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(DV) Mendenhall: The State of the Anti-War Movement







The State of the Anti-War Movement
Post Surge Commencement January 2007  
by R. Miles Mendenhall
January 30, 2007

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Surely I'm not alone in being frustrated and angry about the pitiful level of anti-war organizing over the last four years? Back in March of 2003, as the war in Iraq got rolling and all of the massive demonstrations focused on preventing its start faded into memory, I proposed that my local anti-war group in Santa Rosa, north of the San Francisco Bay Area in Sonoma County, start a series of non-violent direct action blockades of local businesses who had military supply contracts. The purpose would be to give us a local focus that might have a direct impact (down the road, eventually) on the prosecution of the war. The hope is to raise the cost of pursuing the war to a level not acceptable to the American people.

There are various reasons these actions were never taken. Organizers were burning out. The locations of the businesses were not in central areas of our town. Quite a few people had already been arrested in a blockade of a major intersection or at one of two or three shutdowns of the local Armed Forces Recruiting Center. I point out some of the larger reasons below.

There has been some discussion as to why the anti-war/peace movement is so marginal to the national debate. At least it was until the results of the Fall 2006 mid-term Congressional elections and George Bush and the Republican Party lost their majority in both houses.

The lack of a draft keeps many young people from having to pay a personal price in this war.

The social and cultural difference between now and the '60s, at that time the post-WWII youth demographic was the largest in history.

And at the time the legacy of the Civil Rights movement was still alive in memory and in the person of many experienced organizers.

There was the visceral response to 9/11 so that people were looking for targets and not reasons why.

And we have the graying of the majority of activists now in a time of willful ignorance and unilateral self-advancement to the exclusion of social consciousness in an era of little hope for the future.

Some have argued that the timidity of the peace movement was because no one wanted to be branded a traitor or accused of being sympathetic to terrorists.

All the reasons above have an element of truth. Personally I think there were two major generally unacknowledged sources for our weakness. First was the focus on stopping the war from starting. (Could he really be that insane and really mean what he was saying? Isn't it just a bluff?) So that when the war started in spite of our efforts, all of the momentum came to a halt.

Secondly, the focus on large mobilizations of peaceful demonstrators was essentially a passive plea for reason, not a militant demand to cease and change course. Also most, if not all, of the initial major demonstrations in the US were organized by a front group for a marginal Marxist-Leninist sect, and the rhetoric from the stages reflected that and did not help.

Some said, "Who cares what the speakers say on C-Span? We know that we are a broad cross section of Americans (US) and that's what counts."

But when it comes to mobilizing large numbers of people, perception is reality, and I believe many people came away from those massive marches and rallies with a sour taste in their mouth about what was being said as representative of them, and they didn't want any part of it for the long run.

So what to do, now that the atrocious and criminal costs of Bush's Iraq venture have become clear to almost everybody? And yes we did tell them so, for all the good it did the Iraqis, the G.I.s and the policymakers. We now have an opportunity to drive home our goal of stopping this war and preventing an expansion of it into Iran, Syria and elsewhere. There are plans for another large demonstration this weekend in D.C. and companion demos in San Francisco and throughout the land, but this is more of the same.

I do not want what I have said here to be construed as a claim that nothing has been done for the past four years. A great deal of work is going on to support soldiers who find the terms of their enlistment to have been deceptive. Counseling youth who are considering volunteering is ongoing. The networks of local groups that have carried on public protest are in place.

I took a backseat to others because I have been concentrating on trying to start a teaching career. I've lacked the time and energy to organize and I've wondered about how much of my public reputation as an activist hampers my attempts to get work in the timid bureaucratic world of public school teaching. So please do not read this as criticism, so much as a plea to change and deepen our tactics so that we can become a more effective movement for peace and positive social change.

The reasons for public passivity in the face of significant threats to the future of our general wellbeing, even the future of life on this planet, are complex. This short harangue is not an attempt to fully address them, because space does not permit me in a form that would be receivable by most others. Volumes of social theory address that question and for those interested I can recommend some writers and titles.

I still think that a campaign of rolling non-violent actions focusing on the direct economic domestic support of this war is appropriate. It is long overdue. Kathy Kelly and Voices for Creative Non-Violence have initiated a series of sit-ins and blockades of congressional offices for those who will not openly support and end to this debacle. They call it The Occupation Project.

I fully support that strategy. But bringing up the costs, and benefits for some, of this war in each community and opposing it locally, is even more important. We've already seen the Democratic Party majority leadership waffle on disengagement. They will continue to do so. The "voices of reason" in the Democratic Party counsel patience and waiting. Of course they are wrong.

Showing our communities that some of their friends and neighbors profit from our destruction of Iraq would be the most direct way we can non-violently show the connection between us and the Iraqis. Everything else is just talk and symbolism, while we leave all of the decisions to the architects and beneficiaries of this venture to secure massive oil supplies for "us."

In the early 70s the slogan of the anti-Vietnam War movement was "Bring The War Home." This led to many excrescences, but it was a good strategy to make the cost of the war apparent to those in its homeland Active nonviolence is a way to fight violence. "Power gives nothing without a fight," and we haven't really been fighting. Yet.

R. Miles Mendenhall has been an activist off and on since 1975. He is currently an unemployed Secondary School Social Science and English teacher. Comments on, and criticisms of, his opinions may be sent to him at: miles_mendenhall@hotmail.com

Other Articles by Miles Mendenhall

* Late 60s Early 70s Vietnam Déjà Vu