Letters

Readers respond to Salon's coverage of the weekend's antiwar protest in Washington.


Salon Staff
October 31, 2002 3:32AM (UTC)

[Read "A Day for Peace -- and Fury," by Michelle Goldberg.]

Michelle Goldberg's disappointment with the protesters in Washington over their apparent lack of a coherent message is akin to a campaign manager saying that her candidate should "stay on message." However, the protesters were not running for office, and the language of corrupt, corporate politics should not be applied to grassroots movements.

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People against this upcoming war in Iraq (whose inevitability has been guaranteed by the corporate media) are against it for many different reasons. Some are against all wars; some think we should focus our efforts in Afghanistan; some think we should not remove someone who we put into power in the first place. Whatever the reason, Goldberg did her duty as a mainstream reporter by trying to lump everyone at Saturday's protest into one category defined by those shouting the loudest. This is like lumping all who are for war in Iraq into one category as defined by George Bush. Bush is in it for oil and popularity, but others recognize Saddam Hussein's overwhelming brutality.

But what separates grassroots movements from corrupt, corporate politics is that regular people don't have to compact their beliefs into a 30-second TV ad. Peace enthusiasts don't have to be slick or politically savvy or generate headlines. They simply have to believe in something and be willing to stand up for it. Isn't that the very definition of citizenship?

In a world where the Republicans and Democrats try their damnedest to always present a unified front (and dumb everything down in the process), it is encouraging to read that democracy is still being practiced in all its chaotic and wonderful glory by people who have real beliefs and are willing to stand up for them.

I'm glad people who agree on peace disagreed about other things on Saturday. This country was founded by people who agreed that we should have our own government but disagreed on everything else from taxes to slavery.

Sorry, I got off message there for a second. "Lockbox, lockbox, lockbox."

-- Christopher Dazey

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Thank you for your coverage of the antiwar march in Washington. I am a former Air Force officer who has never before marched in an antiwar rally. I was there on Saturday.

You're right that the march too easily boiled down into a yes-or-no question with facile answers on either side. And yes, all the other causes (free Mumia and al-Amin) are off-point. That does not change the basic fact that in the rush to war, the march has become almost the only way of showing opposition. What is indeed troubling is that nearly 100,000 people can gather here in opposition to a war and be treated as irrelevant by the press.

I'm sorry that the behavior of some of the marchers was insensitive to the pain of the Iraqis present in the "pro-war" rally. However, they allowed themselves to be used for a far-right political demonstration, and it is the pro-war side that has made it impossible to have an honest dialogue.

And although I found it abhorrent to be marching next to people waving Iraqi flags, it is even more abhorrent to me not to oppose an ill-thought-out, poorly planned war. Although ANSWER was described in your article as a radical organization, the fact remains that it is the only organization that managed to pull together a large protest of people who include moderates like me to show that we oppose the current policy. I think frankly that this reflects poorly on other human rights organizations for not picking up the ball and running with it. It also reflects poorly on Democrats and other legislators who are not willing to stand up and say that there is real opposition to the administration's policy.

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If the Bush administration changes tactics and enlists the world and the U.N. and tries sanctions first and makes a more forceful case, then presumably some of the opposition to the war will drop off. In the meantime, my hat is off to the march organizers for creating the sole remaining vehicle available for expressing opposition.

-- Bill McColl

Bravo to Michelle Goldberg and her staggeringly insightful article on how last weekend's global antiwar rallies were, in fact, not sober round-table discussions on the various complicated alternatives to the impending and "unavoidable" war on Iraq. When I heard an antiwar rally would be coalescing in the parks and streets of Washington, D.C., my first thought was "Finally, I can gather with thousands and thousands of individuals to debate at length the many possible options to the 'problem' in Iraq, hopefully arriving at a plausible diplomatic solution, which we can thus present to the United Nations for subsequent implementation." Imagine my surprise when instead I found a teeming mass of people, representing all strata of American society, gathered in the nation's capital for one simple, and therefore impotent, reason -- to express that no matter what their political affiliation or station in life, they believed war in Iraq was not the solution.

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For shame, people of America! It is not enough to simply protest what you believe to be a crude, destructive and violent response to the current situation in the Middle East. It is not enough to simply say that what is being done by the Bush administration conflicts with the values and beliefs of a substantial portion of the American population. No, it is your place to do what various world leaders have not -- provide a clear and concise solution. Merely saying the current solution may not be the best one is inadequate. Merely implying that there should be more discussion in the first place is inadequate. It is your responsibility to do what your jobs as teachers, computer programmers and graphic designers have prepared you to do -- fashion doctrine on complicated international policy.

To further her perceptive reporting on the protest's inability to solve the Iraqi difficulties, Goldberg also did an excellent job of simplifying her response by clinging to the relative minority of extreme fringe elements. Focusing on the level-headed businessmen, college professors, mothers and fathers who comprised the majority of the protesters would only complicate matters (yes, they were there, but they seemed to be there "as well"). Instead, she turned her critical eye on the obvious voice of reason --the smug man in the devil suit. In fact, according to Goldberg, it was his fault the entire rally wasn't effective in the first place. Because his far-left ranting, and the ranting of those like him, overshadowed the modest signage of the marching septuagenarian grandmothers, Goldberg acutely observed that the protest lost its "voice." Because the shirtless eco-punks, Harvard Square anarchists, subtle anti-Semites and unwashed neo-hippies marched alongside World War II veterans, teachers' associations and SUV-driving yuppies, each approaching the march with different ideologies but each arriving at a similar conclusion, the rally became muddied and confusing. That such seemingly polarized subcultures could reach a consensus on a single issue was obviously negated by the fact that they were, in fact, seemingly polarized subcultures.

Of course, Goldberg's piece wasn't completely error free, to which she alludes early in her article. Failing to follow the lead of almost every major media outlet in the nation, she made one very large mistake: She reported on the rally in the first place.

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-- Abe Ogden

Goldberg is apparently having a difficult time taking the messages of over 100,000 individuals and assembling their messages into a neat United States foreign-policy package. Well, duh! With dozens of speakers and thousands of diverse participants ranging from Iraqi dissidents, raging grannies, extremist splinter groups, retired military generals, college students, et al., it is hardly appropriate to expect a message with a coherent blueprint for foreign policy.

I consider myself an activist and have organized and attended various demonstrations and events in Washington over the past few years. Dare I say that it was refreshing to see the simplicity of the message this time around, strewn across signs, T-shirts and banners: No War With Iraq. If the blanket message were any more defined, surely some groups and individuals would feel alienated, petty activist politics would set in, and average Americans would be presented with multiple alliances to choose from, thereby confounding and belittling the root message.

And while I agree that protesters should address the "moral nuances" of both camps, I would hardly characterize the participants of the protest as "callous" or "morally empty," as Goldberg does. As the author highlights, many of the attendees were first-time protesters. Hopefully, as some of these folks keep educate themselves, they will form sophisticated and intelligent opinions about Saddam's ultimate fate. I have my own opinions regarding the sanctions, the International Criminal Tribunal and Saddam's criminal past that probably do align with Mr. Leif's (the 18-year-old student mentioned in the article) and I have never been called "imperialist." See, at a protest, I am content marching alongside Zionists, Palestinians, anarchists, veterans and hippies, even if I do not agree with all of them. That's the beauty of coalition building.

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I found that this demonstration ran in stark contrast to the IMF / World Bank / World Trade Organization rallies that, for example, actually do have clear recommendations for institutional and governmental change. But those policy recommendations, ranging from user fees on education to water privatization in developing countries to democratic transparency in the IMF, are often so complex and so, God forbid, intelligent they are lost by both the media and even some participants alike. This points to the confounding question that angers and puzzles activists across the board: Even when a movement does have specific demands and recommendations, the media and the status quo brazenly don't report them and apparently don't care.

It seems to me, Ms. Goldberg, that you are damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

-- Natalia A. Rudiak

As someone who has lived in places like Haiti, India, Yemen, Nigeria and Pakistan over the past 20 years, I can say that there are too many places where people are horribly oppressed and badly treated by their governments, by their cultures and even by nature.

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The U.S. cannot help all of them and certainly cannot go to war to "liberate" all of their people.

There have been times I wished my government could help the poor and miserable victims I saw on a daily basis.

But one thing I think I am fairly sure about is that the poor Iraqis exploited by the Freepers should realize that the current administration is not going to war in Iraq to help them and their relatives in Iraq. If the U.S. goes to war in Iraq, it will be for an agenda that has little to do with human rights and "saving the Iraqis," no matter how much GW et al. try to hide behind that excuse.

The protesters, of course, had their own agendas and might have been insentive, but at least their agendas did not involve preemptive military strikes and death.

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-- Rebecca Louise

I took part in the San Francisco rally, and sure enough, the people running the show were the usual hard-line extremist wackos doing the typical "We don't need your racist war" chants and mindless sloganeering.

But there was also a noticeable number of people in the rally who were like myself: i.e., moderate liberals who ultimately love America even for its faults, remember that Saddam is not exactly an angel himself, and oppose the war not because we hate America but because we feel that it will increase the danger to Americans and to the world. If they're like me, they were probably embarrassed by the mindless knee-jerk sloganeering but also strongly opposed enough to the war that they were willing to endure the sloganeering and tune it out while they were there.

To the antiwar moderates, don't let the wackos drive you away. They'll always be there, and the fact is that they're always the ones to take the lead. Remember, even during Vietnam it wasn't until we'd already gone in and the body bags started coming back that the protests became as broad-based as they did.

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-- John Lee


Salon Staff

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