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Bush Protesters Rethink Tactics
Published on Sunday, January 16, 2005 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Bush Protesters Rethink Tactics
Critics hope to move beyond self-satisfaction of anti-war protests, gain wider voting base
by Joe Garofoli
 

To show their disgust with George W. Bush's re-election, on Inauguration Day, his opponents will turn their back on his motorcade, "refuse to spend one dime," black out their Web sites, stage mock jazz funerals, wear black armbands and stage demonstrations from Palo Alto to Atlanta.

But four years of such Bush-bashing theatrics didn't produce a change in November. And with Republicans controlling Congress and the White House, some of the president's most vocal critics have spent the past two post-election months making plans on how to begin preaching beyond the choir box, starting Thursday.

Bottom line: less emphasis on mass demonstrations -- which Bush famously dismissed as "focus groups" -- and more on reaching out to Americans who oppose the war but haven't publicly shown it.

"We've got to start reaching out to people who don't agree with us," said Leslie Cagan, United for Peace's national coordinator. In its recent short- term plan, the 850-organization umbrella behind many of the nation's larger protests over the past few years conceded that "the anti-war movement must reshape its work."

While the Inauguration Day protest coverage will undoubtedly focus on made-for-TV flourishes and mad-as-hell gestures, some of the larger anti-war and progressive organizations say they have realized that just being against Bush isn't enough anymore.

"The resistance has to be issue-based," said Aimara Lin, national coordinator of Not in Our Name, another major anti-war organization that has done a lot of soul-searching since the election. "The movement needs to reach outside the normal groups of people we usually touch and bring in people who feel the same way, but are too fearful to say so."

That includes corralling the energy of the people behind the Inauguration Day protests.

"If they're going to go beyond the personal satisfaction of, 'I dissed the president and it made me feel good,' they're going to have to talk to many more people and give them something different to think about," said Shaun Bowler, professor of political science at UC Riverside and an expert on direct democracy.

"You can listen to Pacifica Radio, check out the Bay Area papers or the (British) Guardian, and watch 'Fahrenheit 9/11' and 'The Daily Show,' and that's great," Bowler said. "But after everyone whips themselves up into an outrage, all they have talked to is their fellow travelers."

In the most detailed way in its three-year history, United for Peace is committing to paper its organizing plans, using neighbor-to-neighbor connections reminiscent of how Republicans turned out their base in the presidential election. Its "Winter/Spring Organizing Drive" plan encourages its smaller member groups to "make three new relationships" with organizations and communities not previously involved in anti-war work. Big-city organizations should connect with a dozen.

The group just hired the Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, a Pentecostal minister in New York, to lead its outreach effort to places United for Peace believes will be critical to reaching a wider audience: the nation's churches, synagogues and mosques.

In the next few weeks, Sekou will release what he calls a kit to help religious leaders craft Sunday sermons against the war, form anti-war groups among their followers and preach to children.

"We need to break the monopoly on 'God talk' the religious right has in this country," Sekou said.

After the election, national organizers from Not in Our Name, an anti-war group with offices in Oakland, convened for a postmortem. Afterward, they acknowledged to members that "surely, the goal expressed by all was the need of resistance to break outside the anti-war 'movement.' "

The challenge: Of Not in Our Name's 10 chapters, only two are located in states that went for Bush in November.

"We've talked about getting into more of the red states, but right now, we don't have a lot of people on the ground there," said Lin of Not in Our Name. "But we've been hearing a lot more from them since the election. And when people from the red states call, they get special attention."

Two other constituencies will be actively courted, said United for Peace's Cagan and other anti-war leaders: returning Iraq war veterans and military families. Activists will help returning vets speak to military support groups, as well as to the media.

"They are key," University of San Francisco political science Professor Stephen Zunes, an expert on social movements, said of veterans and their families. "They can go into a lot of places where many activists can't go."

To expand the number of anti-war supporters, Zunes and other progressive writers suggest that activists make inroads to sympathetic politicians, particularly conservatives.

Writing in the progressive Web site Alternet, Erik Leaver, policy director at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, urged activists to "work with (anti-war) folks across the political spectrum, including Rep. Howard Coble." The conservative North Carolina Republican recently said it was time to start pondering a phased U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

But Coble might not be a totally sympathetic ear.

"The congressman never said he was against the war or that it was a bad idea to invade," said Coble's chief of staff Ed McDonald. "Sure, he'd be willing to sit down and talk with anybody, but he's not interested in working with any of the groups who are coming to Washington to say things against the president."

Some anti-war activists, however, such as San Francisco resident Marvin Feldman, have little time for politicians -- even liberal ones.

"We're not going to be working with the Democrats anymore," said Feldman, a coordinator with United for Peace and Justice Bay Area. "We feel let down that the Democrats ran such a wimpy campaign" and didn't more forcefully oppose the war, he said.

Instead, the organization will concentrate on reaching out to unions, religious congregations and organizations in communities of color.

Such disagreement among left-leaning organizations and interest groups isn't new.

Richard Becker, an organizer with International ANSWER, which is organizing an Inauguration Day rally in San Francisco's Civic Center, said, "The question is, can we find a way to look at each other and see that each of our particular issues is really deeply connected?''

As some progressives ponder how to unify their message during Bush's second term, others will begin the sniping on Inauguration Day.

Progressive leaders acknowledge that to some on the left, there is a cathartic benefit from such gestures as Turn Your Back on Bush, in which protesters will turn away from the president along the motorcade route.

One of the organizers of Not One Damn Dime Day, which urges people not to spend any money Thursday, acknowledged that there's no way to measure its effect.

Jesse Gordon, an activist in Cambridge, Mass., who has assumed the role of spokesman for the Internet-spread campaign even though he doesn't know who started it, said seeing a one-day dip on the country's economic output isn't necessarily the campaign's primary goal.

"People want a way to make their voices heard," Gordon said. He plans to use the thousands of e-mails he's received to begin a mailing list of like- minded souls that he can tap into for future political mobilizations.

Similar plans have been laid by the Detroit-based organizer of Black- Thursday.com, which is touting a no-work-on-Inauguration Day campaign, and Citizens Take Charge, which is organizing a one-day gasoline boycott out of Orlando, Fla..

"When people go out and do something like this, it feels good," said Elizabeth Morgan, co-founder of Citizens Take Charge. However, of the 10 boycott captains lined up for Thursday's inaugural boycott, only two are in red states.

"But after this, look," Morgan said, "we've got to reach out beyond where we're at."

© 2005 San Francisco Chronicle

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