The Antiwarriors

Riding shotgun with Broward County's tiny but angry peace movement

The New York Times buried its little story on the biggest peace rally in the United States since the Vietnam War on page A8, under the headline "Thousands March in Washington Against Going to War in Iraq."

Not tens of thousands. Not 100,000. Not 200,000. Just "thousands." In the same October 27 story, the Gray Lady reported that "fewer people attended than organizers hoped for."

Well, good for President Bush then. The only march that really meant something, apparently, was the march to war.

A group of South Florida protesters poses outside the bus. Among them are Pavel Gubanikhin (second from left) and Evonn Gibbs (third from right). At top, mother and daughter Tina and Sarah Gwaltney catch some hard-to-get shuteye on the bus
Bob Norman
A group of South Florida protesters poses outside the bus. Among them are Pavel Gubanikhin (second from left) and Evonn Gibbs (third from right). At top, mother and daughter Tina and Sarah Gwaltney catch some hard-to-get shuteye on the bus

The Washington Post, though, reported a far different story on the same day. Quoting crowd estimates between 100,000 and 200,000, a team of Post staffers reported that those supposedly disappointed organizers were actually exuberant about the success of the October 26 march.

The Post's version was the right one, but it also gave the protest short shrift by playing the story in the Metro section rather than on the front page.

Both newspapers tried to atone for their respective mistakes. On October 30, the Times ran a cleanup story headlined "Rally in Washington Is Said to Invigorate the Antiwar Movement," which correctly stated that the six-figure turnout actually had "startled" organizers. The article also mentioned that buses came from as far way as Nebraska and Florida.

In a November 3 column, Post ombudsman Michael Getler scolded his colleagues for keeping the march off the front page: "This was one big demonstration -- a lot bigger, these Post editors acknowledge, than they expected... People had traveled here from all over the country. Post editors, in my view, fumbled this one, not because they are pro-war but because they were surprised at the turnout..."

The protesters themselves weren't surprised at the shoddy press coverage, though. The facile reporting on Bush's drive to war before the march was what caused many of the 55 riders on that Times-noted Florida bus to make the trip to D.C. in the first place.

They had watched with growing consternation as the prevailing media corporations let Bush slide on his flimsy pretexts for an invasion. The mainstream news gurus are largely unwilling to call the president to task for his specious logic, fear tactics, and outright lies (i.e., Bush's contention that official reports show that Saddam Hussein is six months away from nuclear capability). Significantly buried has been the fact that the CIA has reported that the threat level of Hussein is low and has found he has no discernible connections to al Qaeda or the September 11 attacks.

For a mainstream journalist to report the obvious -- that the two oil men who now run the country plan to use U.S. military might to directly control the Middle East (see the September release of the "Bush Doctrine") -- is seen more as engaging in heresy than as a first draft of history. The Post has been basically pro-war from the beginning, led by invasion-happy foreign affairs columnist Jim Hoagland. The New York Times has had a more critical eye, with excellent reporting on the complications and dangers of an Iraq war, yet it apparently doesn't believe it's fit to print the truth about Bush's motives. The Times' Nicholas Kristof, who opposes the war, wrote last week that liberals who ascribe the oil or revenge-for-Daddy motives to Bush "discredit" themselves.

But ignoring the question of motive discredits the media and does a great disservice to the country: That question is at the heart of whether this is a just war. If the "regime change" is really about oil and other interests in the region -- rather than an imminent threat, September 11, or weapons of mass destruction -- then it's not really a war anymore. It's a war crime.

But Bushcroft and Chensfeld needn't worry. Hell, the two best newspapers in the world can't even get a protest straight, much less offer rigorous analysis of the administration's foreign policy.

Combine the media's failures and the Democratic Party's rollover on Iraq and you're left with an energized, ground-based, antiwar movement. Regular citizens have realized that if they don't do something, nobody else will.

I went along for the ride on a Florida bus to D.C. and had the opportunity to meet (and sit on a bus for 45 hours with) some of the most dedicated antiwarriors in the Sunshine State. There I got an eye-level view of a burgeoning movement that, so far, has not been televised.


Before the October 26 rally, my first contact with the opposition in South Florida came on the night of October 14 at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Fort Lauderdale. A man named Paul Lefrak, who heads the Broward Antiwar Coalition, had called a "mass meeting" there to talk strategy.

The coalition was formed shortly after the September 11 attacks to protest military action in Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, the general public didn't exactly embrace the group. Its first demonstration was held during rush hour at a busy downtown Fort Lauderdale intersection October 11, 2001, precisely one month after the Twin Towers fell. Passersby greeted the protesters with derision; fisticuffs were narrowly avoided.

I might have shot the antiwar folks a sneer myself. I supported the bombing of al Qaeda and its Taliban protectors and felt that the far-leftists who fretted about it were way out of step. My own dissident nerve wasn't sparked until the focus shifted to Hussein and Bush's plan became a doctrine. Iraq is a giant red herring, salted and smoked, and Bush figured that, after September 11, good old vengeful Amarrrrca would eat it up. Some believe Bush is just pretending to be a warmonger to build pressure for new weapons inspections. But he and Cheney made their intentions clear at the beginning: regime change, not inspections.

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