Martin Luther King Jr. in his historic anti-war speech on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church, said,
A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such. … We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.
That was what the war-makers in Washington did not, and still do not want the public to hear, and they killed him to silence his message. Now they do it through a controlled and subservient media.
On Sunday, Feb. 19, the Rage Against the War Machine event took place in Washingto,n DC. My partner, Ellen Davidson and I drove to Washington from Woodstock, NY. On the way, we picked up long-time peace and justice activist Ellen Barfield in Baltimore. A long drive but it was worth it.
The speaking event at the Lincoln Memorial began as 12:30 and went for four hours. Despite the overloaded speakers’ list, it was quite good, judging from the cheering and applause, and no one seemed bored. It would’ve been even better if there were more people of color and more anti-war veterans, but that’s just the way it was. My estimate was 2,000 to 3,000 in attendance.
It was one of the largest anti-war rallies since the war in Ukraine began, and the only attempt at left-right anti-war solidarity that I know of.
This was a gathering of people with different political views, but they all agreed on the 10 Demands listed by the organizers, from the first demand, “Not one more penny for war in Ukraine,” to the last, “Free Julian Assange.” Every time the demand to free Julian Assange was voiced from the stage there was an enthusiastic roar from the crowd.
The cross-pollination between left and right participants and speakers, and the unity around stopping the war in Ukraine, and maybe even all wars, was impressive.
The event provided the three of us an opportunity to “work” the crowd and hand out hundreds of copies of Peace & Planet News, the one with MLK’s picture on the front page; the papers were quite well received. Libertarians and others on the right were interested and took the paper as we told people that King’s most powerful anti-war speech was included in its entirety. Handing out the paper, which has a left perspective but is designed to appeal to the average person, resulted in a number of good conversations. People would ask published it and when I replied that it was NYC Veterans For Peace, the responses were generally positive, including many exclamations of “Oh, I love Veterans For Peace!”
I had actually encouraged the decision by the National Board of Veterans For Peace to decline to officially endorse the event for understandable reasons. VFP was never directly asked by the organizers to endorse and, given the diverse views both within the 13-person national board and the general VFP membership, the board felt it was prudent to take a more neutral stance.
The controversy was mainly about the wisdom of uniting with the organizations (and some speakers) on the right who have stances on social issues, race, gender, and capitalism that are radically different from ours in VFP. But the board also did not throw cold water on the event, since many veterans felt it was essential to unify around the collective anti-war position. In addition, it presented a unique opportunity in these increasingly desperate times to broaden what some feel is a somewhat moribund anti-war movement. Worth a try, anyway and VFP leadership privately encouraged people and chapters to participate. VFP is not at any rate, a top-down organization; it is a grassroots coalition of chapters with an independent membership self-empowered to act on their own within a common Statement of Purpose.
The public is inundated with a 24/7 media barrage that supports increasing support and involvement in the Ukraine war. We need all hands on deck to counter that. I know that there are those on the left that I have deep respect for who will disagree, but uniting with those to the right of us on the issue of the war doesn’t mean we have to give up any of our strong beliefs about social justice. It may actually give us a better opportunity to communicate with others who also agree that life is worth fighting for.
As Malcolm X once said, “I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda … I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against.”
Chris Hedges, closed his powerful speech at the rally to huge cheers when he said, “The ruling oligarchy has us locked in its death grip. It cannot be reformed. It obscures and falsifies the truth. It is on a maniacal quest to increase its obscene wealth and unchecked power. It forces us to kneel before its false gods. And so, to quote the Queen of Hearts, metaphorically, of course, I say, ‘Off with their heads!’”
Jill Stein, told the crowd, “The crisis is empire is inseparable from the crisis of racial and economic equality.”
David Swanson reminded the crowd that “this Lincoln Memorial glorifies a war of long ago, and it really doesn’t matter what our various opinions are on the wisdom of the U.S. having used war, unlike much of the rest of the world, as a tool against slavery, as long as today state after state is removing the exception that allows slavery as punishment for a crime simply by passing legislation without first picking out some big fields and slaughtering lots of people.”
Did a left-right coalition present an opportunity for the left to be strongly present and to educate with a deeper and more radical anti-war message connecting, poverty, systemic racial injustice and economic oppression here at home with militarism and wars abroad? I think it did.
There are important anti-war messages that reach deeper into the social and racial injustices that contribute to and are exacerbated by militarism and war. Other speakers like Garland Nixon, Max Blumenthal, Jimmy Dore, Dennis Kucinich, Ann Wright, and Wyatt Reed, effectively informed and motivated the crowd along those very lines yesterday.
kle, a speaker not on the left side of the political spectrum, who has made himself unpopular with many by some antigay and antifeminist comments and his online association with white supremacist Nick Fuentes, was a reason many stayed away, but what he said Sunday was right on. There were others who spoke who hold opinions on issues that I am also not in agreement with but I was there and I’ve also watched all the videos of all the speakers and what people said about the war and the war machine was powerful. The only person who I didn’t hear is Helga Zepp-LaRouche but in that case I can do without.
We face very steep odds in our struggle to preserve life on this planet in the face of what could easily turn into a nuclear apocalypse. To meet a challenge that imperative, as Frederick Douglass said, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
There will undoubtedly be other opportunities to resist war and the possibility of nuclear annihilation. See, for example, the deep list of endorsers for the upcoming March 18 anti-war rally organized by the ANSWER coalition. As it says on the website, “A wide range of anti-war organizations are uniting for a powerful weekend of action anchored by a demonstration outside the White House.” I predict we will see a much larger turnout by March 18. We need to keep this going. Our lives may depend on it.
Tarak Kauff is the editor-in-chief of Peace and Planet News. He was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army from 1959 to 1962 and is a lifetime member and former board member of Veterans For Peace. He is a longtime activist for peace, justice, and the environment.