The Road to Peace. (Comment)

By Featherstone, Liza | The Nation, April 14, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Road to Peace. (Comment)


Featherstone, Liza, The Nation


Many pundits predicted that the peace movement would dry up once war began, and indeed polls show that American support for the war rose to as high as 71 percent after its launch. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches (NCC), which has led religious opposition to the war, predicts "our movement is going to get smaller before it gets bigger," and he's probably right. Yet now that the bombs are falling on Baghdad, antiwar protest in the United States has grown more passionate. Countless small-scale demonstrations are being held every day, while regional protests on March 22--in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and elsewhere--drew hundreds of thousands, and a new MoveOn antiwar petition has attracted more than half a million signatures.

In addition, thousands have been arrested in civil disobedience actions, some on military property--including fifty-five arrested at the gates of the Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, Massachusetts--and more than 1,600 on the streets and bridges of San Francisco alone, a development that has already sparked debate.

Todd Gitlin, writing in Newsday, argued that any such tactics could "turn a majority of the population against the antiwar movement," though movement activists tend to make more subtle distinctions. Edgar, for example, warns that "violent confrontation with authority figures doesn't help the message" but applauds nonviolent civil disobedience. So does Tom Andrews, director of the moderate Win Without War coalition. After being represented as a critic of civil disobedience in a recent New York Times article, Andrews issued a statement that such action was "in the finest democratic tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."

Some national groups, including United for Peace and Justice, issued a call for emergency action, including nonviolent civil disobedience, upon the war's launch. Many participants argue that direct action shows that activists--like soldiers--are willing to take formidable risks. Perhaps more important, says Peter Lumsdaine, who for six days after the war began camped out with some thirty people at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Santa Barbara, California, "It's the only way to actually get in the way of the war."

At this critical juncture for the peace movement, debates extend far beyond the question of tactics. The most contentious of these may be how best to counter the jingoistic rhetoric of the war boosters--who urge that it's time for peace activists to shut up and "support the troops." On one end of the debate, AFL-CIO head John Sweeney said labor is now "unequivocal in our support of our country and America's men and women on the front lines," while Win Without War has endorsed Operation Dear Abby, asking peace activists to "send messages of support to men and women deployed in the Gulf."

But many activists urge making a sharper distinction between support for the soldiers themselves and support for their immoral mission. Thus the suddenly ubiquitous slogan "Support the troops by bringing them home." Others hope to turn the tables by questioning the government's commitment to the troops. …

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