“Uncommitted” Is the antiwar movement breaking into mainstream U.S. politics? (Rebel News Ireland)

Original online here.

“Uncommitted” Is the antiwar movement breaking into mainstream U.S. politics?

“Uncommitted” Is the antiwar movement breaking into mainstream U.S. politics?

written by Joe Allen March 22, 2024

Joe Allen explains how the anti-war movement in the US is using the Democratic Primary elections to pressure the Biden administration into withdrawing its support for Israel’s genocide.

Aaron Bushnell, an active-duty airman based in San Antonio, Texas stood outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, February 25th, and announced to the world:

“I’m an active-duty member of the United States Air Force. And I will no longer be complicit in genocide. I’m about to engage in an extreme act of protest, but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal.”

His last words were, “Free Palestine!” He then doused himself with an accelerant and set himself on fire. He died soon afterwards. Aaron’s self-sacrifice was the second produced by Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza backed by the United States. On December 1, 2023, a woman, whose name has still not been released to the public, set herself on fire outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta. She survived, but is in critical condition and remains hospitalized.

Aaron Bushnell’s sacrifice drew quick comparisons with Vietnam War era acts of immolation, most notably Thích Quảng Đức, a Buddhist Monk, who protested the repressive religious policies of the Saigon government in June 1966. Alice Herz and Norman Morrison, who immolated themselves respectively in March and November, 1965, in response to the escalation of U.S bombing and the extensive use of napalm by U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. Morrison immolated himself in the view of then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.

Those who knew Aaron Bushnell described him as a kind person who did outreach to the homeless, and had become increasingly influenced by leftwing ideas after growing up in an insular, authoritarian religious community in Massachusetts. Levi Pierpont, who knew Bushnell in basic training, and was later was released by the Air Force after he was granted conscience objector status in 2023, wrote:

Aaron is by no means the only United States military member who has felt complicit in the military’s violence, powerless to change anything, and stuck waiting until the end of a four- or six-year contract. There are thousands of military members similarly distraught, having thoughts of taking extreme actions to escape something that feels inescapable.

Marine Corps Veteran and author Lyle Jeremy Rubin took the Nation magazine to argue,

“When someone commits an act like this, and leaves us with words like that, I feel obligated to take the person at their word. And the words couldn’t be more instructive. Bushnell doesn’t spell out the precise nature of his complicity. But the mere mention of his branch of service suffices. The US Air Force has played a significant part in the killing spree in Gaza, assisting with intelligence and targeting. It has helped build Israeli airpower for decades now, and shares the same suppliers of aircraft, missiles, and munitions.”

The Lesser Evil?

Two days after Aaron Bushnell’s death, the Michigan presidential primaries were held on February 27. While President Joe Biden won the Democratic primary, the Listen to Michigan campaigners were asking for those opposed to Biden’s pro-Israel policies to vote “uncommitted.” The goal was to get 10,000 uncommitted votes, the margin that Trump won Michigan by in 2016. Ultimately, just over 100,000 voted uncommitted, ten times the goal for campaign organizers, and was helped by the over seventy U.S. cities that have passed ceasefire resolutions.

While some Arab-American Democratic Party officials boosted the campaign, including Abdullah Hammoud, the Mayor of Dearborn, and Michigan State Representative and Majority House leader Abraham Aiyash, it is largely driven by a younger generation of Arab-Americans. “We’re experiencing a revolution,” said Lexis Zeidan, a 31-year-old Palestinian American organizer and spokeswoman for Listen to Michigan told National Public Radio (NPR). “We’re no longer going for the lesser of two evils.”

The prospect of Biden losing Michigan in the November presidential election is openly discussed, and the prospect of Trump returning to power hasn’t, so far, swayed pro-Palestine activists from campaigning against the Biden administration. “I’m going to live under Trump, because I survived under Trump, because he’s my enemy,” Palestinian-American Nihad Awad, co-founder and the national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow. “I cannot live under someone who pretends to be my friend.”

A hairline fracture has appeared in the traditional “lesser evil” approach taken to U.S. elections by the U.S. left in support of the Democratic Party, that has derailed, corrupted, and repressed a broad spectrum of movements of the working class and oppressed for the past century. Marcie Pedraza, a UAW activist in Chicago, whose Local union passed one of the most politically significant resolutions in favor of Gaza, expressed this sentiment circulating around pro-Palestine activism:

“One day, you’re calling for a ceasefire, the next, you endorse a candidate that’s funding the genocide. I don’t want another four years of Trump, but … there has to be another way.”

Campaigns for an “uncommitted” vote spread to “Super Tuesday” primaries on March 5th. Reuters reported

With almost 90% of the expected votes counted in Minnesota, 19% of Democrats marked their ballots “uncommitted” to show their opposition to Biden’s backing for Israel’s attacks against Hamas in Gaza.

The “uncommitted” vote was also on the Democratic ballot in six other Super Tuesday states – Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Support in those states ranged from 3.9% in Iowa to 12.7% in North Carolina, with more than 85% of the votes counted in each of those states, according to Edison Research.

A handful of unions have called for an “uncommitted” vote by its members, something unheard of in past presidential elections. In Washington state, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) 3000 posted on its website:

As the largest labor union in Washington State with over 50,000 members, and the largest UFCW local union in the nation, the UFCW 3000’s member-led Executive Board decided on Wednesday February 28th to endorse the effort to have people in the Democratic primary in Washington State vote “uncommitted” on the upcoming ballot.

But the UFCW 3000’s executive board was careful to frame their call as first and foremost about defeating Trump. “The hope is that this will strengthen the Democratic party’s ultimate nominee to defeat Trump in the General Election in November,” they wrote. Last October, UFCW 3000 and the United Electrical Workers union (UE) issued a petition calling on U.S. trade unions that called for a ceasefire, but fell far short of the Palestinian trade unions movement’s demands.

The Washington Democratic primary took place on March 12th. Almost 50,000 people cast their vote for “uncommitted”, or 7.5% of the vote after a campaign that started at the end of February and spent only $20,000.

For an older generation around the Democratic Socialist of America (DSA), many of whom are from the 1968 generation of radicals, campaigning for an “uncommitted” is a short diversion from how they will vote in November. The New York Times reported that the story of seventy-three year old Lou Herman of Detroit:

On Tuesday, he was volunteering with the Democratic Socialists to help with the “uncommitted” effort in Hamtramck. “We need to make sure the White House knows its policy is unacceptable,” he said. But, he added, he expects he’ll vote for the president again. “If it’s between him and Trump, the Palestine issue would basically be a wash, so I’d have to hold my nose and vote for the Democrat, as I usually do.”


Whether the hairline fracture will heal or widen during the rest of the presidential campaign is still too be seen. But, judging from the response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union (SOTU) speech, many Arab-Americans and Pro-Palestine supporters appeared in Dearborn are unmoved. At an “Abandon Biden” SOTU’s watch party, Farah Khan told CBS News:

“Dropping the aid in Gaza, that’s a photo opp. That’s a desperate cry for awards, that’s a desperate cry for I’m doing good, you know. I’m a humanitarian too, even though, until today, I’m still supplying weapons to kill innocent civilians.” 

Another attendee, Anthony Hall said, “All I’ve heard is a lot of what he wants to do. I haven’t really heard any plans. There’s nothing really definite from him. So far, I’m disappointed.” Yet, Dr. Nidal Jbor , of Doctors Against Genocide, noted, “His rhetoric is improving compared to what he was talking about in October to November, so the pressure from the civil society and the United States and all over the world is paying off.”

It’s not surprising that Dearborn is the center of opposition to Biden’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza. A city with a majority of residents are from Arab and North African countries, and it has also become a lightning rod for racist hysteria for many years now. Most recently the Wall Street Journal, ran a commentary piece on February 2nd by Steven Stalinsky, a professional Islamophobe and executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute“Welcome to Dearborn, America’s Jihad Capital, where he warned:

What’s happening in Dearborn isn’t simply a political problem for Democrats. It’s potentially a national-security issue affecting all Americans. Counterterrorism agencies at all levels should pay close attention.

Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud said that Stalinsky’s article is an example of “an alarming increase in bigoted and Islamophobic rhetoric online targeting the city of Dearborn”. Hammoud posted on X (formerly Twitter):

“Effective immediately — Dearborn police will ramp up its presence across all places of worship and major infrastructure points. This is a direct result of the inflammatory @WSJ opinion piece that has led to an alarming increase in bigoted and Islamophobic rhetoric online targeting the city of Dearborn.” 

Hammoud cautioned Dearborn residents, “Stay vigilant.” 

Dearborn has seen this before. While it is best known for being the world headquarters of the Ford Motor Company, Christian Evangelicals have targeted the city repeatedly over the years. For example, in 2011, according to Daniel Devir:

Pastor Terry Jones burned a Koran in Gainesville, Florida, sparking deadly clashes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. One year later, he burned a Koran again, and no one paid any attention. That same month he came to Dearborn, Michigan, to protest in front of the Islamic Center of America, the nation’s largest mosque. “Islam has one goal,” Jones told the small crowd, and a much larger group of counter-demonstrators and police, according to the Detroit Free Press. “That is world domination.”

“All-American Muslim” television series, a small effort by the TLC network to portray five Dearborn Muslim families in everyday challenges and circumstances of American life, was canceled after one season, because a hate campaign succeeded in getting major sponsors to end their support.

Dearborn’s  Arab community can trace its roots back to the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, but saw a large  influx of Arab and Muslim residents following the 1967 war onward. They sought employment, like many other immigrants in the past, in the region’s auto industry, and they also brought their politics with them, including Palestinian nationalism and opposition to Zionism. They were also inspired by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, who supported Palestinian liberation. On November 28, 1973

On November 28, 1973, approximately 2,000 Detroit auto workers, led by Arab Americans, walked off their jobs at Chrysler’s Dodge Main plant, demanding that the leadership of their union, the United Auto Workers (UAW), divest from Israel. The strike, which was organized by the union’s recently formed Arab Workers Caucus, was centered around an event taking place that same day in Detroit: Leonard Woodcock, the president of UAW, was set to receive a humanitarian honor from a Zionist organization, B’nai B’rith International.

The UAW had a long history of politically supporting Israel and financially through the purchase of State Of Israel Bonds. The 1973 Arab workers strike, a long forgotten episode in the struggle against Zionism and U.S. imperialism, has been written about in many places, most recently by historian Jeff Schuhrke  writing in Jacobin and available here. No wonder why the worst elements of the mainstream to crackpot far right are obsessed with Dearborn, it has and will continue to be central to the opposition to the Biden administration’s policies towards Palestine.

March on the DNC

While the antiwar movement has certainly had an impact on mainstream politics, so far, it hasn’t had the effect of shaking up the mainstream political parties. There are no antiwar challenging Biden for the Democratic nomination, and unlikely given the short time left in the primary season. The few candidates running on third party platforms, such as Cornell West, face many hurdles due the U.S. electoral system’s hostility to third parties.

Right now, pro-Palestine activists are beginning to shift their eyes to the upcoming Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Chicago in August. Along with abortion rights activists, pro-Palestine activists are battling a worried DNC and Chicago’s “Progressive” Mayor Brandon Johnson to secure permits as close to the United Center, where the convention is to be held. Chicago passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire in January, after the city council passed a resolution supporting Israel in October.

Convention planners are clearly worried of potential protests that could disrupt the convention proceedings on the outside and on the inside from a handful of dissidents. “What makes this difficult is there’s going to be a lot of people who legitimately should be there, like credentialed, relatively high-up people who will have access to sort of exclusive areas of the convention,” said one person to WBEZ radio, who previously worked on several Democratic campaigns. “They might protest, but it’s not like you can just keep out, like, a vice chair of [a state] Democratic Party.”

A nationwide mobilization at the DNC would send a global message of solidarity to Palestine. See you in Chicago.

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