Thomas L. Knapp

Tom Knapp is the publisher of Rational Review.


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Hijacking a movement
by Thomas L. Knapp

I'm not the only one who has noted the seeming ineffectiveness and lack of fire in today's anti-war movement. Attendance at protests is embarrassingly low. The movement is generally seen as a "fringe" phenomenon that can't get people onto the streets for action as its predecessors -- the sixties' Mobilization Against the War and the thirties' America First movement -- did.

There's a reason for those failings. Scratch today's movement and you're likely to find entirely different agendas under the shiny new coat of paint. At a time when the goal should be to mobilize as many Americans as possible against an unjust war, the movement's "leaders" seem to want to talk about everything except that impending war ... and that means the only people who show up for their activities are the people who are interested in those other things. The same was true in the sixties -- but people have become justifiably more cynical over the intervening decades.

Everyone has multiple agendas. There's nothing wrong with that. But a single issue effort needs to concentrate on a single issue. Every opportunistically added item reduces the pool of people who can be counted upon to get out and make the effort.

I'm a libertarian. My philosophy leads me to conclude that an interventionist foreign policy is wrong and ineffective. Therefore, I oppose that policy and, concluding that the proposed invasion of Iraq is a manifestation of that policy, I likewise oppose said invasion.

When I attend an anti-war rally, I'm willing to leave my opposition to taxes at home. I'm willing to set aside, for the moment, my belief that the market is the best provider of health care. I'm willing to shut my mouth about the evils of victim disarmament ("gun control"). I'm willing to join hands with others who oppose the war, whatever other values they may hold, because an anti-war rally, by definition, is supposed to be about opposing a war, not about other things.

For the most part -- although certainly not across the board -- libertarians have been willing to proceed on the war as a single issue. AntiWar.Com is operated by libertarians, but it limits itself to addressing interventionism, militarism, jingoism ... war issues. That's the way things should be. If you want to join a group with a more comprehensive set of goals, go for it ... but when you show up for an anti-war event, leave those other goals aside. You can talk about them another time.

The last "anti-war" event I attended was in November. We were all of thirty seconds into things when the first speaker piously informed us that this "isn't just about war, but about justice for the workers" (with "justice" tacitly defined as the Green agenda on "economic democracy"). Although I don't endorse that agenda, the fact that my warm body was present allowed the speaker to co-opt my presence as an endorsement of something other than the rally's purported purpose.

The next speaker wanted to talk about the effects of sanctions on health care in Iraq. OK. I could buy that, being a non-interventionist myself .... but what about the people who oppose the war but favor "lighter" interventions? To the extent that the speaker was regarded as representing those gathered in "solidarity," they had just had words put in their mouths.

Next to the podium was someone wanting to talk about police crimes and repression. Ah, another issue I don't mind being on the right side of ... but he also wanted to talk about implementing a racist scheme of "proportional representation" in the legislature, something I don't endorse at all.

I finally walked out. I didn't want to. I sincerely oppose the war that may soon be waged "in our name." But this was the last straw. If the "anti-war" movement in my community wants my support, it's going to have to start being about that war.

Notice that I said "last straw." It certainly wasn't the first.

In the fall, I attended an exceptional rally on the steps of St. Louis's old courthouse. The Libertarian Party's candidate for U.S. Senate from Missouri (who just happens to also be my partner), Tamara Millay, was among the speakers. She had been cautioned to keep her remarks short ... and on point. And she did. Other than introducing herself as the LP's Senate candidate, she spoke briefly in opposition to the war and left other issues out of it.

Most -- not all, but most -- of the other speakers observed this rule as well. As a result, the crowd remained enthusiastic and the rally was, from my point of view, a success. Sure, there were people on the margins with "No War But Class War" banners; and yes, some of the speakers briefly segued into their pet issues. But for the most part, this anti-war rally was an anti-war rally. I was ready for more.

Not long after, I got an email from MoveOn. Let's talk about MoveOn. Their email appeals started appearing not long after it became apparent that the Bush administration was dead set on having a war with Iraq, no matter what it took to get one. They postured as a "grass roots, anti-war" group. I had signed one of their online petitions.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I received an email message from MoveOn, urging me to get out and support one of the two pro-war candidates for U.S. Senate, Democrat Jean Carnahan.

Carnahan had waffled on the issue until the last possible moment -- refusing to appear at anti-war events, making appointments for conference calls with movement leaders and then cancelling and, fnally, voting in favor of the resolution authorizing George W. Bush to do, well, pretty much whatever the hell he wanted. I saw various campaign signs around the St. Louis area bearing Carnahan's name and, spray-painted underneath, the word "warmonger."

But according to MoveOn, it was of primary importance that she be re-elected, despite her support for the war and despite the fact that not one, but two, anti-war candidates were on the ballot. Despite its posturing, MoveOn turned out to be a thinly-veiled front for Democratic candidates, hopping on the "anti-war" bandwagon so that it could flak for them ... whether they deserved it or not.

When is the anti-war movement going to get serious about being an anti-war movement?

When organizers allow opportunists to hijack their events, or even organize events under a false "anti-war" flag with the intention of accomplishing other things, they do the cause a disservice.

Putatively anti-war events are scheduled across the nation this weekend. I suspect that the scale will be large enough that they will be perceived as anti-war events regardless of what off-topic content makes its way into the presentations. So, I'll probably drag out a "Not In Our Name" sign and join the march.

But a real movement can't sustain itself on one day of activism. If the war is to be stopped, those who oppose it are going to have to set aside their other differences, forego opportunism and focus their activities on the issue at hand. The cost of failure to do so will be counted in human lives.