteer for New York Not in Our Name, observes, “People who wouldn’t have come out last year are joining us. They say, ‘This is ridiculous; we have no support from the world.'” Church leaders–including many from conservative institutions, like the Evangelical Lutheran Church, as well as the outspoken National Council of Churches–are against this war. Some mainstream politicians and many liberal Democrats have expressed doubt or outright dissent. An early October Gallup poll found 38 percent of Americans opposed to the war.
At first, the “war on terrorism” seemed to bring out the worst in the left–sectarianism, racial tensions, dour moralism, posturing, self-marginalization and badly muddled analysis. This was in sharp contrast to actions on economic issues like trade policy and living-wage laws, which have in recent years inspired creative coalitions, resonated with many ordinary people and even yielded small victories. In the past few months, however, many activists have made an effort to transcend their divisions and to reach mainstream Americans. As Global Exchange co-founder Medea Benjamin–who has organized some of the most visible protests, even personally disrupting Donald Rumsfeld’s September 18 Congressional testimony–wrote in August: “We’ve got to talk to our friends, our relatives, our co-workers and let them know that yes, Saddam Hussein is evil, but he is not threatening us, he had nothing to do with September 11, and attacking a Muslim country…will put us and our families in danger.” In the same vein, sociologist and author Todd Gitlin, who supported the war on Afghanistan, reminded protesters at a September rally in front of the United Nations to be “careful” to condemn the crimes of Saddam Hussein as well as those of Bush, calling the Iraqi leader a “brutal dictator.” His speech rankled some of the faithful–one grumbled, “That’s their propaganda! That kind of talk has no place at an antiwar rally”–but it’s just the sort of message that will help the antiwar movement reach a broader public.