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February 20, 2003

The antiwar movement is at a crossroads.

Daniel Radosh

That's an odd place to be before, you know, the war has even begun, but here's the situation. A faction of protesters, understandably angered by the actions of the NYPD last weekend, is putting their energy into fighting the cops. The New York Civil Liberties Union put out a heavy-handed call for "reports of police interference and abuse" (hmm, sounds vaguely dirty). United for Peace and Justice, the demo organizers, are, according to an email I got, calling on Police Chief Ray Kelly to resign, and are considering a lawsuit against the city.

Sorry, but does anyone else think UPJ is overplaying their hand? The cops obviously fucked up in their initial judgment that a stationary rally would be easier to police than a march. And they further fucked up by blocking access to the site. And a relatively small number of individuals went overboard in enforcing these poorly thought out policies.

But the significant majority of individual cops that I encountered acted professionally, even politely, and tried to make the best of a bad situation. To tar the entire force with abuse is both an exaggeration and a trivialization of the very real brutality that the NYPD has engaged in in the past. UPJ's initial attempt to call attention to police misconduct largely served its purpose (though I could've told them to 1- make the unedited tapes available to the media and 2- leave Frank Sintara out of this). The cops' defense was transparently lame ("Some of the frustration over access to the protest area may have been avoided had the organizers done a better job of communicating that they moved the stage from 47th Street north to 51st Street." Right, because that would have mattered to those of us who came down 59th Street, only to find ourselves forced to walk north to 70th) and public sentiment was on UPJ's side. (Meanwhile, Brooklyn College Prof. Alex Vitale has written a calm, level-headed open letter to Mike Bloomberg about what the police can do better from here on in. If it gets posted somewhere, I'll link to it.)

So anyway, this is obviously a good time to move on to more important matters, like, you know, stopping the frickin' war on Iraq. But here's the other branch of the crossroad: since the movement clearly has the energy to take up new battles, why not turn our fury against Saddam Hussein? Joe Conason has issued a clarion call to the movement that if we want to stop the war, we must let Saddam know that our call for peace is not an excuse for him to start dicking around with the UN inspectors again. To read it you'll have to sit through a short ad; click on "free day pass." Here's an excerpt:

"The many thousands of decent activists who want to prevent this war -- for reasons that involve no sympathy whatsoever for Saddam -- must impress upon Iraq that this is indeed the last chance. Hans Blix is expected to report to the Security Council again on March 6. By then it may already be too late. Yet it would surely make an impression on Saddam Hussein if even a fraction of the people who marched on Feb. 15 showed up outside the Iraqi embassy on March 8, the following Saturday. In the meantime, anti-warriors can make their feelings known directly via e-mail to the Iraqi U.N. mission (MissionOfIraq@nyc.rr.com) [Road Runner? The Iraqi mission doesn't have it's own domain name? -DLR] and the Iraq News Agency (ina@uruklink.net). Pass them on. If those e-mail systems are crashed by a few million messages demanding immediate cooperation with UNMOVIC, perhaps some bureaucrat will be brave enough to tell Saddam."

I'll also add: Contact UPJ and let them know that you'll turn out for an antiwar march that targets Saddam Hussein's regime. If nothing else, it will shut up those morons who like to say that antiwar protesters are all Saddam apologists.

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