Once again Portlanders made a significant contribution to an international day of protest. More than 10,000 residents of the Rose City jammed downtown on March 20 to signal once again to Dubya and company that we dont support his dirty war in Iraq or much of anything else he does for that matter.
Portland helped keep the Left Coast as a respectable hotbed of discontent, adding to the 50,000 who filled San Franciscos Market Street and the additional 20,000 people in Los Angeles who dedicated their Saturday afternoon to tell George Bush where to get off. All these folks were joined in turn by protesters in over 50 countries and 250 cities. And while the mainstream press emphasizes that overall turnout was lower than in earlier protests, the fact remains that efforts to stop the war are drawing more people than any other activity that falls outside peoples regular lives.
In many of the countries participating in the March 20 mobilizations, that divide between activism and regular lives doesnt exist. Politics arent something you try to avoid or treat like an act of bad manners whenever someone raises a political topic in conversation. Ironically, it is our own bastion of democracy that instills that dread of political discourse found in most Americans. Of course, one doesnt remain a ruling elite if you let the rabble get a glimpse at the blueprint for holding power.
One of the results this social engineering has been that even when dissent arises, it is often of a nature that ensures root problems are never addressed. In the case of the peace movements largely bourgeois pedigree, it has led to an absence of a real power analysis of why war remains an acceptable way to achieve national goals. People may be moved to organize, mobilize and commit acts of tremendous courage, but miss the mark that would build the kind of power needed to deal with the problem.
Which brings us back to Portland and March 20. Portlands peace movement has been taken to task many times in these pages. This paper has been especially critical of the failure of the movements leadership to move beyond expressions of grief and simple demands for no war. But on March 20 a breakthrough happened a small breakthrough, but a breakthrough none the less. As peace protesters moved through downtown streets, they were brought to a stop outside one of the citys downtown highrises to hear from workers caught in a struggle to win healthcare for their children. Members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49, as part of the national Janitors for Justice Campaign, told marchers how they needed to secure union membership for 70 percent of janitors working in Portland in order to retain healthcare coverage for their families the conditions are part of a peculiar arrangement reached in last Julys contract. Holdouts using non-union labor include such pillars of the community as developers Melvin Mark and Tom Moyer.
Conditions being what they are on the street, most likely only a fraction of the marchers actually heard the workers presentation. But is was an important first step in linking the struggle for peace and justice abroad with the struggle for peace and justice in the workplace and by extension, in the environment and elsewhere.
Not that this one contact will provide the necessary header off of horseback on the road to Damascus. Epiphanies are rare. Moments of clarity, on the other hand, usually take repeated bumps along lifes rough road. The organizers deserve praise for reaching out this way, but they cant afford to rest on their laurels if we are to motivate people to do more than turn out on a sunny Saturday. Building real links between peace activists and those fighting for workers rights or to preserve the environment will take much more.
In the coming months, lets hope that peace activists stay the course and find ways to continue pushing our local peace movement to engage with workers and others in their struggle. It can range from the simple to the complex. It can be something as small recruiting some of your fellow peace activists to walk a picket line to asking your peace organizations board to take a stand on important labor or environmental struggle.
The key is to keep widening the breach in that wall that has been erected to separate us. It wont be easy and as we approach those crucial months ahead say Nov. 2, for instance when solidarity rather than division is so necessary, we musnt lose sight that real solidarity only comes through struggle around these hard issues. The heat we can create by lending support to each other will forge a movement that is guaranteed to roll over George Bush and then some. So lets stay the course.
The Portland Alliance
2807 SE Stark Portland,OR 97214
Last Updated: May 9, 2004