From Protest to Politics

When war begins progressive work doesn’t end

BY Jeff Epton

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George Bush and his policies may have precipitated the most widespread political ferment in the United States in more than a generation. With the Patriot Act and tax cuts for the rich, the invasion of Iraq, the assault on forests, waterways and clean air, and the passage of a prescription drug bill with the potential to destroy Medicare, the Bush administration has created more unity among elements of a once-disaffected majority and helped mobilize a coalition that may defeat him in 2004.

Labor unions and civil rights, environmental and feminist organizations head the list of usual suspects already preparing for 2004 (see Page 14). And regional organizations with growing political sophistication will play a large role in the election outcome as well (see Page 18). But entirely new to the mix will be so-called “peace and justice” voters, rarely addressed by any candidate and almost never connected to the nitty-gritty of electioneering.

In Chicago, peace and justice voters have discovered a new determination to be relevant to the outcome of elections locally, regionally and nationally. Under the umbrella of Chicagoans Against War and Injustice (CAWI), the Regime Change Voter Registration campaign is picking up steam. Led by Carl Davidson and Marilyn Katz, two perennially engaged ’60s veterans and ex-SDS members, CAWI began as Chicagoans Against War with Iraq. But as the war transformed from invasion to occupation, CAWI activists managed to avoid splits over sectarian and strategic differences, and committed to stay together and move from “protest to politics,” as Davidson puts it.

With a decentralized structure connected primarily through the internet, CAWI’s constituent groups, like Hyde Parkers for Peace and Justice, DuPage Against War Now and North Shore Peace Initiative, the group has begun training and certifying deputy voter registrars who will fan out into neighborhoods, community colleges and shopping centers to register, educate and mobilize voters under the banner “Regime Change Begins at Home.” So far, CAWI has trained more than 200 registrars and just recently begun staffing voter registration tables around the Chicago area.

But the project will do more than register voters. The deputy voter registrars also will be identifying voters sympathetic to the group’s antiwar message. “We practice affirmative action,” Davidson says. “We go where young people are, we go where people of color are, we go where working people are.”

Once registered, new voters go into a data base maintained by CAWI that includes their phone numbers and a + if they positively responded to the regime change message. “We’ll register Republicans, if they want to be registered, but we won’t turn them out come Election Day,” he adds.

Katz and Davidson say the group is agnostic in regard to a choice among Democratic candidates, but most members of CAWI have a personal choice. “We have Dean supporters, we have Kucinich supporters, we have Kerry supporters in CAWI,” Katz says. “But the differences between them don’t divide us. We are focused on registering, educating and mobilizing.”

CAWI activists say beating Bush is just the beginning. They are focused on building organizations and making more permanent change. “This process will create activists,” Davidson says. “They’ll be there after the campaign is over and some of them will be working on the changes in the election process, like proportional representation and preferential voting, that will really make a difference.”

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For more information about Regime Change, contact Sonja Koehlerat at pjvoter2004@yahoo.com.

Jeff Epton is the former publisher of In These Times.

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