This article is part of the "Waging Peace" series, covering the movement that is emerging across America to oppose war on Iraq.--The Editors
Even with an enemy as easy to hate as Saddam Hussein, the Bush Administration's war plans in Iraq have awakened "huge reservoirs of unease" in the American public, says Peace Action spokesperson Scott Lynch. The Administration's bullying autumn war drive, its explicit discussion of pre-emptive strikes and regime change, its overtly corporate agenda on energy and oil, and its early, arrogant attempts to make war without Congress, let alone the United Nations, unleashed a flood of antiwar sentiment and activity across the country. The sheer breadth of this opposition could help to birth one of the largest antiwar movements in US history--that is, if these politically diverse antiwar eruptions can join forces as a movement at all.
So far, the strength of the opposition is certainly not its unity, but its diversity. Here, for example, is a snapshot of the New York City antiwar movement in the final days of November: Uptown, black and Latino youth activists and tenant organizers huddle in a back room, discussing how to turn out bodega owners and taxi drivers for their December 14 march in Harlem "for schools and jobs, not war"; while downtown, a collection of apron-clad activists, from such global justice outfits as Reclaim the Streets, hold a "bake sale for the military," a propaganda stunt to promote an antiwar listserv. Some 2,000 high school students walk out of their classes to protest the war, organized by one antiwar coalition, Not in Our Name, and a week later, a thousand African-American congregants pack the rafters--and basement--of the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn for an antiwar town meeting sponsored by another national coalition, International ANSWER.
Glance around the country and one sees this diversity multiplied: People came out for peace marches and vigils even in such conservative redoubts as Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Anchorage, Alaska. An estimated 100,000 turned out for a march in Washington. Such mainstays of the institutional movement as NOW, the NAACP, the National Council of Churches, the Conference of Catholic Bishops and the California Labor Federation--organizations that collectively represent millions of Americans--have all issued strong antiwar resolutions, as have some thirty city councils. Dissent--or at least discomfort--has cropped up even in conservative quarters, at the libertarian Cato Institute, which has called a war "unwise"; among former military and security advisers such as Brent Scowcroft, who have pushed against unilateral action; and, most impressively, from the likes of Colin Powell and George Tenet within the Administration itself. Combined with international opposition and lukewarm support for the war in polls, this resistance has already slowed an invasion and backed the Administration into negotiations with Congress and the UN. Former SDS leader Tom Hayden sees a level of ferment that was unimaginable at a comparable stage of the Vietnam War, say in 1965--when only 7,000 turned out for a national march on Washington.
The groundswell of opposition, however, was ahead of any leadership. As Bush launched his war drive, Democratic Party leaders, urged on by impassioned constituents, could have marshaled the opposition, but declined. Peace Action, a descendant of SANE/Freeze, has 100 chapters across the country and calls itself "the nation's largest peace organization." But last fall, says Lynch, "we just didn't have the capacity" to coordinate a mass action. Networks of the other longstanding peace organizations--Pax Christi, the Quakers, the War Resisters League--have provided the infrastructure for many of the tiny vigils in Middle America, but nothing in the way of national coordination. "The historic peace organizations are always there," says Leslie Cagan, lead organizer of the 1982 antinuke rally in Central Park, "and yet they always need to be regrouped whenever a new war comes along. …