Letter from the States

Business as Usual for Anti-War Movement After Reagan's Re-Election

By Tom Joyce | 1985-03-01 12:00:00

NEW YORK STATE'S FINGER Lakes region seems to have been off the path of the giant mid-January snow storm that hit the north country, Buffalo, and presumably, Ontario.

"I say presumably, Ontario' because unless one spoke to an Ontarian (which haven't) or read a Canadian newspaper (of which none are easily available) one would never know. One of the most disconcerting things for a recent repatriate is the nearly total cultural imperialism that the US visits on Canada. In a month of New York Times there have been perhaps 4-5 articles about Canada.

I did learn that 1985's first cruise missile test occurred despite Greenpeace -at least they tried. The news has also broken about the specific Pentagon plans to replace the DEW line. Both are issues calling for international resistance.

It is interesting to note that the B-52s carrying the cruise up to Cold Lake came from the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. It was the Air Force's announced intention to deploy the B-52s from the Griffiss AFB here in upstate. I expect that it was determined Canadian opposition (and what is now referred to by Rome locals as the Canadian invasion of the base in July, 1983), that prompted the change in plans.

There are Minnesota Christian activists who regularly protest at Grand Forks. One hopes that Winnipeggers are in touch and are encouraging them to make the Canadian issues known.

In reporting about the Mobilization for Survival Conference in New York City for the December issue of the Peace Calendar, I mentioned briefly that we saw how activists were responding to Reagan's re-election in November. Here are some of the reasons for optimism despite the disaster in the presidential vote, the Democratic Party's refusal to support progressive and women candidates from their own party, and racist voting trends.

First, only a slightly higher percentage of registered voters cast ballots than in 1980 - 53% as opposed to 51%. The apathy, disgust at the lack of choice, or whatever, indicates a very deep mistrust in the electoral system of this country. The real democratic tradition in the United States relies more on people's perception that they can effect change in their communities despite political bosses, be it reactionary or progressive change. Thus, there is the rich history of direct action and vigilante-ism.

Second, there was good success in issue-oriented referenda. Jobs with Peace won wherever it was voted on - a binding referendum won with 60% of the vote in Los Angeles county, the most military dependent in the country. Referenda against U.S. policy in Central America won, and most of the agribusiness-backed initiatives were defeated in California.

Third, the make-up of Congress is similar to the last four years. The right wing of the Republican Party will be tempered by the real politic on Capitol Hill.

Thus, the peace and justice movements plan to continue to organize popular and community-based support with as much vigour as before.

The Pledge of Resistance campaign has garnered tremendous support. People are pledging to protest present US aggression in Central America now, and to resist any escalation of intervention with mass civil disobedience.

500 have already been arrested in the Free South Africa movement. To date, US district attorneys have not prosecuted any of those arrested. Fear that deep rooted disgust with US support of apartheid will erupt even more has put the administration on the defensive.

Despite the recent wave of arrests, the sanctuary movement - to protect illegal Salvadorean and Guatemalan refugees -- has grown stronger. Jack Elder, a churchworker in the South-West, was acquitted by a Texas jury of transporting illegal aliens. He had argued that the US was contravening its own immigration laws by refusing refugee status to Salvadorans and Guatemalans who face death if returned to Central America.

Similar grass roots and community-based efforts are continuing across the country on the issues of pornography, reproductive rights, weapons facilities, the homeless, violence against women and children, and so on.

Major anti-war groups are widening the scope of their work. The April 20-22 mobilization on Washington includes anti-nuclear, anti-intervention, anti-apartheid, and jobs with peace planks.

Even though the anti-war movement and other progressives failed to intervene in the national election, the struggle for change is continuing and activists are no more discouraged than before November 6. That's the way it looks from this window, anyway.

Draft Resistance

THE FOCUS OF THE ANTI-war movement in up state for the past few months has been the federal trial of Andy Mager for failing to register for the draft. Andy was convicted by a jury after a 3-day trial on January 10, and will be sentenced on February 4.

Resistance to the draft has been low key, which is exactly what the government intended when it passed legislation for draft registration and not a draft in 1980. Only 3 years earlier the same administration - Carter's - had pardoned all draft resisters from the Viet Nam War era. The stated reason for draft registration - to cut down the mobilization time - served to cover its real function: to do things slowly and quietly.

Registration advertising is very soft-sell. It does not appeal to patriotism and machismo (as do Marine ads). Rather it passes off registration as just another rite for men reaching adulthood, along with smoking cigarettes, buying a car, and reading pornography.

Compliance with the Selective Service laws, however, has not been universal. By SS estimates, 500,000 have not registered. When other infractions are included -- incomplete registrations, failure to notify change of address, counselling and encouraging non-registration -- the number reaches over 6 million.

The government has only prosecuted 17 men to date, Andy being the latest. He chose not to use the obvious defense of selective prosecution. Instead, he chose a defense more to the point: by instigating a draft the US is preparing for large scale intervention in Nicaragua and elsewhere, in violation of international law. He also argued that settling conflicts by violent means was contrary to his conscience. The jury was not allowed to hear testimony about US involvement in Nicaragua.

The Selective Service characterizes non-registrants as both political opponents and what they refer to as "the disenfranchised." The latter are people who have no stake in the system and see no reason to register. This points to a broad opposition across class to registration. If there is no economic advantage to the military, the underclass has no reason to participate. Thus, men and women are either being forced into the military for economic reasons or they are ignoring it.

The anti-draft movement has been unable to gain a broad base of opposition, however. People just don't see the immediacy of the issue. It is, as the government continues to point out, just registration. Their strategy has worked to that extent.

The draft resistance movement is made up of those already opposed to the US government and conscientious objectors. Furthermore, only a segment of it rests on a broader analysis opposing "economic conscription" and US military intervention. The strategy of this part of the draft resistance is to counsel non-registration, fight against pressure tactics forcing registration (denying student aid and job training programs to non-registrants) and encouraging public non-registration.

But it also includes counselling to reach people who are being forced into the military, legal battles to gain high school access to counteract military recruiters, and work in the anti-nuclear and anti-intervention movements.

Conservative Congresspeople and a section of the military brass do want the draft. There have been bills to institute one in every session of Congress since 1980. To close, don't let my optimism lull anyone into complacency.

Peace Magazine March 1985

Peace Magazine March 1985, page 7. Some rights reserved.

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