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The Relevance of Marching

The Relevance of Marching
By David Swanson

David Corn,, published an article today on his site and on arguing that last weekend's march on Washington to end the war was a waste of time and money and energy and won't help end the war. I disagree, but think Corn makes some useful points.

Corn's arguments include:
1-these marches always result in debates over how many people showed up
2-not enough people showed up
3-there's nothing novel about marching anymore
4-more people watched "Desperate House Wives" than marched
5-the marchers are all from blue states, so the Republicans don't care
6-only one national march in the past 20 years has accomplished anything
7-we'd be better off targeting vulnerable Senators and Members of Congress

1.-Yes, there are always debates over how many people showed up. Some among those organizing this march made proposals that I supported but which were not accepted or acted on, to either carefully estimate the crowd as the march began and passed through a marked off area, or to acquire a good enough satellite photo to estimate crowd size. But the media coverage – lousy and insufficient as it was – did not focus on the crowd size as much as organizers and activists have. Most of the stories in the corporate media communicated that there was a huge, diverse march of people from all over the country who wanted to end the war. If there's also debate over the crowd size, what's so bad about that? The issue is at least in the news, and those in search of harder numbers can refer to opinion polls, which all now support the anti-war movement.

2.-Corn says a million people would have meant something. But it would not have meant eliminating the debate over what the right number was. And it will not happen without smaller marches first and recognition of what they achieve. It certainly won't happen if we write off marching as an outdated tool, the way the Bushies write off the labor movement.

3.-How many people really believe that the marches against the Vietnam War worked primarily because they were novel? In fact, was there anything novel then about marching? What works about marching, I think, is mostly not dependent on it being novel. For one thing, it puts an issue into the media and reaches more people. While a majority of Americans currently oppose the war, only a tiny minority knows that. Most people who oppose the war believe falsely that they hold a minority opinion. A march helps people learn that a mainstream opinion is mainstream. Each person at the march is understood to represent many more people who could not take off work, travel, physically march that distance, or risk arrest. And each person goes home and tells many other people about the inspiring experience of the march. The internet and activist networks are now a-fire with proposals and initiatives and hope. The bus tours and lobby visits and local protests and congressional hearings that preceded the march did not produce this.

Local energy is higher now, not depleted by the national march or any of the regional marches that took place the same day. This is not a zero-sum game. It's closer to the reverse. The more we do, the more people come in with more energy to do more. And it's not just Americans who are excited. National marches in DC excite people around the world, build alliances with them, and restore some credibility to our country in the eyes of others. What generated excitement this past weekend, though, was not just the march, but also the civil disobedience at the White House on Monday. On that day 384 people accepted arrest to demand that the war end now. They sacrificed, and that moved people. And we know the exact count (384) because the police know how many arrests were made. There was also a ton of lobbying done by hundreds of people, some of it very aggressively, on Monday; and that was useful, but it did not accomplish the same things the march did.

4.-Of course, more people watched television. Many people work long hours and can't do much else. But of those supporting the war, all but a few hundred watch television. Of those opposing it, all but a few hundred thousand watch television. That's the difference. And this argument seems to be one that Corn has invented. I haven't seen it in the corporate media coverage of the march. Why invent arguments for the other side?

5.-The marchers were not all from blue states. Who said they were? And the supporters of the war in Congress are not all Republicans. In fact, Corn later asks why New Yorkers didn't stay home and challenge their Democratic senators. Well, because they came to DC to do so, by marching and then by meeting with them. In the process, they built solidarity with others and helped build the movement.

6.-Most marches don't result in immediate total victory. There is a dangerous tendency to expect that and then grow frustrated. But many of us never thought they would. We see marches as part of an ongoing movement. In this case, the march was combined with lobbying and civil disobedience and various other meetings and strategy sessions. I'd have thought this was a step in the direction Corn favored, but instead he didn't mention it at all.

The idea that only one march in the past 20 years has had a noticeable effect is bizarre. Most marches I've been part of have resulted in positive change. The marches against this war have very likely helped prevent it being more of a slaughter than it's been. A few years back, ACORN and others organized a march on the Department of Health and Human Services, protesting their new policy of eliminating the minimum wage for workfare jobs. Within 8 hours, the White House reversed that policy. Numerous other marches at the Capitol and White House, even under Bush, have immediately resulted in improvements in horrible legislation, if only very rarely reversals of plans.

7.-I agree that we should target vulnerable senators and House members, both Republicans and Democrats. In fact, there have been discussions about this among the organizers of the recent national march. But the campaign, among other groups, was doing this in the weeks leading up to the march, and it did some good, but no one noticed. No one even bothered to write dismissive articles about it. It did not, I expect, do as much to bring in new people as this march did. We need both types of actions if we are going to have an effective movement. For upcoming plans, watch


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Why are my messages not posted and others are posted several in a row that are identical?

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I always ask people who don't like marches to do something else instead.

Marching trumps just talk and speechifying.

I loved the way you discussed David Corn's points of debate. I think it is essential to march because there will always be an area of doubt in people who blindly follow a leader. The possibility of opening the eyes of someone else, or at least reinforcing doubt is enough to justify marching.

We have a handful of courageous people who will not back down, as Dennis Kucinich, John Conyers, Barbara Boxer, Henry Waxman, Maxine Waters and of course, Cindy Sheehan.

If only to warm the heart of these courageous people, and I am sure they may have received threats from these neo-cons, we need to march and show them they are not alone..

I read the Corn article this was about and for the first time, I just had to Email the TomPain site that published it. I have to disagree with Corn too, and made some of the same points. It also should be mentioned that before this new movement of the movement began with Cindy Sheehan camping out at Crawford, the anti-war movement had become a bit aimless and quiet. Its been building up since then culminating in a genuinely historic protest. Marching in protest should remain our means if only because this is America where we love, and should always love, embracing that distinctly American right of free-speech. Let's face it, we Americans love to hear ourselves protest. Now the anti-war movement is revived and is nowhere near the word "irrelevant".

TV is an insidious medium for corporate control of the masses. While our country and our democratic heritage is being hijacked, it is precisely in order to break through the mental and spiritual torper induced in so many by mega-corporate media that marching is more imperative than ever.

I was one of the marchers, traveling to DC by train from Connecticut overnight (and luckily not affected by the several hour disruption of train service from NY to DC during Saturday morning).

The crowd, which seemed thin during the early morning hours, surged rapidly from about 11 AM onward, in spite of the train stoppage, and the additional impediment of two of the metro lines being down for maintenance. People were pouring into the Elipse and the nearby streets. William Rivers Pitt noted afterwards that CSPANN had estimated the crowd size at 500,000.

Maybe we'll get Corn's million and more at the upcoming Millions More March on October 15. By then, perhaps Corn will figure out a way to utilize some of the Nation's resources to do a credible job of estimating crowd size, instead of watching TV or his stock portfolio.

It's good to see a response to Corn's silly article which is of a piece with the Nation's general distance from real movements and tendency to fall into fictions about working through the Democrats.

There's something missing in this and other discussions. Marches are hardly revolutions. But they do convey a lot of symbolism of social disorder. People in power are extremely paranoid (recall Nixon) and are perhaps disproportionately worried by such things. The population in general can read, minimally, that the war is causing upset and the prospect of more. This is something we might be a little ambivalent about, since it can lead to a repressive quest for restored order. On the other hand, given the utter utopianism of the notion that change can be brought about via mainstream politics (lobbying, etc.) marches come much closer to practical politics.

Jesse Lemisch

I question the origin of Amtrak disruptions of record (The Washington Post and New York Times) as they relate to our Constitution's First Amendment's right to peacefully assemble.

I was enraged Saturday, September 24, 2005, when my bus driver confided that the shutdowns of Amtrak on days when there are scheduled DC protests are "common knowledge." He also said that buses leaving NYC are known to have been turned around by the Port Authority as they emerge from the Holland Tunnel's Jersey side. The Washington Post reported, and as I can verify as a rider with first-hand experience, not only was Amtrak shutdown for many critical hours, but the DC Metro (which had promised United For Peace & Justice, the march organizers, extra trains with 10-min intervals), actually was doing repairs so that trains from two lines were running on single tracks, there were many delays, and the signage is just terrible on top of many, many entrances being closed. It is also my understanding that Amtrak service was disrupted for most of the latest inauguration day for our unelected president, due to a "derailed car." It is quite likely that we have a Constitutional violation.

When you add that to the fact that planes, trains (Amtrak), and buses were shutdown on Saturday before Hurricane Katrina struck on Monday, you are hard pressed not to become doubtful of the veracity of either our government and/or Amtrak.

I attended the March. The wonderful thing about being there was that the attendees were from red states , blue states, old, young, veterns of past wars and the Iraq war, school teachers, wall street traders, unemployed, clergy, mothers, fathers, blacks, reds, yellow and white in color and some who were a bit weird. There were even some Republicans who oppose the war. In other words it looked like the United States of American. For me it represented the American process. The great thing about our Country is we are able to walk in front of the White House and demand a change in policy. I don't know who heard my voice but I do know that I did. It was empowering and for the first time since the election, I felt like I could effect change. To me that was the value of the March in Washington. If the people feel change is impossible they begin to accept the unacceptable. For me the March was a reminder of the history lessons learned in school. WE the people are responsible for the health of our democracy. Exercise your rights by educating yourself, voting and speaking your mind. Do yourself and the U.S. a favor. Attend the next March which supports your views and values.

David Swanson's counter-arguments are good, but I think he err's a bit in going too far in the other direction. I agree that marching (protesting in the streets) has its place and value in moving things forward in the anti-war movement. And I believe that the demonstrations on September 24th were effective in that regard. But, as valuable as the march may have been, it is only one action of many that has contributed to the anti-war effort.

I become a bit dismayed when I keep hearing that Cindy Sheehan's Crawford encampment "reignited" the "aimless" anti-war movement. That particular action served as a catalyst. And it was extremely valuable. But it was only one of thousands of actions that have been occurring with growing frequency and effectiveness in the anti-war movement. Understand, that Cindy's "Camp Casey" would not have had the impact it did if she had sat there in that ditch all by herself. She had continuous and tremendous support from Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and Veterans for Peace. And, she had the strong backing of hundreds of thousands of frustrated Americans who feel that our actions in Iraq are illegal, immoral and inherently un-American ... Americans who felt that way with the same strong conviction before Cindy ever took up her position along that ditch.

Don't get me wrong, I am very supportive of Cindy's actions and those essential organizations that have been behind her. I do recognize the importance and value of what she did. But give some due to the American populace that has been growing and organizing in opposition to this Administration's actions abroad. The anti-war movement was not aimless. It was not dead. It has been steadily growing. Camp Casey was like the opening of a "faucet" to a reservoir of built up resentment and opposition to the Iraq war. And there was tremendous organizational structure to give Cindy the support that she needed at that critically opportune time. That did not develop overnight. Don't take my word for it. Go ask Cindy.

Debating whether marching is more or less valuable than other actions against the war is like debating which came first ... the chicken or the egg. Its a form of linear thinking that can only lead to a diminishing of the movement. I helped to ferry Camp Casey participants to meet with the Congressionsal staff members when they came through Richmond on their "Bring Them Home Now" tour. I was amazed as I listened and participated in a discussion with Senator Allen's senior staff. Do not underestimate for one second the value that a handful of military family members, veterans and local consituents can have in a one hour meeting with their Congressman. Every person/action contributes in their own way to the whole of the movement. Every bit of it is needed.

Garrie Rouse
Virginia (a "Red" State)

with everything you said and didn't mean to claim marching was MORE useful than something else, merely that it is useful

It is easy to become discouraged about the effectiveness of any of our tactics to end the war and effect other changes in policy in the US. Different people will always disagree about what is most effective.

It's impossible to know exactly what single tactic will be most effective. Swanson is correct to assert that all actions can be important. It's not helpful to dismiss any particular tactic as not as effective as the tactics one believes to be most powerful.

People need to do what we each feel moved to do for change. It's great to converge on DC, the center of policy and decision-making, and demand change, with hundreds of thousands of like-minded people. It's great to phone our Senators, and to confront them in person. Doing things that give us the energy and commitment to persist, that link us with other people committed to the same goals, has to be beneficial.

I do know people from so-called 'red' states who travelled long distances to the protests in DC, including people over 70.

In Arundhati Roy's An Ordinary person's Guide to Empire, she states:

"Personally, I don't believe that entering the electoral fray is a path to alternative politics"

Her reasons are simple. Electoral politics is the system of the wealthy, legitimizing de facto slavery in a market format. Voting is a system of buying democracy, whether it is via redistricting ala Tom DeLay, control of MSM via the oligopoly of 5 producers, the fixing of votes ala Diebold, or the selection of referees ala John Roberts. Representation is proportional to money, not people.

Marching is working from OUR strength- numbers not dollars. Of course it can be manifested in other ways by not participating in supporting the military establishment or exploitive products. This country was NOT founded with political parties in mind, and there is no means for inclusion of minority views in a system of "winner takes all". Many countries have a dual vote, for individuals and for parties, where minority views have an entry possibility not thwarted by redistricting. Only the US, Canada, and Jamaica do not have proportional representation in at least one legislative body. Anybody who thinks America is a democracy probably still believes in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.

Contrary to Corn's views, it is the political process that is a waste of time. One may indeed influence a marginal outcome, but it will be short lived, as in the end, in a market driven process, wealth outbids poverty. It seems to me that only the masses are ever able to enact change that is lasting.

To: Arundhati Roy
Dear Ms. Roy:

I have seen you speak on C-Span, and you are marvelous. You are incisive, and it does my heart good.

The electoral process in the US is a travesty of personal expression for many reasons. Right now the two parties seem to be joining forces because the Bush fascists have almost all the power. If this country were smaller,say half as large, they would dictate outright.

Obviously, the evidence shows, and a curious person can figure some of it himself, that since Bush knew the 9/11 attack was coming (evidence), he let it happen with complete restriction on armed services, airline dispatchers, etc. to not interfere.

I have tried to get my hometown newspaper, San Francisco Chronicle, to do a book review on David Ray Griffin's books, The Second Pearl Harbor, and his second contesting all the 9/11 Commission conclusions. I emailed the Book Review Editor, the CEO and finally the Reader's omsbudsman--no reply even after leaving voice mail messages.

9/11 with the incessant propaganda terrified most of our 'courageous' citizens who would give up every right to be safe. From thereon Bush had noblesse oblige to carry out the imperalist formula now big-time, generated by Teddy Roosevelt. Every Democrat president has contributed to this formula to some degree, but made more grisly by the Republicans.

The two parties make hash of the vote because they are each controlled by the corporations, hence we are an oligarchy, and I don't think the country has ever been anything else, witness the servitude of labor in the 19th Century. The media then was primarily controlled by the oligarchs and reflected harsh Republican policies as 'The American Way.'

The vote in the last election reflected two things: it was handled with an agreement ahead of time between the two parties; and aided by the stupidity of the American people,which has never been more relevant.

The grandiosity of the American political leaders is seen in calling this 'the greatest country in the history of the world.' Then, mankind has learned little. Many people receive quite good educations at colleges but they stick to important things: obtaining and holding on to property and money in any way possible with no interference from 'law' or anything else, including murder. The last is where wars come in.

My discouragement is due to my observations.

Howard Dean, now as Chair of the Democratic National Committee, and later as President, could start the process of bringing the US to the state of where it should be in line with the founders and the Constitution. He was free of the oligarchs because his campaign money did not come from them. Instead people on the Internet, primarily, sent enough money,in the millions to finance it. This was so scary to the oligarchs, that representatives of the two parties, plus the media controlled by 6 corporations, sabotaged him in Iowa and then on.

Even the so-called benign leaders of the Democratic Party, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, did not want Dean for DNC Chair. Dean, after the presidential primaries, persevered with 'Democracy for America' which raises money for candidates with little momey to gain access to office at the local and congressional levels. Currently, Dean works with committee chairmen of all states to give power to grassroots efforts. He has reorganized the DNC to reflect ethics in politics.

I think the 'masses' have inwardly a desire for truth, because there is enthusiasm for anyone who has the nerve to speak it for them. Howard Dean is the only person historically who did this and at the same time through the Internet changed around campaigning giving power to the people if they wanted to take it. Some did.

Please reply.

Lucretia Helmly
Oakland, CA

I agree!
More and more it is obvious that the real power in our government is corporate money. The Republicans, and many Democrats, have cultured a symbiotic relationship with the corporations where both exchange favors, boosting power and profits. Then it infects the media. The People, of course, are the big losers. The system is badly broken and goes against what America is supposed to stand for. But, there are big problems besides corporate greed and political prostitution. We have an uneducated public that is so gullible it would go back to believing the world is flat if the right people said so. And, this goes hand in hand with another major problem: the main purveyors of information are a miserable, puppet media, cancerous "conservative" talk-shows, and "Christian" Networks. I really think that if the media had been doing its job Bush would be gone by now, or perhaps never even made it to the White House.

So, if we can't wake up the media, and the Democratic Party is hopeless, how do we mobilize (enough) people? 300,000 demonstrators should have made an impression. How many did it take to overturn the elections in Ukraine in 2004...? one article estimated 500,000. They protested a fraudulent election (sound familiar?), and the results were another election and victory! Why can't we do that? There are millions of liberals/progressives/activists out there, all yearning for regime change. If we could mobilize a couple million for any type of protest or demonstration it would have to make a difference. has over a million members. There's got to be a million or more willing Democrats, Greens, etc. What are we waiting for?

There was some hope that Dean would be the catalyst, though many thought he was too "arrogant". He wasn't the only candidate whose campaign money did not come from big donors. I worked with the Kucinich campaign, and he was actually more on the right track than Dean. But Dean got more followers-- Kucinich was a little 'too far left' for the masses, I guess. (Dean was tall and had the scream, whereas Kucinich was short and talked softly). Right now I would love to get behind Dean... or ANYONE who will lead strongly and promote the values of peace, equality, honesty, integrity, and "power to the people" (over profits)". If Dean is that person, he'd better speak up and do something to assemble the masses. We have warriors but no chief.

My response to the corn-y article, which I sent in reply, was that the symbolism of marching and especially in Washington is highly significant. I travelled from Las Vegas, Nevada to participate and although I'm disheartened by the lack of coverage by the quasi-media, I am confident that Karl Rove and certain others received the message we were sending loud and clear, even if Mr. Bush and the "media" are blissfully oblivious.
I also reminded corn that there were in fact many smaller local demonstrations and marches around the country that were in support for those who couldn't get there, adding to the total impact.

100,000 to 250,000 people marched on the White House. The demonstration was covered by both of my local newspapers, on the front page, even though Rita got more attention.
Bring the troops home NOW.
Impeach Bush.
(And then Cheney . . .)
We will overcome.

The current model of "demonstrating" is a waste of time, but gathering together as a mass is not.
The obsolete and useless part is -- what happens once the mass is assembled.
Marching, with its speeches, signs, and slogans and chants, has become a walk to nowhere.
What must occur is a cohesive, mass ACTION- one example I have proposed is an organized mass simultaneous lie down, what some call a die in, in the streets, and in the halls and offices of government.
The model should be Gandhi's salt march to Dandi, which had a specific and clear purpose, a beginning a middle and an end.
The old "march" model of gathering, listening to speeches, and walking to nowhere, is useless, and rather than waking, motivating or inciting the masses, they generally depress the participants, and get roundly ignored by the government and its stooge media.
We must DO something that brings the ongoing business as usual to a complete stop. A complete pattern interrupt.
Could the police have arrested 300,000 people in DC ? Or 50,000 in SF ?
They could barely cope with 300 at the White House, including Cindy.
THEY could not begin to deal with this.
We all know, on a very deep level, that they cannot arrest or shoot 300,000 of us.
The only obstacle to this is our individual fears: of arrest, mistreatment, loss of job or status or livelihood, or having a criminal record, or ongoing lifelong persecution by The Authorities.
As is obvious from the Viet Nam protesters' current lives, no lasting harm was done to the vast majority of us, except some long and useless files that lie rotting somewhere in boxes, exhumed only when one of us demands to see them, under the FOIA.
Its time to change the model, not the gathering together.



There is only one answer to these questions:
From Words, UnLtd., vol. 5, #2, DECEMBER 2002
“Why are we marching? Marching is how women got the right to vote, how blacks and Latinos got the right to vote and went from the back of the bus to the front of the bus. We got LBJ out of Vietnam and sent him back to Texas, where we’re going to send Bush. If we hadn’t marched, Powell and Rich would be sitting in a segregated hotel. We’re concerned too. We’re MLK’s children, Al Lowenstein’s children, Ben Spock’s, Paul Wellstone’s. We’ve got family too.

“We’re occupying Washington, DC….

The march against the war in D.C. was masterful, as was the events afterward, and anyone who opposes my and my comrades decision to march is a blowhard who needs to put his efforts forth and not waste time criticizing us, who are making history and doing good. If we were not, other weaklings would not be so aghast.

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