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Anti-War, Affirmative Action Movements: To What End?

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By Ron Walters

It is just possible that come 2004 George Bush will no longer be in the White House? It looks more and more like he will.

He is closing the distance between the war in Iraq and his high popularity ratings with the approaching electoral season. That is to say, the time between the dynamics of the war and the election is getting shorter, such that Bush could be running as the Commander in Chief as the elections get under way, unless the war winds down in a hurry.

The fallout from the war will still be on people’s minds as they try to turn their attention to the campaign. In fact, they may have a great deal of trouble paying attention to elections with the reconstruction of Iraq going on, the occasional killing of an American taking place and the constant threat of terrorism here.

This was the scene in the 2002 election cycle, with the U.S. bombing Afghanistan and Americans on terror alert at home. So, Karl Rove, the president’s chief political strategist, told politicians to “run on the war” and run on the president’s handling of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The result was that the Republicans routed the Democrats.

Therefore, I wonder if the folks who oppose the war have made the link between their mobilization and the upcoming elections. In one sense, George Bush’s high ratings will not fall unless there emerges an effective counter-politics to drives them down. We can wait and pray that his ratings fall under the heavy weight of the negative economy, as happened to his father in 1992. However, the progressive movement can make a deliberate decision to join the two issues.

The anti-war movement geared up in an attempt to stop the war using massive demonstrations that resulted in thousands of people in many cities coming out into the streets. In fact, so many mobilized in San Francisco that Mayor Willie Brown, pleaded with people to stop coming because they were using up precious resources.

Behind the anti-war activity has come the pro-affirmative action movement that has similarly turned out thousands of Black students who demonstrated at the Supreme Court in Washington. I sensed in this demonstration that there is a vast untapped potential for spreading the momentum to other areas of the country; many expressed their feelings that this was their generation’s Civil Rights Movement.

These movements have been relatively effective at turning out thousands of committed people around the country. As such, it has taken a central coordination, training for direct action, legal assistance, logistical coordination, economic resources, and many other elements that are common to political campaigns.

The question is, if Karl Rove is smart enough to use the war to mount a campaign to re-elect George Bush, aren’t those who oppose Bush’s policies just as smart in using these campaigns to mobilize against his re-election?

So the strategic question is what can be done to link the two by increasing the political content. Increasing the political content means developing public consciousness about a president who would send Black and Brown boys off to fight an illegal war in the Middle East for special interests, while at home cutting veterans benefits by $28 billion for the next 10 years and instructing the solicitor general to oppose Michigan’s affirmative action plans.

The answer: use the same tools, heighten the contradiction.

Ron Walters is Distinguished Leadership Scholar, director of the African American Leadership Institute and professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland-College Park. His most recent book is “African American Leadership,” with Robert Smith.

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