March 1, 2007

The Iraq Moratorium: It's Time

You are reading an argument that the next step for the anti-war/anti-occupation movement is the establishment of a one-day-a-month Iraq Moratorium. This idea is loosely based on the hugely effective Vietnam Moratorium of 1969, with elements borrowed from more recent movements like the Nuclear Freeze and the immigrant uprising of last spring.

This post will review very briefly why the situation today calls for an Iraq Moratorium, and then sketch out five components of such a moratorium, which should provide a clearer idea of what's being proposed here. It’ll close with a few remarks (all pretty obvious) about the critical role of the Internet in such an undertaking.

Where We’re At

By the end of March, the anti-war movement will be at an awkward juncture. We will be coming off a varied batch of actions around the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq--the Fayetteville,NC protest by vets and military families, the hundreds of regional and local actions called by United For Peace & Justice, International ANSWER’s march on the Pentagon. Congress will have debated and passed some version of Bush’s $93 billion “emergency appropriation,” which many activists have focussed on forcing Congress to block. (The best case scenario, and none too likely looking at the moment, is that it passes with enough of John Murtha’s conditions in place to ensure that the occupation will have to start gradually winding down.) There is nothing major on the horizon afterwards.

At the same time, the movement has seen the rise of new forms of collective action and network building, like the “Appeal for Redress,” the seizures of Congressional offices with the Occupation Project at the core, and the call by students at UC Santa Barbara for a February 15 student strike, which was taken up at a score of campuses.

Finally, the whiteout of the growing anti-war movement in the national media shows no sign of abating. The diary that triggered this one, two nights ago, was on the current wave of Congressional office occupations. Plenty of comments came from people who didn’t know it was happening at all, and that’s here at Daily Kos, a crew that tracks Congress with an intensity rarely found in the broader US population.

Five Aspects of the Proposed Iraq Moratorium

ONE. The Iraq Moratorium is built on a foundation of linking, of concentrating and of making more visible the already existing forms of protest and forces demanding an end to the occupation. On any given day in this country there are scores of significant activities--talks given, fasts undertaken, vigils continued, rallies organized, elected officials pressured, articles written--and by and large it’s treated by the mainstream media (MSM) as not worth mentioning.

This is the heart of the approach which gave the first Vietnam Moratorium on October 15, 1969 such a huge impact--have everyone possible do something on the same day (say, the first Friday of every month) and wherever possible have that something interrupt the normal “War? What war?” flow of everyday life in as many places as possible throughout the country.

Two. The Iraq Moratorium should promote activities with the lowest possible threshold of entry to expand the reach of the movement to the tens of millions who have come to oppose the war but never taken an active step to end it. One unifying thread could be the one utilized so effectively in the October 15, 1969 Vietnam Moratorium--black armbands (and ribbons, and streamers for car antennas). Another could be locally or nationally prepared post cards addressed to Congresscritters. Clog their damn mailboxes like they’ve never been clogged before.

The internal organizing slogan I’d suggest for the campaign to build a moratorium is “Down and Out.” Push the center of activity down to the most local level practical--to neighborhoods and communities. Push ourselves to do more outreach at that level--look to models like’s living room movie showings.

Three. The Iraq Moratorium will have to be a new initiative, combining limited but intense central coordination with viral organizing at the grassroots. New--the Moratorium won’t take off if it is seen as the project of any existing organization, even one as broad as UFPJ. Perhaps some respected outfit like US Labor Against the War could initiate it. (USLAW put out the first call, soon taken up by UFPJ, NOW, Operation PUSH and other broad forces, for last Spring’s moblization in NYC.)

Central--A small crew has to keep on top of things, to use diplomacy to get participation from as wide a range of forces as possible (and restrain sectarian outbursts), to wage a centralized media campaign and to provide resources to those who need it. Viral--This idea won’t become a reality because somebody tells people to do it. It will spread because it is in keeping with the tenor of the times and people’s desire to do something to end the war. Leaving planning of the actual Moratorium Day activities to folks at the most local level practical is an important road to breaking the limits many activists have come up against.

FOUR. The Iraq Moratorium will seek to impinge on the normal business of society in order to highlight the costs of the occupation, both in Iraq and here, and to force the war to end. This formal moratorium aspect will initially be concentrated on campuses (which is why a May starting date is very important). A general strike to end the war would be nice, but it won’t happening this spring. Calling a consumer boycott--without some analysis that tells us we can affect sales (generally, or of some commodity like gasoline) to the point where it would clearly show up as more than normal business fluctuations or statistical noise--would likewise set us up for MSM declarations that we failed.

That does not mean it will be limited to college strikes and high school blowouts. The moratorium should adapt tactics like those of the AIDS movement’s Day Without Art, which had a giant impact in its first few years, or the solidarity shutdowns by small businesses during last Spring’s immigrant uprising.

5. The Iraq Moratorium will carry a simple message: end the occupation pronto and bring the troops home. That will be the effective message because that’s what unites the majority of people who oppose the war. Any slogans suggested by the central organizers should reflect this, but there’s no way that a project like this can enforce slogan discipline (or, for that matter, tactical uniformity)--nor should it. The most important thing is the breadth and depth of participation, period.

The Netroots and the Internet

Obviously there’s much more I could write to flesh out this proposal. Just as obviously, these ideas will benefit immeasurably from readers giving them a thorough look-over and offering criticisms, comments and suggestions. That’s the first valuable role that the Internet can play, but it is certainly not the only one. Ideas for novel tactics will be needed; so will short reports on past or ongoing campaigns that might hold lessons for this proposal.

If this is taken up, the Internet will be a central force in mobilizing people, and not just the usual suspects. An example--many here are also deeply into one or another music scene. Would it not be possible to issue a call that on Moratorium day (or better still all during the week leading up to it), bands add to their set at every performance one of three covers--”Give Peace A Chance” or Edwin Star’s “War” or, say, “Traveling Soldier”? If a central website were maintained, pledges and gig reports could plug participants and encourage others to get on board.

This points to the next obvious need--a central website, changed daily, with reports on local planning and mobilizing for the Iraq Moratorium, links to news coverage it does get, tools like model leaflets, and most importantly, the capacity to take in and turn around 24 hour coverage in various media on the day of the Iraq Moratorium itself.

And of course folks here may have access to other crucial resources--media contacts, anti-war donors, celebs who might want a piece of this, etc.

But for now, what this proposal needs most is your thoughts and suggestions.

So holler, y’all!


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more, especially about the part about "impinge on the normal business of society." I think that I speak for many, many of us who have been directly affected by this war, the soldiers and their families, not to mention millions of Iraqis, who resent the fact that most Americans continue with their daily lives as if nothing was going on, despite the fact that this war has disrupted our lives, disrupted the lives of millions of people, permananently. As long as people can ignore this war, they will.

But there are two main problems that I see with this. One, anti-war work has become a way of life for many of us, hence the creation of myriad organizations, the search for funding, the hours spent planning events, coming up with new plans and schemes---we need to make sure the focus is actually on ending the war, not finding a place for ourselves within the anti-war movement. We need to end the war, not perpetuate the movement. I said this before the war began--and I will speak bluntly and say that I think this is far more prevalent among those who have no real connection to the war--that people were way too eager to have a real anti-war movement. I remember the glee in some students faces at a meeting I attended before the war, as they were planning on creating huge banners to drop off of tall buildings. I see too much as well of people seeking to find a way to make an income from the anti-war movement, and jockeying for position, becoming a "famous leftist" through their anti war work. There are college professors here where I am who I do not believe have really lifted a finger or opened their checkbook to do anything about the war, yet from the jump wanted people to ask them to speak about the war. People want to show off their skills and knowledge and creativity. My grandfather always told me that you always need to make a joyous noise, meaning find some way to make the best of what you are given and ways to enjoy life, those of this directly affected probably know this the best--but all need to do some serious self reflection.

Second, and this is to me why there is such a problem now and why there would be a big problem in pulling off such a moratorium. I just don't see everyone as being on the same page. A good example is the emailing that MoveOn did today--and they are probably the best example for many reasons--talking about Murthra's bill and making sure that troops are not sent into Iraq without being adequately trained, supplied and protected. We don't want the troops sent into Iraq at all. Yet MoveOn, an amorphous organization that many, many Americans relate to, has decided to throw out this bit about supplying the troops at a time when we should all be sticking to defunding the war. Not to mention their recent letter/petition delivery that was not about ending the war entirely, but about not sending additional troops, despite the uproar this office visit caused here in OKC. In order to pull off something like a widespread moratorium, people have to be on the same page. And I am just not seeing it.

Trying to get people in this region, Oklahoma and Texas, to participate in activities geared toward defunding the war has been frustrating. I think that the demand Defund the War is the best thing that we have had in these last four years, and expected others to jump right on it, but that has not been the case. And as you pointed out, the period where this could be successful is quickly passing, not enough people have been willing to push this issue, and the Democrats are again taking the safe and spineless route.

I agree completely with the idea of a moratorium. I am just pointing out what I see as an immense problem. And if we don't solve this problem somehow, it doesn't matter what else we do. If we couldn't get people to come out in large numbers for defunding the war, how are we going to get them to participate in a widespread moratorium? I sure do not know how to solve this, basically I have just been repeating defund the war to people like a mantra and it hasn't seemed to make a dent. People don't seem to have the attention span to stick to one simple thing. I sat in on Occupation Project conference call last night, and the same issue arose. People are pushing not only defunding the war, but getting people to sign on with HR 508. I don't have any problem with HR 508, but this is a tactical issue with me. I think that we need to make this simple and stick to it. And that we have to get enough people keeping it simple and sticking to the same line to have a louder voice than MoveOn or any of these other groups who appear to me to be simply paving the way for a lot of people to accept whatever the Democratic Party comes up with, rather than actually ending the war. Do I need to point out, without mentioning names, that one of the organizations intrinsically part of the BTHN campaign has never at any time attempted to organize its own vast membership to this simple demand?

All I know is, that some of us need to get on the same page and stay there and start sounding like a broken record. Then we can talk about shutting down the country to end the war.


Anonymous said...

Since you didn't mention it, for 'next steps' I wanted to make sure Fire on the Mountain readers know about the March 20 student day of actions against the war. It was initiated by a number of SDS chapters and there are already 40+ schools (and growing!) planning protests. This is clearly the next step for students.

It is shaping up to be a very significant day of action that will build on the breakthrough of the February 15 anti-war student strike at UCSB and protests at 20-odd other schools.

It's not often that 40+ campuses have anti-war protests on the same day. For the list of campuses that have an action going on, click here.

The call for March 20 campus anti-war protests came from SDS chapters, and many of the groups doing protests are SDS. But three other important national networks (World Can't Wait, Campus Antiwar Network and SPAN) have also endorsed the March 20 day of action and many of their campus chapters are also participating. And there are unaffiliated anti-war student groups on board too.

Anonymous said...

The March 20th anti-war events on campuses might be a good thing to piggyback a national call to action around for a moratorium. Maybe too soon, but after a week of protests in DC and a mass march, an encampment and during a key vote who knows?

At George Mason, the SDS group is growing with 15-20 students attending weekly meetings. A call for a moratorium might snowball something sectorially based into a wider coordinated display. In any case-I will encourage our crew here at GMU to do the black armband thing on the 20th.

The Art school is supporting a coffin display on the quad on campus with an announcement to every art student at Mason encouraging them to help make props for the 20th.


Anonymous said...

I posted a proposal for organizing weekly events locally to build up support for the event here. Comments are welcome, here or there.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jimmy!

In response to the vote yesterday on the Iraq war bill, I posted a few comments at dailykos pushing the moratorium idea, and much to my amazement there was this from Meteor Blades:

I know yu may be up on all that, but I thought I'd pop in and make sure you knew. I'm not sure the momentum can be sustained, but I'll do what I can. It definitely is something of a breakthrough.

Jimmy Higgins said...

Mo' Moratorium! Both Lesser Dane and the Agitator checked in here from DailyKos, where there is a definite stir about the Moratorium going on. As the Agitator (as he is on his new blog) a/k/a ActivistGuy on dKos points out, the embrace of the idea by dKos luminary MeteorBlades is very significant.

The whole left liberal blogosphere is awash in cries of "betrayal" and "capitulation" after the Democratic majority they did so much to elect caved in, cravenly and completely, to Bush on the "emergency appropriation," giving him another $95 billion to extend and expand the occupation. Even more offensive were the manuevers in the House with votes cannily crafted to let Representaives pretend they voted against funding, when they could already usher it through under cover of an earlier procedural vote.

The Iraq Moratorium website should be going live within a week, and then we'll see if we're trying to stay on a bronco of mass outrage in these circles or if they'll drift back to the everlasting prrimary campaign...

Anonymous said...

thanks for stopping by my blog and weighing in on Kerry's labor question, knew I was out of my depth there. OPOL moratorium post last night. I emailed hi to let him know about your forthcoming moratorium site.

Things is stirring. Here's my email: