THIS is What Democracy Looks Like!

Carole Resnick

What does it take to move a system that has built its power on the alienated numbness of a population sold the myth that what we have in the United States is the best you can get? We are a nation of people who have either grown up or are growing up "educated" to believe that living in the US we are not only free, but freer than other people; not only a democracy, but the most democratic place to live in the world. What does it take to look to our own personal thinking and experience _ instead of what we are asked to believe about our country?

Right now it seems that what it takes is the threatened war on Iraq, so evident is the profound risk to international peace and global survival, and so transparent the presidential lies. The "patriotism" previously marketed to us never included making war on those whose governments you don't like, when they have not made war on you. This has been hard to sell, and people in Syracuse, around the United States, and worldwide have responded in word and in action. We are waking up, and this is what democracy looks like!

Syracuse Actions

Weekly vigils, held every Wednesday at changing locations around the city, began immediately after October 7, 2001 (when the US attacked Afghanistan) and have continued into the present, now focusing on the threat of war on Iraq. Some actions have reflected the voices of individuals, expressing a collective opinion with lawn signs saying simply "No War On Iraq," and with numerous and articulate letters to the editor, expressing opposition to the intended war. Over 200 faculty members at Syracuse University have now signed a public letter opposing war in Iraq. With the support of the community, local Pax Christi member Cynthia Banas joined an Iraq Peace Team delegation in Baghdad working to deter a US attack (see page 7).Letter writing, telephone and e-mail campaigns have expressed the popular sentiment against a US-initiated war on Iraq to NYS Senators Clinton and Schumer, as well as to Congressional Representative Walsh. A town meeting held by Senator Schumer at the Carousel Center in late September was attended by hundreds of people and literally overflowed the available space so that partitioning walls had to be moved. Although Senator Schumer spoke at length about his desire to listen to the opinions of his constituents, he was the only one given the floor to speak. Citizens were limited to writing a question on an index card or holding a sign. Despite this limitation, it was overwhelmingly apparent that the vast majority of people there were opposed to war. In early October, Pax Christi organized local residents to sit-in at Senator Clinton's Syracuse office, resulting in the arrest of one participant, who was issued an appearance ticket for a November 20 court date. Unfortunately, all three NYS federal representatives supported the initiative to grant Bush war powers.

There has been a far more successful legislative effort on the local level. Encouraged by local peace activists, City Councilor Kate O'Connell introduced a resolution opposing unilateral US military action against Iraq to the Syracuse Common Council. On November 4, the Common Council voted 5-4 in favor of the resolution, making Syracuse the 12th city in the US to take this stand. The resolution calls for "untiring efforts to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts" and urges the US government to address neglected domestic issues such as healthcare, affordable housing, the environment, and the economy.

October 26th _
An International Day of Action Against War on Iraq in Syracuse

As a million or more people gathered throughout the US and around the globe, Syracuse participated with a large and spirited gathering voicing opposition to Bush's intended war on Iraq. At least 1,000 people came together downtown on the Armory lawn to participate in a rally, as peace walkers arrived from the four corners of the city. Walking, singing and chanting from Delaware school on the west side, South Presbyterian Church on the south side, Schiller Park on the north side, and the intersection of E. Genesee and Salt Springs Rd. on the east side, we raised energy and momentum traveling through the city.

Many joined as we walked through their neighborhoods, and many others drove or traveled by bus to meet us downtown. "1-2-3-4, We Don't Want Your Oil War; 5-6-7-8, We Will Not Cooperate," "Bush Wants Global Domination, We Want World Cooperation," and "This is What Democracy Looks Like," reverberated throughout Syracuse as peace walkers proceeded two by two on the sidewalks to our gathering point. Elated by the realization that we were so many, we arrived to hear a diverse group of speakers, poets, and musicians rallying under the banner of the Syracuse Peace Council, in conjunction with Peace Action, and Pax Christi, with the unifying theme of "No War on Iraq."

Encouraging to all of us was our variety. There were babies, young children, high school students, many for the first time experiencing and understanding the process of public protest and participation in political community, while our most elder members were also with us. Participants included people from all around the region _ rural, city, and suburban _ representing many constituencies often stereotyped as not politically outspoken or not in agreement with the peace movement.

Throughout the US

National gatherings occurred in Washington, DC (see facing page) and San Francisco, where police estimated 42,000 marchers and organizers counted over 80,000. National progressive news media made us aware of demonstrations in cities such as Montpelier, Vermont, where 1,000 people gathered in a city of only 8,000. In Kingston, NY 1500 listened to 83 year-old folk musician and lifelong activist Pete Seeger, who urged the crowd to "Draw on the most wonderful tradition that we have in America: speaking your mind in public _ even if some people disagree with you. I'm telling everybody, don't be silent now."

In San Juan, Puerto Rico, hundreds of protesters gathered at the Puerto Rican National Guard armory. A small group of US peace activists rallied and vigiled in Baghdad where Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness (which has long been working to end US economic sanctions against Iraq) spoke in front of UN offices there stating, "Iraq doesn't pose a threat to the United States or to neighboring states in the region. Iraq only poses a threat to the United States' ability to control its oil."

Hundreds of thousands of citizens carried the same messages: "Regime Change Begins at Home," "No Blood for Oil," "Drop Bush Not the Bomb," and "Money for Healthcare/Schools/Jobs, Not for War."

Around the World

A demonstration of over 20,000 in Berlin was only one of about 80 in Germany and hundreds around the world during the international day of protests on October 26. Demonstrators in Manila in the Philippines protested in front of the US Embassy, while a demonstration of 700 people took place in Tokyo, organized by 14 non-governmental organizations.

In Florence, Italy 20,000 cheered a live report from the Washington, DC demonstration, and on October 27 there were demonstrations in the main Spanish cities _ Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Oviedo, Valencia, Caceres and Sevilla. The largest was in Barcelona with over 30,000 people. On October 26 in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, 1,200 braved torrential rain and gale winds that stopped public transportation to protest Bush's threatened war against Iraq. The crowd chanted in Dutch, Turkish and Kurdish. In Amsterdam (also in the Netherlands), nearly 10,000 took to the streets, and 3,000 rain-soaked demonstrators gathered under umbrellas near the US Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark. Another 1,500 hit the streets in Stockholm, Sweden, and 100 more in Oslo, Norway.

Speaking in Italy on October 23, Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy advocated civil disobedience against a possible US attack on Iraq. "Those activists who in the past have gone into Palestine, or gone into Iraq and said `Bomb us, we're here, we're white people and we're here' _ those are fantastic people … The idea that America or any other country has the right to organize a pre-emptive strike against Iraq on the suspicion that it might be developing nuclear weapons … it justifies anybody going to war against anybody … It's the most outrageous thing you can possibly imagine."

Carole Resnick's six year-old son came home from the Syracuse rally chanting through the rented megaphone, "1-2-3-4, We Don't Want Your Oil War, 5-6-7-8, We Will Not Cooperate" and asking questions about democracy. She is thrilled.