These are puzzling times for those of us old enough to remember Richard Nixon's claim, during the height of Vietnam War protests, that the Silent Majority supported the war.
Five and a half years into the seemingly endless war in Iraq, the anti-war movement is finding that the new Silent Majority opposes the war.
Depending upon which poll you read, and how the question is phrased, a solid majority and perhaps as many as two-thirds of the American people want to end the war and start bringing our troops home.
Unfortunately, most of them say nothing about it unless asked by a pollster. On a day-to-day basis they are silent. Life goes on, and so does the war.
They elected a new Democratic Congress last year, with a clear mandate to end the war. But the new Congress is as chicken-hearted as the president is bullheaded. Next year's presidential election offers precious little hope, as the three leading Democratic candidates refuse to commit to having our troops out by 2013.
Against that backdrop, how are we ever going to end this war?
The peace movement's job is not to persuade Americans to oppose the war. They already do.
Foes need to speak up
The challenge is to find a way to reach them, mobilize them, and get them to become active, vocal advocates to end the war.
They spoke in great numbers before the war began, with a huge, loud outpouring of protest against the Bush administration's plan to invade Iraq. Now their voices are muted -- and no wonder. It is easy to become dispirited, after 55 months, with Bush and the Congress seemingly deaf.
United for Peace and Justice, the nation's largest anti-war coalition, sought advice from activists in a recent online poll about what to do next, with a range of options including electoral action, a national march, lobbying Congress, civil disobedience, challenging war profiteers, targeted boycotts, and more.
The obvious answer seems to be "all of the above."
That's why I have joined many others who have signed on with the Iraq Moratorium, a decentralized but national grass-roots effort that asks individuals to take personal responsibility to do something -- anything -- to show their opposition to the war.
Third Friday action
The Iraq Moratorium asks people to pledge to take some action, either individually or collectively, on the third Friday of every month. That action can be as simple a gesture as wearing a black armband or button for the day, as big as participating in a large-scale protest, or a lot of things in between. The group's Web site, www.IraqMoratorium.org. has a list of suggestions, and information on upcoming actions.
The third monthly Moratorium Day is Friday, Nov. 16.
Last month there were at least nine events across Wisconsin, and hundreds across the country, plus uncounted thousands of individual actions. Madison has no announced actions planned this month -- sometimes it seems like every day is Moratorium Day in Madison -- but many individuals who will do something.
The moratorium is designed to spread, grow and escalate over time and ratchet up the pressure on Congress and the president (present and future) to end the war. It is in it for the long haul.
It's easy to dismiss all of this as meaningless. Nothing we do will make a difference, the cynics say.
But doing something is infinitely more likely to have an impact than doing nothing. The moratorium is one way to keep the flame burning and keep people engaged.
Buttons and armbands won't stop the war by themselves. Neither will rallies and marches, or letters to the editor, or phone calls to Congress, or speeches or civil disobedience. There's no single magic solution. Those who want to end this war need to do everything. The Iraq Moratorium is one more tool in the toolbox -- but one that in the long run could be quite effective.
Bill Christofferson, a Vietnam veteran, former Madison newspaper reporter and longtime political consultant, now retired, is a volunteer member of the Iraq Moratorium Committee.
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