In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the American ruling class and its media microphone have been sounding the call of nationalism, expecting everyone else to fall in line. Unfortunately for them, a significant number of students have decided not to adhere to this most "democratic" ideal, rejecting the bellicose rhetoric of the bourgeoisie and fully understanding the hidden implications of the "us vs. them" mentality.
The fact of the matter is, we have not been duped. Despite the incessant replaying of "God Bless America", the astounding ability of Bush to read a doctored speech, and permanent captions titled "New war on terrorism" defacing the bottom-third of TV screens tuned onto any mainstream news station, many Americans are not falling in with the party line or marching to the drums of war. The ugly, unrelenting realities of the current economic and political situation are far too grotesque to be covered up even by the world's finest propaganda machine: weakening and failure of industries, large-scale layoffs, the spate of racist attacks, and the nature of U.S. foreign policy has many students questioning the value of going to war with a nation of fleeing peasants.
On September 14th, thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets to make it clear that they are opposed to war-just three days after the bombing and in the most hard-hit state. Shortly after, over 150 college campuses also made it clear that a significant number of students were opposed to war, and the DC rally of last weekend drove the point home: no to war. That the media has decided to largely ignore this fact in its press coverage changes nothing, and only reflects the drunken stupor of illusion that the capitalists still finds themselves in.
Here in Boston, there have been a number of anti-war rallies, vigils, and teach-ins from a broad ideological spectrum. A weekly peace vigil in a public square usually draws a turnout of 100-150 people who hold signs reading "no more victims anywhere", and activists hand out contact information for all kinds of anti-war and anti-racist organizations, as well as contact information of prominent political officials for "call-ins". Two weeks ago, one teach-in featuring Howard Zinn and another leftwing speaker drew a massive crowd of a few hundred people that overflowed out into the hallways. In the latter case, the general sentiment went beyond a moralistic condemnation of war in general and extended to a criticism of U.S. foreign policy.
At Northeastern University, located near the heart of Boston, we students have held several meetings to allow people to discuss and debate the events following the terrorist attack. Many people who do not even consider themselves to be leftists have been extremely receptive to several key items: Bush is using this issue to further his right-wing agenda, the corporate media is blowing things way out of proportion, the war will enrich a few and worsen the plight of Afghanistan's starving populace, etc. This is all extremely progressive, especially considering that many of these people were not active in any way before Sept. 11. An on-campus weekly teach-in featuring faculty and students is very popular and in high demand: attending students are quick to condemn racist scapegoating, knee-jerk militarism, and imperialist arrogance. And although our campus is part of a Boston-wide anti-war coalition, which is in itself part of a regional anti-war coalition, we are now concentrating on building an anti-war and anti-racism contingency for the university itself. We met with much eagerness and enthusiasm from progressively-minded students and faculty, and should have an active organization setup soon.
Most of the collegiate student body is looking for explanations that the mind-numbing media and patriotic establishment cannot provide. This in and of itself proves that they are unwilling to accept the ridiculous concept of an apocalyptic, crusade-like battle between good and evil. More importantly, most of them are not willing to accept the given explanations for a war that has already resulted in the massive displacement of the already desperate Afghan populace. People I have talked and listened to don't believe that the current "war on terrorism" will solve this country's problems. Contrary to the mainstream media's superficial observation that this crisis will unite the country, it has in fact only forced people to look deeper at society's irreconcilable divisions and relate it to the current crisis.
Nevertheless, even on or near college campuses the anti-war movement faces some opposition. Trying to sell copies of leftist papers or handing out anti-war flyers on the streets on a weekday morning yielded little return: a few were interested, but most walked on by with looks of concern or vexation, while a couple lost their temper. Many people, still gripped with fear and anger, are consumed with the notion that "they struck us, so we must strike them". It is not at all made clear just who "they" and "we" actually are, but these tendencies are to be expected in this relatively early stage of events. Such people will have plenty of opportunity to reconsider this approach given the economic recession, inevitable casualties, and the inability of this "colossus with feet of clay" as Ted Grant aptly puts it, to actually just "nuke 'em all" as many of these people currently wish for.
Right now, Bush's approval rating is sky-high and many are still angry .We do not at all pretend that students' activities will pave the way for a decisive leftward turn-that is the decisive role of the working class. But "life must go on", as the bourgeois commentators say, and as the capitalist system that is inextricably tied into this "life" continues producing more war, terrorism, inflation, and unemployment-i.e. profits for the elite few - it will also produce a burning desire for answers and alternatives. The most active layers of the students, then, represent what the American masses will start leaning towards once they are fed up with conforming to the nationalist nonsense of "uniting" and holding hands with the capitalists. The workers in uniform who will unfortunately be sent home in body bags cannot hold hands, and the thousands of unemployed and uncompensated workers will only be holding pink slips-with clenched fists.