Mass Mobilization and Political Change

Over the weekend of April 19-22, 2002, particularly on April 20th, tens of thousands of people from around the country will participate in a wide range of peace and justice activities in Washington, D.C. In an unprecedented show of political maturity and unity, four national coalitions, the Colombia Mobilization, the April 20th Mobilization, the Mobilization for Global Justice and International ANSWER, have joined together in calling for a variety of forms of action over those four days. The groups are in regularized communication and are developing ways that the activities each is planning can be most effectively coordinated so that our political message is the strongest possible.

This unity did not come easily, and as this column is being written there are still a number of questions about how this weekend “extravaganza,” as it is being called, will play itself out. But given the overwhelming urgency of the present moment and the strong demand for unity from grassroots activists all over the country, it is to be expected that the unity will hold.

The weekend actions will take place against the backdrop of a Bush/Cheney administration that is clearly using the September 11th attacks as an excuse to militarize the world, particularly those areas of the world where oil and other extractable resources are to found. Key to their plan is that, at the same time, they lay the legal and political basis for what can only be called a 21st century version of corporate fascism in the United States.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the national Democratic Party has proven itself once again to be a slender reed, a whisper in the whirlwind, in the face of these obviously grave dangers. There are some voices of sanity emanating out of Capitol Hill, but they are literally few and far between.

The need for building the broadest, largest, most diverse and most unified, grassroots movement for peace and justice could not be clearer. It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of the world rests to an important degree upon what we do in this country, right now.

On a very practical level the April 20th mobilization has the potential to accomplish several things:

-This will be the first, major, broadly-based national mass action since last September which is explicitly against the growing war buildup, the further militarization of U.S. society and the concomitant attacks on civil rights and civil liberties. As tens of thousands of people physically join together and interact with each other in the streets of Washington, D.C., we can all gain needed energy and inspiration to return home to continue our peace and justice organizing.

-The force of our numbers will undoubtedly put some steel in the backbone of some of the members of Congress who are aware of the dangers of what is happening but are afraid to speak out. We can’t underestimate the importance of this. Let’s think concretely: ultimately, it will take a growing opposition in Congress to force change in U.S. policy. And before we get to that point, visible Congressional opposition can have an impact on moderating the worst excesses of the Bush oil-and-war-men, provide some political space for us to build up an ever-stronger, independent, grassroots movement, the key to progressive change.

-People around the world will take heart when they learn of massive peace sentiment being expressed by large numbers of people in the belly of the beast. Their movements will feed off of what we do here, just as we should draw strength and encouragement by actions like what just happened in Barcelona, Spain on March 16th. At the conclusion of the European Union summit on that day, the peace and global justice movement mobilized upwards of half a million people, many times more than the tens of thousands that had been expected by the organizers.

-Finally, many millions, if not tens of millions of U.S. Americans will hear about these actions. Because of the internet and alternative media, this will be the case even if the corporate media does their usual biased job of reporting what is clearly a significant press event.

Some of those who hear about April 20th will be motivated to speak up and express their concerns, doubts and fears about the direction our country is going. Others will be moved to join peace and justice organizations and become active. Still others may not do much for a while, but they will begin thinking much more seriously about these issues and in the future, as our movement continues to build, they will be drawn toward our activities and campaigns.

Of course, the extent to which these things happen will depend upon our success at using this last period of time, 25 days as this column is being written, to outreach as widely as we can. We need to get on the phone and fill buses or get commitments to attend. We need to be visible at all kinds of events with materials and making announcements about April 20th and the other activities on this weekend. Letters to the editor, calls to radio talk shows, postering and leafleting in areas where people congregate, all of the “old,” pre-internet methods of mobilizing should be used.

We should act as if the prospect of a world at peace, with social and economic justice an increasing reality, and an ecosystem being brought back to health and balance, depends upon the success and size of the events April 19th-22nd. We must be motivated by an urgency that grows out of the serious threats we are facing and a love for the earth and its people. This is the time to step it up.