The Great Peace Movement Debate

by on April 25, 2008 · 2 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Election, Organizing, Peace Movement, War and Peace

Since late 2007, the OB Rag has sponsored a seasoned and reasoned debate about the current state and future direction of the peace movement – not only here in San Diego, but across the nation. In light of the series of national protests held recently, we decided to post the original articles that were published on our blog, once again, to highlight the points made and issues raised, in order to re-evaluate where we’re at now that the antiwar movement has taken another swipe at the Bush administration’s Iraq policies.

The following are links to articles posted here, in chronological order since references are made in some of them to prior posts:

Why No Mass Antiwar Movement: the Case of San Diego

Gregg Robinson kicks off our debate with an analysis of the state of the antiwar movement and suggests some positive and helpful changes to San Diego’s peace campaign.

Do We Know What We Don’t Know?

Richard Nadeau, formerly of OB and San Diego, now in Sacramento, answers Robinson, shedding his sarcastic tone for some incisive insight.

Why Is There No Mass in Our Mass Movement?

Frank Gormlie lays out Tom Hayden‘s views for the peace movement and the elections, and then takes Nadeau and Robinson to task in a gripping account of the strengths and weaknesses before us.

Activist Reader Comments

John Falchi joins in, via a comment to Gormlie’s post.

Future Direction of the Peace Movement

Robinson tries to have the last word as he critiques Hayden, Nadeau and Gormlie.

More on the future direction of the peace movement

Peter Bohmer, formerly of San Diego, currently working in the peace movement in Washington state, adds his two cents – actually 7 points.

The 2008 Election and the Peace Movement

Nadeau rejoins the discussion with a view to the presidential campaign.

The Peace Movement Shows Its New Face and It’s Beautiful

In his most Pollyanna-ish posturing, Gormlie delivers a recount of the March antiwar actions and comes off sounding positive and, well, at least he is hopeful.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Monty Reed Kroopkin April 27, 2008 at 9:35 pm

The new “face” of the anti-war movement now includes strike actions called by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and endorsed last week by the Vermont AFL-CIO. Other state labor federations are expected to announce support this week. Whether that happens or not, this will still be the first strike against the war. It likely will not be the last. Hopefully, San Diegans will show support for this. Rally at the docks?


Oli (Newtopian) July 10, 2008 at 6:16 pm

Courtesy of

The so-called “anti-globalization movement,” named by corporate media with a vested interest in obscuring the possibility of modern-day anticapitalist struggle, emerged as if from nowhere in the late 1990s. In fact, it was the convergence of a wide variety of smaller social currents ranging from indigenous liberation struggles to the do-it-yourself punk scene, all of which had been quietly developing over the preceding years. Perhaps the most surprising accomplishment of the movement was to reintroduce and revitalize street-level conflict, which many had deemed irrelevant in the postmodern era.

The North American wing of this movement was not prepared for the sudden changes wrought by September 11, 2001; although the militant anti-IMF protest organized for that month became the first antiwar protest, anarchists lost the initiative to liberals and communists who were more familiar with single-issue antiwar organizing. To the glee of authoritarians of every stripe, the antiwar movement replaced the anticapitalist movement in the public eye between 2001 and 2003.

The antiwar movement of the following years was a colossal failure—perhaps the most colossal failure in the history of antiwar movements. Taken together, the demonstrations that took place worldwide on February 15, 2003 comprised the most widely attended protest in human history—and yet they did absolutely nothing to hinder the Bush administration. One might say it was a triumph of co-optation that so much outrage and motivation was diverted into ineffectual rituals, so soon after anticapitalists had demonstrated the power of direct action. To be fair, the effectiveness of the demonstrations of 1999-2001 did not become clear until years later when many were no longer paying attention. Also, there were scattered efforts to apply direct action in antiwar efforts, such as the targeting of recruitment centers and ports engaged in military shipping; these were simply too little too late. Imagine the effect if a mere tenth of the participants in the February 15 demonstrations had smashed recruiting center windows or blockaded ports!

Some have charged that the antiwar movement failed because it was not empowering for the working class or people of color. This is a half-truth: the antiwar movement failed because it was not empowering to anybody. The groups that dominated antiwar organizing did all they could to limit the tactics and strategies of participants to the lowest common denominator. Few will stick around in a movement that is not committed to or capable of accomplishing its professed objectives, and this is doubly true of people with limited resources who are all too familiar with being exploited for others’ gain. There were efforts to recruit working class people and people of color, but these rarely created mutually beneficial collaboration and dialogue. It could be charged that organizers sought to involve a wide range of demographics in order to present the movement as diverse, while still endeavoring to control its content and direction. Approaching the antiwar movement as an opportunity to create a mass under liberal leadership, rather than a chance to actually fight the war machine, actually undermined the possibility of it ever adding up to a durable, empowered mass.

By the middle of Bush’s second term, public sentiment was acknowledged to be overwhelmingly against the war, and yet the antiwar movement had effectively collapsed. The tactic of mass mobilization, which liberals had hijacked from radicals, had accordingly been abandoned; protests still occurred, but none drew numbers worthy of the word “mass.”

Now the antiwar movement has ceded the territory it took in 2002, and it’s up to us to fill this vacuum.

Today, liberal politics beyond the voting booth has been completely deflated by the failure of the antiwar movement. Liberal hopes are once again pinned on electoral politics, and the streets are as quiet as they were in the mid-1990s when neoconservatives were crowing that capitalism had triumphed as “the end of history” and the obsolescence of mass mobilizations was taken for granted by anarchists. This is to say: the liberal antiwar movement has ceded the territory it took in 2002, and if anarchists could fill this vacuum we might become major players once again.

Especially if a Democrat is elected to be the next President—but either way, really—anarchists now find ourselves in an explicitly oppositional position that brings out the differences between us and liberals as well as conservatives. If we are bold enough to take advantage of this—by practicing effective direct action rather than staging spectacles and recruiting drives, for example—we may be able to seize the initiative once again. Not being subsumed in a predominantly liberal opposition enables us to take the initiative to mobilize a real opposition beyond the dead ends of electoral politics and merely perfunctory protest. Many of those who participated sincerely in the antiwar movement must recognize its limitations; indeed, there seems to be some interest in the anarchist anti-RNC organizing among older antiwar activists in the Midwest. If we can demonstrate an effective alternative, we may earn new allies.

The political machine, having lost a lot of popular faith during the Bush years, is now attempting to recapture public attention through a gripping new electoral spectacle. We’re to believe the fate of the world hangs in the balance, even as media focus on “superdelegates” and voting districts betray just how little influence any of us really have. Anarchists are the ones best equipped to counter this, and we should not miss the opportunity. We may not persuade everyone to become anarchists in 2008, but if we re-enter the public eye as the ones who saw it coming, when the inevitable disillusionment sets in following the election our model for contesting power outside the voting booth will be visible as an attractive alternative.

Electoral politics dominates the imaginations of people in the United States to an unparalleled degree. Whenever the question of social change arises, one is always pointed to the ballot box: if you don’t vote, you can’t complain, which is to say, vote and shut up. One might argue that there is no more strategic target for direct action than the conventions, which represent the total hegemony of the two-party system. Even opposition to the excesses of capitalism can still be re-absorbed into electoral politics—one of the major issues at the WTO protests was that the WTO could supersede the “democratic process” of participating nations. Only a direct attack on the electoral spectacle itself could reframe the terms of public discussion to foreground more effective approaches to self-determination. Powerful actions at the conventions could set a new tone for the coming years, setting a precedent for people using their own strength and energizing smaller-scale direct action organizing throughout the US.[3]

Right now we can still draw on the outrage arising from the Iraq war to mobilize people. After this election, it will be a moot point, part of history. If we play our cards right at this historical juncture, we can draw on the frustration of those who feel betrayed not only by Bush but also by the Democrats who acted as his accomplices and by the liberal antiwar movement that channeled dissent into a powerless dead end. The same goes for immigration and global warming—the Democrats are attempting to frame themselves as the ones who will save the world from climate change, and we owe it to everyone to call bullshit on this.

But are anarchists in the US prepared to organize an effective mass mobilization at this point? The new generation, who grew up on stories of the Seattle WTO protests, has never participated in anything comparable, however eager some are to do so. Likewise, though some survivors from the last generation have gone long enough without a major mobilization that they are interested in attempting another one, there is still a lot of inertia and hesitation. Many who have been disappointed before do not want to put all their eggs in this basket. So, having considered the reasons why the conventions might present a strategic target, let us turn to the drawbacks of focusing on them.


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