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Antiwar Protests Sweep U.S. on Fourth Anniversary of Iraq Invasion

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Over the last several days mass demonstrations and civil disobedience erupted in cities and towns across the country marking the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Popular discontent with the war and the Bush administration reached new highs in the last months, particularly following Bush’s “troop surge” of 21,500 into Baghdad.

The most significant demonstrations were held in Washington, D.C., where on Friday, March 16, a procession of 3,000 marched out of a cathedral toward the White House, culminating in 222 arrests. Then on Saturday a March on the Pentagon drew over 20,000 despite the bitter winter storm that swept through the region the previous days. This was built as a modern day version of the 1967 March on the Pentagon that was widely seen as a turning point for the antiwar movement.

Tens of thousands demonstrated in other cities across the country as well over the weekend. This week small student walkouts and protests occurred on well over 100 campuses across the country. In a number of cities and schools Socialist Alternative had a strong presence and helped build for the protests. In Boston Socialist Alternative played a central role building for a major protest on Saturday, March 24.

While the wave of protest around the fourth anniversary were not huge, it seems clear the general upturn in antiwar struggle in 2007 is continuing. The March on the Pentagon was significantly smaller than the January 27 protest in Washington, which drew up to 200,000. Aside from the weather, the main explanation for the smaller turnout in D.C. this weekend can be found in the character of the organizers. Whereas the January 27 protest was organized by the liberal United for Peace and Justice, which is seen as more “legitimate” and has ties to the Democratic Party, the March 17 protest was organized by the sectarian group ANSWER, whose methods have turned off many in the movement. Similar leadership factors played into the size of demonstrations in other cities as well.

Anger at Democrats
The protests gave voice to the growing alienation from the political establishment within U.S. society, and in particular the growing anger at the Democrats. Speaking at the March on the Pentagon, the former Congresswoman from Georgia, Cynthia McKinney, said “We are shocked that the Democratic majority in Congress chose war over us, and we say bring our troops home now. Our country has been hijacked. What about a livable wage for America’s workers? What about the right of return for Katrina survivors. What about repealing Patriot Act, the secret evidence act, and the military tribunals act. Why is impeachment off the table?”

McKinney was unceremoniously pushed out of her seat in Congress in the 2006 Democratic primaries by her own party leadership and the powerful pro-Israel lobby groups after regularly speaking out against the war, U.S. support for Israel, and other social justice issues. She is now being courted by many in the Green Party to run as their presidential candidate in 2008.

Notably, McKinney’s speech appeared to advocate breaking from the Democrats: “Its hard to believe, but the Democrats are now full partners in Bush’s wars. And by funding his wars the Democratic Congress is explicitly complicit; complicit in war crimes, complicit in torture, complicit in crimes against humanity… In 1957 Martin Luther King observed that both political parties had betrayed the cause of justice, and so it must be repeated today… I sadly declare my independence from the leaders who let this happen.”

Such statements reflect the growing pressure from below on the Democrats to act decisively against the war. However, in the coming days the House Democrats will pass a resolution giving Bush $124 billion more for the war machine! Nancy Pelosi and other party leaders try to call this an “antiwar” bill because they have attached provisions demanding a substantial troop withdrawal 18 months from now, in September 2008. However, its clear Bush will veto any bill setting a timeline for withdrawal, and there is no indication the Democrats will then use their power of the purse to force Bush’s hand.

As the war rages on in Iraq, the rage at home will also grow. The antiwar movement need to redouble its effort and re-invent its tactics to broaden it appeal and its outreach to ever wider layers of workers and youth. Only a truly mass social upheaval in the U.S. can force the ruling class of this country to pull back from their murderous pursuit of oil profits and imperial control in Iraq and the wider region.

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