Tom McCarthy of Tacoma reflects on what it will take to generate an antiwar movement powerful enough to put an end to the Iraq war, and gives what's happened in the first half of 2006 in Tacoma, WA, as "a shot of hope."[1] ...



By Tom McCarthy

United for Peace of Pierce County (WA)
July 11, 2006

The majority of Americans want the Iraq War over yesterday, so why is it that the forces for peace seem to be in such a funk? Why aren't peace activists channeling this public opinion into a powerful antiwar movement? Why aren't we raising the political cost for the for the warmongers to a point like that which made even a miserable right-winger like Richard Nixon throw in the towel and end the war in Vietnam? One can point to a number of factors, but the crucial weakness seems to be the low morale of peace-minded folks in this country. Even with public opinion on our side, we don't seem to believe that we can build a movement to end the war. Perhaps what we need most is a shot of hope; I give you the example of this year's peace activism in Tacoma, Washington.

Tacoma is the second city of Washington State, with a population of 200,000. This blue-collar town tends to vote for Democrats, but with two of country's largest military bases, plenty of rural areas. and waterfront trophy homes, there is a pronounced Limbaugh bent in our surrounding county. Generally, our activism is over-shadowed by the megalopolis of liberalism to the north -- Seattle. In the past, instead of building anti-war events in Tacoma, we activists would drive 40 minutes north to Seattle. This year, though, Seattle came to us.

A year ago, peace activists in Tacoma, as in the country, were disheartened by our failure to stop the war and by the fact that our "democratic" system of governance was deaf to our petitions of redress. Bush dragged us into this war and the Democrats, almost to a person, not only capitulated, but rushed to beat the drums of war as well. The position on the war of our representatives and senators are essentially the same as Bush, despite our best lobbying efforts. In our demonstrations, we had symbolically demanded that our government hear our cry in front of the federal building, but our government's response has been deafening silence.

The truth is that on the big questions, the government is always deaf to the petition of a few people; you have to bring a crowd, preferably armed with pitchforks and prepared to give Uncle Sam a few motivating jabs in the hindquarters. One thing that we can thank King George II for is that he has gotten some of us progressives out of the armchair. A few of these new forces in Tacoma responded to the national call for town halls on the war. In January of 2006, a labor-based group called America in Solidarity, with the Tacoma/Pierce County Progressive Roundtable, joined the First United Methodist Church's social justice committee to pull together a Town Hall on the War. This collaboration was a groundbreaking one and brought some 400 people to a day's peace events. This event, pulled together in less than a month, built confidence that "Si se puede," yes, we the people, can.

Next was March 19th, the 3rd anniversary of the war. This was a real question, because the year before there had been no event marking the occasion in Tacoma. Some of us went to Seattle. Some didn't see the point of going to the effort of building a demonstration in Tacoma for 2006 either. After all, why bother? Our government sure wasn't listening.

After some consideration, the thought struck -- forget the government. We need to go to the community. The idea slowly took hold that instead of symbolically petitioning the government, we would march on this Sunday through the Hilltop neighborhood, which is chock-full of churches and is a historically marginalized section of town. The theme of the march and rally was to draw attention to the social costs of the war. This banner resonated with many folks, because people had had Section 8 housing cut out from under them, community health care had been slashed, and people understood the connection of these losses to the war. Also, many in Tacoma are or were in the military or have friends and family enlisted now. By keeping the focus on the social costs of the war, the broadest basis for unity and participation was established.

Associated Ministries sent out the call for an organizing meeting and the response was excellent. Beyond the usual suspects of peace activism, numerous churches became involved in organizing, including a few predominantly African American churches. These latter ministers never been involved in Tacoma peace events before, but had seen the social costs of the war disproportionately affect their congregations. Jobs with Justice came and brought with them several union locals to the march, another precedent. In fact, the march was headed by the local that represents the workers of the Veterans Administration hospital, folks who had seen their budget cut to pay for the war, precisely when the need for VA's services were growing. As it turns out, the main Seattle peace group had decided not to have an event that year and instead endorsed and attended the Tacoma event. On that beautiful Sunday, we marched through the streets of Tacoma, prompting folks to pop their heads out of windows, to join us and the newspaper even had to recognize that there were a 1,000 people in Tacoma against the Iraq War, quite a good number for this town.

Since March, there have been several events supporting Ft. Lewis soldiers refusing to return to Iraq -- Sgt. Keven Benderman and Lt. Ehren Watada. A local chapter of Veterans For Peace has formed. Activity has bred hope and we are bringing new people into -- dare we say it -- the Peace Movement. The truth is that Bush has trod on too many of us and this has opened up opportunities for new collaborations. Remember that there were many ups and downs to the peace movement of the Vietnam War, but we ended it and our government was unable to invade another country for almost 20 years. The peace activists of those days persevered and so can we. If we form respectful relationships with our natural allies, and if we build non-exclusionary anti-war events with themes that aim to build the broadest possible unity around the basic demand of "Out now," we will give rise to a movement. Then we'll have the crowd to end this costly and criminal war. Pitchfork anyone?