When I hear activists opposed to the Iraq war chant, “Out Now,” it brings back memories of 1971, when the slogan “Out Now” was a cause for sharp division in the movement to end the Vietnam War.

The peace movement was divided into two coalitions at that time. One, the National Peace Action Coalition (NPAC), was dominated by the Socialist Workers Party. The other was the People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice (PCPJ), a far more inclusive group led by faith organizations, pacifists, organizations of people of color and important sections of the labor movement. The Communist Party USA was represented on the PCPJ coordinating committee.

The differences between the two coalitions came into stark relief when NPAC announced plans for a march on Washington, April 24, 1971, with “Out Now” as the only acceptable slogan.

NPAC vehemently rejected calls by PCPJ that the march address the war’s impact at home in soaring racism, poverty and cutbacks in social programs. Those connections were eloquently spelled out by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his April 1967 Riverside Church speech.

NPAC also rejected calls for the march to support a series of seven or more amendments and resolutions pending in Congress to end the war by a “date certain.” Big sections of the antiwar movement consciously embraced this struggle on Capitol Hill with the slogan “Set the Date.”

As the Daily World Washington correspondent, I covered many news conferences where PCPJ leaders Sid Peck, Dave Dellinger, the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and others urged this broader, inclusive approach aimed at winning people against the war by proving how disastrous it was to our needs here at home.

Jerry Gordon, NPAC executive director, invited me to come to his apartment in Bethesda, Md., to hear his appeal that the Daily World give uncritical support for the march.

Injecting issues like poverty and racism risked splitting the movement, he told me. Far better to unite single-mindedly behind the simple demand, immediate withdrawal from Vietnam.

“Racism is already splitting the peace movement,” I replied. “The peace movement is not nearly as strong as it should be in combating racism at home.”

I pointed out that following Dr. King’s assassination in Memphis, April 4, 1968, poor people rose up in rebellion. The answer they got was full-scale military occupation of the ghettoes and barrios with a fearful number of dead and wounded. Clearly, I said, the war was coming home as Dr. King had warned.

“And what about the legislation pending in Congress to end the war?” I demanded. “How can this demonstration not call for its passage?”

Gordon brushed my arguments aside. Anything short of full and immediate withdrawal would constitute a capitulation to the “imperialists.”

Jerry Gordon did not convince me. Nevertheless, in the end, PCPJ threw support to building the April 24 demonstration, which turned out half a million marchers against the war. Vietnam Veterans Against the War had arrived earlier and were encamped on the Mall. Many vets threw their combat medals on the Capitol steps to protest the war. Yet NPAC’s sectarianism continued to seriously narrow down the antiwar movement.

The antiwar lawmakers in the House and Senate were critically important allies even though their efforts produced only mixed results in the short term.

The Cooper-Church Amendment to terminate funds for the U.S. “incursion” into Cambodia was adopted 58-37 in the Senate on June 30, 1970, was finally approved by both houses on Dec. 22, and became law on Jan. 5, 1971.

In the House, Reps. “Battlin’ Bella” Abzug (D-N.Y.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Ron Dellums (D-Calif.) and Pete McCloskey (R-Calif.) also waged a long struggle for peace.

But the Hatfield-McGovern Amendment to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam by the summer of 1971 was rejected 55-39 on Sept. 1, 1970.

The war went on for another five years and another 9,000 U.S. soldiers died, together with unknown thousands of Vietnamese. Yet ultimately the House prepared articles of impeachment citing Nixon for war crimes in Vietnam, in addition to his Watergate crimes. Nixon was forced to resign. A few months later, the U.S. evacuated from the rooftop of our embassy in Saigon.

Today, as in 1971, the antiwar bloc is growing on Capitol Hill, with Democrats holding a slim majority. Even as we push for the strongest measures possible, we must be supportive of the compromises the antiwar bloc is forced to make to win a bipartisan majority against the war.

The 2008 elections are 19 months away. Having seen what happened to their pro-war colleagues in last November’s election, many Republican lawmakers are beginning to shift on the war. We may well reach a point where a veto-proof majority will approve binding legislation to end the war. The peace movement, representing the vast majority sentiment against the war, can play a big role in pushing that process forward. If we limit ourselves to reciting “Out Now,” we cannot help these lawmakers build that majority. Once again, there is the broader alternative: “Set the Date!” At this writing, a large bloc of antiwar lawmakers is saying they will vote ‘no’ on a supplemental spending bill because a timeline has been removed.

Tim Wheeler (greenerpastures21212 @yahoo.com) is the People’s Weekly World national political correspondent.

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