What, realistically, can the antiwar movement accomplish right now? Tom
Andrews, a former Congressman from Maine and national director of the
Win Without War coalition, answers the question without hesitation: "We
can stop this war."
For the first time since the Iraq War began, activists are
optimistic--and getting serious about the political process. With Bush
proposing an escalation and a Democratic Congress that owes its new
majority, at least in part, to antiwar sentiment, everyone agrees that
there has never been a better opportunity to end this tragic policy.
Fresh from January 27's successful demonstration in Washington, the
peace movement is now focusing all of its organizing energies on--and
dedicating serious resources to--the people who truly have the power to
stop the war: members of Congress.
At this writing, numerous resolutions are floating around the Hill, 800
peace activists working with United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) are
meeting with more than 270 Congressional representatives and MoveOn.org
has called a Virtual March, in which constituents will flood Capitol
Hill with 1 million calls against the war on February 1. MoveOn, Win
Without War, the Service Employees International Union and other groups
have launched Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, an $8
$10 million campaign that will organize constituents in
twenty to twenty-five states to pressure fence-sitting legislators. The
effort, explains Tom Matzzie, MoveOn.org Political Action's Washington
director, is "very intense, modeled a lot on a presidential campaign."
In another of this war's firsts, active members of the military have
joined the fight. Says Jonathan Hutto, founder of the active-duty
troops' group Appeal for Redress, which advocates a political rather
than a military resolution of the Iraq War, politicians "don't usually
hear from us. Soldiers are trained to be grunts. But now is the time."
The battle for public opinion on the Iraq War is over--not so much
because of the antiwar movement's work but because the situation in Iraq
has proved so disastrous. Many mainstream journalists, pundits and
politicians now speak against the war as eloquently and convincingly as
peace activists do. Only 17 percent of the American people agree with
Bush's current escalation plan. The challenge is to translate that power
into a change in policy. Until now, the antiwar forces have had fewer
than five full-time Washington lobbyists. But much of the antiwar
movement now agrees that there is no contradiction, or conflict, between
chanting in the streets and lobbying in the halls of Congress. An
impressive showing of demonstrators in DC (UFPJ says half a million)
along with the thousands of smaller local protests over the past few
weeks bolsters the lobbying effort, showing that peace activists are an
impassioned constituency, while protests would be meaningless without
additional pressure on politicians.
Success, however, is not assured. A tentative majority in Congress
opposes the Bush policy, but there's a world of difference between
supporting a nonbinding resolution and blocking appropriations. That's
why the effort to persuade Congress will require such a massive
grassroots campaign. "If we had to vote right now on defunding the war,"
MoveOn's Matzzie said recently, "we would lose. We have to be very
strategic and smart." He sighs. "I have nightmares about the gap between
what we need to do and what we are doing. I lose sleep over this."
There are some within the peace movement who believe that Congressional
Democrats will never agree to stop funding the war. They may be right.
(As demonstrators assembled in Washington, Senator Hillary Clinton, in
Iowa, dismissed the call to cut off funding as a "soundbite.") Given the
Democrats' trepidation about appearing to cut off support for the
troops, some antiwar strategists argue that the movement should shift
the focus of its lobbying from defunding the war to funding a real plan
It's worth thinking, too, about the broader mission of an antiwar
movement. Author and blogger Rahul Mahajan, of UFPJ's steering committee
(speaking for himself, not the organization), worries that unlike in the
Vietnam era, today's peace movement has had little success in getting
Americans to rethink the role of the United States in the world. He's
right. The talking point among some Democrats is that while the United
States has been so generous, those damned Iraqis have screwed up the
war. That way of thinking isn't going help us avoid further
misadventures in imperial arrogance. It's hardly reassuring to hear Iraq
War opponents like Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards say that
for Iran, "we must keep all options on the table." Stopping the war in
Iraq is important, but to truly make the world a safer place, we need to
change the conversation.
Contributing editor Liza Featherstone's work has appeared in The Nation, Lingua Franca, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post and Ms. She is the co-author of Students Against Sweatshops: The Making of a Movement (Verso, 2002) and author of Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Worker's Rights at Wal-Mart (Basic, 2004). She is a Ralph Shikes Fellow at the Public Concern Foundation.
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