An initial report on October 5th protests from Sunsara Taylor of the World Can’t Wait Advisory Board with input from Prachi Noor of the World Can’t Wait national steering committee.
Something new is rising – a movement of thousands of very diverse kinds of people from hundreds of cities and towns across the country who see the need to drive the Bush regime from power and are taking responsibility to do it. These thousands are consciously breaking with the dominant pattern of day by day accommodating to new outrages. Many of them feel very acutely that the fate of humanity is hinging on what people living in this country do now, but this is not weighing them down. Instead, they are shaking off denial and despair and stepping into unfamiliar territory of taking history into their own hands – and they are expressing a lot of joy and determination at having connected with a nation-wide movement to drive the Bush regime from power.
On October 5th protests were held from coast to coast and beyond U.S. borders, in over 230 locations. Several thousand took to the streets in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, hundreds, or more, acted in cities such as Tucson, Portland, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Austin, and in many small towns and cities scores of people went to intersections, town centers, local beaches, and wherever they thought they would reach the most people with the message that: This Regime Does Not Represent Us and We Will Drive it Out.
At the same time, it is simply a fact that size of these outpourings fell short of the numbers organizers had correctly aimed for (tens of thousands in the country’s largest cities and at least 100,000 nation-wide). Reversing the momentum and direction that society is being moved in, changing the political discourse so that driving out the regime is being debated, and creating a political situation where the Bush regime is driven from office required – and now all the more urgently requires – the political mobilization of hundreds of thousands.
There is still time to do this, but not much time. The Bush regime has not slowed, but quickened its pace towards remaking the world in a fascist way that will have implications for generations and, despite the huge numbers of people who are horrified and disgusted by this direction, the vast majority of them are not yet acting on the necessity of coming out into the streets in massive numbers to reverse this. Meanwhile, the Bush regime is moving each day to close down the space in society from which an opposition to its program can be mobilized. This huge problem must be confronted, understood, and overcome very quickly through the collective struggle of the thousands who have courageously become the nucleus of this movement.
This will require deeply appreciating and building upon the very important advances that have been made in this last round as well as understanding and overcoming the significant shortfalls of this critical effort to change the course of history – including by very immediately and sharply confronting millions in this country who want, and are being counted on by the world, to act in a meaningful way against the disastrous course down which the Bush regime is dragging this country and the world. The following observations are a contribution towards this process.
|“I feel I have exhausted the way we have been taught to affect change in the way our government conducts itself”. I have voted, I have called, I have written letters, I have given of myself with my time and my money, and still we have a government that refuses to respect the Constitution, a Government that engaged in a war with illegal justification, a government that abandoned its own during Hurricane Katrina, a Government that now condones torture, a government that favors big corporations before it favors my children or yours.” — Mark Ruffalo
“Some are ashamed of where they”ve put their support in the past, their passivity in the present, with the courage of their minds and hearts at bay. What an exciting thing to reverse this as one America and show the world who wears the pants in this house.” — Sean Penn
“The Democrats will not lead us out of Iraq. As heretical as this may sound, I am more afraid of the wrong Democrat winning the White House than I am the wrong Republican — because then we will feel the need to support “our” president, and his or her “difficult decisions” on how to “do the right thing for Iraq” and “withdraw with honor” We will divide, and conquer, ourselves. We know from Vietnam that there is no way to withdraw with honor from a corrupt war.” – Paul Haggis
New Voices Advocating for Driving Out the Regime
In the months leading into the October 5th protests there was significant growth in the breadth of individuals and organizations taking up the movement to Drive Out the Bush Regime as their own. Coming from different perspectives, many new people went into print and onto the airwaves advocating for mass political action aimed at driving out the regime. Some had never spoken publicly about politics in this way before while others had done so but never as part of a nation-wide movement. This took courage and set a very positive standard and example for others.
Debate was opened up and proved necessary within a significant number of organizations over whether and how to participate in driving out the regime. Among those who took this up, there was a greater level of unity than in the past over the necessity of going into the streets to drive out the regime. Still, there are many organizations – particularly among those who are tied to the Democratic Party – who have stood aside from, and advocated against, this form of political mobilization because they see this as an obstacle to getting the Democrats elected. This notion – of subordinating principle, fundamental rights, and the fate of whole peoples – in order to achieve an electoral “victory” must be much more fully and sharply challenged (whatever one’s view of the Democratic Party, generally) and many more organizations must be won to act in ways that official politics now is suppressing.
Snowballing Momentum in the Weeks Leading Up to October 5th
One of the most conspicuous strengths was the mushrooming of protests planned across the country–including in many states and counties that had voted for Bush in 2004, as well as in others. In places like New Paltz , Tucson, Minneapolis, and Portland, the number of people who protested ranged from 600 to 1,500. In places like Tampa, Greensboro, and Charlotte, there were 100 – 200 people. In Florida and North Carolina, there were more than a dozen protests in each state. In Texas, Bush’s home-state, there were 15. In Alabama there were four, including in Florence where 80 protested.
The immediate impetus for this growth outside the country’s largest cities was the placement of a full-page USA Today ad, after which the number of protests planned began to snowball from about 50 to more than 230 a little over a week.
A great many of these protests were marked by the coherence and strength of their message: the need to drive out the Bush regime because the world can’t wait. An excerpt from the Marietta, Ohio local newspaper gives an example of how a great many of these protests kept their focus on the need to drive out the Bush regime:
“I just learned about worldcantwait.org a few days ago, but my hands were shaking over the ‘torture bill’ Congress passed last Thursday,” said James Gawthrop, 53, of Marietta, referring to the recently approved Military Commissions Act of 2006. “Now the Bush administration can detain anybody suspected of being a terrorist indefinitely. They can use secret evidence to hold you. They can even use torture,” he said.
“Some people are here to protest the war, some are against global warming, some are against the budget deficit,” Gawthrop said. “Our goal is to become a big enough tidal wave of people to drive the Bush administration out of power. There’s a sense of urgency now. The ordinary means aren’t working.
“People showing up every two to four years and voting Republican or Democrat just isn’t going to get it this time,” he said. – Marietta Times, Ohio, October 6, 2006
World Can’t Wait’s quick and uncompromising response to the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is part of what galvanized many of those who got involved. In just three days a successful event was pulled together at New York City’s Cooper Union where 600 audience members, prominent individuals and experts came together to respond. People learned deeply about the consequences of the new legislation which enabled them to go out and speak about it to others and by coming together quickly were emboldened to do so.
Within a week, WCW was able to write, design and fund a full-page New York Times ad responding to this new legislation as well. This ad, which broke through the confusion that was consciously generated by all the talk of a “compromise” with Bush, provoked the largest response of phone calls and emails of any ad WCW has yet placed and contributed to the numbers of people in the streets on October 5th.
World Can’t Wait reached into the national media mainly through its three striking full-page ads in the New York Times and one in USA Today. These featured a new logo of the globe in flames and put the question of driving the regime from power through mass independent political action before millions. This attracted new donors, many new chapters, and stoked a controversy in places that mainly never hear an uncompromising anti-Bush program message.
These ads were funded through the efforts of thousands, mainly giving donations of 200 or less and a relative handful of people giving $500 or more. This shows the great strength of a mass base, but still needs to be complemented by many more with greater resources contributing with proportionality as this movement is still hamstrung at every level due to lack of funds, including a debt.
Air America ads – recorded by Olympia Dukakis, Michelle Phillips, Edward Asner, Mark Ruffalo, and others – generated new chapters and spurred many to attend the local protests. The MySpace and Facebook ads became the principal way that the students and youth got organized. As soon as the MySpace ad began running, emails began coming into the student and youth organizer’s at about 6 per minute.
The media coverage of October 5th was significantly greater than in the past but still did not present this movement as a major national event that must be responded to. Of the approximately 400 articles that were published about October 5th the overwhelming majority correctly identified the purpose of the protests, the name of World Can’t Wait, the fact that protests were happening in more than 100 areas, and were mainly positive. There were a few dozen radio interviews leading into the protests.
There was also significant international media coverage throughout Latin America, Pakistan, India, South Africa and Europe. There was real interest from international media because people all over the world are looking for large numbers of people inside this country standing up, taking responsibility to act.
The White House was asked to comment on the protests in at least two reports, though they avoided speaking directly to the World Can’t Wait’s specific goals.
In the lead up to October 5th, WCW released a statement that read in part, “Think of all the people who are deeply distressed over the direction in which the Bush regime is dragging the country – and the world… Imagine if, from out of this huge reservoir of people, a great wave were unleashed, moving together on the same occasion, making, through their firm stand and their massive numbers, a powerful political statement that could not be ignored, rallying and marching, letting it be known that they are determined to bring this whole disastrous course to a halt by driving out the Bush Regime through the mobilization of massive political opposition. If that were done, then the possibility of turning things around and onto a much more favorable direction would take on a whole new dimension of reality.”
In the final weeks before October 5th, momentum was building in a way that led many WCW organizers, as well as police and some pundits to expect that the turn out in the major cities would be much higher: into the tens of thousands. This higher turn-out is still what is urgently needed to change the political conversation in this country and what options people see as viable and make driving out this regime through mass political action a goal that millions see worth struggling to accomplish.
Many of those who built for Oct. 5 have already begun talking about these questions, as a crucial part of going ahead. Some initial considerations of what held others back include: lack of knowledge about the day, fear of repression, fear of stepping out of politics-as-usual, loss of hope, lack of clarity of what protest could accomplish, a view that aiming to mobilize people to drive out the Bush regime would be disruptive to getting Democrats elected this fall, ignorance about the actual policies and plans of the Bush administration, and the fact that people are learning to accept things they never dreamed they would have years ago. But now, everyone in and around this movement must take part in learning very deeply what held people back so that this can be transformed rapidly.
The upcoming mass meetings of World Can’t Wait should begin wrestling with these questions. At these meetings we should discuss and unite around a strategy and approach that challenges people to break from the paralysis of fear or indifference, or another form of paralysis that results from going through the motions of politics as usual, instead of acting, now, in a way that measures up to the situation we face—in Iraq, in Iran, in secret torture prisons, in the shredding of fundamental rights. Starting with our plan of teach ins, wearing orange to sound the alarm that torture has just been legitimized and institutionalized, and being ready to respond now to any October, or November, surprise from this Regime, we need to go forward and lay the basis for a new levels of mass response…urgently.
Which future we get is up to us.