The anti-war forces in the United States are heartened by the dramatic turn-around represented by the November 2006 mid-term elections. The deteriorating situation in Iraq was at the heart of the electoral debate, and President Bush was dealt a harsh symbolic humiliation. The Democrats have won control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 12 years, putting them in charge of the committees that oversee the military, foreign relations and budgetary appropriations. The Democrats also won six gubernatorial races, taking the majority of the 50 state governors' mansions for the first time in 12 years.
In the aftermath of the elections, Bush announced the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and has considerably changed his rhetoric regarding Iraq. While before he insisted on "staying the course" and attacked the war's opponents for wanting to "cut and run," he is now looking to a Congressionally-appointed bipartisan panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker, the Iraq Study Group, to make recommendations for a way beyond this dilemma.
However, many of the victorious Democrats are from the conservative wing of the party, with positions considerably to the right of California's Nancy Pelosi, the liberal House minority leader who is now poised to take over as House Speaker--the first woman to hold that post. Her counterpart in the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, is a leader of the party's right wing, and voted to authorize the Iraq invasion in 2003. While even Reid is now calling for a withdrawal from Iraq, this is unlikely to happen soon without greater popular pressure on the Democrats. Even the most progressive Democrats are calling for a "timetable" rather than immediate withdrawal, and Bush remains opposed even to this. Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the strongest Congressional advocate for an early return of the troops from Iraq, at first seemed slated to become the new House majority leader. However, he lost his bid to Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, an advocate of a slower "phased withdrawal." Al From, founder of the Democratic Leadership Council (the now dominant "moderate" faction of the party) has assured that the Appropriations Committee will not cut funding for the war, as the party did to press for a withdrawal from Vietnam in 1974.
While Bush may still face Congressional investigations for his deceptions which led the country into war, Pelosi has said that impeachment is "off the table." It is still less likely that the new Congress will move to overturn the atrocious legislation which has been passed in recent months, such as the Military Commissions Act, which essentially legalizes torture of "enemy combatants" at the hands of the military. There will certainly not be a speedy exit from Iraq without a considerable groundswell from below.
What really gives the Democrats' sweep greater meaning are the significant signs that such a groundswell is mounting. Largely unnoticed in the media coverage of the elections, local anti-war referenda passed in several states in New England and the heartland.
All 36 such measures passed in Massachusetts legislative districts, covering all or part of 139 municipalities. The non-binding measures call upon Massachusetts representatives to vote for a resolution calling on Bush and Congress to immediately bring the troops home.
"We're going to end this war from the bottom up," Sue Genser, a member of the local Waltham Concerned Citizens told the Boston Globe. Shannon said volunteers collected more than 10,000 signatures across the state. Two hundred verified signatures were required in each House district to put the question on the ballot.
This municipal revolt against the war has been building in New England for some time. In March 2006, resolutions calling for the impeachment of Bush passed in five Vermont townships. Over 50 Vermont towns voted in March 2005 on the war. Only a few of the resolutions were explicitly against the war; the majority called for the state to investigate the domestic consequences of having Vermont National Guard troops in Iraq. But the measures passed overwhelmingly.
In Wisconsin, nine communities weighed in on measures calling for a troop withdrawal in the mid-term elections, approving all of them. An anti-war measure passed overwhelmingly in Milwaukee, the state's biggest city. Eleven communities in Illinois--including the Chicago metropolitan area--passed anti-war measures by wide margins. In a series of similar measures put before Wisconsin voters in April, 24 of 32 municipalities approved anti-war resolutions.
While there have been no large national protest mobilizations in Washington DC since September 2005, the anti-war forces have kept up a constant level of public protest in localities across the country. For instance, hundreds of protesters converged on Dag Hammarskjold Plaza opposite the United Nations on Sept. 19, 2006 as Bush was inside pledging to deliver "democracy" to the Middle East at the General Assembly meeting.
On the week surrounding the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, United for Peace & Justice joined with other groups to hold a "Camp Democracy" tent city on the National Mall in front of the US Capitol, a successor to the "Camp Casey" started by Cindy Sheehan near the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas (named after her son Casey who was killed as a soldier in Iraq). Among those who visited Camp Democracy on Sept. 11 was Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi and founder of the MK Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence, who joined Sheehan and other activists for a march through the city, culminating at Washington's Gandhi memorial.
Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), an organization of over 3,100 military families who are opposed to the war, brought together families with members serving in Iraq from across the country in Washington DC on Nov. 9, just two days after the elections. They delivered petitions to the Pentagon calling for an end to troop extensions, stop-loss orders, involuntary re-calls, multiple deployments, and other aspects of the "back door draft", and for all troops to be brought home immediately.
The last anti-war march to bring out tens of thousands was April 30, 2006 in New York City. Following the April 30 mobilization, Samir Adil, president of the Iraqi Freedom Congress, traveled through the Northeast US on a tour of several cities organized by the American Friends Service Committee, in which he met with numerous anti-war organizations and attended the Labor Notes Conference in Detroit. The anti-war forces will have to build on this work--strengthening local initiatives while forging ties of solidarity with the progressive and secular forces in Iraq--to make the most of the gains represented by the November electoral turn-around.
Bill Weinberg of New York City is a founder of the National Organization for the Iraqi Freedom Struggles (NO-IFS) and editor of the online journal World War 4 Report (http://ww4report.com)