The American anti-war movement, which ballooned in recent months to its largest since the Vietnam War, is reevaluating its tactics and revising its message for the end of fighting in Iraq, but many national organizers say it is bound to lose some momentum.
"It's just a basic reality," said national coordinator Gordon Clark of the Iraq Pledge of Resistance. "When there's a crisis in front of them, people react more."
As U.S. forces took control of Baghdad and made other gains this week, anti-war activists said they were pleased that the war they couldn't stop may be nearing its end. Privately, they flew into a heavy round of e-mails, phone calls and meetings to take stock of their own strategy for coming weeks.
The Rev. Bob Edgar, co-chairman of Win Without War and general secretary of the National Council of Churches, said organizers were hashing out "whether Win Without War should continue and what it should do." Tom Andrews, Win Without War's national director, said he believes this huge coalition of peace groups, which formed last fall to stop the war on Iraq, will survive with a broader agenda.
United for Peace and Justice, another big newcomer to the peace movement, may start focusing more heavily on smaller regional events than on mass protests, said spokesman Jason Kafoury.
"We're trying to make sure we're doing the right thing at the right time," said Mary Ellen McNish, head of the Americans Friends Service Committee, a branch of the pacifist Quaker church.
Sociologist Eric Swank, of Morehead State University in Kentucky, who is studying the peace movement, said it has already begun to ebb.
"There's a perception that the war has been fast in the last week or so, and that Baghdad has been conquered, and the American public can move on to another issue," he said.
With near unanimity, anti-war organizers said they will carry through with demonstrations already arranged for the next few weeks, including events Saturday in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.
Backers of the American war effort haven't fallen silent either. On Saturday, conservative groups expect to mount their own rally on the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol, once the scene of many anti-Vietnam War demonstrations.
If peace appears at hand in Iraq, the anti-war movement's new message will be that "occupation isn't liberation," said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, on the steering committee of International Answer.
"We believe that the U.S. must withdraw from the Middle East. We're not trying to create a kinder and gentler occupation," she added.
Other anti-war leaders say they will refocus on supporting a dominant U.N. role in rebuilding Iraq and greater American cooperation with that body. Many groups say they must stay active to guard against what they fear could be Bush administration plans to attack Syria or Iran next.
Edgar suggested that perhaps his group should rename itself Win Without Wars.
"It's easier to organize people to stop a war than it is once ... the war is winding down. The good thing is you have a base," he said. "Even if the base shrinks a bit, we believe there's a good opportunity to use the leverage we have."
Some groups are retooling their messages to denounce what they view as excessive American militarism and to push for U.S. nuclear disarmament, promote domestic issues like better schools and health care, and organize to expel Bush and war-backing congressmen in next year's elections.
Peace Action expects to place newspaper ads this month with two other groups encouraging sympathizers to vote their convictions next year.
"It may not be 100,000 people in the streets, but it's necessary to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen again," said Peace Action spokesman Scott Lynch.
The wider sweep of future agendas could make it harder to forge common action in a movement that has until now embraced pacifists and veterans, radicals and middle Americans, with only occasional bickering.
Will it unravel without an American war as a unifying target? "I think if we don't pay careful attention and listen to each other, that might happen, but my experience with the coalition is that won't happen," said McNish, of American Friends Service Committee.
Many organizers claim credit for delaying the war and forcing Bush to consult with Congress and the United Nations. However, they said their most abiding accomplishment could be a much broader base of support for peace and social justice causes - if they can rechannel the anti-war energy of recent months.
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press