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January 20, 2003

Peace on Earth

By all accounts, yesterday's protests against war and for peaceful solutions to global problems were a great success. As Michelle Goldberg writes in Salon:

The broad-based antiwar movement many have awaited is here.

This picture taken by one of the marchers in DC gives a good look at the size of the protest—people as far as the eye can see, or as the Washington Post said:

Organizers of the demonstration, the activist coalition International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), said the protest was larger than one they sponsored in Washington in October. District police officials suggested then that about 100,000 attended, and although some organizers agreed, they have since put the number closer to 200,000. This time, they said, the turnout was 500,000. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey would not provide an estimate but said it was bigger than October's. "It's one of the biggest ones we've had, certainly in recent times," he said.


Regardless of the exact number, the crowd yesterday on the Mall was the largest antiwar demonstration here since the Vietnam era. For the 11 a.m. rally, much of four long blocks of the Mall was packed, shoulder-to-shoulder in many sections from Third to Seventh streets SW between Madison and Jefferson drives. The first marchers stepped off about 1:30 p.m., and when many had begun reaching the Navy Yard more than two dozen blocks away about an hour later, others were still leaving the rally site.

In addition, the estimated number of people in San Francisco was 50,000, there were local protests of various sizes in towns and cities throughout the country (my local protest had about 60 people in attendance, in a community of about 100,000; there were 20,000 in Portland, OR), and people in cities around the world also called for a peaceful resolution to the Iraqi situation. The U.S. protests were backed by recent polls showing that American support for a war against Iraq is fairly weak and wavering.

(Aside: When I was in D.C. on October 26th last year for the first ANSWER protest, I watched two or three helicopters circling above us almost all day long. I looked forward to getting home and seeing lots of aerial photographs of the event, since only photos from the air would show its true size and allow anyone to make an accurate estimate of the number of attendees. Of course, I have yet to see an aerial photograph of either protest (October's or last weekend's). Why do you think that is?)

Meanwhile, NPR's All Things Considered yesterday (scroll down to "Military Disconnect" link for RealAudio file) reported on research showing that the greatest support for war in America comes from people who feel zero connection to the military—people who don't have family in the armed forces or relatives who are veterans. According to Duke University researchers Peter Feaver and Christopher Gelpi, the likelihood that the U.S. will use military force is also inversely proportional to the percentage of military veterans in the executive and legislative branches of federal government. While findings like this may not be surprising, they remain the most stark and barbaric example of the dire consequences of our country's increasing obsession with the cult of individuality.

The problem of people only caring about themselves or those in their immediate circles of family/friends shows up in nearly every issue of our society—from health care, to education, to welfare and all other social services, to environmental protections and other corporate regulations. At its most crass, the attitude of the cult of individualism is: "I don't give a shit what happens to anyone else so long as things are ok for me; in fact, I don't even care if having things good for me makes them worse for anyone else. My only value and priority is ME (and maybe me family and friends)." So now that our military is completely volunteer and also comprises only a small percentage of the population, it's easier than ever to get a majority to support the use of force. Our rabid selfishness not only encourages us to simply avert our gaze as people die from lack of health care, but now it also enables us to basically sentence hundreds if not thousands of people to their deaths—either through our overt support of war or through our silent acceptance of it.

Bleak as those facts are, they are also why the growing peace movement is so great: It offers hope that an ethic of interdependence can still thrive in our selfish and individualistic society. People who march for peace are people who recognize that there are real and inescapable connections between the pilots in the bombers or the troops on the ground and the people they bomb or otherwise attack. The people who march for peace are people who refuse to accept that the "blowback" and "collateral damage" that inevitably attend violence and force are necessary evils that we just have to learn to live with. The people who march for peace are people who understand that we must recognize our dependence upon and responsibility to each other if we want to live ethically and to advance as a people.

Although nearly everyone agrees that Saddam Hussein is a corrupt and malevolent dictator, and that the people of Iraq deserve better, that doesn't mean we all have to agree that a military invasion of Iraq is the best way to improve current conditions in the world.

(UPDATE: Someone did take aerial photos of the SanFran protest. Impressive.)

Posted January 20, 2003 12:02 PM | general politics

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