By John Welch
The roster of speakers for the UFPJ demonstration in Washington D.C. on January 27 speaks volumes. The key was not so much who was included but who was not. The list of speakers certainly had a lot of wonderful activists in the peace movement, but to a considerable degree it was a line-up of Democrats and movie stars.
Ralph Nader, who was in Washington that weekend, was pointedly not invited to speak. On Saturday night Nader was reportedly inquiring of other independents just who had been invited to speak among their growing number. Imagine that; the only antiwar candidate in the 2004 elections was not an invited speaker, even though he and Cindy Sheehan drew tremendous applause at the last mass rally in 2005 (Notice how these rallies occur now only in only non-election years, nicely tailored to get activists to work for Dems, but not to pressure the Dems to take a strong anti-war stand.) The non-invitation removed Nader from the movement every bit as effectively as the censors armed with air brushes removed dissidents in the "socialist" Czech republic chronicled by Milan Kundera. Nor was there anyone who spoke as a representative of the Green Party, even though at least one speaker was in fact a Green and even though an informal survey showed an enormous number of people in the crowd were Greens or Green sympathizers. Yes, the Greens were "permitted" a feeder march but their only organized presence on the Mall that this writer could find was a small card table with three women staffing it.
There was not a single Libertarian speaker even though the Libertarians and Old Right have been far more outspoken in opposing the war than the liberal "Left." Compare the pages of The American Conservative or Antiwar.com with the editorials of The Nation, which endorsed the pro-war Kerry candidacy in 2004. This writer tried for months to get Ron Paul, the Libertarian/Republican Congressman from Texas, now a Republican presidential candidate, invited to speak at the rally and did so also in 2005. Several of us made an appeal to get Justin Raimondo, the Libertarian editor of Antiwar.com invited to speak. We got no response from UFPJ, and still have received none. In contrast, Raimondo advertised the UFPJ demonstration in a prominent place on his web site, and he even offered to pay his own air fare to D.C. to speak. But no response was forthcoming from whatever committee decides on the speakers, a committee which is none too visible. UFPJ was just plain rude to Raimondo. In general it appears that the liberal "Left" has scant knowledge about the Libertarians and less desire to acquire it. Libertarians are just "a bunch of selfish people," according to the PC liberals. But there are more things in heaven and earth than the very PC have dreamed of.
There were far fewer kaffiyas in evidence than in the past, the inevitable result of reading ANSWER out of the official antiwar movement. (To be fair, Noura Erekat and Joshua Reubner, both from the same organization, US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, spoke.) The only reason given for UFPJ’s severing relations with ANSWER is that their members were "impossible to deal with in meetings." That is hardly a political reason. Bad manners are not a reason for excommunication. If so, the antiwar forces would not be talking to the crotchety Barney Frank. I do not know a lot about ANSWER, but I do have a great deal of respect for Ramsey Clark, one of its leaders. And I also have a lot of respect for ANSWER’s ability to turn out young people and its boldness in organizing events like the demonstration against Bush on the occasion of his inauguration. At the demonstration I heard no mention of AIPAC’s obvious role in ginning up the war on Iraq or Iran. At this point in the development of the movement after the paper of Measheimer and Walt and after Jimmy Carter’s book, this is indeed a troubling omission.
What is the matter with Democratic politicians, you may say. Nothing, as such. And the politicians speaking at the rally were among the best that the timid Dems have to offer – Maxine Waters, John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich, for example. But these Democrats do not represent the Democratic Party; they are an idealistic few on its fringe. To have only Democrats and no others is to create the false impression that the Democratic Party is a vehicle for peace. And it creates false hopes about what the Dems will do without mighty pressure.
So the peace movement is being increasingly tied to the Democratic Party. This is certainly the strategy of MoveOn.org and of "P"DA ("Progressive" Democrats of America) and now apparently also UFPJ. This may be why the rally seemed far smaller and certainly far less spirited, stodgy I would say, than in the past. Let’s hope that the hard working and committed people working in UFPJ turn from this path and do more to bring the splintered movement together. Because if the antiwar movement is divided, we are subject to being conquered just as surely as the Sunni and the Shia. It is time for the Democratic Party to serve the Peace Movement and not the other way around. We shall see what course UFPJ takes to turn this around. Right now, it does not look good.
-John V. Walsh can be reached at John.Endwar@gmail.com. (originally published at CounterPunch.org)