Tens of thousands of people marched in Washington, DC, on September 15 demanding an end to the US war in Iraq. Pennsylvania Avenue was filled shoulder to shoulder from the White House, where the action began, to the Capitol building. The turnout was larger than expected, a shot in the arm for anti-war activists.
The march was led by Iraq Veterans Against the War and military families. The veterans then led a "die-in" of thousands, who lay down near the Capitol building to symbolise the US and Iraqi war dead.
The action came on the heels of the "report back" to the Congress by General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq. His speeches to both houses adhered, as expected, to the White House line that the post-February US troop "surge" was working. Notable was the feeble response of the congressional Democrats, who hardly put any meaningful questions to the general, and repeatedly fawned over him.
Washington has waged the Iraq war, as well as the smaller scale war in Afghanistan, with minimal impact on the majority of US citizens. No new war taxes have been introduced — in fact the tax cuts for the wealthy have been maintained. Paying for the war has been accomplished by borrowing hundreds of billions, largely from abroad.
Similarly, the lack of a draft has meant that the great majority of young people have not been forced to fight. Any introduction of the draft now would very soon lead to a massive explosion of anti-war action by young people, and both Democrats and Republicans shy away from the topic like the plague.
The large turnout on September 15 reflected not only the growing anti-war sentiment in the US population, but also frustration with the Democrats' failure to offer any real opposition to the war. All the major Democratic Party candidates for the 2008 presidential election oppose immediate withdrawal from Iraq.
Some liberal commentators have accused the Democrats of "capitulating" to the Republican administration. This is misleading. The Democrats' position — making speeches calling for an end to the war, but voting to fund it — represents a consensus of a majority in the US capitalist ruling class that the impact of the US defeat in Iraq must be minimised. The US rulers are agreed that at least a military toehold should be maintained in Iraq to signal Washington's continued determination to dominate the Middle East.
What the Democrats are proposing is that the number of combat troops in Iraq be drawn down and redeployed to bases in neighbouring countries, with the remaining US troops in Iraq playing a training and "overwatch" role over the puppet Iraqi security forces. This would occur after the 2008 presidential election, and in the meantime Washington's counterinsurgency war would grind on.
Whether this strategy can be viable in the face of growing opposition in the US population as the US combat dead and maimed mount up remains to be seen.
The September 15 anti-war protest was sponsored by the Act Now to Step War and Racism (ANSWER) coalition, the narrower of the two major anti-war coalitions, the other being United for Peace and Justice. Both coalitions are working together, and are being joined by other forces, in the planning of demonstrations in cities across the country for October 27. This, and the big turnout in Washington, augers well for these actions.
The main demand in the September 15 march was "End the War Now", which will be the unifying slogan for the October 27 demonstrations. This is something of a retreat from the "Bring the Troops Home Now" slogan raised in previous actions of both ANSWER and UPFJ. Those in the anti-war movement who look to the Democrats feel pressure to back off from this demand.
While "End the War Now" is an acceptable unifying demand, those who support immediate withdrawal should make their voices known loud and clear on October 27.
Nevertheless, what slogan to put forward as a unifying demand is not the main question. Action in the streets is far more important. Visible protest against the war has the greatest impact. Moreover, those who participate feel more empowered to challenge the pro-war position of the ruling class, and can be inspired to bring others into action.
It is to be hoped that the October 27 demonstrations can be the springboard for new actions in the spring. An obstacle will be the campaigning for the 2008 presidential election.
Both the Republicans and Democrats launched their electioneering early. The candidates have been running for months. Primary elections, where delegates will be elected for the party conventions in mid-2008 to nominate their candidates, are being held in many states early next year. Other forms of delegate selection will occur in other states.
The major Republican candidates have expressed their support for the war, although they have tried to distance themselves from President George Bush who is widely unpopular. The Democrats hope to cash in on the majority anti-war sentiment, as they did in the 2006 mid-term congressional elections.
Many anti-war activists may be drawn into the electioneering early next year, but an increasing number are seeing through the Democrats. More anti-war actions in early 2008 are possible and doable. In the meantime, on to October 27!