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Molly Ivins Tribute

Tuesday January 30, 2007

Reflections on the Washington Peace March by Betty Medsger 


It’s too bad Molly Ivins could not have been in Washington for the peace march on Saturday. She would have appreciated the overall tone of the event:  

This war must stop!  

This Congress must act!  

Reverse the Decider! 

But she might also have been disappointed, as I was. Being of a certain age, it was difficult not to remember that crises similar to those we are in now—the world on fire because of our government’s actions—brought out much larger crowds during the Vietnam war. They say there were about 400,000 people at the Saturday march. That sounds impressive, but it is 100,000 fewer people than marched in an antiwar march in New York the Sunday before the Republican convention opened in August 2004. Many Americans and Iraqis have died in the intervening three years. A lot of strategies have failed, and a lot of calls for peace have been ignored since then.  

Because the war is so much worse now than it was in 2004, I thought there would be a huge turnout. I walked through the crowd from the beginning point near the speakers’ platform to the end. The crowd was so much smaller than ones I had seen there more than 30 years ago.  

What disappointed me most, though, was the lack of people under 60 and especially the relatively small number of people of college age. I realize that without a draft, it is easy for the war to seem remote, not part of our lives. Still, given the election results and the threats both President Bush and Vice President Cheney made last week to ignore the opinions of Congress, the Senate and the American people regarding the president’s much-criticized plans to send more troops to Iraq, I thought determined, angry people would pour into Washington, that the planes would be overbooked, the trains overflowing, the streets so full that the Decider would see and hear them all the way to the White House.  

To overcome apathy and detachment, we need to promote the idea as widely as possible that we—ordinary people—are responsible for what our elected officials do and, if we disagree with what they do in our name, we have a responsibility to work hard to stop those actions. In other words, the democracy the neocons planned to export to Iraq should be brought to full life at home. 

I fear that live connection between people and government is missing. We act as though the government is a force outside our responsibility, let alone beyond our control. The realization that the Vietnam war was “our” war—a wrong war being fought in our name and with our money—eventually led to the explosive growth and diversification of the movement against that war. It swelled the ranks of the peace movement and inspired people to fill the streets of Washington and other American cities. Sure, sometimes they did so with a great sense of futility, as presidents, then as now, ignored the peoples’ will. But the ranks of protesters kept growing as more and people came to think it was fundamentally important not to give up the effort to bring an illegal and immoral war to an end.  

Much has changed since then, but the need to be active citizens has not changed. As we know from history, horrific events happen in the names of citizens when they are apathetic about what their officials are doing. Given what is taking place today and what is promised—edging closer to attacks on Iran, expanding the number of troops in Iraq against most advice, ignoring the advice of leaders in Congress and in the military, ignoring the wisdom of the international community, and, worse, death and more death every day—surely we are on the edge of such a time now. 

At the rally in Washington, two voices, those of Robert Watada of Honolulu and Jane Fonda, were especially eloquent. Watada, the father of First Lt. Ehren K. Watada—who is being court-martialed for his refusal to deploy to Iraq again because he thinks the war is illegal because it violates Army regulations that wars must be waged in accordance with the United Nations Charter – said his son “seeks to give others a voice.” He encouraged other troops to follow his son’s example and resist service. Fonda said she had feared that lies told about her 30 years ago when she opposed the Vietnam war would distract from the cause if she spoke out against the war in Iraq. Finally, she said, she felt compelled to speak. “Silence is no longer an option,” she said. 

The plaintive voice of a veteran who recently returned from Iraq also was eloquent. “I thought I was going to serve my country, to protect my country,” he said. “Instead, I went there for causes that have proved fraudulent.” 

Since that war, the internet has empowered our communication. It has greatly increased our ability to engage in political action easily—give money to candidates and causes, organize voter drives and participate in polls. All of that is valuable work, but we are invisible as we do it. Perhaps that matters. Perhaps it is time for more people to be visible witnesses so all generations and the rest of the world can see what we stand for—and what we stand against—at this crucial time in history. 

Let’s do it in the smart and feisty spirit of Molly, whose wise words have amused, moved and inspired us for so many years. 




Betty Medsger, former head of the Department of Journalism at San Francisco State and former Washington Post reporter, is writing a book about resistance during the Vietnam war.