I participated in the Los Angeles version of Saturday's multi-city, ANSWER-sponsored "Global Day of Coordinated Actions on the 2nd Anniversary of the "Shock and Awe" Invasion of Iraq" rally, which could have been more appropriately and elegantly dubbed the "March Against War and for Socialism."
As many have complained, ANSWER seems less interested in creating an effective anti-war or anti-occupation coalition than having an excuse to energize a general pro-socialist coalition. The assembled speakers who blocked the (increasingly antsy–this was a pretty tough crowd for peace activists) beginning of the route in their sound trucks to remind us why we were here–you know, gay marriage, health care, women's rights, justice for Palestine, listening to some overly earnest woman singer caterwaul the (singularly inappropriate) cynically apathetic sixties classic "For What's It's Worth" ("singing songs/and carrying signs/mostly say 'Hooray for our side'"–how inspiring at a rally) and the even more perplexing "Sympathy for the Devil" (only concession to contemporary reality in the lyrics: "Nick Berg" replaced "the Kennedys.")
And, yes, a fair amount of talk on the war and occupation in Iraq, mostly playing the race and class cards: It's mostly poor people of color fighting this war. One speaker even openly wished for a draft, so that the sons of rich white people will be dying and thus end the war faster. (Just like during the draft in Vietnam, one supposes.) And yes, just like pro-warriors accuse, at least one speaker was openly approving of what he saw as brave Iraqi resistance fighters.
Single-viewpoint generalizations about the "mood of the crowd" minus an actual statistically valid sample of people interviewed are always chancy; but I'll go out on a limb and call this pretty big crowd (my unscientific guess: around 5,000, on a rare rainy LA day–other unscientific guesses include, from the police, 2,000, and from the organizers, 20,000) a pretty listless one. No chant seemed to capture more than a few dozens people at once, and never for more than 10 or so repetitions. (I learned, however, that there ain't no power like the power of the people cause the power of the people don't stop; that the people, united, will never be defeated.) We spread out over many city blocks, blunting our visual impact though making the walking more comfortable, and mostly just strolled and chatted amongst ourselves, bearing signs that, again, mostly linked the war issue to larger pro-socialist or anti-Bush concerns.
I was delighted by one trio of older folk, one man and two women, were carrying a large, professionally laminated sign, consisting merely of typescript, identifying the U.S. Constitution as the true family value. The gentleman advised me to read the Constitution again if I hadn't lately.
I only encountered one counterprotester, an earnest young man (who got surrounded by shouting protesters before I could ask if he happened to be a vet) who, flush-faced and perturbed but trying to stay respectful, asked the protesters loudly if they had bothered to ask any Iraqis how they felt about being rid of Saddam. (Had I been able to share rhetorical strategy with him, I'd have told him to accuse the protesters of being too limited in their socialism, not seeing the value of expending U.S. lives, treasure, and sacred honor in the cause of allowing Iraqis to vote.) But a refusal to engage one's opponents on their own terms certainly dominated the rally–not a single speaker, or sign, attempted to be convincing to anyone who thought, for whatever reason, that there were benefits or positive results of our recent Middle East adventures that made them worthwhile. Then again, rallies are perhaps not the place for that kind of complex discourse–but I wish I had any impression that any of the organizers would be prepared to do so under any circumstances.
Is there room for a more middle-class, single-issue, perhaps even libertarian mass movement against occupation? From a demonstrated preference perspective, there's no evidence for it. However displeased I am with the way they choose to handle it, and suspicious of the purity of their motives, only ANSWER has effectively stepped forward to do the gruntwork to provide the stage for mass public demonstrations of disaffection regarding the Iraq occupation, for which they deserve at least one full-throated "ain't no power like the power of the people 'cause the power of the people don't stop."
However, walking home on a grim and rainy Hollywood afternoon, glad for whatever reason that that I had an opportunity to publicly declare, though walking in the street rather than writing on a Web site, that I was opposed to the war and occupation of Iraq, I had to wonder how true that is, that bit about the power of the people–and contemplate the difficulties, for which America has been one long (perhaps failed) 200 plus year experiment in a solution, of figuring out exactly what the "power of the people" is, and how such a mysterious collective thing can ever be truly and justly manifest in a world of differing opinions, values, and interests. The socialists think they have mostly found a solution to that problem. And it's not a pretty one for the rest of us. Which brought me back to regretting that ANSWER was the one doing this, and then back home.