When looking for a good gauge of a protest movement, check out the claustrophobes. My anxiety level at Saturday's anti-war gathering outside City Hall could only mean one thing: more and more people are getting fed up.Of course, I wasn't the only anxious one. Anti-war activists the world over -- including the remarkable 10,000 that packed Nathan Phillips Square, joining nearly half a million worldwide, with 70,000 in Washington -- are pushing not to stop a war, as numerous commentators have been clever enough to point out, but to keep one from starting.
The strength of the current protests is certainly the diversity of the participants. Unions. Church groups. Students. Black-clad anarchists. People of all ages. People on stilts. People in hats. People doing street theatre. Most heartening was the shrinking majority of white faces, as more people of Middle Eastern descent become willing to put up with white blowhards.
And it was impressive that for a very long time I couldn't see the tail end of the march. For once I didn't feel like a fringe radical, which was both comforting and a bit disturbing.
The diversity reminded me of the "Seattle-era" romps of yore, though it was a very different diversity from a tactical point of view at those actions. In that milieu, the trick was to expose the public secrets of the time and let people act on them however they wanted. Inevitably this led to tension about the "diversity of tactics" arguments. But as the movement matured, so did the conversations.
Now, it suddenly seems as if all the networking and strategizing generated by Seattle never happened. And we've forgotten the fairly impressive store of tactics and processes by which public space can be reclaimed for tenuous but vibrant creative political acts.
Suddenly, not only are we reliving the madness of the Gulf War, but also the organizing against it, which after Quebec City almost seems timid.
Of course, things are different. For one thing, the protests against war in Iraq have so far been frozen-weather affairs. For another, the anti-glob mob had more easily defined targets ("That fence over there"), while anti-war protests have a more easily communicated message ("Don't bomb Iraq"). I wonder, though, whether we should use more anti-war storage space to link issues.
Connecting war and racism seems pretty simple in this movement; it's only another step or two to add poverty, for instance, like the Homes Not Bombs people do.
With a critical mass gathering and social boundaries being crossed in the streets, the question isn't whether to keep protesting. Of course we will. But I worry, with our giddy, "We're gonna stop him, we're gonna stop him" carrying us through this, what will carry us if we don't stop him?
I hope radicals have patience with the infusion of new blood, and serial march organizers have the vision to realize that we don't have to reboot the movement every time there's a new push for war. KEEPING THE PEACE
JANUARY 27 UN weapons inspectors finish their report. The U.S.-based Not In Our Name Project calls on people everywhere to stop what they're doing between noon and 1 pm wherever they are in North America and declare in various ways on campuses, in workplaces and communities that they do not want this war. www.notinourname.net
JANUARY 28 Another weekly meeting of the new Open Antiwar Convergence. Metro Hall (55 John), room 313, 7 pm.
February 2-8 Peace Week, hosted by U of T Chaplains' Association, with Stephen Lewis, Gwynne Dyer, Craig Kielburger, workshops and prayers. 416-888-8536.
february 15 International day of action: rally at the public square at Yonge and Dundas, 1 pm. 416-588-5555.