A Washington antiwar demonstration

My friend Carole Ashley and I took the train down to Washington yesterday for the antiwar demonstration, since neither of us wanted to put up with the discomfort of a bus ride. It gave us a chance to talk about the war and politics in general. I have known her since the days when we were both on the front lines defending Nicaraguan sovereignty. Like many Marxists, we seem to have a Quixotic stubbornness about defending unpopular and losing progressive causes. This seems to run in her family. Her sister is married to Richard Gott, who has been writing powerful denunciations of Nato in the pages of the Guardian. Gott had worked for the paper for 35 years but was forced to resign under pressure after taking money from Soviet operatives in order to take a junket in some third-rate Hungarian hotels. The tabloids turned this into the second coming of the Philby case.

I poured out my gloom to her on the train, while she tried to console me with the Gramscian big picture. The occasional sighting of a large bird from the windows of the train did more to uplift me than her words.

We took the subway to the assembly point, near the Vietnam Veterans monument. Standing in the shade, I saw a familiar face. It was Greg Elich, the activist and writer whose articles on the Balkan wars are among the best I've read. The current issue of Covert Action Quarterly includes his latest. Much to my pleasant surprise, he was accompanied by one of my favorite people in cyberspace, the fiercely revolutionary English instructor at Ohio State, Yoshie Furuhashi. We hugged each other and felt good about finally being able to associate a real human being with the phosphorescent dots on a computer screen.

I told Greg that I didn't know if I would have made the trip to Washington if Carole hadn't paid for the tickets earlier in the week. What would have pushed me in the direction of going was his rueful commentary on the peace "agreement", where he said--despite the outcome--that he was going to take the bus to Washington for the demonstration. The Balkan Wars seem destined to boil over for years to come, since capitalism is creating the conditions for that. If he could take the bus from Columbus, Ohio, I could take the trip from NYC.

Once the march started, it was clear that many thousands of people felt the same way. I am not good at counting noses at demonstrations, but there easily could have been ten thousand. Most were there to show their determination that an antiwar movement would stand in the wings, ready to confront any further adventures and to show solidarity with the people of Yugoslavia.

The crowd was much younger than I would have anticipated, including many of high school age. I gathered that many were somehow connected to the movement to free Mumia, another International Action Center cause. (The IAC is a joint project of Ramsey Clark and the Workers World Party, whose excellent Lou Paulsen we are privileged to know on this mailing list.)

I noticed three Chinese men on the march, whose hand-lettered signs protested Nato's militarism and big power domination of smaller and weaker nations. They told me that if the peace "agreement" had not been signed, there would have been a much larger Chinese contingent from NYC, from where they hailed.

When we arrived at the front steps of the Pentagon, where the rally was to commence, we picked a shady spot under a tree and began listening to fierce condemnations of US imperialism. Nobody could ever fault an IAC rally for being wishy-washy.

Beneath the tree we shared the company of two disparate elements of this emerging peace movement. To our right was an attractive young mother wearing lipstick and Calvin Klein jeans, and her blue-eyed baby girl, who was intent on collecting pebbles into the pockets of her Minnie Mouse jumper. She was soon joined by the child's father and godfather, young Serbs from suburbia who spoke with an accent. They were collecting money for war relief and knew each other from the Orthodox church they attended. They gave the appearance of people who never would have participated in a demonstration, except under circumstances like these. For all of the railing against Serb nationalism among Trotskyist circles, there seems to be very little awareness of the human reality underneath the empty slogans about "proletarian internationalism". For people who chant "Kosovo is Serb", there will soon be an awareness that class questions take priority over simple national demands.

To our left were a group of four people who seemed to hold simple pacifist beliefs. They soon began to voice displeasure over what they perceived as the pro-Serb tilt of the rally. When a speaker, who had been jailed the day before for civil disobedience, began to echo their concerns, they applauded wildly. He explained that he is pro-Serb, but anti-Milosevic. And pro-Albanian, but anti-KLA. The simple fact of the matter is that if and when a mass antiwar movement comes into existence, it will have to reflect the inchoate pacifist yearnings of millions of young people, who have not been trained in Marxist dialectics on the national question.

It would be wrong to condemn out of hand those faith-based or pacifist institutions, who do not have the same penetrating analysis as Ramsey Clark. And why? For the simple reason that groups like Women's Strike for Peace or the Fellowship of Reconciliation have connections to a broader social milieu that Clark does not. That milieu was instrumental in making the Vietnam antiwar movement a force to be reckoned with.

Just before heading back to Union Station, we observed an otherworldly sight, like a scene from a Fellini movie. Marching silently in single file along the Potomac River, a group of about 25 children from an Orthodox parochial school wearing blue uniforms were headed back to their bus. They were led by a priest and a nun. Holding signs protesting the murder of innocent civilians, they brought home to me the rather special character of this war. If and when a new crisis develops, it will be necessary to keep these types of people in the fold, while reaching out to the broad liberal and pacifist population. This requires a highly nuanced political approach, which all of us will be challenged to adopt.

Louis Proyect