Sunday, January 25, 2009

Inaugural Protest Events

By Ben Trott

As I am sure you are aware, enormous - probably record - numbers attended Obama's inauguration last week. To get some idea of the size of the crowds, take a look at this satellite image. Amongst them were a number of protest groups (although some described their planned activities as 'presence' rather than 'protest') seeking to build pressure on the Obama administration from the left.

Democracy Now! have a short report on CODE PINK's activities at the inauguration, with an interview with one of the organisation's founders Medea Benjamin. (See also this blog entry on the Washington Times website).

The Hope from People bloc planned for the inauguration, and previously mentioned on this blog, would appear to have drawn rather low numbers. This was despite being endorsed by several prominent leftists such as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, and groups like Unconventional Denver who helped coordinate protests around the Democratic National Convention in August, Wooden Shoe Books Collective who run an anarchist Infoshop in Philadelphia, the San Francisco-based Friendly Fire Collective, and - again - CODE PINK. Participants gathered to distribute a flyer advocating anarchist alternatives to the notion that change can take place through the presidency. However, according to a frustrated comment posted to the bloc's blog, the event attracted 'no more than 15 to 20 people.' At present, no other report from the events in DC has been posted to the bloc's website.

In San Francisco, over the weekend prior to the inauguration, 5,000 people threw shoes at a cardboard cut-out George Bush in a form of protest which became rather widespread in the last days of his presidency. The protests were organised by Courage to Resist and Direct Action to Stop the WarAccording to David Solnit, an activist and author of Globalize Liberation and Army of None, many throwers also signed the following Peace Pledge,
'President Obama,

'We take it seriously when on election night you said, "This victory alone is not the change we seek; it is only the chance for us to make that change." We publicly commit that that "we the people" will organize ourselves and our communities to take action to make those changes. We agree with your statement, "I don't want to just end the war, but I want to end the mind-set that got us into war in the first place."

'We urge you to join us in working for these five essential changes to end the war and to begin to "end the mindset that got us into war:"

Including "non-combat" troops, private contractors (i.e. Blackwater), and close all US military bases in Iraq.

Give reparations for the human and structural damages Iraq has suffered, and stop the corporate pillaging of Iraq so that their people can control their own lives and future.

* No escalation of war in Afghanistan; troops should be withdrawn.
* Stop attacks inside Pakistan. Don't attack Iran.
* Cut military aid to governments that violate human rights or international law, such as Israel in what Amnesty International calls an "unlawful attack on Gaza."
* Close Guantanamo and all secret prisons

* Close all 800 foreign US military bases.
* Reduce military budget and troops; Stop wasting hundreds of billions needed for health care, housing, education, and green energy/jobs.

* Amnesty for all GI resisters who refuse illegal war.
* Full benefits, adequate health care (including mental health), and other supports for returning servicemen and women.

'a better world is possible.


'Concerned People in the United States'
In an article by Solnit for New York's Indypendent newspaper shortly before the inauguration he wrote,
'Barack Obama’s election seems to have dispelled some of the despair that grew up in the repressive war-making aftermath of September 11 and the subsequent invasion of Iraq and Bush’s re-election. This is good for organizing - people step up out of hope, not despair. Many of us who have a deep critique of Democrats, political parties and politicians, however, are left conflicted or confused. Whether we will see the opening of a space for real positive changes or an era in which movements and resistance get co-opted depends on whether and how we organize - and if we learn key lessons from past global justice (and other) organizing and understand how Obama’s campaign (and the independent efforts for Obama) communicated, organized and inspired.'
He then goes on to suggest five lessons which could be learned by radical movements in the Obama-era.

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