Peace movement at a turning point

Over half of Americans now believe the U.S. war in Iraq is not worth the human and financial cost. Only 36 percent believe that maintaining current troop levels will ensure safety and stability in the country. It’s a turning point moment for U.S. policy and the peace movement. How can the peace movement meet the challenge?

Now is the time to build a massive, broad movement calling on Congress to set the date for removal of all U.S. troops and bases from Iraq. We must make the connection between the war in Iraq and the economic and social crisis at home, and build on the growing dissent among U.S. troops and their families and the unprecedented opposition to the war by organized labor.

The peace movement must work at the grassroots to show that the ongoing occupation of Iraq is the biggest barrier to rebuilding America’s cities, from the Gulf Coast to neighborhoods across the nation. The Iraq war price tag surpasses $200 billion. While nearly 2,000 U.S. soldiers have died, and thousands more are severely injured, veterans’ hospitals are being closed. The Bush administration’s racist indifference in the days following Hurricane Katrina has underscored to the entire world the president’s distorted priorities. National Guard troops who should have been ready to respond to this natural disaster were in Iraq fighting a war based on lies.

In a Sept. 15 Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, 60 percent of Americans said rebuilding the Gulf Coast should be a higher priority than “establishing democracy” in Iraq. The poll reported the top choice for paying for Gulf Coast recovery is cutting funds for the war.

The shifting public opinion on the Iraq war is shown in the unprecedented criticism by military families and soldiers, most dramatically galvanized by Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan’s quest to meet with Bush in Crawford, Texas.

Working people increasingly see that the Iraq war is against their interests. Local union leaders and rank-and-file trade unionists formed U.S. Labor Against the War shortly before the war began and worked tirelessly over the last three years to pass antiwar resolutions in local unions, state federations and international unions. They organized a national tour of Iraqi trade unionists. This activity culminated in the passage of a historic antiwar resolution at the AFL-CIO’s national convention in July. It is the first time the labor federation has ever passed a resolution opposing a U.S. war.

The increasing opposition to the war in Iraq is no accident. It is the result of hard work by the peace movement, exposing the Bush administration lies, revealing the realities of war and giving voice to military families.

Together with its member groups and allies, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) has organized some of the largest antiwar demonstrations in the country’s history, as well as countless peace actions in small towns in every state. UFPJ has employed a multifaceted approach, including lobbying, massive mobilizations, grassroots education, civil disobedience and coalition-building, to build the broadest movement possible to bring the troops home.

The cumulative momentum of large national mass actions and local organizing efforts has spurred many national religious denominations, civil rights and other organizations to adopt antiwar resolutions. It has also created the political space for mainstream voices to come out against the war and for the emergence of an Out of Iraq Caucus in Congress.

The Out of Iraq Caucus is just a beginning. Organizing must now use every possible way to channel the questioning of the Bush administration’s priorities into the electoral arena, as nervous congresspersons worry about their re-election races a year from now. To end the war, we must build a bipartisan peace bloc in Congress that can set the date for troop withdrawal and force Bush and the Pentagon to end the occupation.

We must redouble our efforts to draw in people of color, union members and unorganized people who are facing the daily effects of a system in deep crisis.

We can end this war, but it will take a more dedicated and powerful peace movement, one that reaches out beyond its traditional constituents to the people most affected by the consequences of the war and the war budget. It is becoming clear to everyone that neither the U.S. nor Iraq is more secure while U.S. troops remain in Iraq. It is up to us to turn the growing opposition to Bush into a massive movement to set the date and bring the troops home now.

Judith Le Blanc is a member of the National Committee of the Communist Party USA. She is also national co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, the nation’s largest peace coalition.