It was about 3:30 P.M. on the mall at the Capitol, and it was clear that the sound system rented by the April 20th Mobilization/International ANSWER for the joint rally against war and racism was not loud enough. I spoke to the sound people, asking them if there was anything they could do. Their answer: “We’ll do what we can, but there are twice as many people here as you had expected.”
We knew in the national office of the April 20th Mobilization, and International ANSWER knew also, that this was a mobilization that was building in the final week. All the buses coming from NYC were filling up. The number of buses from northern New Jersey was 50% higher than expected. Press coverage and radio interviews were non-stop the whole week, particularly after an excellent article by Manny Fernandez on the front page of the early Sunday edition of the April 14th Washington Post. But I don’t know of anyone who realistically thought that we would get close to 100,000 people. And so we rented a sound system for 40,000, midway between our internal 30,000-50,000 estimate.
Why did so many people come?
-Part of it had to do with the press coverage, the fact that literally millions of people, probably tens of millions, saw or heard about this mobilization at least once in that final week. For those who had not heard of it before, and for those who had, this coverage unquestionably helped to swell the ranks.
Why did we get such coverage, much of it sympathetic, including in the corporate media? I think it was because there is growing concern and unease in all sectors of U.S. society with the Bush oil-and-war men, including in ruling circles. There is a spreading belief that these guys really don’t know what they’re doing, or that if they do that they are playing with fire. They are leading with the military, pursuing a militaristic and repressive foreign and domestic policy and pushing hard for a permanent war economy that is creating political instability, at the least, and potential catastrophes on a world scale. This broadly-based nervousness over these developments opens up huge political potentials for the new peace and justice movement that April 20th announced to the world.
-The unity agreement finally hammered out between International ANSWER and the April 20th Mobilization on April 14th, publicly released over the internet that night, certainly gave a boost of energy and hope and increased the turnout. This agreement was not arrived at easily. The negotiations were grueling. But at least two things made agreement possible. One was the willingness of leadership from both coalitions to hang in there for several weeks, recognizing the potential importance, positively or negatively, of our efforts.
The second reason for agreement had to do with what did NOT happen. In the last two weeks of hard negotiating, neither side used the internet to put forward its view of what was happening or to try to bring pressure to bear on the other side. This is distinct from what had happened earlier, particularly in late February when International ANSWER publicly announced a “unity statement” with the April 20th Mobilization before there was one. Indeed, this “unity statement” was issued publicly by International ANSWER without even first contacting the April 20th Mobilization to respond to some ideas on a possible way to have a unified day on April 20th that the April 20th Mobilization had given to ANSWER. Those ideas were given with an explicit request/understanding that ANSWER would respond to them so that we could further process this question within our coalition. Their decision to ignore that request had major impacts within our coalition, and it is to our credit that we were able to transcend widespread anger and instead keep focused on the prize of a large, diverse and powerful action on April 20th.
I sincerely hope that the way in which ANSWER interacted with the A20 Mobilization in those two weeks leading up to the April 14th agreement will be the model for any future negotiating process that any of our member groups, or other groups, may feel a need to undertake with ANSWER.
Clearly the crisis in Palestine motivated many people, particularly the Palestinian, Arab and Arab-American people who came out in the tens of thousands. And it must be said that International ANSWER played an important role in making connections with those groups and bringing them to D.C. It is likely that the specific addressing of this issue in the ANSWER/A20 Mobe unity statement also helped.
The participation of people of Arab descent on April 20th was truly historic. I know of no other instance where there was such a massive turnout in Washington, D.C. of people from the Arab community in alliance with so many non-Arabs and where, by and large, and despite differences and tensions, there was an overall spirit of common purpose and unity. This unity must be built upon, and not just because it’s a nice thing to be together. It is urgent that a major focus for our new peace and justice movement be concerted action to force Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, the linchpin, the only hope, for justice and peace for both Palestinians and Israelis.
Such working unity will have tensions, as were seen and experienced on April 20th in D.C. Some Palestinians and Arabs are opposed to Israel’s existence. There were occasional chants of “Death to Israel” on April 20th. And at the closing rally at the Capitol, my understanding is that a Palestinian speaker brought to the mike by ANSWER, said something like, “we will not stop until the Jews are gone.”
These are issues that cannot be swept under the rug.
The time is now for our new peace and justice movement, a movement composed of both Jews and Palestinians, to discuss and debate these questions as we work together against the Sharon government’s destructive policies and actions. If we work at it, the overall spirit of unity which was the dominant spirit on April 20th should help us, provide an anchor to allow for both joint work and respectful dialogue and debate.
Hopefully April 20th, historic April 20th, will turn out to be what we all wanted it to be: an announcement to the world that here, in the belly of the empire, there is a growing, grassroots, multi-racial, popular movement that has recovered from September 11th and will not stop, will not rest, until, in solidarity and in coordination with struggling people all over the world, we have achieved our freedom goals.