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?",
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
The various protests in
Washington, D.C. together reflected an international perspective that
is admittedly more challenging than the Bush Administration's cowboy
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.