Chalk one up for us.
It was six days before dissenters flummoxed Clinton Administration officials at the Ohio State town meeting on Iraq, but here in Madison the peace movement needed no jumper cables. An ad-hoc coalition against U.S. aggression in Iraq kept going after the Gulf War in 1991, holding teach-ins on the effects of sanctions and protesting whenever the United States looked as if it was ready to attack Baghdad again. Last fall, when the Clinton Administration came close, a small group of about thirty of us gathered in front of the federal building to voice our opposition.
By February 12, with a U.S. attack appearing imminent, that group had swelled to about 175. Led by Norm Stockwell of Madison's fine community radio station, WORT, and by the indomitable peace activist Sam Day, it was a spirited rally despite the chill in the air. I was among friends. I stood next to my neighbor the radical reverend Cecil Findley. I waved to Betty Jallings of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and I saluted Bonnie Block of the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice. But there were many new faces there, too--young people I did not recognize.
We listened to a speech from Dr. Karin Ringler of Physicians for Social Responsibility, who had visited Iraq and had seen the devastation sanctions had wrought. We heard from Erik Gustafson, a Gulf War vet who has been organizing against sanctions almost ever since. We chanted Save the Children, End the Sanctions, No More War.
Then Sam Day called for volunteers. He asked us to join him in blocking traffic on University Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares in Madison. "We want to cause a minor disruption in order to protest the major disruption that a war in Baghdad would cause," Sam said. He warned us that we would be breaking the law, but almost everyone followed him anyway.
It was rush hour, and we spilled into the four lines of traffic. As the cars stopped, a few of us took some yellow leaflets and went door to door. Some drivers clenched their jaws and shook their heads, and one girl flipped me the bird from her passenger seat. But many drivers accepted our offering.
After a while, the police began to clear one lane of traffic and then another. "Bring on the fire hoses," said a college-aged guy standing outside a bar. But with the exception of one arrest and a short-tempered officer who snarled at a photographer, the event came off peacefully.
When I came to work the next day, I told everyone I hadn't had so much fun in years.,
The peace movement has cause to celebrate. Just as it appeared that Clinton's march to war was unstoppable, activists all across the country voiced their disapproval. Ohio State and all the other demonstrations that occurred had a positive effect. The risk of mass domestic unrest entered the equation of policymakers more forcefully than at any time since Vietnam.
"During intense discussions, Mr. Clinton and his national security advisers moved away from a plan to hit Mr. Hussein with the biggest military strike of the Clinton Presidency," The New York Times reported. "They concluded that in the absence of solid international and domestic support, it was best to mount yet another diplomatic effort."
But the absence of solid domestic support did not receive much in-depth examination from the mainstream media, as Susan Douglas notes on page 17. Before the Ohio State event, hardly any media covered the protests. Two days after the event, the coverage evaporated.
The media are missing a big story: the rebirth of the peace movement. At high schools, colleges, and communities nationwide, a new generation of protesters joined with seasoned dissidents to say no to violence and no to U.S. aggression (see Annie Decker's piece on page 21). Organizers who have spent years speaking to a handful of people are now addressing crowds in the hundreds.
And awareness is up. More and more people seem to know about the devastating effects that sanctions have had on the children of Iraq. More and more people can detect for themselves the hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy and are not afraid to say so.
In May 1991 in these pages, Allan Nairn wrote a piece called "When Casualties Don't Count." He noted that with the end of the Cold War, the United States "wields powers that no nation should have. It can go anywhere and kill anyone."
This puts enormous responsibility on U.S. citizens, Nairn said: "Only the American public can hold Washington back.... Only the American people stand between the bombers and the bombed."
Fortunately, this time we took our place.
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|Title Annotation:||demonstrations made US reconsider bombing Iraq in Feb '98|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1998|
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