On Aug. 12, 1962, my organization, Youth Against War and Fascism, held the first protest in this country against the Vietnam war. About 70 people came to our picket line in Times Square. Few Americans were aware of the Vietnam war at that time.
That was a bit before my time. I became active in 1968, after the Tet Offensive and the murder of Dr. King. By then the body count and the cost of the war has skyrocketed. Hundreds of thousands were marching in the streets. Students were shutting down campuses. GIs were starting to rebel. Dr. King had spoken out against the war a year before his assassination.
By the fall of 1969, Nixon was in the White House and millions filled the streets in National Moratoriums against the war. Should we have said, “Where were you clowns seven years ago, when we happy few were protesting the war alone? You Johnny Come Latelys are only here because more GIs are dying, there’s a Republican in the White House and the Establishment itself is split on the war.”
That would have been insane. The point was not moral purity but to actually try and build a movement to stop the war. We threw ourselves into the new movement and tried to make it more militant. We injected the slogan Stop the War Against Black America and raised the issue of Palestine. In November 1969, when half a million people rallied in Washington against the war, together with SDS we led a breakaway march of 20,000 that stormed the Justice Department in defense of the Black Panther Party. The night before, thousands of us battled the cops in the streets of Georgetown as we tried to seize the Saigon regime’s embassy on behalf of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of Vietnam.
Fast forward 30 years to March 1999 and the Bill Clinton regime’s air assault in Yugoslavia. The International Action Center, many of whose older members had been in YAWF, organized just about the only protests against that war. We organized marches in several cities, a march on Washington, and awar crimes tribunal against the Clinton administration.
Thousands of Yugoslav Americans came out in protest, many for the first time. Some had voted for Clinton, others were Republicans and voted for Bush. Did we say, “Where the hell were you eight years ago when Bush I was bombing Iraq? And where were you last month when NYPD murdered Amadou Diallo in a hail of 41 shots?”
Of course not. Of course people will respond first when they are attacked directly. It’s an eye-opener. We said welcome to the struggle, let’s try and stop this war. A few years later, when Bush II invaded Iraq, many of them were in the protests.
I find it incomprehensible that anyone on the left or anti-imperialist is complaining that people are in the streets against the class enemy’s new commander. If you’ve been at the protests, you’ll see that most of those there are young and many are from communities most under attack. Others are from the Black Lives Matter Movement and immigrant rights movement and have been in the streets under Bush and Obama. (Were all those who criticize the Trump protests there with them?)
|#J20resist protest in Washington, DC, Jan. 20, 2017.
Photo: Greg Butterfield
Revolutionary change depends upon people coming into motion who were not active before. (Remember Newton’s First Law of Motion-Isaac’s not Huey’s.) The point is to get people in motion. Where else do you expect the human material for revolution to come from? It’s in the process of struggle and confrontation that people become radical.
Didn’t the 1905 Revolution in Russia begin with people appealing to “the good Czar, our little father.” Would there have been an October Revolution without February. Didn’t the Bolsheviks mobilize the workers of Petrograd to defend the Provisional Government against Kornilov? Did not that make the Revolution a few months later possible?
Didn’t the farmers march to Lexington in 1775 singing God Save the King? By the end of the day they were killing Redcoats. (I’m not raising this example to glorify the US War of Independence on any way but to point out the dynamics of social change.)
My first political act, when i was very young, was giving out flyers for imperialist dove “Clean Gene” McCarthy. Within weeks i was supporting the Panthers and running in the streets with an NLF flag.
Stop to think of it, we organized the only demonstrations in the country that I know of against fascism in Ukraine, defending Novorossiya and supporting Russia over Crimea. We have also marched against US intervention in Syria. If all the leftists now complaining about the anti-Trump protests had been there with us, those rallies could have been huge.