Send forth the respectable protesters!

Todd Gitlin is once again calling for the domestication of the antiwar movement. He wants "the 'Giant Puppet,' 'Bongo circles for peace,' and 'Street Theatre' crowd" to stop running protests so as to avoid alienating mainstream support and allow the "adult" protesters to "increase their leverage and avoid getting painted into a corner."

He's making two substantive points: 1) "weird"/"immature" Americans participating in protests gives war apologists a chance to appeal to mainstream Americans - who might otherwise be skeptical of the war - on grounds of shared cultural identity; 2) the movement's attempt to link the war in Iraq to other issues, such as "the World Bank, Israel, and [a] demand [for] unilateral Nuclear Disarmament", is, well, it isn't good. He doesn't explain why, but we can assume it's because it distracts from the goal of getting American troops out of Iraq, which is easy to unify people behind, and brings in a lot of unrelated issues that might alienate mainstream supporters.

The first point is well-taken, but what's the point in blaming the left for it? Right-wing smear artists (and the media) will always play up elements in the protests that seem strange to mainstream Americans. And really, is street theater that alienating to average people? It's just puppets for godsakes. What Gitlin seems to want is to have serious men in business suits - the antiwar "adults" - negotiating with the serious men in business suits who are killing Iraqis. Those protesters who don't conform to the rules - both political and cultural - laid down by the people who run our society are to be excluded.

The second point? It's true that making connections between the war in Iraq and other aspects of American foreign policy, or global capitalism, or cultural imperialism will to some extent diffuse the power of the movement. But we have to ask ourselves, what is the point of the movement? Is it merely to get the troops out of Iraq? What would that accomplish, other than saving the lives of a small number of Americans? (Iraq is headed for civil war, as it was from the moment Saddam Hussein fell, so the USA leaving probably won't save any Iraqi lives.)

No, the most important goal of the movement is to use an unusually high-profile political issue to educate people on the fundamental source of the Iraq disaster - the global American system of political and economic domination. Drawing connections between that system and its consequences in Iraq and every other country in the world is our task. Pulling the troops out of Iraq will not prevent the next war, and will certainly do nothing to address the countless other human catastrophes currently under way because American global hegemony.

So the first thing the movement must do is radicalize people, ie show them the structural sources of problems that are usually attributed to the individual ineptitude or immorality of particular political leaders. Then it must bring them into the movement, because the only way that such deep-seated structures can be rooted out is thru an overwhelming popular mobilization. If the movement merely sends forth its respectable-looking representatives to negotiate an end to American involvement in Iraq, as Gitlin would have it, the whole thing will have been in vain.

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