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UQ Wire: No Retreat, No Surrender

Unanswered Questions: Thinking For Ourselves
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No Retreat, No Surrender

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Sunday, 6 October, 2002

To get to the Seaport Hotel, you must cross over the Moakley Bridge, named for the recently deceased senior Congressman from Massachusetts. The bridge lies in the shadow of a new Federal courthouse that likewise bears his name.

Friday morning found a small crowd standing on the crest of the bridge under a gray, windy sky, staring into the fetid waters of the Fort Point Channel below. Periodically they scanned the horizon, out by Logan airport, looking for a large airplane with 'Air Force One' painted on the side to come out of the clouds.

The crowd wasn't small for long. A number of groups had been sounding the alarm for weeks - George W. Bush is coming to Boston on October 4th to hobnob with Gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney, and to stand for pictures with devotees of the GOP who were willing to cough up $5,000 for the privilege of a photo-op with The Great Man. The love-in would be happening at the Seaport Hotel, behind South Station, out by the World Trade Center, out on the piers along the harbor. Bring signs, bring flyers, bring your best shouting shoes, and meet on the bridge. We march on the hotel before noon. The purpose of the protest: To try and stop this coming war in Iraq.

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The word was well-spread. Before 10:00 a.m., hundreds of people had come pouring out of the city and over the bridge, bearing banners and signs and very worried faces. This was no lark. The police in Portland several weeks before had unleashed a terrible attack upon peaceful protesters outside another Bush fundraising/campaign event. Several people were shot with rubber bullets, and much of the crowd - including an infant brought by a parent who never suspected there could be violence - took a face-full of mace.

The crowd flowed into the provided First Amendment Zone - a rectangle of road perched along a smaller bridge. Citizens at the front were pressed against steel barriers manned by police, hemmed in on both sides by water, with more police flowing in behind. The Zone was several hundred yards from the hotel door, and seemed designed to be a very effective killing bottle. If things got out of hand, the protesters had nowhere to go but into the Atlantic ocean or straight up to Heaven. Above, a helicopter made slow, deliberate circles above the crowd, lingering with menace at times while its rotors churned the air. On the roof of the hotel, snipers watched impassively through binoculars.

The fear on the faces of the hundreds of protesters did not come simply from a concern that they might meet the business end of a police baton. The last several days of news had made it all too clear that war with Iraq was inevitable. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt had inexplicably rolled over for the Bush administration, promising them everything under the sun and guaranteeing that the dangerously vague language of Bush's war resolution would pass easily through that body. Subsequent media reports suggested that the Senate, with a few dissenters, would likewise approve the Bush resolution.

The Bush resolution references not simply war on Iraq, but uses the opaque phrase "the region" when defining the parameters of the engagement. If Congress passes the resolution with that language intact, they will have granted Bush the legal ability to make war on any Middle Eastern nation he wishes, without the need to further consult Congress. The Bush resolution does not contain any language including the United Nations in the deliberations. In that resolution is the legalization of a permanent state of hot war, managed and driven only from the White House, and with no clearly defined end in sight. For the neo-conservatives within the administration who have been wishing for such a thing for years - Perle, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Cheney - Congressional approval of this resolution would be a dream come true.

The crowd of protesters in Boston was not merely comprised of full-bore peace activists. A great many carried signs demanding a return of basic diplomacy to the business of the Oval Office. Other signs demanded United Nations involvement in whatever happens, and denounced the concept of unilateral and pre-emptive aggression. On every face was that stamp of fear, and the full knowledge that the nation trembled on the edge of a terrible, terrifying decision that would haunt us for generations to come.

Pictures from the crowd: A little girl standing with her father at the barricade, he in army fatigues, she holding a sign reading, "Don't Kill My Daddy." A circle of drummers pounding a martial beat, giving rhythm to the chants of the assembled. A woman in evening wear, wending through the crowd, who chose the wrong route to get to the hotel door for her picture with Bush, turning and slapping a protester who asked her how she could be associated with the GOP. A man in an expensive suit, also walking through the crowd to the hotel, barking at someone to "Get a job!" only to hear the response, "In this economy?" The urgency of the hoarse chants - "One, two, three, four, we don't want your oil war!" Always, the helicopter above. Always, the fear.

The protesters in Boston on October 4th were but one physical representation - repeated in New Hampshire and Portland and Denver and Phoenix and New York and California and London - of a tremor of terror that thrums through this land. The Bush administration means to make war in Iraq, despite the absence of a threat to our nation, despite the absence of any credible hint of evidence to suggest a threat, despite the repudiation this will bring from the international community, despite the damage that such action will do to our already-bleeding economy, despite the incredible chaos that will be unleashed in the Middle East, despite the specter of thousands of American military casualties and tens of thousands of civilian dead, and despite the brass-bound surety that such action will bring down more terrorism on our shores.

The Bush administration means to make war, and the Congress appears ready to give him legal protection for a widening of that war in directions not to be contemplated in comfort or calm. The war is being pushed during the buildup towards an incredibly important midterm Congressional election season, a calculated maneuver designed to hem in Congress members who might otherwise stand against Bush. This cynical tactic appears to be working - Senator Robert Byrd has said he will filibuster the resolution if enough Americans call his office and voice their concerns, but too many others seem unable to summon the courage to fight this wretched future.

The people of this nation do not want this war, the international community does not want this war, and every argument for this war flies in the face of caution and fact. Yet it comes inexorably. The protesters in Boston knew perhaps some of this, or all of this, but stood anyway in defiance and shouted down the man who would lead them to dissolution. The defiance is mandated, if only to represent the feelings of the country, if only to throw down a marker before the world, if only to remind Congress that we are watching, we see what they do, and we will not forget this moment in time.

Bruce Springsteen played to a packed house at the Fleet Center in Boston that Friday night. His fans, accustomed to power-chord anthems and melancholy ballads about love, cars and blue-collar survival, were treated to a rather solemn evening of songs from his new album, 'The Rising,' which deals on many levels with the events of September 11th, 2001. Had he been with the protesters on the Moakley Bridge, in the First Amendment Zone outside the Seaport Hotel, had he known all the seemingly insurmountable dangers arrayed before this nation and the world, dangers brought forth in no small part by the deadly miscalculations and deliberate obfuscations of the Bush administration, he might have added a final song to his playlist.

No retreat, baby. No surrender.


William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. He is the author of two books - "War On Iraq" (with Scott Ritter) available now from Context Books, and "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," available in April 2003 from Pluto Press.

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