War protests nowadays largely consist of quiet online dissent

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first_imgIn May, saddened that she had failed to stop the war in Iraq that took her son’s life and made her the face of opposition, Cindy Sheehan tearfully quit the anti-war movement.She had concluded that her son Casey, a 24-year-old Army specialist killed in an April 2004 battle in Baghdad, had died for nothing.“Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next ‘American Idol’ than how many people will be killed in the next few months,” Sheehan wrote in an online diary.Those next few months will reach a red-letter day soon when the official death toll of American troops in Iraq hits 4,000 – a gloomy milestone in what has become an overwhelmingly unpopular war at home and a polarizing issue in Congress and the presidential campaign. “A clear majority (of Americans) has opposed the war in Iraq for some time now, and thank God it hasn’t taken 20,000 body bags.” Ahead of the pace Lafferty and others in the peace movement note that today’s movement is ahead of the pace set by protesters during the Vietnam era.“Actually, we’ve had more people in the streets at an earlier stage than we did in Vietnam,” said Lafferty, an expert on Vietnam who taught a course on that war at the New School for Social Research in New York.Independent polls, in which opposition to the war is now over70 percent, also support that view. According to Gallup surveys, a majority of Americans came to view Iraq as a mistake quicker than they came to oppose the Vietnam War more than three decades ago.And the anti-war movement’s impact on national politics cannot be understated. Opposition to the war last year produced the historic backlash against President Bush and the Republicans, leading to a Democratic takeover of Congress and a resolution setting a timetable for a troop withdrawal – a resolution Bush vetoed.The war arguably has also become the major issue in the upcoming presidential election year – a campaign that is fueling the peace movement, though not necessarily always on the streets.“All of us in the American culture have the peace movement image in our heads that is out of the ’60s: images of someone burning their draft card or bleeding from (a beating from a) police club,” said Tom Hayden, who gained infamy in the late 1960s as a Vietnam War protester who was one of the Chicago Seven anti-war defendants, and later went on to become a California state senator.“But the image of the Iraq war peace movement is something entirely different. It may be something as (simple as) somebody blogging.”“The movement has moved from the streets,” said Brad Parker of Sherman Oaks, a political activist involved in the anti-war, progressive movement. “The new street is the e-mail.” E-mail peace message Hayden and others argue that much of the anti-war movement today might be no louder than keyboard pecks – not only blogging on the Internet but the millions of words in e-mails and newsletters transmitted electronically, carrying the peace message daily.“It’s about communications, and in protesting the Vietnam War the main source of communications was television,” said political consultant Bill Orozco, who has worked with anti-war activists since the 1970s.“You needed big demonstrations in the streets to carry the message on television. But today the main source of communications has become the Internet.”According to political strategists, it was the peace movement’s mobilization of the Internet that stoked the anti-war protest fires and led to last year’s historic midterm repudiation of the Bush administration and the Democrats’ takeover of Congress, as well as calls for troop withdrawals in many cities. ‘Loud and clear’ In Los Angeles earlier this month, the City Council adopted a resolution calling for an end to the war, making it the largest city in the nation to take such a position.“Los Angeles is sending a message loud and clear – end the war in Iraq,” said Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who introduced the resolution, drawing cheers from an anti-war audience packing the council chamber.“We are calling for an immediate and complete withdrawal of United States military personnel from Iraq.“We have lost too many of our young men and women to this illegal and unjust war.”Still, low turnouts at some rallies, such as the Oct. 27 anti-war protest in downtown L.A., leave the impression that the movement is marginal and without impact, even as it produces a theater of radical sloganeering and grandstanding.At the L.A. rally, which police estimated at less than 1,000 people and organizers at 10 times that many, one protester carried a papier-m?ch? puppet of the president with cruise missiles for arms, and another protester who identified herself as Nancy Kent of Glendale carried a life-size cutout of Bush dressed in prison stripes.“I’m here to just be another demonstrator on the street to try to end the war,” Kent said. “And hopefully not attack Iran.”Protesters who marched up Broadway around noon to City Hall staged a “die-in,” during which Iraq veterans and supporters lay down on Temple Street amid the sounds of air-raid sirens and bomb blasts.Nevertheless, the perception of the anti-war movement having little clout persists – even among some in the movement – leading to the disillusionment of people such as Sheehan, who gained international attention by setting up camp outside Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, and demanding to meet with him.But the war and her activism took an emotional and personal toll on her life. Her marriage broke up, and she said all her speaking and book fees generated by her opposition were drained by extensive medical bills.“I am going to take whatever I have left and go home,” she said as she resigned from the movement. “I am going to go home and be a mother to my surviving children and try to regain some of what I have lost.”Sheehan, though, also felt betrayed by her one-time allies, among them House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom she accused of “protecting the status quo” of the corporate elite and for not taking steps to impeach Bush.With no funds and the support of some peace activists, among them Vietnam Pentagon Papers hero Daniel Ellsberg, Sheehan is now on a grass-roots campaign as an independent to unseat Pelosi from the San Francisco congressional seat she has held since 1987.It is a quixotic venture that has saddened many anti-war activists. When Sheehan resigned, she lashed out at the peace movement group MoveOn.org for not doing enough to oppose the war. Most anti-war activists are also loyal Democratic supporters, especially of Pelosi.“(Sheehan) did a tremendous thing in that she took her personal loss and made it public so that people could understand the cost of the war,” said Nita Chaudhary, an organizer for MoveOn.org.“The anti-war movement is now the person next door. It’s not just Cindy Sheehan.”[email protected] 818-713-3738160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! But as the toll hovers just 140 short of that grim marker – in what has been the deadliest year for American soldiers in Iraq since the 2003 invasion – Sheehan’s departure from the peace movement is raising questions about the strength of today’s anti-war movement.Despite polls showing that most people oppose the war, there have been no massive sit-ins or protests like those in the 1960s over the Vietnam War.The perception is that “people aren’t in the streets protesting in outrage because they are too busy sipping frappucinos at Starbucks and watching television – so long as it’s not anything about the rising death toll,” said psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, who studies pop cultural trends among Americans.But peace activists say that isn’t necessarily the case, that in fact the movement against American involvement in Iraq today is significantly further ahead of the anti-war movement against Vietnam at the same time in the 1960s.“Vietnam had a draft but it still took about 20,000 body bags before American opinion turned against that war,” said Jim Lafferty, a Los Angeles-based steering committee member of the anti-war group ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism).last_img

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