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Calls for fall demonstrations show signs of a new direction
Putting protest back on the agenda

July 22, 2005 | Page 3

GROWING DISSATISFACTION with George W. Bush's policies from the economy to Iraq has pushed his job approval rating to new lows this summer--and plans for activism and protests this fall offer an opportunity to turn that sentiment into action.

A national antiwar mobilization has been called for September 24 in Washington, D.C., the first in many months. This has the potential to tap the growing opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq--despite Bush's cynical attempt to use the July 7 London bombings to boost support for the "war on terror."

Another urgent fight looms over women's right to abortion, with Bush appoint the hardline conservative and abortion opponent John Roberts to replace Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. In cities across the country, pro-choice activists have begun to take the initiative to challenge anti-abortion groups that picket clinics and pharmacists who refuse to dispense contraception.

After decades of inactivity, mainstream women's groups like the National Organization for Women and NARAL Pro-Choice America are ill-equipped to confront the right wing's attack. Because they line up behind the Democratic Party--which has been in full-scale retreat on the right to choose--these groups are looking at how to appeal to conservatives, rather than confront them.

It will be up to activists at the grassroots to take these battles head-on and rebuild the fight for abortion rights--without apology.

Meanwhile, in California, the anti-immigrant bigots like the Minutemen are stepping up their activity. But a core of activists has come together to confront this threat, opposing the racists whenever and wherever they mobilize.

One vigilante group has set September 16--Mexican Independence Day--to launch new patrols of the border. They will be met by a region-wide demonstration to oppose anti-immigrant scapegoating.

Anti-racism is also the focus of the "Millions More" civil rights demonstrations set for October 14-16 in Washington. Called by Louis Farrakhan, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton, the protest will mark the tenth anniversary of the Million Man March.

That event focused on telling Black men to "take personal responsibility." But organizers promise that this year's mobilization, called the "Millions More Movement," will be different--and will welcome women and gays, socialists and others who support its goals. "Millions more," Farrakhan explained at the May press conference, "means that we are reaching for the millions who carry the rich on their backs."

This demonstration is a desperately needed response to the myriad of attacks that African Americans have endured--from the crimes of the American injustice system to declining living standards.

Unfortunately, the march's national director, Rev. Willie Wilson, recently made outrageous antigay comments as part of a sermon in his Washington, D.C., church, leading a lesbian march organizer to resign, according to the Washington Blade newspaper.

There is no place for antigay discrimination in a march that aims to advance civil rights. Such bigotry undercuts the potential of the Million More Movement--and must be confronted if this demonstration is to made as strong and inclusive as it can be.

The biggest mobilization of the fall will be the national antiwar protest called for September 24 by the antiwar groups United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and ANSWER.

The antiwar movement has been at a standstill since 2004, in large part because UFPJ leaders decided to devote their resources to getting Bush out of office--which meant backing pro-war Democrat John Kerry. Unfortunately, these same political weaknesses are reflected in the way that UFPJ is organizing for this march.

A recent UFPJ "action alert" argued, "If we organize in an inclusive way, with broad demands, accessible language, and an inviting style, we have the potential to organize the largest and most diverse demonstration against the war to date, with people from all walks of life coming together in a clear call to bring our troops home now."

But the point of the UFPJ alert is the opposite of being "inclusive"--to try to justify why the march will not include any reference to critical issues of the movement, such as Israel's occupation of Palestine.

The message's authors, Leslie Cagan, George Friday, Judith LeBlanc and George Martin ask that we "go outside our comfort zones and speak to people our movements don't typically reach." Limiting the demands of the march, they argue, will attract "people from all walks of life"--but their focus is really on the Democrats in Congress.

Meanwhile, they are willing to shut out Arabs and Muslims--who must play a central part in the antiwar movement--and relegate important issues like justice for Palestine and the witch-hunt of Arabs and Muslims to the back of the bus. This is no way to build a movement that can force the U.S. military out of Iraq.

It's possible to transform the political climate in this country and give voice to the millions of people who are fed up with George W. Bush--but only if we confront the conservative agenda head-on. This was the approach of the most vibrant antiwar activism so far this year--the struggle to kick military recruiters off college and high school campuses.

Now there are new opportunities to organize resistance on other issues as well. It's time to take the initiative.

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