Of the many injustices to which working people are subjected day after day, generation after generation, the worst is war. Young working-class people are handed weapons and ordered into battle to kill—or be killed by—other young working-class people. Those who are not directly involved in combat face death by bombs falling from the sky, missiles and drones sent and controlled from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, and from starvation and disease as the necessary social infrastructures are destroyed. Behind all of it is the threat that the ultimate weapons, thermonuclear bombs and missile warheads, could destroy all society in minutes and with it nearly all life on the planet.
For nearly all of the current century, the United States has been at war on many fronts. Some of them we know about: Afghanistan, beginning in 2001; Iraq, beginning in 2003. Some of them most of us do not know about: Somalia and Niger. Then there are the so-called “proxy wars,” where other countries’ troops or nongovernmental entities are doing the actual fighting, directed from Washington and other world capitals. Such conflicts are going on in Syria and Yemen, and the human suffering in those two countries is some of the most heart-wrenching on earth. Lastly, there is the war of words between the United States and the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea), two countries armed with nuclear weapons which could be launched because of a stupid mistake at many different levels of the chain of command. President Donald Trump’s threat to unleash “fire and fury” on Korea, ironically between the seventy-second anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, reminded all of us that the work of dismantling the nuclear arsenal remains high on the people’s agenda.
On April 13, Trump, along with British Prime Minister Theresa May and French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron, ordered missile strikes against Syrian targets. Ostensibly it was in retaliation for a chemical attack on civilians in the village of Douma, near Damascus, allegedly carried out on April 7 by the Syrian government, headed by President Bashar al-Assad. The assertion that the Syrian government attacked civilians with chemical weapons has never been verified, and even the occurrence of a chemical weapons attack at all has been called into question. However, the truth has never been terribly important to the U.S. President.
The sheer hypocrisy of Trump’s “concern” for Syrian children is beyond belief. For one thing, the Kingdom of Sa’udi Arabia is carrying out a horrific attack on the Shi’i people of Yemen with the blessings—and military hardware—of the United States and its allies, and it is going on every day, not an attack here or an attack there. Secondly, if Trump is concerned about Syrian children and other noncombatants, why does he continue to bar them from seeking refuge in the United States? It shows clearly that Trump is motivated by a different agenda and does not care in the least about Syrian civilians.
However, the truth is that the United States has absolutely no business being involved in Syria. None. Whatever bad things Bashar al-Assad may have done in Syria—and there is dispute about the accusations—the Syrian Arab Republic poses no threat to the working people of the United States. The Syrian armed forces have not attacked U.S. troops in the region. There is been no accusation—true or otherwise—of terrorist activity instigated by the Syrian government in the United States or in any other country. The U.S. government has one and only one task to carry out in Syria. This is to get out, immediately, totally, and unconditionally. That means no troops on the ground, no troops in the air, no missiles, no drones, no weapons, no money, nothing!
The missile attack provoked emergency protests in cities and towns all over the U.S. Furthermore, regional demonstrations had been called months earlier, coming out of the January Conference against U.S. Foreign Military Bases, held in Baltimore, MD. Rallies and marches were planned for the weekend of April 14 and 15 in Oakland, CA, Minneapolis, MN, Washington, DC, New York City, among other places. They were called to “End U.S. Wars at Home and Abroad,” calling attention not only to U.S. military actions and interventions but to police brutality and murder, especially of young people of color, glaring income inequality, the continued rape and harassment of women, and the degradation of the earth’s environment and climate, among other serious problems which working people face, problems which could justifiably be called “war at home.”
Unfortunately, attendance at the Spring Actions was disappointingly small. The turnout in New York City was slightly over 1,000 at the Herald Square rally, with about 300 choosing to march to Trump Tower afterwards. To be sure, New York’s weather was cold and damp, and emergency demonstrations were scheduled throughout the region, including Highland Park, NJ (near New Brunswick), Greenwich, CT, and other towns. In the San Francisco Bay Area, an estimated 600 people joined the Spring Action. More emergency demonstrations will be held in the coming days.
It was good and important that actions were held against the wars at home and abroad as well as against the attack against Syria. However, an effective response to war requires mass action, not just action. What was needed were rallies and marches on the order of the Women’s Marches of January 2017 and 2018, the March for Our Lives in February 2018, or the nearly spontaneous response to the Trump travel ban at the airports in January 2017.
During the upcoming weeks there will be discussions of mistakes that were made and things which the local and national coalitions could have done better. Though some of these issues are important and merit serious discussion — such as, for example, the need to focus on more limited demands that can unify the broadest movement against the U.S. warmakers — none of these was decisive. There are many factors, but the key factor is the political domination of forces allied with the Democratic Party, and one of those forces is in fact the labor movement. And the Democratic Party has no fundamental disagreement with Trump’s foreign policy. Breaking the labor movement and other decisive forces in society from its stranglehold is a long-term campaign, which is under way, but there will be no substitute for the hard and unglamorous organizing work. That may include—in some situations—working with Democratic Party politicians to build united mass actions in the streets demanding an end to the wars at home and abroad. Flexible tactics within a mass action strategy, designed to bring hundreds of thousands into the streets for their own agenda, not that of bankers, businessmen, or politicians will be required.
In the weeks ahead the Poor People’s Campaign—a National Call for Moral Revival—will be bringing working people from all of our different communities into the public square in cities and small towns throughout the United States to confront the many issues facing all of us, from economic inequality to mass incarceration to environmental racism, and many other social injustices. Spearheaded by a group called Repairers of the Breach, which is led by Rev. Dr. William Barber II and other leaders of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, the Poor People’s Campaign is consciously resisting any attempts by politicians to use it to advance their own agendas and careers.
It bears repeating: of the many injustices to which working people are subjected day after day, generation after generation, the worst is war. To bring the issue of war into the Poor People’s Campaign would be natural and non-controversial. Any call for moral revival must demand peace. The destruction—indeed sheer waste—of young lives is unconscionable, and the amount of money wasted on that destruction is money which could be addressing the human needs to which the Poor People’s Campaign is drawing attention. This is not the time for retreat or demoralization, but for taking advantage of new opportunities and moving ahead.