By Damon Krane
November 10, 2005
From September 2005 through March 2006 I tried to get the anti-war movement in my adopted hometown of Athens, Ohio to take up a sustained effort to counter local military recruitment.
After the World Can’t Wait organization issued its call to launch an effort to “drive out the Bush regime,” beginning with various actions to be held on November 2, 2005, I argued for a march on the Athens recruiting station to launch an ongoing local counter-recruitment effort. The idea gained support, and I put a lot of effort into organizing the Athens Can’t Wait Coalition, the alliance of several local groups and otherwise unaffiliated individuals that sponsored the action. I was selected to be the coalition’s spokesperson, M.C.ed the November 2 rally, and wrote several articles published by local media. I also organized two Athens visits of members of the Pittsburgh Organizing Group, whose own counter-recruitment campaign had attracted hundreds of participants, substantial media attention, police brutality and arrests, and the group’s listing in a secret Department of Defense database of domestic “threats” leaked to NBC news in late 2005.
About 200 people participated in the November 2, 2005 march on the Athens recruiting station, making the event the largest anti-war demonstration Athens had seen since the U.S. invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003. Two months later, Athens News readers voted InterAct, the Athens Can’t Wait Coalition’s leading member, Best Student Organization in Athens.
Unfortunately, however, few people dedicated themselves to ongoing counter-recruitment work after November 2, and, much to my dismay, the subsequent effort never really took off.
The effort also faced a veritable shit-storm of criticism from the local media – mainly from Ohio University journalism majors. With everything else I was doing that fall (including trying to direct the fledgling non-profit organization People Might, after most of its founding board of directors had abandoned the organization), I was only able to respond to a fraction of it in the following pieces: “World Can’t Wait… for decent journalism,” The Post, 11/4/05; “Don’t let president Bush hold our troops hostage to his agenda,” The Athens News, 11/17/05; “Media bias demonstrates need for citizen journalism,” The InterActivist, February 2006; and “Is this supposed to be a lesson on media ethics?” The InterActivist, April 2006.
One of the attacks on the ACWC’s effort that managed to slip through the cracks was a column by an OU journalism major and campus reporter for the Athens News, Quinn Bowman. I had written notes for a response to Bowman’s column but never found time to write the final piece. However, looking back on those notes, I think they work well enough as is. Thus Bowman’s original piece follows with my response notes (italicized and bracketed) interspersed throughout the text.
Misguided student walkout won’t help stop the war in Iraq
By Quinn Bowman
Athens News campus reporter
November 3, 2005
The college student-activist is a staple in the lexicon of campus cliches. Young, idealistic students who have yet to be subjected to the soul-sucking realities of the real world seek to make a difference through local and national activism.
I support students who want to effect political change.
But the Wednesday class walkout organized by the Athens Cant Wait Coalition reeks of misguided, unrealistic idealism. The protest was scheduled before the print time for this article. (See related article.)
The Athens Cant Wait Coalition says the purpose of the walkout is to protest mistakes the Bush administration made in the Iraq war, march on the Athens armed forces recruiting center on Carpenter Street and “remove President Bush from office.”
I am certainly no fan of the Bush administration. It has mired this country in a quagmire in Iraq through dishonest tactics, smeared those who tried to tell the truth about the situation, and fought to uphold domestic policies that I find abhorrent.
Suffice it to say, I’d like Bush out of office as well.
However, I think this walkout, however large the turnout was, is a waste of time.
Moreover, mindless demonstrations like this one can create negative impressions in the minds of moderate voters who aren’t sure how they feel about Bush or the war.
[I’ll address Bowman’s charge of “mindless[ness]” soon enough. For now I’ll simply point out that even currently undecided, “moderate” voters would not have the option of voting for another presidential term for Bush given that he has just begun his second term, which is legally mandated to be his final term. Furthermore, a solid majority of Americans have opposed the Iraq War for years. Recent opinion polls show that only 25 percent of Americans want to see Bush’s successor implement similar policies. Thus the potential for the November 2 demonstrations and actions like them to increase support for the war or for Bush is about as likely as their potential to lead to Bush’s third term in office.]
The war in Iraq is a total mess, but the U.S. soldiers who are fighting it are there by choice. Walking out of a university class to “shut it down’ or whatever the marchers plan to do, doesn’t make any sense. Does the coalition want to shut down all recruiting stations, forcing the government to draft unwilling participants?
This shutdown effort is an attempt by college students to revisit the revolutionary 1960s, where a mandatory draft sent tens of thousands of American men to their deaths in Vietnam.
Back then, shutting down, or actually burning down the recruiting station, may have stopped soldiers from being shipped off to their possible deaths.
This walkout, on the other hand, seems like an artificial, self-important exercise that uses
old tactics in a new situation.
Soldiers who are dying in Iraq are there by choice, regardless of the circumstances, and it is insulting to them to insinuate that they should not be able to make that choice. [That being the choice to kill people in an illegal war.] While it’s unfortunate that many enlisted servicemen and women are lured into the military because they are poor, our country needs soldiers [To kill people in an illegal war, that is.], and I’d prefer that those who are there choose to go [ rather than getting drafted myself].
[And finally we reach the underlying motive of Bowman’s argument. He would rather “many enlisted servicemen and women [be] lured into the military because they are poor” than risk being drafted himself. This makes one wonder if Bowman opposes the counter-recruitment effort because he believes it will fail or because he worries it might succeed.
True, a reinstatement of the draft would signal victory for the counter-recruitment movement. That’s because it would surely bring about the end of both the war and the Bush administration itself.
A majority of Americans have long opposed the Iraq war, but so long as they’re not the ones expected to fight it, most Americans’ opposition is limited to now-powerless acts of “speaking out.” That would change dramatically if the draft were reinstated. Forget recruitment centers, I expect we’d see Bush’s cabinet members themselves go up in flames, possibly in the literal sense.
Unfortunately, Bowman’s fear of sharing the poor’s lot in life blinds him to the obvious fact that the reinstatement of a draft would bring about the fastest end to the war and the Bush administration imaginable. Bush may be an abject moron, but his cabinet is neither stupid nor crazy. If the counter-recruitment movement ultimately forces the Bush administration to choose between ending the war and reinstating the draft, the administration will surely choose to end the war, because reinstatement of the draft would end both the war and the administration itself.]
Furthermore, the goal of “removing President Bush from office” is just stupid. Yes, he sucks. Most people in Athens agree. But how does leaving class to protest national issues a week before an election day that has no bearing on national politics aim to force Bush out of the White House?
[Here Bowman contradicts his earlier claim that he’d “like Bush out of office as well” and conflates three separate issues: goals, tactics, and strategy.
If Bowman really means “the goal of ‘removing Bush from office’ is just stupid,” one must ask why. Bowman earlier wrote, “I’d like Bush out of office as well.” According to Bowman, the Bush administration “has mired this country in a quagmire in Iraq through dishonest tactics.” Less egregious offenses led to both the impeachment of former president Clinton and the resignation of former president Nixon under threat of impeachment. If Bowman opposes the goal of removing Bush from office, then he and I simply disagree. The goal is not only morally justified but supported by ample historic and legal precedent.
Furthermore, given Bush’s approval ratings, it’s not just “most people in Athens” who think the guy “sucks” – it’s as much as three quarters of the country. So what exactly is “stupid” about attempting to remove an overwhelmingly unpopular liar and war criminal from the office of the president?
That said, let’s turn to questions of tactics and strategy.
“But how does leaving class to protest national issues a week before an election day that has no bearing on national politics aim to force Bush out of the White House?” asks Bowman, as though national elections are the only way to remove a chief political executive from office or affect national policy.
But can public demonstrations calling for a president’s removal, as one tactic within a larger strategy, contribute to bringing about impeachment, resignation or removal? Public protest certainly played a role in Nixon’s resignation.
Are such demonstrations likely to achieve such a goal all by themselves? Probably not. But it makes no sense to renounce a single tactic because it is not a complete strategy. Just because brushing your teeth won’t ensure overall health doesn’t mean you shouldn’t brush your teeth with an aim toward the ultimate goal of overall health. There is still a practical relationship between the tactic, larger strategy and ultimate goal.
Finally, the reason our November 2 demonstration occurred at a military recruitment center is that its primary goal was to stop the war in Iraq through the strategy of counter-recruitment activism. As members of the Athens Can’t Wait Coalition have repeatedly stated, our November 2 demonstration was intended to launch the local arm of a growing national effort to further reduce already low, and continually plummeting, enlistment numbers 1) by educating would-be recruits on the true costs of enlistment and non-military paths to educational and professional development and 2) by disrupting military recruitment in other ways, including noisy, obtrusive demonstrations at recruitment centers.]
President Bush and national Republicans are already self-destructing. A more effective action strategy would be to focus on the Ohio constitutional amendments on the ballot next Tuesday.
A walkout, demonstration or public forum supporting Issues 2-5, which are attempts to reduce the power of wealthy special interests in state politics and make it easier for people to vote (always a benefit to Democratic or progressive candidates), would have a bigger impact.
[Working for passage of Ohio ballot issues 2-5 was a worthwhile effort for exactly the reasons Bowman gives. However, he does not argue that passage of these issues had a better chance of ending the war in Iraq than does counter-recruitment activism. I would argue that counter-recruitment is a far better strategy for ending the war in Iraq than voting for Ohio ballot issues 2-5.]
Barring a sensational development in the CIA leak investigation or some other presidential scandal, President Bush will remain in office for another three years.
[The scandal of the Iraq war is more substantial than Watergate in terms of the severity of the crimes involved while the two scandals are comparable in terms of public outrage, and Watergate resulted in Nixon’s resignation under threat of impeachment. Thus the issue is not the nature of Bush’s offenses, it is the strategy thus far employed by Bush’s opposition. This is why I argue for more passionate and strategic activism aimed at ending the Iraq war and removing Bush from office. Bowman’s “argument” that such activism is unwarranted because Bush will remain in office is not an argument at all but a statement, and an illogical, backwards one at that.]
Those who want to do something about his bumbling leadership can make a difference in ways that don’t involve unrealistic and silly demonstrations.
A good way to start would be to start campaigning for next year’s congressional race, where Democrats have an opportunity to capitalize on Republican missteps and retake
control of Congress.
[In no way does demanding Bush’s removal from office, engaging in ongoing counter-recruitment work, or attending a demonstration hinder, or in any way prevent, one from also campaigning for Congressional candidates.]
The Athens Can’t Wait Coalition can also focus on disseminating digestible information about military service to those in the area who may be duped into going to war because it seems like the only option.
[Huh. Good idea, Quinn. Why didn’t we think of that?
Oh wait, we did.
In fact, that’s exactly what the November 2 demonstration was devised to launch.
Maybe Bowman should have read some of the coalition’s literature, attended one of our press conferences, or simply read spokespersons’ and members’ quotes in any of the several articles covering our campaign published locally during the past two months that preceded the November 2 walkout. Can someone at Scripps or the Athens News please remind Bowman that a journalist ought to know something about what he or she is writing.]
If you walked out of class yesterday, that’s fine. But as a friend told me, “I walk out of class all the time, but that’s because I am bored.”
[Likewise, Quinn Bowman thinks he has a point, but that’s because he’s a dumbass. (And how’s that for salvaging a set-up from one of the worst column closers of all time?)]