Late in the evening of April 13, the president of the most powerful empire in history announced that, once again, the empire’s legions would rain death upon yet another historically oppressed and exploited nation. The people of Damascus were only rising from their slumbers; recordings from the attack show the roar of air defense missiles drowning out the muezzin’s morning call to prayer.

The following day, activists in the U.S. were out in the streets. The ANSWER Coalition, in coordination with a number of other anti-war groups including Code Pink, Veterans for Peace, Virginia Defenders, the Internationalist Student Front and Stop Police Terror Project DC, had long planned the anti-war rally and teach in dubbed “In the Spirit of Dr. King, Say No to Trump’s War on Syria”, but the previous week’s building belligerence and drum-beating gave the protest and teach-in a special urgency.

Protesters gathered in front of the White House around midday Saturday with banners that read “No war on Syria,” and “In the Spirit of Dr. King, Fight the war machine! Oppose racism & militarism at home and abroad!” The hot and sunny day brought large crowds to the pedestrian-only area of Pennsylvania Avenue, many of whom voiced their agreement with the messages and who picked up picket signs themselves.

Netfa Freeman of the Black Alliance for Peace spoke, noting that “the Black radical tradition has always opposed U.S. aggression because it knows the U.S. is never on the side of justice.” Echoing Freeman’s point, Kei Pritsker of the Internationalist Student Front said: “We have more in common with the Syrian people than with ‘our own’ ruling class.” He noted that Washington, D.C. is one of the most unequal cities in the country, but that the money is being spent on overseas wars and not on addressing the pressing concerns here. He also observed that the real threat to average people in the U.S. comes from the U.S. government, from police and from banks that foreclose on family homes and local governments that ignore problems like lead poisoning in the city water of Flint, Michigan–not from any overseas threat.

Sean Blackmon, representing Stop Police Terror Project DC, pointed out similarly that “Kim Jong Un didn’t direct Charlottesville; Raul Castro didn’t kill Stephon Clark; Nicolas Maduro didn’t kill Terrence Sterling,” these are threats faced here in this country from white supremacy and police violence carried out by “our own” government.

Blackmon also provided the crowd with an education about the history behind the event, which was held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King, who was shot and killed on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. Blackmon noted that at the end of his life, King had turned his attention to economic inequality and the growing war in Vietnam and what he called the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism” (“Beyond Vietnam”, April 4, 1967). It was this shift in focus that made him persona non grata to the U.S. government, and why he was assassinated in 1968.

Brian Becker, the national director of the ANSWER Coalition, spoke directly on the conflagration in Syria and the imperialists’ motives there. “The missile attack was a criminal, illegal act,” he said, carried out to punish Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and to destroy any possibility of the weapons inspectors reaching a conclusion different from that already decided by American propaganda. Becker noted that Trump’s claim to have “humanitarian concerns” in Syria is ludicrous, as is the mass media’s, because they both totally ignore the violence being committed next door by the Israelis against the Palestinians.

Becker further noted that Trump is forming a “war cabinet,” with John Bolton as national security adviser, Gina Haspel as CIA director, and Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State. He speculated that the missile attack was an excuse to test Syrian air defenses as part of their larger plan to carve up Syria. NATO forces already control 30 percent of the country. However, their real goal, as made clear this year, is to prepare for great power confrontation with Russia and China.

Becker also spoke about the mass media’s role in preparing the population for war. “The media will concentrate on the scandal with Stormy Daniels and Russian troll farms to attack Trump, but lift not a finger against him when it comes to his bellicose rhetoric.” He noted how National Public Radio – along with numerous other stations – has actually expressed disappointment at the small scale of Trump’s attack!

Radhika Singh, also of the ANSWER Coalition, pointed out how often ANSWER protests these attack or proposed attacks, noting that “we know what’s coming when the mass media gets going in the game” of demonizing and crying that “something must be done” about some “dictator,” whether it’s Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and now Bashar Al-Assad.

Margaret Flowers, of the Maryland group Popular Resistance, noted that the empire is in decline, and the powers-that-be know it and are trying to stop it. Jacqueline Luqman, of Virginia Defenders, invoked King’s anti-imperialist observation that the U.S. government is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” (“Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam,” April 30, 1967) and observed how the prioritization of war over domestic needs had created situations like those in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, where militant teachers have fought back against underfunded school budgets and social services.

One Syrian-American woman, Rima, drove six hours from North Carolina to participate in the protest. She spoke about her family in Aleppo, where her cousin has a newborn child, and conveyed the message that “bombing doesn’t feed people.” By attacking Syria instead of allowing it to recover and rebuild, we take away any chance of that child growing up, or perhaps even surviving, she urged.

Following the speeches and chants, protesters held a short but militant march up Pennsylvania Avenue to the George Washington University Marvin Center for a teach-in, passing the offices of the International Monetary Fund, a major tool of imperialism, in the process and giving it some choice words.

Singh noted that the term “humanitarian war” is a contradiction in terms as as well as the failure of electoralism to address the core problem, since it’s not elected officials who are in charge, but the capitalist class who owns the banks and defense industries and major corporations that drive imperialism.

Blackmon once again invoked Dr. King, reading from two of his 1967 speeches “Beyond Vietnam” and “The Casualties of the War in Vietnam” at length:

“We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem. And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. And so we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago.” (Beyond Vietnam)

“While the anti-poverty program is cautiously initiated and zealously supervised, billions are liberally expended for this ill-considered war. The recently revealed misestimate of the war budget amounts to ten billions of dollars for a single year. This error alone is more than five times the amount committed to anti-poverty programs. The security we profess to seek in foreign adventures we will lose in our decaying cities. The bombs in Vietnam explode at home. … It is estimated that we spend $322,000 for each enemy we kill, while we spend in the so-called war on poverty in America only about $53 for each person classified as ‘poor’. And much of that $53 goes for salaries of people who are not poor. We have escalated the war in Vietnam and de-escalated the skirmish against poverty.” (The Casualties of the War in Vietnam)

These lines, from the final months of Dr. King’s life, summarize and epitomize the anti-imperialism we must exhibit today, linking the fight back against underfunded schools, racist police violence and evictions and deportations to imperialist wars and interventions abroad. Opposing imperialist wars and declaring solidarity with working and oppressed people the world over is the bedrock of principled anti-imperialism and international solidarity upon which will build a socialist revolution!

Further reading from Dr. King:

“The Casualties of the War in Vietnam” (February 25, 1967

“Beyond Vietnam” (April 4, 1967)

“Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam” (April 30, 1967