After President Bush's "win this war" speech to Congress, Senate majority leader Tom Daschle and Senate minority leader Trent Lott strode to a podium where Lott declared, "Tonight, there is no opposition party."
On the streets of America, however, there is opposition. In growing numbers, and in every region of the United States, a new peace movement is delivering a message summed up by Harvard Initiative for Peace and Justice organizer David Jenkins. "It's OK to be scared; it's even OK to be angry," Jenkins said at a September 20 rally that drew more than 500 war foes to Harvard Yard. "But it's not OK to lash out violently as a result of those emotions; it's not OK to target groups of people; it's not OK to accept 'collateral damage' of the lives of innocent people for a retaliation against terrorism."
The September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were followed almost immediately by George W. Bush's announcement that "we're at war." Congress authorized the use of force by Bush against unnamed enemies with only one dissenting vote--that of Representative Barbara Lee, the California Democrat who is frequently a lone voice for peace on Capitol Hill.
Lee may have stood alone on the floor of the House to say, "Let us step back for a moment. Let us just pause for a minute and think through the implications of our actions today so that this does not spiral out of control." But beyond the Washington Beltway, her voice is being joined by tens of thousands of activists who say--as posters in the San Francisco Bay Area declare--"Barbara Lee Voted for Me."
The size of the demonstrations has varied, of course. In traditional hotbeds of antiwar activism, such as Madison, Wisconsin; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and the Bay Area, thousands of demonstrators are already filling the squares that protests against the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars once occupied. In Portland, Oregon, Thursday's peace rally and march drew a crowd estimated by organizers at 3,000, marching with banners and posters that read, "The cycle of violence stops with us" and "The people of Afghanistan are not our enemies."
This antiwar movement is not limited to a few campus towns and hotbeds of progressive politics. The Student Peace Action Network (SPAN) reported that its members and allies organized antiwar demonstrations, rallies and teach-ins on 105 campuses last week. Peace vigils in New York, New Jersey, Missouri, Maine, Oregon and California have drawn thousands, as have teach-ins on the Middle East, Islam, terrorism, peace and related topics on campuses from the University of North Carolina to Indiana's Goshen College.
Much of the antiwar activism is linked to campaigning in defense of civil liberties and preventing violence against Muslims, Arab-Americans and South Asian immigrants. With the support of musician Michael Franti, Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org) has launched a national "Hate-Free Zone" to combat racism and assaults on civil liberties. New Hampshire activists have set up an emergency response network to guard against anti-Arab attacks.
At the heart of the new antiwar movement is a message that respects the enormity of the September 11 tragedy and that sympathizes deeply with the victims of the terrorist hijackings and crashes. New York City's Friday night Gathering for Global Peace and Justice took as its theme "Mourn the Victims; Stand for Peace." A sign in Portland read, "Let Us Never Inflict Such Grief on Others."
"People want justice, not vengeance," says Kevin Martin, executive director of the 85,000-member group Peace Action. "The perpetrators of these heinous crimes should be punished in the courts. Military strikes will take thousands more innocent lives. A great nation does not punish the innocent to assuage its anguish."
Peace Action and SPAN have spurred the initial organizing of peace rallies and teach-ins around the country. But they have not been alone. The Friends Committee on National Legislation, the national lobby of the Quakers, has developed a "War Is Not the Answer" website (www.fcnl.org) that features Barbara Lee's statements, declarations from religious groups, background information and a "Take Action" section with sample letters to Bush, members of Congress and the media.
An interfaith statement titled "Deny Them Their Victory: A Religious Response to Terrorism" and signed by more than 1,500 Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist religious leaders from around the country was delivered to Congress Thursday and Friday. Posted on the websites of the National Council of Churches (www.ncccusa.org) and Sojourners (www.sojo.net), the statement reads in part: "We offer a word of sober restraint as our nation discerns what its response will be. We share the deep anger toward those who so callously and massively destroy innocent lives, no matter what the grievances or injustices invoked. In the name of God, we too demand that those responsible for these utterly evil acts be found and brought to justice. Those culpable must not escape accountability. But we must not, out of anger and vengeance, indiscriminately retaliate in ways that bring on even more loss of innocent life."
This article first appeared in The Nation (www.the.nation.com).