CHICAGO — Last fall 800,000 Chicagoans voted to bring our troops home from Iraq, but only 20,000 turn out for demonstrations or other actions, said longtime peace activist and organizer Carl Davidson. The referendum, like numerous polls across the nation, showed a national antiwar majority, “but it has no voice, it has to be organized,” he said.
Now, Chicago’s October 27 Mobilization Committee is working to do just that. The key, said Davidson, the committee’s project director, is building new organizations and involving neighborhoods that aren’t organized.
For example, he reported recently, “There has been a second meeting of Black churches, community groups and others on the South Side. They are starting with 50 church buses to bring their members to the rallies and back.” The broad outreach “will also approach both Orthodox and Black Muslim communities, and should be seen not simply as a Black effort, but as an interfaith network throughout the area,” he said.
“The question is, what will the unions do?” he said in a phone interview. Union endorsements are important, but the key is what the unions will do to bring out their members, he said. The committee is counting on labor activists to spur membership involvement.
The Chicago demonstration Oct. 27 is one of several regional actions United for Peace and Justice is organizing around the country to end the Iraq war, under the heading “Peace is possible.”
The core of the Chicago mobilizing is focused on the local area, but two peace trains will bring hundreds from St. Louis and Detroit, along with scores of busloads from surrounding states including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio.
Every elected official, including Mayor Richard M. Daley and state and congressional representatives, will be invited to speak, along with presidential candidates. “We are nonpartisan, but we’re not anti-partisan,” Davidson said. “We want the program to reflect the range of politics that actually exists on the ground.”
A poll conducted for FOX News — hardly a liberal-biased organization — indicates that the congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker did not change American public dissatisfaction with the Iraq war. The Sept. 11-12 FOX News/Opinion Dynamics Poll showed 64 percent think the U.S. should pull all troops out of Iraq either immediately or over the next year.
“The president just had the most credible spokesperson he could have had,” a congressional aide told the World. “I don’t think he got much out of that. The American people aren’t buying it.”
President Bush’s Sept. 13 speech, with the peculiar theme of “return on success,” made clearer than ever that he plans to pass the war on to the next administration. The speech drew wide criticism and was seen as unlikely to budge the majority antiwar sentiment.
Calling Bush’s remarks a “path to 10 more years of war,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “The American people reject the president’s 10-year war in Iraq and want a responsible redeployment to end this war.”
Democrats are pressing a variety of measures. Some call for specific withdrawal timetables or funding restrictions. Their supporters say these measures are long overdue and are the only way to change the dynamics in Congress, compel meaningful action and make Republicans take responsibility for the war. Other measures are less binding or involve partial steps but, their advocates say, can draw sufficient Republican votes to make them veto-proof and move toward the U.S. exiting Iraq.
While the Democrats won control of Congress last fall, their majorities are not veto-proof. Senate Democrats in particular are grappling with their razor-thin majority, which gives Republicans the power to block progressive legislation of any kind. And overriding a Bush veto requires a 67-vote Senate supermajority.
The key to breaking the gridlock in Congress is “for us to break our gridlock,” Davidson told the World. So far, only the “militant minority” is involved in organized actions, he said. “We have to find a way to enable the antiwar majority to take action. We have to take away every obstacle to them participating. That’s what Oct. 27 is all about.”
Chicago has 120 neighborhoods, but only 15 have peace and justice groups, Davidson noted. “Even if we organized 40 neighborhood groups, that would be a huge step. That’s what gets the politicians’ attention. When the antiwar majority is independently organized at the base, then you have popular power. That’s what we need.”
When people complain about Democrats, he suggested, “Ask them how well their neighborhood is organized.”