What’s a Moratorium?
by Mark Rudd & Doug Viehmeyer
It’s an odd word for a political tactic: it means a time out, a break. It was dreamed up in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War by people who had tried and failed with Eugene McCarthy’s peace candidacy the year before. (Not SDS, we should add). The original notion was a nationwide general strike until the war ended, but that’s reaching really far, since people don’t stop working just because a small group of organizers ask them to. So the goal was lowered to a general outpouring of anti-war sentiment. It worked.
The original Vietnam Moratorium, October 15, 1969, was a decentralized anti-war demonstration in which literally millions showed their opposition to the war around the world in a vast variety of ways. There were many school walkouts and closures; local demonstrations involving thousands around the country (a quarter of a million in D.C.; 100,000 in Boston);
workplace sickouts; vigils, sit-ins at draft boards and induction centers. President Nixon pretended not to notice, but there’s good evidence that the outpouring of opposition to the war prevented the war planners from using nukes against the Vietnamese (see Tom Wells, The War Within). A month later, the second moratorium day brought hundreds of thousands to
Washington, complete with an angry siege of the Justice Dept. that reminded Attorney General John Mitchell, watching from inside, of the storming of the Czar’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, back in 1917. Nixon himself, prior to the action, commented during a press conference: ” Google “Vietnam Moratorium” to check out what went on.
Why now? The anti-war movement, for a variety of reasons, has hit a plateau since the war began in 2003, despite the majority sentiment in the country against the war. No strategies have emerged to grow the movement. The thinking behind the Iraq Moratorium is that the moment is right for nationally coordinated local anti-war actions which will allow people to express their anti-war sentiments wherever they are and in a variety of ways. At the same time the Moratorium gives local groups a focus. For example, a campus anti-war organization can decide to do whatever’s appropriate for their school–a teach-in, a walk-out, a vigil, a film showing, a sit-in at a recruitment center. It’s all good!
The growth of the anti-war movement has to be seen as our current goal, not just a means. Every action, every demonstration should be judged by one single criterion: does it bring more people? We think that the biggest stumbling block up to now has been the too widespread belief that neither individual nor collective actions have no effect. The moratorium, allowing for a variety of tactics with one single focus, coordinated nationally and possibly internationally, has a chance of bringing antiwar expression into mainstream society. Sept. 21 will be the first moratorium day, followed by succeeding moratoriums (moratoria?) each third Friday of every month. If enough people and groups catch on, the movement grows.
The new Students for a Democratic Society, at its recent national convention, has endorsed the Moratorium. Washington, D.C., SDS has undertaken a broad counter-recruitment campaign and will tie the moratorium into that; Hopefully, other campus chapters will adopt September 21 and every subsequent third Friday of each month to organize around. Last spring, many SDS chapters commemorated the beginning of the fifth year of the occupation of Iraq with a coordinated day of walk-outs, rallies, educational events and direct action on March 20.
Other national organizations and networks that have endorsed the Iraq Moratorium include United for Peace and Justice, Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace, Code Pink, US Labor Against the War, Voters for Peace, Progressive Democrats of America, Veterans for Peace, the War Resisters League, and Food Not Bombs.
Many active local and regional antiwar groups have also jumped on board. Too many to name, but they have been the heart and soul of the antiwar movement during the last years of debacle after scandal. These groups have been conducting regular vigils, educational events, direct actions, etc…. Now is the time to unite.
You don’t need to be active already to make this happen. Talk to a few people in your school, neighborhood, workplace. Figure out what might be reasonable and useful to express your antiwar sentiment and to attract other people. Check out the website, www.iraqmoratorium.org for ideas. Especially look under the section “local reports.”
There is also a Spanish language site: MoratorioIrak.org
In the Bay Area, for example, you’ll find that a coalition of groups is getting together to organize thirty simultaneous actions. Now that’s ambitious! In LA, the Central Labor Council, and the United Teachers of Los Angeles are organizing workers and teachers.
The main strategic task facing the antiwar movement is to build and grow consciousness of the imperial ambitions of the US in the Middle East. The US embassy in Baghdad is the size of the Vatican City, yet it is under daily mortar and rocket attacks, from both Sunni and Shiite resistance groups. The surge is a failure and an obfuscation of the real issues, such as imperialism, colonialism, and the bloody horrors of US occupation. The movement must seize the opportunity presented by Petraeus’s “report” this past week; the Iraq Moratorium might be just the right vehicle.
History has shown that the only way to sway the “powers that be” lies in the ever increasing mobilization and organization of diverse, broad public groupings against the manipulations and calculations of what Chomsky has called the “pragmatic planners of American Empire.” Raising the social cost of the war at home is our long-term goal, undermining the “pillars” that support the continuation of the war and occupation. Check out Tom Hayden’s new book, “Ending the War in Iraq.” Among the pillars Tom describes are: media, military recruitment, congressional support, etc…
The Moratorium is only what local groups and individuals make of it. It is not the whole solution, but it is a strategy for dissent to focus on, an opportunity to unite divergent groups and bridge the chasm between the passive antiwar majority and the militant minority of active antiwar activists and organizers.
It looks like the Democrats are not going to end the war soon. The only hope is an enraged public organized into a mass movement. Think strategy!!!! Think organizing!!!
See you Friday the 21st, then October 19th, November 16th, and beyond.
Now is the Time of the Furnaces, and Only Light Should be Seen – Jose Marti (Cuban Revolutionary)
[Mark Rudd (old SDS) was a leader of the Columbia University student strike of 1968 and a founding member of the Weatherman faction of SDS. He was a federal fugitive for seven years, after which he taught math at an Albuquerque, New Mexico community college. He recently retired and remains focused on bringing down the US empire from within.
Doug Viehmeyer (new SDS) is an SDS organizer and worker in Northern New Jersey. As an undergrad at Hartwick College, he was involved with antiwar, Palestine solidarity, and feminist struggles.]