Report by Brandon Collins:
On March 19, 2003, George W. Bush smugly announced on television that the invasion of Iraq had begun, we watched, shocked and awed at the massive bombing that followed. In the lead up to the war, more than 200,000 people marched in Washington to oppose the invasion, quite an impressive showing from the anti-war crowd considering the war hadn’t even started yet.
6 years later, we find ourselves as deep as we have ever been in Iraq, and the anti-war crowd much smaller. Brandon, Noah and Reagan from the Socialist Party USA in Virginia joined our SP-USA comrades Greg (national secretary) Billy, Kristin, Alana (from the NYC local) and Peter for the March 21, 2009 March on the Pentagon and Corporate War Profiteers organized, mainly, by ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Rascism). The size of the crowd has been reported as less than 3000 in the press, and over 10,000 by ANSWER. I would guess around 5000. Either way you look at it, this was a small showing. The protest focused not only on Iraq, but Afghanistan and Palestine (and Pakistan to some extent). The people present were almost entirely from leftist, radical, activist groups. I witnessed very little participation by more moderate groups. Indeed, marching with the Socialist Party-USA contingent we almost felt like moderates in this crowd! Despite the more aggressive appearance and rhetoric of these folks, there was very little in the way of “militant” action.
We started the march in front of the Lincoln Memorial led by a procession of coffins representing various countries (including the U$) affected by U$ militarism . Crossing over the Arlington Memorial Bridge we were confronted by a small, but vocal, band of counter protesters. This was quite ugly, first we saw the “al queda supporters marching” sign, much signage and name calling of “terrorist” and “traitor”. We then witnessed 3 very disgusting things from the counter protesters, the first was Jane Fonda being hung by a noose in effigy, with a sign reading “Jane Fonda commie traitor bitch”. This was extremely ugly, but really, how effective do they think bringing up Jane Fonda with this crowd was going to be? We passed a man holding some kind of nationalistic banner, a marcher shouted something about him being a Klan member, the counter protester then smugly said “the Klan, yeah, I am, so what” and smiled. Ugliest of all was very vocal older woman with a mega phone berating a young boy, 8 years old or so. The behavior of this nationalistic pro-war group is a good indicator of how far we have to go in this country to promote peace and sanity. It was in the same location that we witnessed some ugly antics as well from our fellow marchers, some young anarchist types throwing mud and provoking the counter protesters. I believe this shows that the peace movement has a long way to go as well. The ethic of non-violence didn’t seem so important to some. In fact, a window was broken, and a small band of anarchists tried to block the march at one point (no one seemed to know why). While it is understandable that a lot of folks feel frustrations, these incidents speak to the underlying issue of who is actively participating in dissent in this country. Personally I find some comfort in the fact that so many leftist groups are engaging in anti-war activities, but the lack of more moderate voices, and more pacifist activism shows that something is amiss. Perhaps the biggest factor in this is overwhelming acceptance of the Obama administration’s war plans as being somehow a more reasonable foreign policy . Are anarchists, socialists and communists the only people out here who feel a need to oppose militarism and corporate endorsement of the wars and occupations? Judging from my experience I would say this is so. Of course, there are other factors- ANSWER’s notorious control of their “coalition”, poor promotion, and perhaps economic woes on the part of folks who might have made the trip had they been in a better financial situation.
The march was long, past the Pentagon, down a dirt road and storage facility (?) and into Crystal City, the heart of the corporate headquarters of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics and KBR, it was here that we saw the biggest police presence. Regular D.C. cops with shields, batons, and an occasional tear gas launcher, pretty much stood shoulder to shoulder at corporate entrances and around buildings with lots of windows. They had cameras, and a big blue tank, to be expected I suppose. What was truly enlightening was the military and covert presence on rooftops, lots of cameras with zoom lenses, uniformed and non-uniformed men with walkie talkies, more cameras, sniper rifles and machine guns. Here was a visual affirmation of what we’ve known all along- these corporations are running the war on terror and they have an armed endorsement from the government to show for it. Lockheed Martin made 150 million in bonuses alone last year, a pretty good wage if all you have to do is listen to a few hundred leftists dissenting in front of your office for a few hours. The cops wouldn’t allow the coffins to be delivered, so they were left in the street where the day wound day with speeches and chanting.
While personally I found the day quite productive (meeting with fellow socialists and planning for organizing in Virginia), I was still left wondering why there weren’t more people, and what are we really doing in the peace movement? Perhaps the April 4 march on Wall Street will be more inclusive, get more press, and be more inspiring, and perhaps the two demonstrations have the ability to show people that it is still necessary and appropriate to criticize and to mobilize. I sure hope so, we have a long way to go.