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Movement against War is Growing, Sctivists Say
Published on Monday, February 5, 2007 by the San Diego Union-Tribune (California)
Movement against War is Growing, Activists Say
by Michael Stetz
 
It hasn't exactly been easy over the past few years for San Diego's anti-war activists. They've been heckled. Dismissed by the media. A few have been arrested. Many of their events have attracted only a few dozen people or so.

But some local war critics are cautiously optimistic that their movement may be gaining steam and mainstream support. They think a tipping point may have been reached.


More than 1,500 war protesters gathered in downtown San Diego on Jan. 27. Daniel Ellsberg, the famed Vietnam War-era whistle-blower, spoke at the protest. DON KOHLBAUER / Union-Tribune
Their proof: More than 1,500 people jammed an anti-war rally in downtown San Diego on Jan. 27, making it one of the largest and most enthusiastic protests since the war began.

An appearance by Daniel Ellsberg, the famed Vietnam War-era whistle-blower, probably sparked some of the interest.

Gil Field, president of the San Diego chapter of Veterans For Peace, said he saw new faces at the rally, even though the event wasn't widely publicized. Field said membership in his small organization has grown to more than 100 in recent months.

“We're even seeing conservative Republicans,” he said.

Carol Jahnkow of the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice said crowds are growing because “people are sick of this war” and want to do something to protest it.

Anti-war activists say more people also are energized since the Democrats won control of Congress in November. They want to see action.

President Bush's insistence on sending more troops to Iraq also has motivated people, the war opponents say. A Newsweek magazine poll in January showed that 70 percent of those surveyed disapprove of the way Bush is handling the war.

Dave Patterson, past president of the local chapter of Veterans For Peace, said people are “fed up.” On Saturday, his group will meet at the Oceanside pier and put up rows of tiny crosses to symbolize the more than 3,000 Americans who have died in Iraq.

“Despite all the rhetoric, nothing has changed,” said Patterson, who in April gave back his Vietnam-era service medals to protest the war. “It's only getting worse.”

While experts agree anti-war sentiment is growing, they doubt it will balloon to the level seen during the Vietnam War, when even San Diego, a military town, saw huge protests. One 1970 march attracted 10,000 protesters, according to organizers' estimates at the time.

Today, Americans are too isolated from the war to feel compelled to protest, activists say. Without a draft, most people feel little personal involvement.

Samuel Popkin, a professor of political science at UC San Diego, said that during the Vietnam War both parties supported the military effort, so protesters had no political avenue to seek change. Out of frustration, they hit the streets.

This time, with Republicans and Democrats calling for an exit strategy, a political solution appears possible.

Popkin sees the latest protests – turnouts were also high at rallies in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco – as shots across the bow to the Democrats, telling them to pick up the pace.

To make that momentum grow, some say the marchers must learn to temper themselves and be smarter and more savvy than they've been in the past.

The subject is a sensitive one, though.

Stacy Taylor, who hosts a morning show on AM 1360, home of the liberal Air America, caught flak from listeners when he criticized some of the protesters' theatrics at the most recent rally.

“It overcomes the message,” Taylor said.

Taylor also drew complaints for questioning the wisdom of Jane Fonda's appearance at the Washington rally. Fonda was roundly attacked for going to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Dubbed “Hanoi Jane,” she remains a target of conservatives, whose blogs now call her “Jihad Jane.”

“There's a P.R. element to this,” Taylor said.

As an example of a savvy public relations move, Taylor pointed to last year's rallies to protest proposed immigration reform.

When marchers made prominent use of the Mexican flag, there was a strong backlash against them. Organizers later made certain to include American flags, he said, and that blunted the criticism.

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© Copyright 2007 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

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