“What antiwar movement?” – former Congressman Dennis Kucinich
It was barely ninety minutes into the No War with Syria rally in Austin, and already the mercury was flirting with the century mark. The revolutionary socialist wiped her brow and raised a bullhorn. “It’s getting pretty hot out here. Why don’t we call it a day, and head over to the Dog and Duck?” Startled, several protesters turned to gape at her. “No way!” shouted one woman, reaching for the bullhorn. “I propose we take this over to the UT football stadium! That’s where the crowds are!” The socialist-in-charge called for a show of hands and a count ensued. “The people have decided! Let’s head to the stadium!” And off they went, some marching towards the football game, banners aflutter, and others, presumably, to air conditioning and cold beverages. Of the original 100 who had turned out less than two hours earlier to protest the likelihood that the US government—with or without its “international coalition”—was about to initiate a rain of cruise missiles on the already haplessly bombed Syrian people, there were now no more than twenty.
The morning had started off as a huge disappointment. Walking up to the Capitol, it was clear that the 450 who had pledged attendance weren’t going to be there. It was hot, it was a holiday weekend, it was the kickoff to UT’s football season and it was 10:00 A.M. on a Saturday morning in America’s fifth drunkest city. Honestly, my expectations should have been more reasonable; but then, I frequently set myself up for disappointment.
Flashback: In the summer and fall of 2002, respectable numbers of Austin-area residents showed up for antiwar marches and demonstrations against the looming invasion of Iraq, and there were weekly protests in front of the Capitol. I helped organize some of those, spoke at others and showed up for most, then stepped back in 2003 and started popping Xanax when it became clear that my son’s infantry unit would soon deploy to Iraq. Working behind the scenes of the antiwar movement for a while longer, I dropped out of everything, including my life, after Nick deployed. Whatever. You deal with the shit life dishes out the best way you can.
In 2008, when Obama was elected, the majority of the antiwar set heaved a gullible sigh of relief. He wasn’t my candidate—that would have been Dennis Kucinich—and I probably wouldn’t have entrusted his corporate ass with my purse while I went to the lady’s room, but I did allow myself a smidgeon of hope (also known as self-delusion). Long story short, it was confirmed very clearly, very quickly, that Obama was nothing more than BushLite, and in some respects, Dubya on steroids. But of course, this is old news. I only bring it up as a refresher.
“Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me…you can’t get fooled again.” – George W. Bush
What I was prepared to be incensed about Saturday morning was the likely prospect that the antiwar rally wouldn’t be as well attended as the protests against abortion-restricting legislation had been, just six weeks earlier, and on the same spot. And here’s where I start to get a little pissy: I don’t think it’s karmically legitimate to demand recognition and respect for our own natural rights while turning a blind eye to the desperate plights of women and children on the other side of the globe who are fixing to be bombed to smithereens, courtesy of the American taxpayer. Not cool. Get out there and give the establishment jacks hell for trying to control our bodies, girlfriends, but we damn sure better be turning out in equal numbers to stop them from heaving those Tomahawks over the heads of our sisters and their families in the Middle East. I’m funny like that. So, yeah, while thousands of us showed up with fire in our bellies in July, not more than 100 folks turned out to make the case against bombing Syria. You bet I was angry.
Existential anger layering, however, isn’t healthy, so after two and a half hours—and with the number of protesters having dwindled to about five—my husband and I left the scene for drinks and decompression, made another pass by the Capitol to see if the action had picked up (it hadn’t), then headed home. Little by little, over the space of a couple hours and a nap, my anger began to shift. Please don’t get me wrong—I remain dismayed that the antiwar movement appears to be, for all intents and purposes, dead in the water; and I think it’s pretty clear to anyone with eyes to see that the reason is mostly partisan. I’ll grant you a degree of overwhelm and self-preservation, but not without pointing out that when I took my turn in the Xanax cave, there was a steady flow of folks stepping forward to fill any empty shoes. Now, the ranks of replacements have evaporated while the rate of military intervention continues unabated.
When I was actively demonstrating against the Iraq war, both locally and in DC, the vast majority of people I encountered self-identified as liberal or progressive, and most of those, as Democrats. It was definitely an effort of the left. But interestingly, what I found on Saturday was a widely diverse group—albeit infinitesimally smaller—standing together against war on Syria. Once I got over my anger at the puny size of the crowd, I was intrigued by who had turned out. There were veterans, old-school liberals, tea-partiers, progressives, anarchists, moms with kids, grandparents, well-armed Kokesh-esque open carriers, the aforementioned socialists, one or two eternally-optimistic Paulites, and maybe even a partisan Democrat here and a Republican there. We had all set our differences aside and come together, sweltering under the late August sun, in the same effort: to raise our voices against the obscenity of war-for-profit, and the absurdity of “humanitarian” missile strikes to save a people already being torn apart by war. All we want is some truth. Just give us some truth.
You know, on second thought, perhaps Dennis and I were hasty in our assessments. Maybe the antiwar movement isn’t dead, only mothballed, packed away until we come to our senses and move past the petty, totally false divisions we’ve been coerced into believing. If I have hope nowadays, it’s certainly not for a leader who will bring us all together—I’m long done with that. Instead, there’s optimism that people are realizing that it’s only with collective consent that we are manipulated by a tiny minority claiming global authority, and through this same collective energy we have the power to change the dialogue, everything, in an instant. On days like this, when I allow myself to move past the frustration and anger and look at the bigger picture, I’m pretty sure I can see signs that the awakening is taking place. For the sake of all who find themselves under the gun, for the sake of us all, I hope the vision is an accurate one; but it’ll only become reality through all-inclusive, synergistic action.
I can hear what some of you are saying, you know: too little, too late. Or maybe you think I’m completely delusional. You could be right on either count, but I’m not going to sit on my ass and do nothing. Peace-building opportunities are infinite, large and small, and every one of them matters. You choose; just don’t be afraid to open your heart. Stand up to make the world a better place or go to your grave trying, because yeah, sometimes the struggle itself may have to be enough. And that’s okay, too. One can imagine Sisyphus happy, after all.
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. – Albert Camus
Author: Teri Wills Allison is nobody special, just an angsty, dirt-worshiping plant whisperer who functions best in her garden and in the company of horses and barnyard fowl. She embraces the Gaia hypothesis, hates wearing eyeglasses, frets over the Oxford comma and labors under the illusion that her words might somehow have an impact on someone, somewhere. Teri deeply regrets not having done more to leave her children and grandchildren a cleaner, greener, more peaceful world, and dreams that her efforts to make up for lost time will bear fruit beyond the wildest imaginings. Her favorite quote is from Isadora Duncan, to wit: You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.
You may contact Teri at firstname.lastname@example.org