Especially, if national protest turnouts are off, as some claim, by the tens of thousands? The current anti-war movement is using strategically ineffective methods, fueled by hope, good intentions, and the kind of fellow- feeling, born from standing and shouting together for long periods of time in situations of emotional distress. Though no one questions the crowds belief in their convictions, its hard to imagine the conceived impact of a demonstration like Saturdays--especially when the events took place at geographical points devoid of even a symbolic connection to the U.S. presence in Iraq, or to a local connection to U.S. policy and the war.
Location, Location, Location Saturdays demonstrations, in fact, took place at sites on the Southside--a predominantly African American neighborhood in the city, with many low income and rental properties. This was not because the majority of demonstrators--or even a fraction of them really, were poor or African American. Many Southside residents did however stand out on their porches on the sunny afternoon to watch as the grave, and some times celebratory crowd passed.
The most obvious site for an anti-war demonstration would, of course, Be outside a government building. Other appropriate locations include the National Guard Headquarters on Hanshaw Road, or various sites at Cornell (due to university research contracts with the military or policies involving the business school). If the grievance against the media is a motivating factor in dissent, as it often is, than why not rally outside the Journal or even Lite 97?
At this point the question must be asked. To whom are these demonstrations directed? Whom are they expected to reach? People driving down Rt. 13, returning from Walmart with an industrial sized bag of potato chips and a game for the X-box? Dog-walking life-stylers in Washington Park who voted Kerry? The demonstration, it seems, is solipsistically meant to reach the demonstrators and provide a much needed sense of doing something.
In an era when many feel powerless, Even given this understandable motivation, it is hard to figure out the disconnect of time, place, ideology and intent for these things. Its also hard to grasp the idea that radicals and people of conscious, hundreds of them are undone by the demonstration permitting process. Unable to fight against what they are calling a slaughter and fascism, unable to even step off the sidewalk because, well, they simply werent given permits.
Fear of missing work, or simply not wanting to be inconvenienced may have prevented an organized walk out, and protest on Friday. Lack of permits--and its hard to get them, in fact its completely impossible to get a permit to commit acts of civil disobedience (!)-- may have accounted for the strategically bereft locations. But one thing is for sure. The anti-war movement of the 21st century is not at risk of having its good time undone, slaughter or no slaughter. A cursory look at the crowd might have made you think Ithaca Festival had started early.
What do we want? Absolution. When do we want it? NOW!
Utne Readers enlightened population seems to have taken to heart one of the digest-style magazines more puerile tid-bits of advice concerning how to make protests more fun. It seems that all that chanting, the risk of arrest, and the time consuming hours of research required to fully and accurately understand an issue is either boring or annoying, and consequently not much fun. It is hard, however, to imagine how any event, that touts pictures of an eviscerated 9-year old-- cut down by American troops--could be made fun--stilt walkers or not.
These weekend protests need serious re-examination. Ending an occupation if thats what is being attempted, should be considered worthy of a Friday walkout by demonstrators; or an all week strike, worthy of the same hundreds attending, and speaking at every legislature meeting, worthy of gathering at city hall. Worthy of self- examination, strategic assessment, worthy of risk. If the platform is not worthy of these things, neither is it worthy of a second glance, or another page one story. Such coverage provides records of the spirit of protest, which at this point seems to be all that remains. The demonstration as a form of public expression no longer reaches the government as anyone who witnessed the second Bush inaugural can confirm.
It is time for activists to accept this, to assimilate this information completely and form new strategies. Lest they grow to be accurately represented in the media for what many have become: A reflection of an image obsessed culture simultaneously looking for identity and absolution in the form of political entertainment. Saturdays anniversary party played itself out as anachronism, as the specter of a tradition in which Ithaca was once an inspiring example.
Across from the multinational big box stores, the road widening construction, and the car lots, shimmering in the late winter sun, a cast of hundreds, paid penance in the form of a festival and believed, as the SUVs whizzed by, they were fighting to end an occupation.
Cara Hoffman is a media consultant for the firm Keegan Associates. By Cara Hoffman
Planning a Party The second anniversary of the war in Iraq was marked last Saturday by hundreds of protesters who brought their placards out to the sidewalks and intersections of Ithaca, eager to bring the war home, one slogan at a time. But there was a catch. The actual date the war began, two years ago, was March 18, which this year fell on a Friday. A workday, a school day, a day that was just as silent as any other in our town. Saturday at noon is an awfully convenient time to express your convictions.
You can sleep in, grab a cup of coffee, and still make it to the corner of Clinton and 13 before lunch. But March 19 was declared a day of international action by anti-war organizations, and it was a logical Choice --as the weekend is a time when most people can make it to a party or an event. Saturday is also considered a good time for media coverage. But this last point gets a little complex.