The peace majority is real.
A CBS poll finds that 80 percent of Democrats believe the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, and more than 60 percent want US troops home as soon as possible. A Washington Post/ABC poll finds that 70 percent of Independents feel the war was not worth it, and 33 percent of Republicans agree. Even 72 percent of our troops believe US forces should leave Iraq in the next year.
So what are so many Democratic politicians so afraid of? And how do we translate this majority into a politics of change for the 2006 elections and beyond? How do we send a message from the grassroots the people outside of the beltway that ending this war matters, and that the time to show moxie and conviction is right now?
VotersForPeace has initiated the Peace Voter Pledge along with 18 other antiwar organizations including United for Peace and Justice, itself a coalition of 1,400 local groups.
The pledge is focused on the Iraq war as well as potential armed conflicts such as that with Iran, and using language crafted by The Nation in its cover editorial last November it reads: "I will not vote for or support any candidate for Congress or President who does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq, and preventing any future war of aggression, a public position in his or her campaign."
Linda Schade, spokesperson for Voters For Peace, points to a nationwide poll indicating that 67 percent of Democratic voters support or strongly support the wording of the pledge; 59 percent of Independents and a stunning 25 percent of Republicans support it as well.
"The Peace Majority is now here. Peace Voters are the new Soccer Moms," Schade said.
Peace Voters see how the war is undermining our security and causing a tragically unnecessary loss of life, while also depleting needed resources for healthcare, education, and the rebuilding of America.
Kevin Martin, Executive Director of Peace Action, expects hundreds of other groups to join in the Peace Voter Pledge effort. The goal is to obtain two million signatures in 2006 and Peace Action is aggressively promoting it online, while chapters and affiliates circulate it at local community events across the nation.
"Support for this war, or unwillingness to speak out against it, are both morally unacceptable," Martin said. "Democrats can't beat Karl Rove by offering no real alternative on this."
Which is exactly the point Sen. Russell Feingold made in a recent interview with Dan Balz and Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post: "If we don't show that we have a strong vision of how to complete that mission, bring the troops home, and refocus in a positive way in the fight against terrorism, I'm afraid people will once again by default, you know, hedge it and maybe allow Republicans to stay in power."
One Democrat who understands the painful consequences of hedging is Senator John Kerry. On Tuesday, the former Presidential candidate spoke at the fourth annual Take Back America conference and announced that he will soon sponsor an amendment to the defense spending bill demanding a withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq by the end of 2006.
As the death toll has increased--more than 2,500 US troops have been killed to date--and voters have become increasingly disgusted with the war and the lack of Democratic action in opposing it, antiwar candidates have emerged as challengers to the status quo.
In Connecticut, where over 60 percent of voters oppose the war, Bush's favorite Democrat, Joe Lieberman, is receiving a surprisingly stiff challenge from Ned Lamont. Lamont needed the support of 15 percent of the delegates at the state convention to secure a place on the August 8 primary ballot he doubled that.
Even in instances where a challenger falls short as occurred in last Tuesday's California primary between Marcy Winograd and hawkish incumbent, Jane Harman these contests are forcing Democratic strategists who would water-down any position on Iraq to confront the depth and power of the antiwar sentiment. "The voters are sending a clear message to the party," Schade says.
In New York, writer and labor organizer Jonathan Tasini is challenging Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary a David and Goliath contest in which Tasini has no delusions about winning. But Tasini recently proved that Senator Clinton could not dictate Iraq policy at her own state convention, where he led a successful effort to pass a resolution labeling the decision to go to war an "error" and urging "a safe and orderly withdrawal of US forces."
Peace Action's Kevin Martin says, "In the end, we want politicians to know the power of the peace voters. Even in the so-called safe districts.' We want them to see the political potential of our constituency."
Hopefully, the Democratic Party leadership will soon follow the lead of grassroots activists and courageous leaders such as Feingold, Kerry and Senate candidates, Rep. Sherrod Brown in Ohio, John Tester in Montana, and Bernie Sanders in Vermont.
As Feingold said, "America knows we have to regroup and refocus on the real fight against terrorism. So I don't understand why Democrats are so meek about basically associating themselves with the number one issue in America which is to find a way to end our huge military involvement in Iraq."
Let the race for peace begin. Sign the Peace Voter Pledge today.
Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation.
© 2006 The Nation