Why we should walk out

We need only to look at the striking example of the anti-war movement during the time of the Vietnam War.

Hundreds of anti-war activists are mobilizing nationally for a walkout Wednesday in colleges and high schools against the war in Iraq and military recruitment in schools. We are witnessing the re-emergence of the anti-war movement, and this national day of action will be the best chance for young people to flex their muscles and voice their anger.

The United States has spent more than $350 billion on this war and occupation. More than 2,000 American servicemen and servicewomen and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have lost their lives as a direct result of the U.S. occupation. At the same time, tuition is skyrocketing, schools are underfunded and young people are faced with dead-end jobs, forcing many to choose the military route for securing their future.

It’s now clear that the majority of Americans are against the occupation of Iraq. A CBS/New York Times poll conducted in mid-September showed that, when asked how long U.S. troops should remain in Iraq, 52 percent of Americans called for immediate withdrawal. This is an astonishing development, considering that neither the mainstream media nor the politicians ever raise the idea of an immediate withdrawal.

Many people even within the anti-war movement claimed that the United States had a responsibility to stay the course. As we in the far left argued from the beginning, however, events determine consciousness, and the call for immediate withdrawal would eventually become widespread.

The general mood has changed and you can feel it. Bush and his war have never been more unpopular. The Bush administration is facing a crisis as his tactics backfire: Bush’s cynical exploitation of the Terri Schiavo case, plans to privatize Social Security, the Harriet Miers nomination, Republican Party internal conflict, corruption, indictments, etc. To top it off, Bush’s racist response to Katrina was a sickening display of the deep-seated race and class divisions in this country.

The government continues to ignore the growing anti-war mood. Two weeks ago the Senate voted unanimously to approve $50 billion extra for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is not the politicians who will bring about change; it never has been. All progressive change has come as a result of mass movements that force the ruling establishment to concede.

The active organization of the people, the overall distrust of the established system, the mobilization of youth and workers, the threat of direct action at any time; these are the weapons of regular people. Socialist Alternative and the Anti-War Organizing League are building for a big turnout here at the University at noon Wednesday in front of Coffman Union. This is just the beginning.

We are working in conjunction with Youth Against War and Racism, a high school organization that was initiated last year by high school members of Socialist Alternative. Now that YAWR is spreading throughout the Twin Cities, we sense the radical mood among high school students, in particular the anger toward military recruiters, which indicates a movement on the verge of explosion. It is essential to build the traditions of mass action in this energetic layer of the anti-war movement. More university students and working people will then be inspired by the organized resistance to military recruitment by the youth.

However, some skeptics claim that a walkout and protest would not solve anything; that the war would just continue. While we would never argue that this one day of action will alone end the war, it is only a pessimist who believes that there is nothing we can do to fight these injustices. We need only to look at the striking example of the anti-war movement during the time of the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam anti-war movement started in 1965 as a small minority, with student sit-ins and demonstrations. But as the war dragged on, its social and economic consequences triggered a much larger opposition. By 1969, there were 500 underground newspapers in high schools and protests had been held on 232 college campuses across the country, with 3,652 people arrested and 956 suspended or expelled.

Soon, the anti-war movement developed into a truly mass movement, dividing society in two. Millions began to see right through the rhetoric of a “war against communism,” and saw the naked aggression of the U.S. ruling class in its pursuit of profits and imperialist domination.

In the end, important sections of big business concluded that it was better to end the war rather than suffer further social explosions at home. They feared the civil rights movement, the radicalized veterans returning home, the growing threat of workers going out on wildcat strikes and the youth movement all coalescing into one giant movement against the government and the system as a whole.

There is no better historic example for us to learn from. We know how to stop this war and we are ready to show it. The battle has begun.

Alec Johnson is a member of the Socialist Alternative. Please send comments to [email protected]