A peace movement that’s going nowhere

“A broad cross-section of America.” That’s how National Public Radio’s reporter described the anti-war demonstrators who converged Saturday on the Mall in Washington.

The New York Times agreed. Its editorial page called the gathering “impressive for the obvious mainstream roots of the marchers.” I watched the march on C-SPAN, and I saw a different event – a thin crowd of cold white people cheering on an assortment of America-hating radicals, second-rate demagogues and plain weirdos.

The rally was kicked off by a Native American activist, Moonanum James, who set the day’s tone by accusing the United States of genocide and ended his oration with this exhortation: “In the spirit of Crazy Horse, no more war!” (I’m not making that up.)

James was one of 11 speakers from the rally’s organizing group, ANSWER – Act Now to Stop War & End Racism. ANSWER is intimately connected with the Workers of the World Party, an outfit that is, according to David Corn of the The Nation magazine, a “small, revolutionary-Socialist sect.” Is there anyone on Earth more maliciously stupid than a revolutionary Socialist?

Other featured speakers included the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, former Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney, ex-U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Ron (“Born on the Fourth of July”) Kovic, two silly actresses, a few folk singers and a very distressed British member of Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn.

There were also a great many Arab and Islamic orators: Elias Rashmawi of the Free Palestine Alliance; Mansoor Khan from “Peace TV”; Ashraf el-Bayoumi, an Egyptian “intellectual”; Esam Omeish of the Muslim-American Society; Imam Mousa (who made an appeal for convicted cop-killer Jamil Al-Amin, formerly H. Rap Brown, and called for a “revolution” to bring down the “American system”); Ismael Kamal, representing the Muslim-Student Association; and, at the end of the rally, a poet from the Council on American-Islamic Relations who delivered his indictment of Yankee aggression and repression in doggerel verse.

A White House spokeswoman, asked about the rally, called it an example of American free speech, which, of course, it was. And I have no doubt there were some well-meaning mainstream people in the crowd. But public rallies, like public lynchings, are normally judged not by the quality of the crowd, but by the character of the people staging the event.

That’s why calling Saturday’s demonstration mainstream misses the point. So much so, in fact, that a suspicious type might even detect a certain amount of ideological dissembling in the coverage.

Too bad, because there was a real story on the Mall in Washington over the weekend. The rally revealed that the anti-war movement, since its last meeting in October, has gone precisely nowhere. Saturday was, in fact, a carbon copy of the October effort – same speakers, same B-list celebrities, same small crowd. An hour into it, Rashmawi announced that half the buses were still on their way. Afterward, ANSWER claimed 500,000 – a hilarious exaggeration.

But exaggeration won’t help the anti-war movement as it is currently constituted. Neither will disingenuous reporting. ANSWER and its fellow travelers clearly want to turn Iraq into another Vietnam, but they are being frustrated by a technological irony. A generation ago, network television showed the American public the truth about a bad war. Now C-SPAN, with its unmediated, unblinking cameras, is doing the same for a bad “peace” movement.

Zev Chafets is a columnist for the New York Daily News