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Marching Onward

Marching Onward

Now that the war in Iraq is over, what’s next for the anti-war crowd?

by Scott Hutchins

Baghdad has fallen. A new regime change is in the works. Now that war is winding down, what’s next for the peace movement? Did the worldwide protests over the past few months have an impact? Is there anything left to protest?

According to some politically active residents of Santa Cruz County, the answer to these questions is a resounding “yes.? Susan Zeman, a founding member of the Santa Cruz Peace Coalition believes that the protests had a very positive and influential impact on many people.

“I do think that the protests had an impact on the world,? Zeman says. “Protesting is partially about making a statement to the world but it’s more about making a statement to ourselves and letting the world see that we don’t agree with that policy. When you look at the effect, we know that we didn’t stop the war. But what we did do was exercise our rights and we saw the power that we did have, which was to put off the conflict for many months. George Bush first started talking about invading Iraq back in October and really started driving hard for it back in November. So I think that the protests all over the world were effective in delaying it.?

But what was more important to her was the cohesion of responses by the American people.

“By protesting we also raised the issue of peace and justice in every American home,? she says. “It has raised the issue of citizens’ involvement for peace and justice and how we are responsible for what our government is doing. I think that we were very effective in doing this. No, we didn’t stop this war, and we might not stop the next war. But, what we are doing is building a system of citizen engagement, a system that has been in the process for decades. We are definitely helping to further that and it has grown and developed so much in the past few years. I would like to think that, in the not too distant future, we will have built a system [in which] citizens are engaged in what their government is doing.?

Other activists believe that, while the anti-war movement didn’t stop the war in Iraq, it did hold the hawks accountable and possibly restrained their itchy trigger fingers. “It’s the peace movement that kept that war in check,? says Bob Fitch with the Resource Center fro nonviolence. “It had a lot to do with preventing a nuclear holocaust.?

Justin Mayer, an activist who helped organize the Civilian Weapons Inspection Team, which tried to “inspect? Lockheed Martin’s Santa Cruz facility last month, believes the protests that went on had a significant impact on world events.

“The fact that so many people around the world joined together and stood up to be counted to say that war should be the very last resort when solving conflict is amazing,? he says. “The key thing that I believe needs to be done is to educate Americans because they seem really in the dark about what our foreign policy is about. Protesting and education are tied together.?

What’s Next?

What happens now in terms of the peace movement?

“A lot of study,? Fitch says. “One of the things that made the protests prior to the war so strong, not only locally but globally, was that there had been a lot of studying and discussion after the Vietnam War and, particularly, the Gulf War. What is the financial cost of war? What are the emotional costs? Everybody felt that war, the uneasiness and the uncertainty. There will still be action related to the costs of war.?

Activists also say that they will keep up the pressure against the Bush administration and its priorities. “We should continue to protest the U.S. government’s foreign policy,? Mayer said. “Second on the list would be to protest Patriot Acts 1 and 2. Not many people know about Patriot Act 2, which is just a real erosion of the Bill of Rights. We also need to protest all this expenditure on the military as opposed to what gets put into education. Hopefully more people will wake up when they look at their pocket books and continue to wonder why they can’t pay their bills or why their child’s classroom has twice as many kids than it had just a few years ago.?

With all the focus on war, there’s been little discussion of the upcoming presidential election in 18 months. But one name that has emerged from the pack of look-alike Democratic candidates is Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat congressman from Ohio, who has openly spoken out against the war in Iraq, called for the United States’ withdrawal from NAFTA, and introduced a legislative bill to create a Department of Peace. (He will speak at 7 p.m. on Sunday, May 25, at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.)

Despite the positive outlook that Kucinich exudes, there are individuals like Zeman who believe that the problem lies deeper than who is in the White House.

“There are local groups who are working for Kucinich’s campaign for presidency,? Zeman says. “He is an absolutely wonderful candidate. One thing that is important to remember is that electoral politics is not the be-all and end-all in terms of where we’re at. What we need more than anything else is more citizen engagement because even if Kucinich wins the presidency, that is not going to solve all of our problems. He is just another guy walking right into the same system that every other president walks into. There is already a system there and this one individual can only do so much. We have an entire system that we have to address.?

Fitch agrees that the systematic dysfunction of the current American body politic transcends one president. Nevertheless, President Bush has managed to grab an inordinate amount of power, and continues to grab. Fitch thinks that people are fed up, and their discontent will fuel the election process.

“There are a great number of people who are annoyed by Bush’s schoolyard bully approach,? Fitch says. “Bush is saying to the globe, ‘I don’t need no [f-ing] badge.’ That annoys a lot of the conservative people who believe that they have a connection to the government, that the president is there for them, and he’s not. He’s there for himself and his corporate comrades. There’s no end to this.

“People have been waiting for a chance to say the things that are in their hearts,? he says. “I think people will say the things that are in their hearts during this campaign.?

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