August 2003
volume 1, issue 2


From Global Justice to Antiwar and Back Again: A Personal Chronicle of a Season of ‘Better to Laugh than Cry” Antiwar Activism.

The months of activism from February through March were some of the most exhilarating, depressing, riveting, and charged as any I can remember. If a mood became too intense—another bombing or jump in public opinion—shifted the political climate with a bit of relief or more bad news. The ground remained in constant flux.

After grieving for what felt like a loss of the global justice movement, one of the most amazing movements of our lifetimes after 9/11, autopsies proved premature. Fall of 2002, the antiwar movement built the infrastructure of the global justice movement to create a momentum unprecedented in any peace movement in history. I will never forget hearing the roars at Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping’s 9/11 first anniversary show. Kurt Vonnegut spoke about Slaughterhouse Five. People were hooting and hollering in the standing-room-only rally/ service at St. Mark’s Church. Somehow, a year’s worth of somber memories and frustrations were released. In the months to follow, more and more citizens stood up to challenge the buffoonery of the notion that the most appropriate response to the slaughter of innocent lives was killing more of them. “War is so 20th Century,” signs at rallies read. “Somewhere in Texas, there is a village missing an idiot,” another sign proclaimed on February 15th, the largest day of simultaneous protest in world history. Building on the lessons of the global justice movement, this new antiwar movement of protest would be funny, full of joy, engaging and entertaining at the same time. It would challenge the banality of the “bomb first, ask questions later” approach of the Bushies. And it would succeed in mobilizing people across the country to speak as world citizens in solidarity with people across the globe. Labor unions, church groups, civil libertarians, women’s and queer groups would speak out about common fears of a loss of civil liberties and anger over the inequality-expanding economic agenda disguised by this war. The New York city council would pass a resolution opposing the war. Within this opposition, a global peace and justice movement took hold, pulling in masses in ways the global justice movement in North America had never done. The following is a personal account of the peak months of antiwar activism, as a movement found its footing.

In the days before the October 27th demonstration in Washington, members of Reclaim the Streets, the New York City Direct Action Network and the Lower East Side Collective organized to form Mobilize New York and An Absurd Response to an Absurd War. Together we began to plan for a carnival block for the DC march. In addition to going to march, Mobilize New York helped organize a list of pithy weekly antiwar action alerts with thousands of members. Every time someone signed up for our mailing list, we gave them stylish pink and black “All War All the Time?” stickers advertising “log on, plug in, stop the war - weekly antiwar alerts.” By December 2002, these stickers could be witnessed on sidewalks, lampposts, bumpers, subways, and phone booths throughout the city. We signed up high school kids, parents, the usual suspects from direct action circles and Upper West Side liberals. People from all walks of New York life signed up for the list, ready to speak out and take action against the war.

Activists chained themselves together in Hillary Clinton’s office the day she voted to approve the war. Increasingly, people were becoming aware this war was going to happen regardless of whether voters wanted it or not. The President’s "National Security Strategy of the United States," submitted to Congress in September 2002, said as much: "The United States will not hesitate to strike pre-emptively against its enemies, even if it faces international opposition, and will never again allow its military supremacy to be threatened…. In the new world we have entered, the only path to peace and security is the path of action." War is peace. 1984 had ceased to be a cautionary tale. “Ignorance is strength” had moved from satire to serious. And people from all walks of American life were smelling bullshit (see Shepard, As the global justice movement contended with the 9/11 backlash, with military troops on the ground, the question remained: What was the appropriate response?

The night before the massive February 15th rally and marches, a group of culture jammers—many from RTS/Mobilize New York—organized what they thought was the ultimate culture jam moment: a completely straight, i.e., not satirical, response to the war. In the middle of the Times Square military recruiting station, the group laid out candles and posters reading: “Bring Them Home Now.” The posters aimed to reclaim the icon of the yellow ribbon – a peace sign co-opted during the previous Gulf War. To really be patriotic, this group suggested Americans had to call get the troops out of harm’s way. Of course, the following day was one of the largest protests in world history, with over a half million clogging the New York City streets and streets around the world. Two days later, the New York Times cover story compared the weekend's mobilization with the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the Revolutions of 1848 (

Within a week of F15, Turkey, the model of Arab democracy, and one praised by the administration, voted to reject the American offer of billions for the use of their land for a northern front in the war. Later in the week, press secretary Ari Fleisher was laughed off the stage during his press briefing for denying the US was trying to bribe foreign nations for UN votes. The Bush Administration was facing an obstinate foe. The Times article after the week’s demonstrations suggested, “"The fracturing of the Western alliance over Iraq and the huge antiwar demonstrations around the world this weekend are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.” The problem was, the Bushies were not listening.

“If Bush attacks Iraq, Protest 5:00 PM Times Square,” the pink and black Mobilize New York stickers designed by L.A. Kauffman suggested. By mid March, many of us were aware that day was quickly approaching. By March 20th, we received Kauffman’s ominous e-mail: “The war has begun; it's time to get out in the streets! However you choose to express your feelings on this sad and ominous day - through solemn vigils, loud marches, or nonviolent direct action - we urge you to take immediate and visible action.” A special Mobilize New York Alert announced: “Dear friends, The unthinkable is happening. Right now, the United States is bombing Iraq. Despite a brick wall of opposition, George W. Bush and his minions are pressing forward… This afternoon (Thursday), TAKE TO THE STREETS. Bring your rage, your grief, your love and respect for democracy and human life.” I don’t know if we won much anything that rainy, dark afternoon, as the skies poured. The police restricted the movement of most activists on the ground, coraling and beating many of the activists who had arrived. Yet, to a degree, they did the activists a favor, clogging up most the streets and creating highly dramatic scenes for the TV news cameras. By merely calling for a demo, the police shut it down Times Square for the activists and commuters alike. News throughout the evening followed reports of demonstrations across the country. It detailed the rise of a new kind of patriotic anti- war activism, stories on Bush's failed diplomacy, the NYC demo in Times Square, the Dixie Chicks against the war, those amazing San Franciscans, 1000 of whom got arrested for really shutting down the San Francisco Financial Center. Whether the Bushies wanted to hear it, a real debate about peace and justice was emerging.

In the days after the US invasion, a number of observers compared this time to that of Weimar Berlin. Jimmy Breslin quoted from Hitler’s speech justifying pre emptive invasion of Poland in 1939. “As always, I attempted to bring about, by the peaceful method of making proposals for revision, an alteration of this intolerable position” but diplomatic measures failed, Hitler explained. Certainly, these comparisons are the are the highest of drama. Yet, the words remained eerie, strikingly familiar, and threatening. An executive producer of a CBS miniseries about Adolf Hitler's rise to power was been fired for making a similar comparison ("Hitler" producer fired for comparison to US, Thu, Apr 10). In an essay entitled, “Fear American Style” Historian Corey Robin reminds us the majority of the persecution, which occurred during the McCarthy period occurred not by government but took place in Civil Society through dismissals such as this. So, for those with the propensities to barrow and compare with other similarly reaction periods of US and world history, there was plenty to be considered. Certainly, there are similarities between the fascism’s melding of corporate industrial power and government and the current scene. But there are also differences. As many would point out Hitler, for example, was elected to power by a clear majority.

Yet, the question remained - what if it we were living in an era not unlike Weimar Berlin? The culture of that era – the Fritz Lang movies, the literature – Sigfriend Kracauer, the arts – from Bauhaus, to DaDa to Agit prop, Max Beckman, Otto Dix to, the decadence, they offer us the most eloquent stories of a diagnosis of decline. They offer us testimony of the best in living that people could do. Psychologically, there is a flip side to destruction and that is generativaty. In the days after 9/11 the city was filled with that sort of creativity. Reverend Billy performed show after show after the bombing, presenting the stories those who were killed in the bombing who left messages of “I love you… I’ve loved the life we had together,” on answering machines and in the cosmos. In the weeks after 9/11, the city’s public commons, Union Square, “was like a Fellini movie there, artists of all kinds, painting, breakdancing, people arguing like Hyde Park in London, a real culture-making center,” Reverend Billy observed, imploring activists to continue the energy. Yet, the “I kill you’s” quickly took hold of the paradigm as the Bushies used the tragedy for their own ends.


Joyous Resistance

Once the war started, a spirit of activism and cultural resistance became perhaps the most important tool we had. March 22, just two days after the bombing, United for Peace and Justice had already scheduled yet another city wide rally “Peace and Democracy.” Once again, light blue and black stickers for the event could be found around city. Yet, unlike on February 15nd, this rally had been awarded a permit. I showed up Saturday expecting a bit of a funeral march. The war had started, the rainy protests in Times Square made for film nourish sights of activists scuffling with police in the rain, as the ANSWER sound system, permitted by the police, droned through the night. In the week before the rally, few of us in the normally festive affinity group Reclaim the Streets/ Mobilize New York few were feeling festive. Its hard to be ironic with people really dying on the streets. We put out a call for Funeral Block at the rally, asking people to come as pallbearers, hysterical mourners. “Bring your prayer beads and talismans. Wear Black. Grieve with Righteous Anger. And get ready to march for our ailing democracy... Reclaim the Streets Says: Mourn with Militance...”” We’d meet at the Public Library, between the Lions (5th Ave at 41st St) and join the rest of the March at Broadway and 40th Streets.

Yet, Saturday was joyous. Two nights before the rally, a call went out from a renegade RTSer calling for a “French Block” to protest the anti French tide taking across the country, while thanking them for their hard line against the war. What emerged was just what was called for: “A wildly militant march of folks celebrating everything French, wearing berets, blue and white striped shirts, smoking Gauloises, and pumping their baguette-clenched fists up and down in the air, shouting "Tous ensemble! Tous ensemble! Oui! Oui! Oui!" (a chant from a French anarchist syndicate which means "All together! All together! Yes! Yes! Yes!"). Everyone was wearing berets, brie, bad accents, moustaches, Marseillese lyrics, etc. What we encountered was a profound energy even after days and weeks of constant action. The day of the rally was a strikingly bright and energetic. While I was not as immediately ready to be silly, there was a certain ring to the “French kiss for peace” and “eat the props” chants members of affinity group screamed as we munched on baggets. The exuberance of the day was undeniable - the tranny brigade, chanted – “we're queer!!! we're cute!!! we're antiwar to boot!!!” Reverend Billy made peace with authentic protestors, while others screamed at the ANSWER folks, “March, march! Chant, Chant! Rhetoric, rhetoric! Rant, rant!….” The Glamericans wore their feather boas and carried signs proclaiming “War is Tacky, Darling” and “Peace is the New Black.” ACT UP screamed, “War is so heteronormative…” and so on and so on…The action was striking. There are times when I do this work and feel like we are coming so much closer to imagining and actually even creating a far more caring world, that I am in awe. I just couldn’t believe how many people were out dressed to the nines, the Frenchies who spoke for all our "nausea," the Housing Works procession with their ‘money for aids, not for war’ banners... The ACT UP call was clear: "Given the impact the war will have on innocent civilians and the outrageousness of the breach of international law, combined with the likelihood that human needs such as AIDS funding will be slashed, we urge you to demonstrate for an end to the war. Money for human need, not the war machine." Inevitably, the police tried to control end of the march. The result was a disaster as countless activists were arrested for standing in a park. Still, all in all a quarter of a million people marched against the war that Saturday; the rally was a great success. While we were not against the troops or America haters, it was necessary to tell the rest of the world, there are New Yorkers out there against the non sense. And certainly, many of us felt that energy as it comes back to us, in spite of what the destruction happening out there.


Enter M27

As the political stage shifted, many worked to identify and work with the core themes that have made the direct action global justice movement, with its emphasis on diversity, flexibility, and deep democracy, so effective. In the days after the war broke out, San Francisco set the standard for the country, becoming a national epicenter for antiwar activism. The organizational forces of the global justice movement style of loosely coordinated affinity groups facilitated the antiwar goal of shutting down the San Francisco Financial Center. One group after another swarmed in to block traffic centers, clogging traffic with their bodies. Not to be upstaged, New Yorkers from the direct action communities of ACT UP, and the more radical types within United for Peace and Justice formed an ad hoc coalition to plan a massive non-violent civil disobedience through decentralized, autonomous actions at 8 AM the following Thursday, March 27.

The target of the action was media/government collusion promoting this war for corporate interests. The goal was to stop business as usual. The Rockefeller Center area was chosen as the target since many media and corporations have offices there or nearby. The plan for the day was for a massive die-in on 5th Avenue at Rock Center, with coordinated actions planned by affinity groups throughout the city. In between work, dwindling personal lives, and six months of anti war activism, few within the RTS/Mobilize New York would be able to participate within the day’s direct action. The previous week, many of us had contemplated committing civil disobedience but the thundering rain, police, and lack of a coherent target made the proposition of CD seem less appealing in Times Square. Rockefeller Center, home of NYC media, on the other hand – that was a target. The ACT UP tradition of the die in was incredibly enticing.

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