Militaristic responses may be simpler than multi-issue protests, but they cannot make the world a safer place.
Published on AlterNet.
Many people ask me to explain why we were marching in Washington, D.C. this past weekend. In response I describe the largest-ever U.S. demonstration in support of Palestinian self-determination, the protest calling for an end to destructive World Bank/IMF projects in the developing world, the lobbying efforts to close the nefarious U.S. Army School of the Americas, and a festival of music to stop military aid to Colombia.
“Wasn’t it a bit unfocused?” they say.
It is true that the protests took on many issues, and struggled to draw connections between them. But that’s exactly the point: War-planners may be content to answer challenges from abroad by invoking simplistic dualisms of good versus evil. In contrast, the diverse issues addressed in the protests reflect the complexity of the questions we face in the world today.
No doubt, “dead or alive” militarism has the advantage of being simple, but it has the notable downside of making the world a more dangerous place. President Bush rarely lacks zeal in expanding his “Axis of Evil” headhunting. Were it not for the opposition of the entire Arab world as well as many European allies, the U.S. would have launched a new attack on Iraq weeks ago. And even this reason for restraint may not have kept the Administration at bay, had not the conflict between Israel and Palestine inconveniently flared up.
Regardless of whether Bush’s staff could articulate a convincing anti-terrorist rationale for a new campaign in Iraq, their refusal to submit evidence for international review, their flimsy coalition-building, and their macho swagger alienate citizens throughout the international community. Already the arrogant rhetoric of “infinite justice” has perpetuated a “Screw You” foreign policy: Tough luck for those millions abroad who criticize U.S. military interventions; they are left to stew in their resentment.
The various protests in Washington, D.C. together reflected an international perspective that is admittedly more challenging than the Bush Administration’s cowboy diplomacy.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of Arab-Americans and their supporters rallied in solidarity with Palestinians under attack. These protesters argued that the U.S. should end its support—and funding—for Israel’s bloody violations of international law. One protest display , a plywood shantytown near the White House, depicted the human rights catastrophe with a symbolic model of the bulldozed, smoldering homes of occupied cities like Jenin, Ramallah, and Nablus. Marchers carried gruesome photos of children maimed and killed in past attacks.
At other points during the weekend of protest, demonstrators likened this destruction to the situation in Colombia. There, a flood of U.S. military aid has been used to strengthen paramilitary assassins and deepen the country’s civil war. On Sunday, musicians performed for a poncho-covered crowd that braved the drizzle to show their concern. The following day, police arrested approximately forty Colombia Mobilization activists who staged sit-ins near the Capitol.
Addressing economic policy, speakers at a rally outside the headquarters of the World Bank described how “structural adjustment” has worsened poverty and inequality in a long list of developing countries. Throughout protesters sought to make connections between recent military aggression and the profit-driven interests of multinational elites. Signs reading “More World, Less Bank!” accompanied calls of “No Blood for Oil.”
Progressives are not the only people who see a link between military and economic objectives. At the meetings of the World Trade Organization in Doha, Qatar, American Trade Representatives argued that “free trade” stands with national security at the fore of national concerns in foreign relations. The need to satisfy the United States’ insatiable thirst for oil indeed remains a key unspoken motivation behind Bush’s drive to launch a new crusade in the Middle East. And domestically, many conservative observers draw links as they describe both anti-corporate and anti-war demonstrations as unpatriotic and even treasonous.
Pointing to such examples, protesters show how the War Against Terrorism grows increasingly synonymous with the War For Corporate Globalization.
The fact that Bush Administration has been able to use the specter of terrorism to advance its trade agenda presents an important challenge to globalization activism. In a political climate adverse to criticism of U.S. foreign policy, we must renew efforts to expand our base of support. The labor movement, one constituency that has allowed past globalization protests to engage a wide spectrum of Americans, did not mobilize substantial numbers for the weekend’s activity. Deep divisions about the war within unions make it an issue that few want to address publicly. One global justice group, United for a Fair Economy, cites polls consistently indicating that over two thirds of the country opposes new trade agreements that do not include safeguards for workers’ rights and the environment. In contrast, as Russ Davis of Massachusetts Jobs With Justice recently explained, taking anti-war stances constitutes “political suicide at this point for elected labor leaders in the U.S.”
Just because it’s less popular, though, doesn’t mean it’s not right. The effort to build strong progressive coalitions at home will continue. In the meantime, the weekend marches in Washington, D.C. advanced an important mission: They showed that even within America’s borders, a destructive unilateralism will be met with resistance from those who believe that another world is possible, and needed.