Transforming the Jangling Discords of Our World into a Beautiful Symphony

Five years ago, the Bush administration launched what may become the greatest foreign policy disaster of this country’s 232 years of history. Today, five years later, we stand on the threshold of the 4,000th American killed, the 30,000th American tragically wounded, the millionth Iraqi dead, and a price tag that Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz tells us will top $3 trillion.

This folly by our selected leaders stands likely to be an even greater disaster:

  • than the U.S. war on Mexico in 1846;
  • than the Philippine-American war of a century ago where the United States began the mass use of what became “strategic
  • hamleting” in the Vietnam War and what we now call “water boarding” in Iraq;
  • than the U.S. war on Vietnam and Indochina some four decades ago.

And yet, as we stand here today in opposition to that American history of reckless war, we stand on the shoulders of those who resisted the earlier wars:

  • Henry David Thoreau, who went to jail for war tax resistance after the U.S. war on Mexico and penned his famous “Civil Disobedience.”
  • Mark Twain and the anti-imperialists who filled Madison Square Garden against the Philippine-American war.
  • The millions who opposed the Vietnam war, including Martin Luther King, who in his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech made this connection: “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.”

What makes this country great is not its history of military expansion, of invasion and water boarding and torture. What makes this country great is our long historic tradition of popular resistance, of those who have stood for the ideals of justice that were later emulated around the world. The strand that became the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s, the environmental and women’s movements of the 1970s, the anti-apartheid and anti-intervention movements of the 1990s, the global justice movements of the 1990s, and the peace movements of this decade.

To this illegal, immoral, and wrong-headed war of the Bush administration in Iraq, the organized opposition began five months before the first American bomb was dropped.

It began in a conference room less than two miles from here on October 25, 2002, on the day when that great anti-war Senator Paul Wellstone was killed in Minnesota, when 69 groups came together to form the coalition United for Peace and Justice. That coalition would grow to encompass over 1,400 groups today and it is organizing protests around the country this week. Leslie Cagan, coordinator of that coalition is here on this stage today. The next day in October 2002, large membership organizations came together under the banner of “Win Without War” under the leadership of Tom Andrews and Susan Shaer, who join us at this conference as well.

The opposition grew with MoveOn, as it shifted into gear to mobilize tens of millions against this war.

It grew with Damu Smith, as he created Black Voices for Peace.

It grew at my own IPS, which along with Chicago Alderman Joe Moore, created Cities for Peace to work with City Councils across this land to pass resolutions against war.

And it exploded onto the global stage on February 15, 2003, as some 12-15 million people in over 600 cities around the world took over the streets and said “no” to war in the largest mass mobilization against war in world history.

In the years that followed, the resistance spread.

Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans and Col. Ann Wright brought together thousands of women (and many men) to form CodePink.

Charley Richardson and Nancy Lessin brought together Military Families Speak Out to crystallize the voices of thousands of family members of soldiers in Iraq.

Cindy Sheehan and other Gold Star mothers created Camp Casey.

Camilo Mejia and Kelly Dougherty and other veterans created Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Navy Seaman Jonathan Hutto created Appeal for Redress.

Trade unionists created U.S. Labor Against the War.

Tom Mattzie created Americans Against Escalation in Iraq.

Tom Swan and others created the new Iraq Recession Campaign, which you are about to hear about.

Today, five years after that illegal and immoral invasion, this peace movement stands in this room to say that we are united in an urgent message to the American people that we must end this war now.

Over the next 45 minutes, you will hear the wise words of leaders of this peace movement about strategies to end this war. You will hear about a vast number of opportunities where you, ordinary Americans, can join in over the next few days and weeks to help end this war. You will hear how the women of CodePink have revived the proud history of war tax resistance. You can get involved at the local level; I want to encourage you to go to www.citiesforpeace.org. If your city isn’t one of the over 300 that has passed a resolution to bring the troops home, then reach out to your local elected officials and become a “city for peace.”

I want to encourage you to elect candidates to office who pledge to end this war. This month, the people of Illinois elected the anti-war Bill Foster to fill Dennis Hastert’s seat. Last month, Democrats in Maryland elected the anti-war Donna Edwards to fill Al Wynn’s seat. In November, the people of Washington State will elect the anti-war Darcy Burner, whom you will hear from in a moment.

We must focus our nation like a laser beam on the folly of the leadership decisions by the Bush administration that put soldiers and Iraqis at risk every minute of every day. We must heed the veterans like Camilo who tell us how impossible the situation is, why the surge won’t work, why the soldiers are misused and mistreated, and why we should and must get out now.

I’ll end where Martin Luther King ended his 1967 speech: “Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world…If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

John Cavanagh is the director of the Institute for Policy Studies and a member of the New Economy Working Group.