Activists and demonstrators gathered in Washington, D.C. during President Bush's inauguration on Thursday, voicing their opposition to the president and his policies. The A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) held one of the largest rallies.
Brian Becker, national coordinator for the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, discussed the group's demonstration, Thursday's inauguration and his disagreement with the current administration.
Kristinn Taylor, co-leader of the Washington Chapter of the group Free Republic, discussed his group's plans to host an inauguration day rally supporting President Bush on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2005.
The transcript follows.
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Brian Becker: The whole world was watching Pennsylvania Ave. yesterday as the Bush administration entered its second term of office. Bush intended to use the inaugural ceremony as a way to prove that the administration has a mandate. Nearly every effort was made by the government to make sure that protestors were unable to access the parade route. The ANSWER Coalition however as a consequence of a yearlong political and legal struggle managed to hold a large mass assembly protest right at 4th and Pennsylvania including the use for the first time of anti-war bleachers, a stage and a sound system. Well over 10,000 people gathered in the park and on the sidewalks there while thousands more never made it through security checkpoints. We believe what happened yesterday was a major achievement for the anti-war movement which now represents a majority sentiment inside the United States.
Thank you Brian for being here and to the Washington Post for having you. As a regular Post Discussion participant, I am thrilled that Brian has the opportunity to talk with us in this forum.
I know something about how much of a run around you had been getting from the powers that be about receiving meaningful protest space along the parade route.
From the emails I received via your mailing list, it sounds like you ended up with a very good deal in the end.
Is that true?
Were there any breakthroughs which made it happen? Are you aware of whether the Bush administration influenced the decision one way or the other?
I was with you in spirit and at our own lively counter-inaugural protest out here in Monterey!
Brian Becker: Not only were there local counter inaugural protests in Monterey but in many other cities around the US that were tied to coincide with the Washington protest. Congratulations on your work and thank you for your support.
We describe what happened yesterday as a "partial victory." Never before has an anti-war movement been able to achieve a guaranteed spot of that size along the inaugural parade route, but it is a partial victory only because the National Park Service, representing the Interior Department, and working with a highly politicized Secret Service, used every imaginable method to block the public, including the anti-war public, from the other parts of Pennsylvania Ave. and sought to privatize in effect the rest of the inaugural parade route so that the Bush-Cheney Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), which is a private fundraising entity, the exclusive use of Pennsylvania Ave. for Republican Party donors. The good news is that so many anti-Bush protestors came to Washington we had a ubiquitous presence that kept manifesting itself in every nook and cranny of the city.
Does your organization have chapters in other countries, or does it exclusively protest US policies?
Furthermore, who are your organization's main contributors?
Brian Becker: The ANSWER Coalition is a US based organization that functions as part of a network, a lose and non-structured network of likeminded organizations that exist in many if not all countries. Frequently when the ANSWER Coalition initiates and anti-war activity within the United States other organizations around the world hold coinciding events. For instance, yesterday on Jan. 20th there were demonstrations in two cities in Australia, Sydney and Brisbane, in South Korea, in Germany, in Puerto Rico and elsewhere.
Our contributors, if you mean our financial contributors, are all individuals who send donations. Our average donation is somewhere in the $20 to $25 range. We have no corporate sponsorship as you can imagine and little foundation support as well. It really is the hallmark of a classic grassroots movement in the sense that people who believe in what we believe in and wish us well send relatively small donations because they are, for the most part, not well to do people.
Los Angeles, Calif.:
Okay, the election is over, that's not going to change. I don't want to sound flip and say 'get over it' but millions upon millions of Americans wanted Bush in office, for better or worse.
Rather than shout, scream, pout and cause disruptions in our cities, what concrete measures do groups such as yours want? From what I see from my TV, it's basically just the same 'ol bunch of leftists, anarchists, under-employeed, pissed-off people who protest whatever the cause of the day is, so what is so different now? Today it's Bush, tomorrow it's Starbucks or Wal-Mart. This isn't to say that groups such as yours have no legitimate claims, just that, to most people, it's just a new generation of hippies like in the 60's.
Brian Becker: Well, as a factual matter our demonstration was not focused on Bush in the sense of traditional partisan politics. We were not advocates for Kerry. Kerry made it plain during the election campaign that if he were elected president he was not talking about "leaving, but about winning" in the U.S. enterprise in occupied Iraq. In fact Kerry criticized Bush for not beefing up the occupation with additional troops.
The current anti-war movement is premising its strategy and its tactics on an historical model and one that is not too long in the past. The Vietnam War was a war conducted by Democrats (LBJ) and Republicans (Richard Nixon). It was a criminal war, 2 million Vietnamese died, 58,000 Americans died, and it was based on a lie. That is the government lied to the people as was exposed in the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1970. When the people found out that they had been lied to in an effort to justify a war that could not be won because it was confronting the essential desire of a nation, in that case Vietnam to have a country free from foreign occupation, the American people demanded that the war end. The parallel with Iraq today while not exact is nonetheless real. We are letting all politicians but especially the president since he is in charge know that the people of the Untied States will become a political factor from the ground up in creating such political pressure in opposition to the war and occupation in Iraq that this sentiment in itself will become a decisive factor in the decision making in government policy makers.
A media question: isn't your best media channel C-SPAN, running entire protests/speeches of yours out to the entire country? And since this is a consortium of major cable providers, how does that fit into the worldview that our communications structure is too hierarchical and only includes pro-corporate views?
Brian Becker: You are right, C-SPAN is an extremely important media outlet and has given time to the anti-war movement and to political dissidents to present an unedited view of their position to the national public. The people of the United States and are grateful that an institution like C-SPAN exists. C-SPAN, however, is an island in an ocean of corporate domination over the mass media and the corporate dominated media is driven by first and foremost the desire for corporate profit and secondly functions as an "establishment" conforming voice. The variety of opinion expressed within the corporate dominated media is only about secondary and usually tactical issues. There is a uniformity of strategic thinking. For instance, all the corporate media functioning really as a heard in the run-up to the Iraq war agreed that Iraq was a grave threat to the United States. All agreed that the U.S. was right in arrogating to itself the authority to carry out regime change in Iraq. All agreed that a Saddam government with ambitions to acquire Weapons of Mass Destruction was a terrible plague. For a few months there was an allowed for debate within the media over the tactics to be used in achieving these strategic goals. Some allowed that the U.S. should seek international allies and a U.N. mandate, in other words a multi-lateral approach to bring down the government in Iraq and to provide security to the world from the threat posed by the Iraqi government. Other media supported the Bush plan for so-called pre-emptive war. That was really it. There was no further allowed for debate in the mass media having to do with especially the strategic issues as stake. We would say for instance, one, that the U.S. for other unstated foreign policy aims conjured up the image of a powerful and threatening Iraq. Two, that Iraq was a hobbled, impoverished and militarily surrounded country that would have done anything in exchange for a renewal of relationship with the West or at least a lessening of tension. Three, that while we are not fans of Saddam Hussein, the deionization of that regime was carried out only with the goal of preparing public opinion for maintain a hostile and aggressive position toward Iraq. And four, the real objective of the U.S. foreign policy shared by the neo-conservatives and the so-called moderates was for the creation of a pax-Americana in the strategic and oil rich region known as the Middle East.
In summary, the viewpoint of the real opposition, that is those who challenged the fundamental conceptions of the U.S. economic and political establishment, were effectively removed from the public discourse in the mass media.
Oxen Hill, Md.:
You claim to be a peace activist, but the ANSWER website supports "the Iraqi anti-colonial resistance." Don't you guys just support the side that is bombing our troops, murdering Iraqi civilians intentionally, and beheading American civilians in Iraq? You're really communists costumed as peace protestors, aren't you? If not, why did you support the massacre of thousands of peaceful protestors by the Communist Chinese gov at Tiannamen Square?
Brian Becker: The ANSWER Coalition is a diverse coalition and represents many viewpoints. Because we have socialists in our movement, which by the way is true of any anti-war movement in the world and in any trade union movement in the world and any women's rights movement in the world, the conservative pro-war forces are always attempting to demonize the movement and employ what they consider to be effective caricatures of the anti-war movement as "traitors" and "enemies of our soldiers."
As a matter of fact this is the same technique Dick Cheney and the conservatives used against us when we were actively supporting Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa which, by the way, included an armed wing. Dick Cheney by the way was a congressman in Wyoming in 1988 when he opposed in congress the release of Nelson Mandela on the same grounds - that Mandela was a terrorist. Of course Cheney and the conservatives were supporting a terrorist racist state, the apartheid government of South Africa.
In regards to the occupation in Iraq, it is crystal clear that an occupation or insurgency of this dimension which Bush, Cheney and Rumsfield failed to anticipate could not be possibly successful as it has been if it did not enjoy large scale support within Iraq. The insurgents are out-gunned by the most well equipped and well-financed high-tech force in human history. They can exist as guerillas far outside the numbers that are actually included as fighters. Any country has the right to be free of foreign occupation and in the case of Iraq the insurgents represent secular democrats, secular Bathists, moderate Islamasists as well as a more fundamentalist political current. While there is disagreement on the political, philosophical and theological side it is obvious that there is an operational unity between these tendencies within the Iraqi insurgencies. In other words, it is a nationalist reaction to foreign occupation.
Brian, I probably disagree with all of your political views, but what you guys do is essential for democracy -- so I'll give you respect and I'll say thanks as well. It's important to hear both sides of the debate. What's your organization's general plan from here?
Brian Becker: The ANSWER Coalition is planning to intensify local organizing effort in the coming months. We know that many people who oppose the war in Iraq do so not for political or ideological reasons, but because the war is negatively affecting them and because they have become convinced that President Bush was not telling the truth.
Just like in Vietnam, so-called mainstream America turned against the war in the 1968-69 period when the anti-war sentiment became the majority sentiment. On March 19th, the second anniversary of Bush's shock and awe invasion we will be organizing demonstrations in well over 100 cities and towns all over the United States demanding the troops be brought home now and the $270 million that is being spent for war and occupation in Iraq be used instead to fund education, healthcare, job training, housing and things people actually need. If you want to stay posted on ANSWER's work, you can go to our website at www.answercoalition.org and most importantly sign up for our e-mail updates which come about once or twice a week.