By David Swanson
United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the largest coalition of peace groups in the United States, is organizing a national march on Wall Street on Saturday, April 4, to “End the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Address the Economic Crisis by Cutting Military Spending.” A separate coalition is organizing marches on Wall Street on April 3 and 4 with a very similar message. And our brothers and sisters in Europe will be traveling to Strasbourg on April 4 to protest NATO’s activities on its 60th birthday.
If there is a day for mass action in the United States for peace and justice, April 4 is it. And if there is a place for it right now, it’s Wall Street. April 3rd is a Friday, so more robber barons will be at “work” that day, but April 4th is a Saturday, so more of the robbed will be off work and able to take part. April 4 is also the anniversary, not only of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, death in 1968, but of his speech exactly one year earlier at Riverside Church in New York City in 1967.
This was the speech in which King powerfully opposed the U.S. war in Vietnam and argued that domestic problems in the United States, including poverty, could never be solved as long as we continued with such wars and with the investment of so many of our resources in militarism. It was a statement against the actions of Democratic President Lyndon Johnson and against the choices of all those advocates of social uplift who found it more convenient to maintain silence on the subject of war. It was a masterpiece of courage, clarity, and conviction, one of the best speeches our country has ever witnessed. And, of course, our government has not yet heard it.
While there are war profiteers on Wall Street, the reason Wall Street is in the news and the way in which it is seen as a target of protests relates to the massive inequality of wealth it enforces, sucking up public dollars by the trillions, on top of its trillions of private dollars, and trickling hardly a drop down to you or me. King’s lesson needs an update. We will never address healthcare, housing, and education as long as we waste trillions on either war or bankers or both. We will never invent new pots of gold out of thin air to spend on human needs as we do for bankers. So, if we are to find actual funds, we have to block the funding of both bankers and wars.
When the U.S. House of Representatives first voted on a banker bailout bill last year, it responded to immense public pressure and voted No. Then forces heavily represented on Wall Street refused to take No for an answer. Kings’ giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism were protected by the three enforcers of money, media, and party that control the people who are supposed to represent us.
Only by enlarging our own force can we hope to change the way things work. One way to do that is to bring together our concern for the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other nations with our concern for those suffering in our own nation. Those marching on April 4 will include anyone who would rather invest in jobs, healthcare, and housing than in bombs, bases, or bailouts. But we won’t be marching to a neighborhood destroyed by predatory lenders. We’ll be marching to the home of the people who paid those lenders for their crimes. Doing this without the sort of hatred that King taught us was counterproductive will be difficult. There will be signs in the crowd, I am sure, with messages like the one famously held up recently on Wall Street: “Jump, You Fuckers!”
That should not be our message. “Give our money back” should be. And our message is not, ultimately, to the robber barons. The symbolism of our march is meant for Washington. UFPJ did not support this past Saturday’s march on the Pentagon marking 6 years in Iraq, and much of the motivation for planning this march on Wall Street back in November and December was to avoid appearing to protest the new president, since it was supposed that few Americans, or at least few Americans willing to oppose wars, would want to do so. The idea was to make protesting safe for starry-eyed Obama fans, as well as for groups focused on domestic concerns, by putting the protest in New York. I voted against this plan and in favor of a unified and larger protest in Washington, but I’m not sure it’s a bad thing that the plan I favored lost. While Congress is in DC, it pays more attention to television than to what passes by its windows. Massive civil disobedience on March 19th, a weekday, and the actual anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, would have been ideal. But the march on the Pentagon on the 21st would probably have generated the same sort of news that it did even had it been twice the size. And, a protest on Wall Street has now become unavoidably a protest of the Wall Street driven policies of President Obama.
When King spoke against Johnson’s war policies, he was daring to oppose a president widely considered good on domestic issues. By combining foreign and domestic issues today, nobody will be able to blur the fact that they are opposing the same White House that is attacking Pakistan, escalating war in Afghanistan, prolonging war in Iraq, proclaiming unconstitutional wartime powers, proposing an even larger military budget than Bush’s last one, AND giving additional trillions of our dollars to those who least need it and are least likely to solve our problems with it. Of course, Congress is constitutionally responsible for all of these things but chooses to defer to the White House. The danger now is not that anyone will miss the fact that we are protesting Washington’s policies, but rather that any protest on Wall Street will be seen as an act of Republican Party populism, through the absurd media calculus in which people must support one party or the other and the thing now being protested has been stamped with letters 12 feet high reading BARACK OBAMA.
But at some point we have to give up on trying to converse with the lunatics who control what is on our televisions and act as King did when he spoke out at Riverside Church because “my conscience leaves me no other choice.” The United States has now, as it had then but more so, no choice but to begin investing in human needs instead of war — or bankers’ greed. If investing in single-payer healthcare, green energy, affordable housing, infrastructure, and mass transportation became normal ways of creating living wage jobs, then the argument that we must build weapons in order to have jobs would collapse. If the ability of the United States to deploy and use its weapons were taken away, the need to invest in humanity would be unavoidable. Without racism, both approaches would be dramatically easier. Without materialism, the offenses of the Wall Street robber barons would become clear to everyone. Without militarism, peace and justice would both become realities.
April 4th is an ideal time to speak out. Wall Street is an ideal place to do it. Being heard, just as we were for the first bailout vote in the House, is entirely possible … if we all get to New York, all take part, and then maintain our enlarged struggle on April 5th and beyond.