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Today's Anti-War March: No Change

If there are wars going on that we oppose, and someone has taken the time to organize a march to oppose those wars, we have a responsibility to show up. What if ten percent of the people who were in the streets six years ago showed up today? 500 creative, pissed off people could have created a protest that the rest of the city, and maybe the world would know happened.
My wife and I went to today's Change Does Not Equal War march put on by PDX Peace Coalition (although saying they're a "coalition" I could find no other sponsoring organizations or who exactly is part of this "coalition" on any of their literature). It started with a rally with speakers and a couple of hundred folks in the South Park Blocks at Salmon.

Pretty soon after the start time we were off and marching ... on the sidewalk! WHOSE SIDEWALKS?! OUR SIDEWALKS! That's right, 200 or so of us took the whole damn sidewalk and marched through downtown. Not only that, the march would break down into even smaller groups as organizers enforced traffic laws making sure marchers stopped for red lights. It was a long way from Selma this afternoon! That's right, nothing could stop us except a red light! STOP THE WARS! OBEY THE LAW! How this type of timid little action was supposed to change anything would be hard to make a case for. Talk about the kind of Change We Need. We need a new and better and effective anti-war movement if we are really serious about ending the wars, let alone fundamentally transforming the society which creates the needs for war. Today's march was no more about Change than Obama is.

I started making jokes and heckling people to point out the absurdity of the situation. This tactic was met by an older veteran who informed me that "We obey the law," and by a mother who apparently brought her daughter to the march that I was cynical. Others laughed and shook their heads in approval.

This self-policing went on despite the presence of at most six bike cops, who didn't seem to care one way or the other what we did. Today's march was supposed to be in solidarity with the protests in London against capitalism and the G20, and Strasbourg against NATO, and with GI Resisters and the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. Some solidarity. Expressing solidarity with the people of Palestine from the safety of Portland's sidewalks while not even daring to cross against the red, keep the march together, and cause a little disruption. While people in London are trashing banks and our comrades in France and Germany are building barricades in the streets and setting them on fire. Today was pathetic when you think about all the work we have to do to create a new world and how uncreative and boring the few people who bother to even turn up for an anti-war march.

The Portland Police, partly through the way they have strong-armed previous marches and actions, have effectively neutralized the potential effectiveness of of any local anti-war movement, with the collaboration of today's march organizers, by making any oppositional action so tame as not to be able to change a thing. They have been so successful they don't even have to show up. The organizers, or marshals, do the job of the police for them. Any no one dares step out of line. We were all so good today!

Today's march was light years from the one just over six years ago, back when the Iraq War first started. Remember that? 5,000 people turned up for an unpermitted march organized by anti-authoritarian revolutionaries. That day we took the streets, shut down three major brides and the expressway. We shut down Burnside for the night. The wars are still going on, but the radicals and revolutionaries are staying home, or doing something else.

I thought about the women who called me cynical. But at least I was there. Where were all my comrades. Are they cynical for not showing up, perhaps knowing it was going to be a drag? I don't think this is acceptable. If there are wars going on that we oppose, and someone has taken the time to organize a march to oppose those wars, we have a responsibility to show up. What if ten percent of the people who were in the streets six years ago showed up today? 500 creative, pissed off people could have created a protest that the rest of the city, and maybe the world would know happened. Even ten more people with a bit of daring and creativity would have made a difference. At the very least we could have corked the intersections to keep the march together, maybe even have taken the streets. Unlike some protests, we outnumbered the cops today in a very favorable fashion. As it is, the only people that even know today happened are those that were there, and those that might have seen us walk by on the sidewalk. That's something. But to think that this is any kind of victory or step forward would be naive. Today was depressing, not empowering. Next time radicals and revolutionaries, show up!

less complaining please, and more organizing 04.Apr.2009 20:23


the PDX Peace is an actual coalition, although they are at a bit of a low point. If you were to actually join the coalition, you could be constructive in your criticism. You might also understand why there was fewer outreach, and organizing for this march. More organizers = more people and less traffic lights you'll have to stop at.

wait for may day. that will be impressive.

No diversion 04.Apr.2009 20:28


If you want direct action, plan your own event! That's what they do in Olympia! If you don't like the style of the march, LEAVE or start your own. Why should you expect others to do what you want?

We need more angry young people in the streets. How about recruiting some?

Sidewalk Marching 04.Apr.2009 20:28

peace cop

I was going to go, but I'm glad I didn't. I would have been very obnoxious and cynical, because I hate those sidewalk marches. Especially when organizers enforce the crosswalk thing. What's up with that? If the cops want to enforce that particular rule, they can, but organizers doing that? I can see doing that with a group of folks at more risk, but Portland's lily-white privileged peace movement? They can afford a few jaywalking tickets. Push the envelope once in while for gods sake!

Anyway, what ideas are out there for making the peace movement stronger and more sophisticated? Is this the right time to even focus on that, with so many people hurting economically, and many more waiting for hope and change from Obama?

you're not welcome 04.Apr.2009 21:31


I really liked this article and find it's critiques to be on point, but I would have to respectfully disagree with one point you made. I don't believe radicals and anti-authoritarians have a "responsibility" to show up to an event, especially an event in which our ideas and tactics are not welcome. I've gone to pretty much every anti-war march in Portland since the war began (I've even been involved in some of the planning), and I know one thing for sure: if we were to attempt to burn barricades in the streets and storm banks we would be condemned, ridiculed and most likely turned over to the cops. I can honestly say that the mainstream antiwar movement has no intention on taking any action that could potentially threaten the war machine or the system of economic imperialism which it protects. The antiwar movement has become a feel good convention for white liberals (or a recruitment drive for commies, but that's a whole different thread) and nothing more. Honestly us radicals need to start building our own shit and taking actions which further our own goals and builds power for our own community. Who cares if the liberals want to have their bi-yearly circle jerk on the sidewalk? These liberal coalitions have been holding us back for too long, we can burn banks and block ports without them.

NGO's and their boards = a lousy anti-war effort 05.Apr.2009 18:23

that's what's up

Half a decade ago, the boards of the "peace" NGOs in this area thought the anti-war movement was too radical. Immigrant rights, queer rights, Palestine, police abuse, even Afghanistan was an unwarranted distraction in their view. More people will show up if we hew to the mainstream, they said. They sought awards from the Chief of Police for crowd control. They spoke of branding the movement much like MoveOn. White privilege and class privilege are the rule. These NGOs split off. PDXPeace was the result. AFSC, PSR, MoveON and others have hewed a Democratic Party line ever since. (Remember the peace award to Rep. Blumenaeur?) So call AFSC, ask "what the hell?" Call PSR, ask "what the hell?" Call MoveON Oregon. ask "what the hell?"

Or show up on MayDay and prove these quislings wrong.

Re: NGO's seeking awards from cops 06.Apr.2009 01:52

that's almost what's up

I think a lot of the above comment is true, but it's probably an overstatement to say that these groups "sought awards from the Chief of Police for crowd control". I remember all that. I think many of them sought to have good relations with the cops, and therefore cooperated a great deal, perhaps too much. But I don't think anyone sought those awards. When they were offered, the group in question refused to accept them. However, a few individuals broke with that decision, accepted the awards, and I think were kicked out.

Also, I think the birth of PDXPeace came more as a result of tactical and personal differences. I do think it adopted the "hew to the mainstream" strategy you describe, but is probably now moving away from that as the International Socialist Organization is playing such a prominent role. However you shake it, things don't look so hot for the peace "movement".