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Unity needed to reawaken the sleeping giant
While in London and Brussels some 100,000 people took part in rallies to mark the second anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, only 7000 people took to the streets across Australia on March 18-20. What has happened to the million Australians who marched against war in February 2003?
When the invasion went ahead, despite massive global protests, a big section of the anti-war movement was demoralised and retreated. Many of the trade unions, churches and other big institutions started to pull back. After the invasion, many of these groups were ambivalent about opposing the US and allied occupation of Iraq — as was the federal Labor opposition. In some cities the anti-war movement divided.
The Stop the War Coalition — initiated by Socialist Alliance members, Greens and independent activists — has organised all the major protests in Sydney since the war began. It organised actions on the first and second anniversaries of the invasion, when US President George Bush visited Australia in October 2003 and when the fake handover of sovereignty took place in Iraq last June. These rallies only drew several thousand people each time, even though opinion polls show a majority of Australians remained opposed to the war.
The Sydney Stop the War Coalition rally on March 20 (addressed by John Pilger) drew some 3000 people, whereas a clashing Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition organised ecumenical service and rally in Parramatta drew around 300.
A joint event of the two coalitions would certainly have produced a much bigger turn out. However, despite the best efforts of the Stop the War Coalition, the Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition decided against combining the two events.
The anti-war movement needs to unite against the occupation of Iraq. The Stop the War Coalition will keep proposing joint anti-war actions to the Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition as it believes that united organising by anti-war activists is critical to rebuilding a mass anti-war movement.
The widespread pessimism that Howard simply cannot be beaten can be shattered by a win — even a partial win. Right now, many of the anti-war protest rallies are “representative” — that is, every person who comes along represents hundreds more who oppose the war but are not yet convinced that their participation can make a difference.
The broader anti-war movement needs to link up with the growing student anti-war coalitions, and tap the broad dissent against privatisation and the rest of the neoliberal economic agenda at a protest scheduled outside the Forbes global CEO conference in Sydney on August 30.
War is “economics by other means” to the corporate elite. Big corporations like Halliburton and the ANZ bank are raking in massive profits from the Iraq occupation and the hands of their CEOs are dripping with blood.
We have to take seriously Bush’s post-9/11 threat of extended war on many fronts. Washington's war machine will not stop at Afghanistan and Iraq. We must do all we can to reawaken the sleeping anti-war giant.
[The author is a national co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance anti-war working group and an activist in the Sydney Stop the War Coalition.]From Green Left Weekly, April 6, 2005.
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