On Saturday, March 16, elements of the American Party of Labor traveled to Washington DC to attend the National March on the White House: US Hands Off Venezuela. We were able to attend thanks to the efforts of Bob Witanek from NJ Anti-War Agenda. He organized a bus ride from Newark, New Jersey to Washington DC.
The bus was packed with about fifty activists and revolutionaries from various organizations. The most represented group on our bus was the Salvadoran liberation party, FMLN. Others included the New Afrikan Black Panthers Party, the Green Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) and many more. Witanek stated that the conversations we had on the bus were as important as our attendance in the march itself, because they helped build lines of solidarity between activists who had been strangers the day before. This is key to NJ Anti-War Agenda’s efforts to build a broad New Jersey based coalition to stand against war and imperialism.
When we arrived at Lafayette Park, we were greeted by a crowd of about 1,500 protesters. Signs read “US Hands Off Venezuela” and “No Blood for Oil”. I helped carry NJ Anti-War Agenda’s banner, which drew a lot of attention as protesters and photographers came by to take pictures of us around it. One woman snapped a few photos and told us she was sending the pictures directly to people in Venezuela.
The crowd was a diverse collection of anti-war activists. People of various races and religions came together to fight for a common cause. My experiences there certainly challenged the right wing notion that the anti-war movement has historically been constituted only of privileged white, out-of-touch leftists defending tyrannical governments in the so-called third world. There was a large Spanish speaking presence at the rally, and many of the chants were in Spanish.
After a few hours of rallying at Lafayette Park, we finally hit the streets. I lagged toward the tail end of the march. This position also gave me a sense of scale, as I could see a trail of protesters extend far beyond where the eyes could see. The beautiful sunny day also gave us greater visibility. The sun was on our side, but the gusting winds sided with Guaido.
There were many onlookers, many of whom were snapping pictures on their phones. Among them, I could see some scoffing faces, but others seemed to be nodding along to our chants and statements made over our sound systems. Witanek was using his sound system to persuade observers to join in, arguing that’s it’s in all of our interests to resist imperialism. He was not entirely unsuccessful in his efforts.
As the march concluded, we gathered inside of a church and met at an auditorium on the top floor. Here, we listened to a variety of speakers. First on the list was whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers which exposed the lies surrounding the Vietnam War. He could not be there is person and instead joined us via live video.
Another speaker was Honduran activist Lucy Pagoada, who blasted the hypocrisy of the US government demanding Venezuela accept American aid, while at the same time refuseing to help Honduran refugees. She argued that the United States bears some of the blame for the plight of these refugees, because the Obama Administration helped overthrow their democracy in 2009.
Max Blumenthal also spoke, describing his recent trip to Caracas, and how his own observations contradict the American media narrative. Former Green Party presidential candidate, Jill Stein, joined us by live video. She stressed that imperial aggression against Venezuela is not simply a Trump policy, but part of a bipartisan consensus of Democrats and Republicans.
Among our New Jersey contingency, we had one speaker, Shaka Zulu, of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party. He delivered a powerful speech about the inter-connectedness of imperialism, militarism, and racism. He stressed that people power is needed to overcome these problems, and that relying on institutions like Congress and the World Bank is a mistake.
The protest received coverage from media outlets such as RT, Telesur and The Real News Network. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro even shared a video of the protest on Facebook and thanked protesters for standing up for Venezuelan sovereignty.
Marches like this one are crucial for the anti-war movement. As it currently stands, the movement is much weaker than it was in prior decades. This is largely due to the deception of the Obama Administration and the false perception that the United States was moving away from interventionism. However, leftist thought and anti-war sentiments have been on the rise in recent years. Trust in mainstream media outlets who pedal pro-war propaganda has been eroding. Organizations like NJ Anti-War Agenda are a crucial part of this change.
Despite illusions of its omnipotence, the US government cannot carry out its functions without the consent of the governed. That is why we must take to the streets and resist, particularly in light of the most recent intensification of the US government’s attempt to topple the democratically elected government of Venezuela. To resist this open imperialism is in all of our interests as working class people. The same forces that push an imperialist foreign policy are working against us domestically. They drive white supremacy, deregulation, and austerity. At the same time that factories close down and job prospects disappear, and the social safety net is being slowly stripped away, the US government puts its eyes on oil-rich nations like Venezuela, and seeks to create enmity between international working people. Thus, when we as marchers said “Hands off Venezuela,” we openly acknowledged, as Shaka Zulu argued in his speech, that we face one enemy—and it is not Nicolas Maduro or the Venezuelan people.