Back in August, I posted my reasons for not supporting the United for Peace/International A.N.S.W.E.R. D.C. Anti-War Mobilization. Aside from the fact that I was in transit from the UK back to the US, I simply did not want to associate myself with anything related to A.N.S.W.E.R. and its radical stances.
Well, the rally happened this past Saturday, bringing over 100,000 protesters into Washington, DC. The media coverage was, as a whole, positive. So it would seem that my fears of the affiliation with International A.N.S.W.E.R. were unfounded, right?
The main reason that the coverage was so positive was that the media had a major distraction in the form of Hurricane Rita and its effects on Texas and Louisiana. The rally didn’t rank as the top story, thus not commanding as much time and attention on the national news wrap. As such, the networks focused only on the “star-factor” bits: Cindy Sheehan, Jesse Jackson, Joan Baez, and so forth.
But had Rita not been there to deflect the media’s full attention, it’s likely that the coverage wouldn’t have been as positive. DailyKos diarist ToqueDeville published a telling account of the Interational A.N.S.W.E.R. rally spectacle in his post, “ANSWER and the Victims of the March”.
Apparently, most of the rally’s activities – both the anti-war and A.N.S.W.E.R. bits – were carried live on C-SPAN. ToqueDeville watched all of it – even re-watched things to make sure he could soak in all the details – and found that the A.N.S.W.E.R. rally bordered on being “a militant, Marxist-Leninist rally.” He noted (bolding and embellishment is mine):
And for [the A.N.S.W.E.R. rally], we should all thank mother nature for Hurricane Rita. For had this been a slow news day, and the press really wanted to stick it to us, that stage production (call it Karl Rove’s dream come true) could have been beamed out to millions of households instead of just the CSPAN audience.
I watched it three times, taking notes for this diary, and I can tell you, what went beaming out was the apparent confirmation of the image of the left that the right has been trying to sell the American public for years. In a strictly political context, what went beaming out was a complete, political disaster.
And the worst part for me, is that it was a deliberate disaster. This event was billed as an anti-Iraq war protest. And though astute observers, a couple of which tried to warn us, knew the agenda of ANSWER and the political risk of hitching our horses to their wagon, my research and Googling tells me that hardly anyone was aware of it.
And my research also indicates that this was ANSWER’s plan. They host a big rally under one pretext, the opposition to the Iraq war, then exploit that opposition to piggyback their real agenda on top of it.
How many people would have shown up for a rally to denounce the “occupation” of Palestine by Israel? Or to free the Cuban 5? Or to protest the expulsion of Jean-Bertrand Aristide from Haiti? Or to promote the the communist sympathising, pro-North Korea, pro-Castro agenda of the Worker’s World Party?
I would venture to guess no more than a hundred people. But if you believed your TV, tens of thousands of people showed up to support all of these things. This is the cleverness of ANSWER’s method.
As I noted in my earlier post, I’ve been to an A.N.S.W.E.R. rally, back in 2003. sprite and I went, believing that the rally was simply one against the then-impending war in Iraq. Even senators and representatives fell for the ruse. But what we saw was a rally that lacked focus, that didn’t have any clear agenda other than being a clearing house for radical agendae.
At last weekend’s rally, it’s likely true that the majority of participants were there strictly on an anti-war (or anti-Bush) agenda, nothing more. But if these rallies want to actually portray a genuine sense of civil disobedience that may have a long-term effect, they need to gain focus and dump the bullshit poseur groups, like International A.N.S.W.E.R.
In other words, for the movement to truly make a difference, it needs to do two things: hit critical mass (which it has, in effect, done) and become mainstream. And, as ToqueDeville notes, if not for Hurricane Rita, this latter bit could’ve been dealt a serious blow via media scrutiny:
A pivotal moment in the Vietnam war was when average Americans, mothers, grandmothers and people of all political persuasions joined in march on Washington. This was essential to the effort. No longer could Nixon and others characterise the anti-war movement as just a bunch of pro-communists, radical, hippy leftists. The anti-war movement had gone mainstream.
And this is what needs to happen now. Indeed, what has begun to happen now. But the mainstreaming of opposition to this war was dealt a severe blow yesterday, only negated by the diversion of a hurricane.
What should have been presented on that stage was a testament to American patriotism. A demonstration of mainstream Americans, who love their country and its people, challenging their leadership on the singular issue of this war.
If I had produced it, I would have had a giant American flag draping the backdrop. I would have assembled a cast of mothers and grandmothers as featured speakers and hosts. I would have tried to bring in as many soldiers and military personnel as possible, especially those who have advocated immediate withdrawal. It would have framed the opposition to this war as an all-American, red, white and blue patriot fest. Just short of serving apple pie to the huddled masses.
But with repeated viewings, I only caught one American flag. And it was turned upside down. There were a bunch of other flags, one in particular, which I have yet to identify. Far more important than the actual words spoken however, was the overall image of a cast of people who see America as the enemy. People who, if their political beliefs were known, most Americans would not want to be in the same room with.
This last bit is exactly why I didn’t want DC for Democracy to endorse the march and rally. In politics, associations, networks and knowing your friends and enemies all play crucial roles in establishing and maintaining credibility and viability. DC4D has gained a lot of credibility in a short period of time (less than 2 years), and preserving that credibility means taking care with whom you choose to associate.
Again, ToqueDeville puts it very, very well:
And while we can be thankful that hardly anyone was paying attention, rest assured, our political enemies were. And they will no doubt use it to portray all of us as America hating, commie loving, terrorists sympathising malfeasants. Of course, that would be nothing new, and I normally advocate ignoring them and sticking to attacking them instead of defending against their attacks.
But now they have footage. And for that we need an accountability moment. They say a stupid friend is worse than a smart enemy. I couldn’t agree more. And it should be clear to anyone with even the slightest political sensibilities that we have some really stupid friends. And I am not talking about ANSWER.
I am talking about those who thought it was a good idea to join in and help promote this event. Those who either did not bother to find out who they were getting into bed with, or those who knew and didn’t care, should seriously rethink their judgement.
Again, I don’t wish anything bad of those who came out with the purpose of protesting the war in Iraq, BushCo’s handling of Hurricane Katrina, or Bush, in general. While I’m not in complete agreement with the protesters, they said their peace.
Hopefully this rally won’t be the be-all, end-all for their political efforts. And hopefully they’ll hit the ground in their communities: working to get progressive politicians elected at all levels, doing the scut work, making a real difference.
UPDATE:: ToqueDeville posted a marvelous follow-up piece to his excellent summary of the rally: “Embracing Political Irrelevance”. This story clearly explains the importance of properly framing a message and how to use proper tactics to achieve progress with even the most stubborn opponents. A most worthy read.