Published on
The Times (Trenton, N.J.)

Protesters Grow Frustrated as War Wears On

Some activists use civil disobedience to force change

Robert Stern

Mary Ellen Marino has had enough of the Iraq war.

She is fed up that too many lawmakers from both political parties are acting too slowly or not at all in heeding the message from anti-war activists like herself that it's past time that U.S. troops leave Iraq.

It's a message that Marino, a peace activist from Princeton Borough, and other demonstrators are trying to deliver not just through anti-war marches but also by directly pressuring individual members of Congress through smaller-scale rallies, sit-ins and lobbying of their offices.

Even civil disobedience -- generally in the form of purposely occupying a legislator's office even beyond business hours -- has become a tactic meant to draw attention and provoke change.

"My concern is that we've done all the things that people can do but the Congress itself is not using the techniques that are available to them" to end the war and even to initiate impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, said Marino.

Ed Dunphy, an anti-war activist from Washington Township who is a member of the Princeton Borough-based Coalition for Peace Action, expressed similar frustration.

"No one is holding this president or this administration accountable for what I consider to be lies and deceptions that led us into this invasion and occupation of Iraq," Dunphy said.

Dunphy and Marino were among some 30 people who tried to draw more attention to the anti-war cause when they staged a protest inside and outside Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Smith's Hamilton office on Aug. 29, although the congressman wasn't there himself.

Hamilton police said Friday they are still investigating who is responsible for vandalism that was discovered -- cords linking computers were ripped from a central hub, causing a system crash -- in Smith's office 30 minutes after the protest.

Several of the protesters present that day have said in press interviews that causing damage to the office wasn't part of the demonstration plan and expressed doubt that any of their fellow demonstrators are to blame.

And protesters throughout the country, from Dunphy and Marino in Mercer County to Jeff Leys in Illinois, emphasize they are fed up with both Republicans and Democrats over the Iraq war.

"My frustrations are as much with the Democrats as with the Republicans because the Democrats seem to only want to re-elect themselves and the Republicans seem to want to maintain the power," Marino said, alleging that "the Democratic leaders are afraid of the propaganda machine of the Republicans."

Leys, one of the organizers of the nationwide Occupation Project -- "a campaign of sustained nonviolent civil disobedience aimed at ending funding for the U.S. war in and occupation of Iraq" -- said he doesn't look at the protest strategy as a Democrat or Republican matter, but rather as one addressed to both parties.

Increasingly, anti-war activists have made use of civil disobedience -- risking fines and jail time -- to put pressure on individual members of Congress so the troops will come home.

"What we've seen, especially over the last year, I think, is nonviolent civil resistance, nonviolent civil disobedience ... to try to much more effectively target senators and representatives," Leys said.

Leys said he himself was arrested three times during demonstrations this spring.

One was at the Illinois office of Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; another was at the Washington, D.C., office of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; and a third was at the Wisconsin office of U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wis., who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

In the McCain case, Leys said he was found guilty of disorderly conduct and had to pay a $50 fine, while the case in the Durbin demonstration was dismissed and the Obey one has yet to be settled in court.

Since Feb. 5, when the Occupation Project kicked off, Leys said there have been about 400 arrests of demonstrators who held protests inside the offices of 42 representatives and senators all over the U.S.

The idea isn't to get arrested -- it's to send a message and change lawmakers' minds on providing funding for keeping U.S. forces in Iraq, he said.

"Fifteen (of the 42) ended up voting against the final version of the supplemental Iraq spending bill," earlier this year, Leys said. Of those 15, 14 had voted for the funding last year.

However, every one of those 15 lawmakers was a Democrat, even though the Occupation Project targeted Republican members of Congress as well, he said.

Dunphy and others who are involved in the anti-war movement -- both now and during the Vietnam War -- including Princeton Borough-based attorney R. William Potter, said it's unfortunate that popular sentiment against the Iraq war hasn't triggered a larger, more sustained groundswell of mass demonstrations and student activism.

The anti-war strategies during the Vietnam War "had a great deal more energy behind them because of the draft," Potter said. Even so, he said, "it still took a long time to end that disastrous war."

Now the outcry hasn't been as energetic because the galvanizing element of a draft isn't present as it was during Vietnam, Potter said.

"On the other hand, we have a great deal of support for ending the war simply because Bush and his stay-the-course strategy has lost all credibility with the majority of the voting public," Potter contends.

"There is broad public disgust with President Bush and his utter lack of credibility on the origins of the war and the need to continue it," he said. "I think it balances out the relative lack of energy to oppose the war."

Another notable difference between the anti-war movement now and the backlash against the Vietnam War is that the current movement got going in earnest in the months leading up to the war, said the Rev. Bob Moore, executive director of the Princeton Coalition for Peace Action.

"In Vietnam, of course, before a significant peace movement emerged, we had already been there for five or six years, whereas this time we had mobilized a huge outcry and protest before the war even broke out," Moore said.

He said leaders and participants in the anti-war campaign have to evaluate and adjust their strategy to bring about change in U.S. policy on military involvement in Iraq.

"The question of effectiveness is a very important question for leaders of peacemaking," Moore said.

Part of that question deals with who should be the focus of demonstrations.

"As the public opinion corner began to be turned (against keeping large numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq), we have focused more and more on the Congress," Moore said.

That's because Congress has the Constitutional power to control the purse strings that determine spending for the Iraq war.

"The Congress was literally who stopped the Vietnam War, and we want them to stop this war," Moore said.

© 2007 The Times of Trenton

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