Thoughts on the April 20th Peace and Justice March in Washington

By Steve Cohn, David Gourd and Anthony Prado

Five of us from Galesburg drove to Washington last weekend to participate in protest marches. We wanted to share our reasons for taking this action with the rest of the Galesburg community and report on the march itself.

We shared many views but had some differences as well and thought it might be most interesting to have a series of comments to convey our thoughts and feelings.

Steve Cohn: More than anything else the march for me was a march against more Vietnams. The lesson of the Vietnam war was that that the U.S. should not send its military forces overseas to impose "new world orders." Ever since Vietnam, the architects of that war have tried to erase this legacy, disparagingly called the "Vietnam syndrome." This march resisted that erasure.

Just as the Vietnam protests were about more than just the war in Vietnam; -- they were also about a foreign policy of empire that threatened to produce many "Vietnams,"--this weekend's march was motivated by a concern with similarly broad issues, such as the militarization of foreign policy, the shifting of national priorities from domestic to military spending, and the manipulation of patriotic impulses to silence discussion.

As a Jewish American who supports the right of Israel to exist as an independent state, the suicidal and morally bankrupt policy of the Sharon government in the occupied territories was a very painful lesson of the disastrous implications of using the rhetoric of anti-terrorism as a cover for imperial policies. Current U.S. policy seems destined to produce directly or by proxy many similar tragedies.

Ultimately the march for me was about how the 21st century will be organized. The Bush Administration's policies reflect the political economy of empire, with American military might asserted all over the globe, from Afghanistan to Korea, from Iraq to the Philippines, and by proxy from Venezuela to "Anywhere." The vision behind this power is a surly combination of national and corporate self-interest, rallying under the self-serving claim that what is good for the American economy is good for the world.

We marched for an alternative vision wherein the US uses it's military might much less aggressively and its political economic might much more actively for the world's needy.

Some brief observations about the march. There were people of all ages, especially young people and middle aged marchers who looked like veterans from the anti-Vietnam war movement. Many of the chants and songs were reminiscent of earlier anti-war struggles. I found participating in these chants both comforting (reaffirming beliefs) and alarming (that we must do this again).

The largest contingent of protesters was organized around the Palestinian cause. While I strongly support their movement, it is a painful participation, as I fear some of the protesters would wish to do to Israelis what they are doing to the Palestinians. There was widespread wearing of colored tape with the words "We are all Palestinians." I thought it painfully ironic, as historically the Jews have been like the Palestinians- refugees - a people without a state violently oppressed by overwhelming force- and now the tables had turned. I wished I could think of a counter tape or slogan- to join the two oppressed histories into a movement against oppression. I found the large posters equating the Israeli flag (which includes a Jewish star) with the nazis' swastika offensive.

The Washington Post cited police estimates that put the crowd at about 75,000. I thought it incredible that there was almost no coverage of the demonstration the next day in the Midwest edition of the New York Times.

Early in the day there were 3 separate marches (focusing on the Palestinian issue, IMF policies, and US foreign policy). There was also a small pro-US foreign policy demonstration that I heard reference to, but didn't see. While I think that global economic issues are related to foreign policy issues, and the Palestinian issue is important and has links to broader foreign policy debates, I wasn't sure that it was wise to attempt to merge all 3 issues into one event.

Final thought: I think many of us who participated in the march wanted to challenge the image of 80% approval for Bush's wars and end the silence that has met the bombast of official policy. I think all of the marchers felt that there needed to be much more thoughtful debate in the US about the direction our country is moving in. To do this we have to end the use of the flag as a gag in the throat of democratic discussion.

Anthony Prado: The march gave me a chance to protest a number of interconnected phenomena, such as capitalism, imperialism, and war. They are interconnected under the current legalization of the so-called "war on terror" which followed the tragic events of September 11. The establishment of this endless war sparked a dangerous nationalism, which hinders analysis of what is truly happening. This war has two dimensions. There is a war abroad, and there is also a war at home.

Currently the U.S. is using our taxes to finance terror around the globe. The U.S. bombs Afghanistan, Israel bulldozes Palestine, Colombia bleeds a civil war, Venezuela recovers from a failed coup d’etat. The U.S. involvement in these events has been publicized in the news. The right wing Israeli prime minister authorizing crimes against humanity is partly financed by the U.S. The Colombian government is financed to the tune of a billion dollars by the U.S. The Venezuelan coup is closely linked by U.S. involvement. Mobilizations around the world are saying enough. They are saying that the war on terror is a terrorizing war.

But this war is not only against sovereign nations abroad. It is also affecting American residents and citizens. The domestic policy of this war seems to be summarized under George W. Bush's statement "either you are with us or you are against us". That is, being against seems to be "anti-patriotic", and in a context of war, an enemy.

Within democracy, dissent is not anti-patriotic. Dissent is a necessary condition for the civil rights this nation rightly celebrates.

I showed solidarity in Washington DC with the critics of the IMF, US military interventionism around the globe, and Israeli policy, because War, transnational capital, and Empire are three manifestations of the same order. That is the order that I went there to protest. Having been part of a massive group of people demanding peace and justice has made me feel part of a truly democratic process and an emerging global community. Another world is possible. This is no time for cynicism or apathy.

David Gourd: Steve and Tony have outlined the history and the events of the march so I will merely give my reasons for going. Going to the march for me was a positive action to state these views that I hold:

We are not ensuring our security by military responses to terrorism. The Israel-Palestine situation is an obvious example. I think there are much more moral and effective ways to combat terrorism than the current U.S. policy of military intervention.

The U.S. government should base its decisions on moral principles of fairness, equity, freedom, civil liberties, and justice for all peoples because this basis will work toward peace and security.

The U.S. government should work to find solutions that will protect the lives of Americans and all peoples of the world. We can’t be secure if others aren’t.

The march was a positive step by 75,000 people whose unifying theme was peace with justice. It was a source of comfort and solidarity to be with four other Knox College faculty and so many others who wanted to stand against injustice and violence and stand for global cooperation and peace.

(Steve Cohn and David Gourd teach economics and business courses at Knox College. Anthony Prado teaches Spanish courses at Knox.)