Seize the Moment, Stop the War


This article first appeared in Vol. 1, No. 16 of Anti-War Perspectives, published by the Burlington Anti-War Coalition in Burlington, Vermont, a predominantly rural area of the north-eastern United States. It was produced as part of a Stop the War conference which you can read more about at

Seize the Moment

Max Elbaum

As threats to invade Iraq mount, there is both greater urgency and increased opportunity to reach out broadly with an antiwar message. For readers of this newsletter there is no need to re-state the reasons invading Iraq would be a human, environmental and political catastrophe. What’s remarkable is that leading figures in the policy-making elite - for their own reasons - are proclaiming that unilateral U.S. action could lead to disaster. Today’s Republican dissidents will fall in line behind Bush if an invasion does occur. But for the moment, their orchestrated campaign to slow Bush down has created the biggest opening for public debate over the "war on terrorism" since 9-11.

The challenge to the antiwar movement is whether we can take advantage of this opening to qualitatively expand our influence and impact. Can we turn widespread doubts about an invasion into a grassroots opposition movement powerful enough to register in national politics? Can we move those who think this particular invasion might not be a good idea toward a broader critique of the "war on terrorism" and the racist, empire-building agenda that underlies it?

In working to meet those goals, we now have a year’s rich organizing experience to draw upon (as well as the experience of previous antiwar movements). Every group and individual activist brings something to the table. Conferences like the Sept. 21 gathering in Burlington give us the chance to build a movement that is both rooted in and greater than the sum of its individual parts.

War Times ( brings to our collective effort the experience of putting out a nationwide, free, bilingual antiwar paper.

War Times was conceived last fall by Bay Area radicals rooted largely in racial justice, immigrant rights, and anti-prison-industrial-complex work. We had participated in an ad hoc series of strategy discussions and inter-generational dialogues in which 100-200 activists - about half 1960s veterans and half younger folk, about half white and half activists of color - grappled with the complexities of the post-911 world.

The idea behind War Times was that a missing piece of the antiwar mosaic was an accessible, consistent source of information that could be given to folks rather than something requiring people to "come to us." Already-committed activists are flooded with information (from e-mail lists, the web, subscription-based publications, and, in some areas, Pacifica or similar radio stations). But with antiwar messages shut out of the mainstream media, folks not already within the antiwar loop have little access to voices and arguments of the opposition. That’s why, despite how costly it is, we decided that a free, printed newspaper could be a crucial tool to expand the reach of on-the-ground organizers.

Key concepts for War Times were "educational moment," "entry-way" and "constituency consciousness." Educational moment, meaning 9-11 sparked widespread discussions of the U.S.

role in the world, "why they hate us" and so on, opening doors to at least introduce radical perspectives to folks who ordinarily would not even talk about politics. It was - and remains - a time when seeds can be planted that can later bear fruit in people taking to the streets.

Entry-way meaning that War Times would not try to duplicate the already excellent work of so many organizations and media outlets. Rather, it would be a vehicle for introducing new people to the essential arguments against the war and making them aware of all the other organizations and media-projects of the antiwar movement.

Constituency consciousness, finally, has two meanings. Politically, it meant identifying the paper’s audience as the unconvinced, ranging from soft supporters of the war to vacillating opponents. Sociologically, we have tried to produce a paper useful to all constituencies, but especially aimed at workers, communities of color and immigrant communities. While people of conscience from all strata oppose this war, it is these overlapping and specially-impacted sectors which, if galvanized in their millions, can anchor a powerful antiwar movement. Hence the bilingual character of War Times - in just about every big city in the country today, rooting oneself among working people necessitates efforts at least in Spanish as well as English.

Based on these concepts, since February War Times has produced five issues. Roughly 100,000 copies of each have been distributed by 400-600 organizations and individuals in all 50 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. About one-third are gotten out by traditional or new peace organizations or coalitions; one-third by campus distributors (including in high schools); and one-third by labor or community organizations which are not principally antiwar formations but which want to educate their members and periphery and link opposition to the war to their ongoing agenda. We’ve assembled an e-mail list of over 7,000 people who receive notice of each War Times new

issue and, beginning this fall, periodic announcements of major antiwar actions and resources.

Besides a constant scramble to finance this effort (60% of the $125,000 we’ve raised so far comes from individual donations of $5 and up), we are constantly trying to overcome shortcomings in War Times work. There is an ongoing tension between the need to keep articles short and the overall paper readable vs. dealing with the full and complex range of issues in front of us. There is also one-sidedness in which movements we have closest connections with and cover well; our roots give us much stronger ties to the racial justice movements, for example, than to the anti-corporate globalization movement, a weakness we hope to overcome.

Beyond all that, War Times is not and cannot be a "stand-alone" effort. It is dependent on and meant to serve organizing groups and coalitions. In developing those crucial forms, we play only a secondary role. But based on some direct involvement plus extensive interaction with organizers who distribute War Times all over the country, we have learned some lessons.

One is that building stable antiwar formations requires both dealing front-and-center with the inherent racism of the "war on terrorism" and with the negative racial dynamics that frequently penetrate into the movement itself. Coalitions are fragile and unstable unless organizations and activists rooted in communities of color have a central seat at the table formulating policy and strategy.

Another is that the most successful efforts are those which are the most-outward looking, where the left elements grasp that the anti-imperialist wing of the antiwar movement will grow only in tandem with a much broader peace-and-justice movement. When such sentiment is consolidated, folks have a stronger basis to put the many political differences within the movement into proper perspective, and avoid the tendencies to infighting and self-marginalization which have too often undermined the good intentions and hard work of so many activists.

Finally, we’ve been reminded that there’s no substitute for grappling with how to get some real political muscle in the way of the government’s war machine: what steps will lead to expanding our base and having a measurable and cumulative impact on actual events. Given our initially small size and what we have been up against since 9-11, there are no easy answers here. But

nothing builds self-confidence and heightened morale like actually making a difference "out there."

The April 20 actions were a huge boost to our collective morale precisely because they had focus and scale sufficient to show there was a real movement - especially in solidarity with Palestine - actually existing on the ground. Today, the over-riding challenge is to formulate and then follow through on an equivalent activity that throws down the gauntlet against Bush’s plan to invade Iraq. Clusters of activists across the country, from nationally prominent leaders to salt-of-the-earth organizers in the trenches, are beginning to take on this question with vigor and urgency. If a creative plan for mobilization can be united upon by an accountable constellation of forces who have earned some moral and political authority, I am convinced it will unleash tremendous energy and enthusiasm from the grassroots. Then, together, we will be able not just to understand and denounce the real "axis of evil," but throw a serious wrench into its deadly war machine.

Max Elbaum is one of the editors of War Times.