Where were you on February 15, 2003? If you were a part of the biggest global demonstration in history against war, which took place that day, I’m sure you remember well.
I was in the streets of Castellon, a small town on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, where I was studying for a master’s in Peace Studies, with some 20,000 other Spaniards protesting the impending war against Iraq. It was really very moving to be a part of such a large gathering.
Now a team is working on a full-length documentary, called “We Are Many,” about that historic day. Although it’s not set to come out until late 2011 or early 2012, they have already completed a very nice trailer for the movie (above).
While I’m all for commemorating that important event, I also think it’s worth looking at critically. Yes, millions of people around the world came out to protest a war that had not even begun yet. Nothing like that has ever happened before. As Noam Chomsky has said, it took years for any comparable protest to develop during the Vietnam War. And there is hope in that.
Nevertheless, it didn’t stop the invasion of Iraq. Bush brushed off the demonstrations with ease. To let the protesters influence his decision to attack Iraq, he quipped, would be like saying “I’m going to decide policy based upon a focus group.”
And unfortunately, when the war began a little more than a month later, many who took part in that global day of protest felt deflated. Afterwards, it took months to build the momentum for action back up and it’s my sense that many people stopped demonstrating against the war for good. Perhaps they felt that it was of no use, since the massive protests before the invasion didn’t apparently bear fruit.
However, the hard truth is that we never should have expected one day of protest, no matter how big, to stop a war. That’s not how nonviolence works. If we actually wanted to stop the imminent attack on Iraq, we would have had to come back the next day, and every day after that, until the administration listened. Almost all nonviolent campaigns that have been successful against such a powerful, determined opponent required this type of sacrifice and perseverance from participants.
Protesters would also have needed to try other, more aggressive tactics – like civil disobedience or even a general strike – that more directly disrupt business as usual. If millions of people indefinitely refused to go to work, blocked roads around the country and filled the jails, then Bush may have perhaps faltered.
Rather than simply celebrate February 15, I would encourage the filmmakers to include some discussion along these lines, so that their very promising documentary can contribute to the building of a more effective movement in the future.