The Peace Movement Shows Its New Face and It’s Beautiful

by on April 10, 2008 · 12 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Organizing, Peace Movement, War and Peace

Recent antiwar “march madness” reflects a more decentralized, more youthful & more militant movement

High School Students descend on Portland City Hall, March 2008. Click image to see larger version

Wanting to provide a contemporaneous record for our readers and the peace movement in general of the antiwar protests that occurred March 19th – the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war – Patty & I were up at our Ocean Beach keyboards early – by 7 a.m. – finding and posting reports of the demonstrations in Washington, DC, and San Francisco, as well as from other events from across the country. We stayed at our blog posts till midnight having experienced an amazingly wonderful, dramatic day of literally watching the protests unfold through our medium, and trying to compile and document, net search and post. I relied on mainly 2 blogs – indymedia Bay Area for the San Francisco events, and the blog AfterDowningStreet.org for the early DC protests. Writers at both were blogging contemporaneously for awhile, but left huge gaps, which I filled from other various sources, mainstream and not. Through it all, we observed and felt a new kind of movement being hatched in the crucible of political necessity. (We will be plugging in links as we can.)

On March 19th, a new kind of peace movement was ushered into the American political landscape – and none too quietly – with antiwar protests, vigils and demonstrations sweeping across the country the last two weeks of March. From March 15th to the end of the month, antiwar protests – in the form of vigils, marches, rallies, sit-ins, traffic blockades, and just waving signs – were organized coast to coast, to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the war and occupation of Iraq, and then, coincidentally, coinciding with the tragic total of 4,000 American military deaths.

The protests that swept across America reflected a new, brighter, and bolder peace movement. And it is now clear – the new face of the peace movement is younger, more militant, lives outside the major US cities, and is new to the antiwar campaign – itself in its 6th year. And this new face is beautiful, as it portends a stronger, deeper, more pervasive antiwar presence and sentiment in the political makeup of the country. And it could very well be what saves America. This is why it is beautiful.

As organizers of the national protests in Washington, D.C. planned months ago, their focus for March 19th was bringing hundreds to the Capitol for a series of sit-ins, blockades and other forms of disruption to government and corporate business as usual. This was a change in the usual tactic of gathering thousands for peaceful, non-disruptive demonstrations in a couple major cities. Instead, the DC organizers structured the format of the protests to encourage different groups to do their own thing. 32 were arrested for blocking the doors to the IRS building, while dozens of others sat down in streets, then pulled to the sidewalks by police without being arrested; college students bused in from the Midwest danced in DC intersections – all tying up traffic for hours in front of oil company headquarters. Others staged a very real-looking but mock waterboarding show, while others solemnly paraded through the Capitol in black clothing, white masks and names of American and Iraqi dead.
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, in San Francisco, no large massive protest was held either, and instead hundreds tied up traffic and business in the downtown area. This went on all day – and by the end police reported that 147 had been arrested, including four women who hung antiwar banners on the Golden Gate Bridge. Across the bay in Richmond, civil disobedience was also the rule – 75 protesters sat-down in front of the gate of the Chevron oil refinery, with 24 refusing to budge at nightfall and suffering arrest.

For the first time in years, there were simultaneous civil disobedient actions occurring on both coasts. Yet events were also being held throughout the country employing similar militant tactics. Inadvertent or not, this change of tactics highlighted the heralding in of a new kind of peace movement. How is it “new?” Here are the four key characteristics of the new movement:

1) It is now much more decentralized than it ever was.

2) The new movement is more youthful, and includes more college and high school students.

3) Trading placards for hand-cuffs, protesters are more militant, more willing to resist and suffer arrest.

4) Finally, the antiwar movement is still bringing in brand new people who attend the protests and events for the first time, while for some of us, it’s been a long five years of vigils, rallies, marches as we have been demonstrating against the war, and demonstrating our resolve and commitment.

1. The Peace Movement Becomes Decentralized

Neither March 15th nor March 19th witnessed the traditional massing of thousands upon thousands protesting the war – the type of demonstrations organized in the few, usual major cities, such as New York, D.C., and San Francisco. We saw that both during the run-up to the war and since. (50,000 did rally in Trafalgar Square this time around on March 15th.) For example, the protests of February 15, 2003, – a month before Bush invaded Iraq -, had reports of up to half a million people in New York City alone coming out against the impending war, while millions across the globe were counted doing the same. But not this time.

This time there were protests, vigils, rallies, marches, and sit-ins held across the country in moderately-sized cities and smaller, in big towns and small towns. One antiwar network, “5 Years Too Many”, reports that events were held in over 700 locales. Another peace movement source says 640 were held. United for Peace and Justice coalition documented 124 different towns and cities holding protests on their web site, while the OB Rag has managed to single out 85 different locales where antiwar events were staged (we counted locales, not separate events; for example, San Diego counts as one locale, but we witnessed at least 5 different demonstrations here).

Besides the disruptions of business as usual in demonstrations on both coasts – and San Francisco did have a nighttime rally of thousands – other large demonstrations were held in Chicago which had an outpouring of 4,000, one of the largest protests reported, and Los Angeles had somewhere between 2,000 (police estimate) and 10,000 (organizer’s estimate), and in Portland, one report cited 12,000 marching in the rain, plus there was a large rally of 10,000 in downtown New York.

Many of the antiwar events in the smaller towns and cities were simply folks holding up signs and banners at a main intersection, or on freeway overpasses, and these vigil-type displays against the war were overwhelmingly met with supportive horn honking and thumbs-ups responses by drivers-by much more than negative signs.

Protests were held in moderately-sized cities, like Boston, Pittsburgh, and Hartford in the northeast; Minneapolis, Duluth, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Des Moines, and Omaha in the Mid-West; Memphis, Atlanta, Dallas, Orlando, Austin, Columbia in the South; and in the West, there were demonstrations throughout California, including here – San Diego, up in LA, and San Francisco as noted, along with the other larger cities throughout the state, such as San Jose, Sacramento and Irvine. Other western events were held in Reno, Seattle, Portland, Honolulu, Denver, Phoenix and Tucson.

Antiwar Protests Held In All Parts of the Country

Anti-War Actions held across the country in March 2008

The antiwar movement reached out – as peace sentiment flowed across the landscape to the small cities and towns of the Northeast, such as Syracuse, Vestal, Rochester, Brooklyn, and Niagara Falls in New York, to Millersville, King of Prussia, – where college students staged a walk-out – in Pennsylvania; to Hyannis, MA, where four protesters sat-in at their Congressman’s office – and were arrested; to Newburyport on the Massachusetts coast where over a hundred people rallied, to Chicopee, MA, where protesters blocked a local Air Reserve Base – and 8 were arrested, to Worcester, MA, and another 5 people were taken in for entering the Federal Building. The peace movement spread to Providence, RI, where students occupied a military recruitment center, to Ewing, Trenton, Princeton, and New Brunswick, in New Jersey, where a 1000 Rutgers students reportedly walked out of classes.

Vigils and demonstrations were seen across the Mid-West, from Minneapolis where 2,000 including hundreds of high school students rallied against the war – with 12 getting arrested, and Duluth where 125 marched to an indoor rally, to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where 300-400 students marched in protest led by the local Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); protests were held in Monroe, Rochester, East Lansing and Kalamazoo in Michigan; in Kalamazoo, over a hundred demonstrators rallied at the Federal Building, and then marched to a local Congressman’s office.

Despite the snow and cold, peace vigils and events were held throughout Wisconsin: 150 protesters marched to the State Capitol in Madison and three were arrested blocking a military recruiters office. Over a hundred people demonstrated in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and over a thousand rallied and marched to the County Courthouse in Columbia, MO. Two arrests were made at a Des Moines Armed Forces Center as activists blocked the hallway leading to the recruiters office. There was a massive walkout by students in Grand Forks, SD, and at the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, dozens of students staged a protest.

Antiwar sentiment was clearly displayed in the South: on March 19th, 200 marched in Atlanta; earlier ten “Grandmothers for Peace” were arrested as they tried to enlist in the military. In Augusta, GA, dozens demonstrated at the VA Medical Center. North Carolina saw a number of actions: a die-in at the Univ. of NC in Charlotte; several hundreds in Chapel Hill marched and then occupied the town’s main intersection; the local SDS organized a walkout of students in Ashville. Dozens of students marched in normally placid Greensboro.

In other parts of the South: Florida had several events – in St. Augustine a hundred protested, and an antiwar event staged in Tampa drew 250 protesters; peace demos were held in Orlando and Gainesville as well. Peace was breaking out in Texas: there was a rally and vigil in Dallas, Houston activists had a teach-in on Iraq, and in Austin, the State Capitol, a 1000 marched to a Peace Jam on the 15th, and up to 300 staged a vigil on the 19th. In Norfolk, VA, where the largest Navy base is located, 60 vigiled and received warm responses by people driving by. Fifty rallied in the rain in Lewisberg, WV, and 70 did so at the State House in Columbia, SC.

On the West coast, San Francisco witnessed the more massive protests as hundreds disrupted downtown all day long on the 19th with at least being 147 arrested, most doing civil disobedience, targeting corporate war profiteers. Later that day another large rally was held at City Hall where estimates of the crowd ranged from 1,000 to 7,000 that gathered and then staged an evening march. The other major antiwar event in the Bay Area was the march on the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, on the East Bay.

City Heights, San Diego, March 2008Elsewhere in California, the large march to the CNN building in Los Angeles on March 15th included thousands as noted above, and reportedly, “the marchers were overwhelmingly young” and many were “first-timers.” In Alameda, 125 people marched on City Hall, several hundred gathered at the Town Clock in Santa Cruz, a hundred mostly Berkeley high school students marched on the local Marine Corps recruiting office. Along the way to San Jose 150 protesters marched to the Federal Building, 50 rallied at the State Capitol in Sacramento, several hundred rallied and staged a die-in at Fresno; protests were also seen in Palo Alto, Irvine, Montrose, and even in the small city of Redding.

Other locales in the West saw antiwar actions: 200 plus rallied at the Federal Building in Reno, NV; shivering in the cold and drizzle, over a hundred rallied in Denver; in Honolulu there was a very noisy and windy parade at night that swept in tourists and surfers alike; in Phoenix, several hundreds converged and staged a vigil at McCain’s office; over 500 protested in Tucson, AZ; and then, even in Grand Junction, CO, several hundreds marched against a local war profiteer, Capcoloc, Inc.

The Antiwar Movement Is Decentralized and That’s a Good Thing

Clearly the antiwar movement has spread to every region and corner of the country. It is pervasive geographically, and its sympathizers and supporters are everywhere. This decentralization has been a very positive development. No longer is sentiment against the war seen as centered in the large cities. It is now in hundreds of small towns and cities across the nation. And because it is so spread out, the antiwar movement has clearly been deepened and strengthened.

With – let’s say – 500 events across the nation, we have the organizers of all those events involved and organizing others who are drawn to their activism, stance, commitment and passion. The antiwar activists in one locale meet others of similar persuasion in that area. Local peace networks are created and developed. Local organizers then meet those of a neighboring locale. These local networks then fold into broader, regional networks. This is beautiful – and it’s beautiful for the future of this country. It is manifestly better to have a different handful of people organizing each of the 500 separate events than to have a hundred activists organizing 2 to 3 large events.

This decentralization is definitely a positive development for the movement. It gives the movement depth as it now involves local folks making decisions about their local events, although usually coordinated somewhat with larger, regional networks – such as we saw on March 19th.

With local protests in every region and corner, the messages of antiwar activists are now more immediately directly in front of many more Americans than it ever was before. With local media coverage of the local actions, the proximity of the protests – and the message – are so much more apparent and obvious – if not the message of the war itself. The signs, the banners, and the flags of the protesters are now in front of the “average” citizen, and no longer a mere quick blurb on CNN.

Coverage by Local News Counters Lack of Extensive National News of Antiwar Protests

The local, decentralized protests, filmed and written about in hundreds of local press, are now more important because of the lack of extensive national news coverage of the protests. As alternative press – including blogs – have documented, there is indeed a mainstream blackout of antiwar protests – despite the overwhelming majorities in polls who are against the war -. This “blackout” is signified by the lack of lead-up stories on the antiwar events, no significant reporting of the events themselves – although they’re mentioned -, no reports on how widespread they were, and finally, by a lack of indepth analysis of the antiwar movement – what it all means.

With the lack of meaningful national coverage by the national media, local stations and papers have picked up some of the slack, and publish more about the local events. And despite the usual trivialization and disparagement shown by most local media reports, the message that there is a war going on, there are deaths, and there’s people opposed to it gets out. And as more local antiwar activists become media-savvy, they can learn to out maneuver the media’s manipulation.

National Networks Falter, New Groups Step Forward & Local Networks Develop

The development of the decentralized movement may not have come at a better time. There are indications that the national organizations and networks are faltering. The two large antiwar networks: ANSWER and the United for Peace & Justice Coalition (UFPJ) both are suffering problems of leadership. If ANSWER’s leadership is truly beholden to the World Workers Party, a particularly sectarian and dogmatic group, then their contradictions now outweigh their contributions to the peace movement. UFPJ, although much more truly a coalition than ANSWER, appears to have become top-heavy and overly bureaucratic. Much more salvageable, UFPJ has to be able to be sufficiently flexible to deal with the decentralization and other changes of the movement. This also applies to the leaderships of the local coalitions tied in with UFPJ. For example, the peace heavyweights must support the young students that are pouring into the movement. In San Diego, a die-in was staged downtown, for instance, and over 90 young people participated, but none of the traditional “peace-types” of the larger Peace and Justice Coalition or the Vets for Peace came by to show support. (I even spoke to a couple of these gray-haired peace-types and they didn’t even know about the ‘die-in.’)

In addition, MoveOn, the famous internet activist network, seems to have lost its edge, with critics claiming it is too closely allied with the Democratic Party to be genuinely trying to end the US military involvement in Iraq. Its antiwar message is being clouded by its apparently staid posture. MoveOn organizes candlelight vigils, not sit-ins or street blockades, or even die-ins, and does not appear to be supportive of those that do.

Other national groups, however, are finding their oats and are becoming more and more visible and effective, groups as Iraq Veterans Against the War, Students for a Democratic Society, 5 Years Too Much, and the IraqMoratorium. Their influence is seen in dramatic increases in presence, influence and commitment. Besides SDS on the campuses, there’s Campus Antiwar Network (CAN).

Yet it is on all these local levels – something that none of us can really see – where the antiwar movement has developed. It has grown; it is clearly still alive and active. Many of the folks who stage vigils have been at the same street corner or intersection – at the same site every weekend with their signs and banners for five years – this is clearly a deep dedication and commitment to a saner society – and it is people like that who will help this country regain itself.

2. THE NEW MILITANCY – Trading Protest Signs for Handcuffs

The New Militancy has arrived. The demonstrations from mid-March to the end of the month were punctuated with more militant acts of protest than are usually seen at anti-Iraq war events. Antiwar protesters are trading their signs and placards for handcuffs. Determined gray-hairs, impassioned elderly people in their 70s and even 80s, along with young college kids were intentionally arrested – usually for blocking a military or corporate facility. These arrests – over three hundred and fifty – and the individuals getting arrested are the new face of the antiwar movement.

Hgh School students climb the walls at Portland City HallThe arrests, and the risks taken to be arrested represent a step-up in the kinds of protests antiwar activists are willing to take, a new level of protest. When more and more people choose to risk arrest in protest of governmental policies, it signifies a shift in attitude within important sectors of the peace movement. Numerous activists are indeed changing tactics, moving towards direct action/disruption and doing such things as chaining themselves to the doors of military recruitment offices, or refusing to leave their Congressional rep’s office. They are taking upon themselves the role of placing their bodies physically in the way of military, government and corporate facilities, acting in the tradition of civil disobedience, in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi.

365 Arrests Documented

We have documented 365 arrests that were made during the “march madness” days of protests – and they were made across the country – not just in one or two locations. Arrests were made for acts of civil disobedience, primarily, and they included 32 in Washington – although importantly many more were risking arrest and not taken into custody; 147 in San Francisco, and 24 across the Bay in Richmond. Demonstrators were blocking streets, doors and gates and entryways to military recruiters, staging sit-ins, die-ins, in the middle of the street, in front of oil profiteers or other corporate beneficiaries of the war.

In Boston, police arrested five people who blocked access to a military recruitment center by lying on a sidewalk dressed as slain Iraqi civilians, an Iraqi mourner, a slain US soldier and an American citizen in mourning. Four Cape Cod activists were arrested for refusing to leave their local Congressman’s office. Eight students occupied a military recruiters center in Providence, RI, and were taken into custody by police. Eight activists in New York City were detained for chaining the doors of a large corporate war profiteer. Up state in Rochester, several hundreds of people gathered and rallied outside the IRS building. Six were arrested with a flag-draped coffin in the middle of the street with another arrest was made of an activist for not getting on the sidewalk fast enough.

In Syracuse, NY, police reported that 22 people were arrested for disorderly conduct – as they blocked a traffic intersection. The group had earlier marched by the federal building, a military recruitment office, the Bank of America and the local mainstream newspaper, as organizers say each site was chosen as a symbol of an institution or action that supports the war. In the city of King of Prussia in Pennsylvania, 14 activists were arrested for blocking a corporate facility of Lockheed Martin, one of the largest weapons manufacturers. Hartford, CT: five demonstrators were arrested for blocking the door of the Federal courthouse. In Chicopee, MA, 8 people were taken into custody for blocking the gate of the Western Air Reserve Base. Five were arrested in Worcester, MA, for entering the Federal Building.

In the Mid-west, six activists were arrested after disrupting Easter Mass at a local Chicago parish with antiwar slogans and a little fake blood spattering, and incredibly, they have been charged with felonies. Up to six more Chicagoans were taken away after blocking the Federal Building. Three people were arrested for refusing to leave the local military recruitment center in Madison, WI. Twelve were taken in by authorities in the Twin City area. Over in Des Moines, IO, two protesters were arrested for blocking the hallway leading to military recruiters office in the Armed Forces Center. Seven people were arrested for refusing to leave their Senator’s office in Memphis, TN. In Atlanta, ten “Grandmothers for Peace” were arrested in for attempting to enlist in the military. Hundreds of students in Chapel Hill occupied the town’s main intersection, risking arrest.

Protesters Pepper-Sprayed in Portland, March 2008. Click image to see larger versionOn the West Coast in the Bay Area where most of the arrests from March were made, Portland, OR, however, saw battles of its own between demonstrators and police. After a large peaceful march on March 15th, there was a more militant event on the 19th. It was during this protest that protesters were harassed and were peppersprayed by police. That prompted the outpouring of high school students the next day, during which 4 or 5 people were arrested.

Two Types of Arrests – Two Types of People Getting Arrested

There is the other type of arrest that occurred during the protests: the unintentional arrest – which was usually due to police aggression and intimidation, traditional tactics for “mob-control” scenarios.

Nine students in Vestal, NY, were arrested after a group of approximately 60 people – mostly students – left their campus on a spontaneous march, parading down a main road on their way to a local military recruitment center. Law enforcement arrived and forced a face-off with the peaceful demonstrators, and ended up taking 9 in for blocking traffic. Likewise, in Grand Rapids, MI, 2 young demonstrators were arrested for refusing to move off the street and onto the sidewalk after a march had taken to the street. On the West Coast up in Portland, police grabbed at least 4 young high school students in a massive march on city hall by hundreds of young students. One of their chants was: “Not our president, not our war!”

By far, the majority of demonstrators getting arrested were either young students or older, gray-hairs. Young kids got taken in by the police in Portland while “Grandmothers for Peace” were arrested in Atlanta. This dichotomy of age of the protesters being arrested or taking the risks of being arrested represented the bi-generational pull of antiwar passion. Actually, among the “gray-hairs” that were doing C.D.- there’s the baby-boomers – those veterans of the anti-Viet Nam war movement times – and those older than that – from the fifties generation.

The New Targets: Military Recruiters and War Profiteers

The acts of militancy are not targeting just any corporate or government facility. Military recruitment offices and centers were a central protest object during these latest protests last month. Recruiter offices were targeted in Providence, RI, Boston, Madison, WI, Des Moines, IO, and in Atlanta, GA. As recently as March 27, 16 college students were arrested in Minneapolis for blocking a military recruitment office. The students arrested in Vestal, NY, were marching toward the local recruiter.

Other government facilities, such as Congressional offices, Federal Buildings or Courthouses were targets, or even a military base itself. Such were the focuses of the new protests in Hartford, CT, Chicopee, MA, Worcester, MA, Rochester, NY, Chicago, Kalamazoo, MI, Memphis, TN, San Jose, CA, Reno, NV, or the VA Medical Center as in Augusta, GA; and in Phoenix, Senator McCain’s office.

Die In for Peace in front of the NBC building, San Diego, March 22 2008Many of the protests were directed at corporate war profiteers, such as those in San Francisco and Washington, DC. Antiwar activists also targeted such sites as the Carnegie Mellon University – a military-funded educational facility in Pittsburgh, PA. Other corporate targets included war profiteer Lockheed Martin in King of Prussia, PA; the Chevron refinery in Richmond, CA; another war corporation in Grand Junction, CO. Demonstrators targeted a war corporation in New York City. Even the media were targeted – the CNN building in Los Angeles, the NBC headquarters in downtown San Diego, and the local mainstream daily newspaper in Syracuse, NY.

From Protest to Resistance

Clearly, the peace movement is in a new phase. With the acts of civil disobedience, the tactics of disruption, the arrests, the specific targeting of governmental and corporate facilities – these factors all point to a new development for the antiwar movement – the movement from a protest phase to the phase of resistance. This phase of resistance, still developing, is characterized by activists no longer content to simply show their signs, banners and flags at intersections, along marches, and in crowds fairly ignored by mainstream media. The new militancy is represented by folks no longer willing to peacefully call attention to a dissident and higher moral ground than that of the war mongers and profiteers, but who are ready to take that moral higher ground with their bodies. More and more activists are now willing to sit down in front of the targeted centers of governmental and corporate power, and confront them, and disrupt their normal business.

The arrests signify the shift, from mere protest, to an actual resistance, a step-up in tactics. College students, gray-hairs, those motivated by religious beliefs, are getting arrested. It is not universal or that widely spread, but sufficient numbers of activists are changing tactics, form mobilization to targeted resistance, moving to direct action – disruption at military recruitment offices or Congressional rep’s office.

This pattern of protest going from peaceful demonstrations to disruptive and confrontational tactics, although non-violent, mirrors the route taken by other dissident movements, such as the anti-Vietnam war and civil rights movements.

An unromanticized retelling of the Vietnam antiwar story would show that the movement that helped end that war had many twists and turns, ups and downs, starts and re-starts, with the first protests in 1965 – and with demonstrations happening as late as 1972. When it became apparent that President Nixon would not listen to antiwar voices, that mass protests would not seem to have an effect, the tactics of the student-based movement racheted up, becoming more confrontational and disruptive – confrontational towards college administrators, military recruiters on campus, draft offices, ROTC buildings, pro-war speakers, and symbols of the Federal government. Direct actions included sit-ins, blockades, and other disruptions. With time, of course, the militancy increased and there were pitched battles between students and other young people on one side with police, and even National Guard troops at times, on the other.

Likewise, when the civil rights movement ran into road blocks for African-Americans achieving an end to legal segregation, the tactics of movement activists heightened in their intensity and militancy, and over the years the movement traveled the gamut of what a political power struggle entails – from forms of redress of grievances to non-violent campaigns to sit-ins and even armed resistance (not to mention police repression and accommodation).

Why the Change?

After five years of demonstrating, the movement has been unable to ‘bring the troops home’ – a key goal, although it certainly has forced the main Democratic presidential contenders to use the antiwar movement’s rhetoric. Cemented to this unfulfilled goal, is a certain movement fatigue. Many people have stopped going to demonstrations, exhausted in a sense from the frustration we all feel in our collective inability to stop the Iraq war.

Others, however, have moved in a different direction and are now pushing the envelope of their participation in a movement, choosing to risk arrest while placing their bodies on the line. Upping the ante for themselves personally, for their supporters, and for the system itself.

The frustration of the antiwar movement stems not only from an unresponsive Federal administration – Bush and his cronies -, but also by the inability of the “Opposition Party” to stop the conflict- an opposition voted into Congress by many in the peace movement. An electorate fed up with the war in Iraq swept Democrats into Congress with the expectation that they would take action to rein in the war and start to bring the troops home. That was nearly a year and half ago. The latest Congressional hearings on the Iraq war, held April 8th and 9th , with Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testifying before senators, displayed in stark relief that Bush’s plan is to keep as many troops there as he can until his term is up. US military commitment in Iraq is still to this day totally open-ended.

During the 2006 mid-term elections, the war was the issue. But now, as the war has ravaged the economy, with the credit and mortgage crises, with gas nearing $4.00 a gallon, and with the conflict directly affecting only a thin stratum of the population, issues of the war have been pushed aside for many Americans. What political energy there is on a mass scale has been seemingly captured by the Presidential election campaigns. Some antiwar activists work for the Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Those candidates mouth antiwar slogans and maintain antiwar postures, especially in comparison with John McCain, the pro-war candidate. Even McCain is forced to use “end-game” language.

Yet, the economy and the elections have eroded attention to the war. Antiwar activists have been trying to get the war, the deaths and destruction, the costs back on the front page – the home page of America. There’s some very pissed off people, to use the vernacular, in this country, and there’s others who are morally outraged or religiously moved to act; they are taking their anger and compassion to a new level of protest. The new level of resistance.

3. THE YOUTH HAVE ARRIVED – even without a draft

High School Students in Portland take City HallThe new face of the antiwar movement is a young face. After concerns for their absence, young people and students have emerged full blown into the campaign to end the war. College and high school students, organizations of young people – had a stronger and more visible presence in the protests of the last two weeks of March than in recent periods of antiwar events. It appears many of the college actions were organized by the new, re-invigorated SDS.

Many college and a number of high school campuses were scenes of walk-outs and rallies. A large number of east-coast college students bused in to DC and participated in the Funk the War actions on the 19th. College students led walk-outs and other actions in Millersville, PA, Providence, RI; at the College of New Jersey in Ewing; in Grand Rapids, MI; Rochester, MI; at Michigan State University in East Lansing; at University of Kansas in Lawrence; in Gainesville, FL; at a number of North Carolina colleges in Charlotte, in Asheville, and Chapel Hill – where hundreds rallied and a break-away crowd of 350 marched to the town’s main intersection and took it over. A thousand students reportedly staged a walk-out at Rutgers in New Brunswick; there was the student mobilized action in Vestal, NY; there was a report of a massive walk-out of students in Grand Forks, SD.

Here in San Diego, a “die-in” was organized and attended by many high school and college-aged people. Ninety people laid down on the cement in front of the local NBC building in downtown San Diego for nearly a half hour, in a totally peaceful, non-disruptive protest of all the American and Iraqi dead as a result of the war.

A number of high schools around the country witnessed mobilizations by students. A large march in Minneapolis included a 100+ contingent of high school students; the march on the Berkeley, CA, Marine Corps recruiters office was mainly by local high schoolers. At a high school in Princeton, NJ, 250 students walked out and attended an antiwar demonstration. A quasi-sympathetic administration still ordered detention for all involved, but a few of the original organizers then refused the punishment, appealed to the school board and began a on-line petition in support of their refusal.

In Portland, OR, an amazing outpouring of 400 high school students staged campus walk-outs, then a march on City Hall, where a few kids literally climbed the building’s walls and ramparts. Not surprisingly, a hand-ful of arrests occurred. A supportive college student who followed the crowd of young teenagers, said. “I’ve never seen a protest where the average age is 14, 15, 16 years old,”. “Look at it. These kids don’t even have facial hair. When was the last time you saw a protest where three-fourths of the guys weren’t bearded?” he asked.

A writer who participated in the Los Angeles antiwar march on March 15th recalled that the “marchers were overwhelmingly young.” His impression was that there were many “first-timers” alongside him as they walked to the CNN building. The youthfulness of the March protesters is also corroborated by a couple English leftists who surveyed demonstrators at three big protests in England. They found that 47% of the participants were 25 or younger. In addition, other observers of the 50,000 strong London march March 15th reported that there appeared to be many youth involved.

The fact that the young people participated in large numbers this past March is indeed a significant development for the antiwar movement. Their apparent absence was the topic of movement angst and debates. It was a common thread of thought that without a draft, the movement would not see massive numbers of young people. Yet, the prominence of youth and student-led actions this past March substantially undermines this position. The young have not necessarily “arrived” in every town and city, but with these actions in Portland, Princeton, Minneapolis, LA and Berkeley where the youthfulness of the protesters was altogether all too apparent, the peace movement has begun to become a youth movement.

4. NEW PEOPLE ARE STILL COMING TO THE ANTIWAR MOVEMENT

The antiwar actions of the last two weeks of March attracted individuals who had never before been to an antiwar action. Whether it is the historic benchmarks – such as the 5th anniversary or reaching 4,000 military deaths, or whether it’s the thousand other factors that bring people to a antiwar event for the first time, new people are still coming out and joining antiwar demonstrations. In that English poll, 446 randomly selected protesters were surveyed at 3 different demonstrations, including the March 15th event in London. And 22% said the protest they were attending was their first since 9/11. Another 22% said they had been to only one or two other protests previously.

What this means is despite five years of war and more of antiwar demonstrations, despite the burn-out, the exhaustion, the fatigue, the frustration and cynicism that mount when change and peace are blocked, one-fourth to one-fifth of the people at the larger antiwar demonstrations are “first timers”. These first timers are seeking avenues to express their anger, frustration and politics and they are attracted to the events the antiwar movement presents. Those of us who have been attending the antiwar events for all 5 years and those who organize them must keep this in mind. The antiwar movement – as a collective – cannot give up organizing venues for our expression and for ways for new people to join the movement.

A New Kind of Movement

There’s a new kind of antiwar movement in America now, decentralized and in every region of the country, with activists willing to be arrested, with tactics of resistance supplementing more traditional measures. And it’s a more youthful movement, and a movement that is still bringing in new people.

With brand new people surging into a movement that is a half-decade old, it seems to be properly nourished, and sustaining itself. Five years is a long time in a consumer-oriented society where the attention span is less than three minutes. A movement that has survived for so long, and still attracts new adherents is definitely a healthy one. But it must in order to survive, sustain itself and expand, be able to understand its own depth and growth and characteristics, despite the efforts of the mainstream corporate media to hide the significance and extent of antiwar actions.

No matter what they do, the corporate media can no longer hide the face of the new peace movement, for it is a beautiful face, the face of the future of this country.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Bill Eddy April 10, 2008 at 9:45 pm

Thanks, Frank and Patty, for this thorough reporting that I’m not seeing anywhere else. How encouraging that young people are speaking out and not tolerating this endless war. Keep up this good, important work!

Reply

avatar Michael Gomel April 11, 2008 at 5:08 am

Thanks for your thorough researching and reporting on The Movement as of late March; and thanks for the hope that comes with the knowledge that FINALLY the outrage has reached middle America and our young people – despite the efforts of the corporate media and all government to ignore us and wait us out. Peace Up!

Reply

avatar David April 11, 2008 at 9:22 am

I really wish I was persuaded by this thesis – but I’m not.

I don’t see the evidence here for a younger, more militant, more decentralized movement. The disappearance of mass protests is not by itself evidence of an increase in direct action – the movement could just be weaker. Similarly, the lack of national coordination is not by itself evidence of an increased number of local actions, and the disproportionately low participation by older people is not by itself evidence of more participation by young people.

The article describes a lot of exciting actions. However, the antiwar movement has always had CD, local actions, and youth and student participation. It’s possible, I guess, that now we have more of these things – but I’m skeptical, and the argument here has a big gap. I don’t think it does us any good to be Pollyanish about the state of the movement on the basis of fallacious reasoning.

Also, minor point, but there’s no such thing as “UPJC” – the group is called UFPJ, United for Peace and Justice. Further, the Workers’ World Party as such has left ANSWER; the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which is a split from the WWP, now operates within ANSWER, instead.

Reply

avatar Frank Gormlie April 11, 2008 at 9:43 am

Bill & Michael – thanks very much for the kind words. Comments are our life-blood.
David – thanks for the correction re: UFPJ – I made the corrections – yea for blogability. I am not certain about your comments re ANSWER. I will respond to your more substantive points later.

Reply

avatar Ian April 11, 2008 at 10:26 am

I definitely agree that UFPJ and ANSWER are at their weakest point yet, but unlike my comrade in Campus Antiwar Network (David) I believe that student activity is on the rise. Even without looking at this impressive list of actions, look at the spread of Campus Antiwar Network and SDS to most campuses in the country. The size of our regional and national conventions has also dramatically increased as has the sophistication of our tactics (with many opting for campus complicity campaigns) and CAN working to strengthen (and with very great success) Iraq Veterans Against the War.

I was in DC on the 19th as well as at Rutgers for the Walkout and saw how student power can cause massive distabilzation of the status quo and link the military industrial complex and capitalism.

Also as someone who was involved with the hunger strike at Columbia last semester you should be well aware of the growing militancy and strength of our movement. A university in Florida is undergoing a hunger strike right now (a direct consequence of the organizational ties existing in the movement and on facebook and through inspiration of your actions)

Reply

avatar beachblogger April 11, 2008 at 1:05 pm

Dear Frank and Patty, Thank you. Great post. peace, peter

Reply

avatar Stu April 11, 2008 at 3:00 pm

nice to see some folks out there saying no maybe not all kids are lethargic as it appears perhaps there is some hope for the future

Reply

avatar Richard Nadeau April 11, 2008 at 5:15 pm

Frank and Patti:

Thanx for ther effort of gathering the info
that the media failed to provide us and for providing a hopeful analysis. I certainly hope you are right about the increased role of young people in the anti-war movement because as the war drags on more and more of them will be affected by it either directly or indirectly.

Here’s a toast to hope, and to a revived and energetic anti-war movement!

Reply

avatar sharon a moore April 12, 2008 at 6:44 pm

This is very exciting. I hope that this impetus still continues to grow. My friends and I have indeed grown weary of protests with only grey heads, (ours included).

Hurray for the young people who are brave and thoughtful enough to care!

Reply

avatar Dickie April 16, 2008 at 9:04 am

Thanks, Frank and Patti, for embarrassing the mainstream media with your exciting collection of reportage about the antiwar protests. Quite a contrast to the mainstream coverage of the anti-China/pro-Tibet demos which for some reason have captured the media’s attention . . . Though most people whom I showed this to didn’t quite share the optimistic analysis, everyone was excited to see it all in one place. You folks are really doing a service to our collective consciousness. You are the only blog I read!!

Reply

avatar Marc April 17, 2008 at 9:55 pm

This story is well reported but I don’t agree with the conclusions.

There have been many cities and communities doing anti-war actions all along, including acts of civil disobedience. My personal observation is that tactics have become less radical and youth involvement has sunk.

Where is an analysis of what cities had actions in previous years? What are we comparing it to? How many arrests occured on other days of mass protest?

San Diego in particular cannot claim an increase in involvement. 90 kids doing a die-in is not many compared to the 5000 person demos when the war started. Can the San Diego Coalition for Peace & Justice claim that their most recent rally had more youth or was more radical than in years past?

Take another organization you mention like Indymedia. Over the last five years the San Diego Indymedia project has had less and less involvement. It went from people fighting over doing feature stories, to being abandoned in 2007.

All my observations from within the movement have been of shrinking numbers, less youth, and less militant tactics.

Reply

avatar Frank Gormlie April 24, 2008 at 11:24 pm

Marc, the sense that we got from fielding reports from across the country was that there were now antiwar actions in many places – small towns – that did not have or had very little demonstrations against the war. Many of the so-called “actions” say of March 19th were the local antiwar contingent doing bannering or displaying signs – and overwhelmingly they received positive support from passerbys & motorists – more so than in the past. There have been actions in many cities, yes, but now in many more. 700 by one blog. Look at that map.

Doing an analysis of previous years demos was definitely beyond the scope of this post. We all know that in the run-up to the invasion, there were massive numbers in the streets – yes – many – but only in a couple of cities. Up to 1/2 million in NYC.

You miss the point – now there are organizers for each of the – let’s say, 500 actions – they are building networks – that did not exist before. Certainly the major cities have had those demos, networks, yes, San Fran, Wash DC, Chicago, NYC. but now they’re in all these small cities – see the list.

Also now, there are more and more college students than before -with SDS at more than 90 campuses – that is new!

Plus kids from high schools are jumping into the fray. They were not doing this before!
And yes, there were more arrests in one city (San Fran) back in the old days at the beginning – but now arrests are occurring in middle America.

These new factors mean a qualitative new and refreshed, more youthful antiwar movement.

Don’t mistake the weaknesses of one locale – San Diego – for what’s happening in other places. For example, Indymedia is very strong in the Bay Area.

Maybe I am being pollanaish, but when you get as close to watching the movement unleash itself on March 19th as we did, it is impressive, and no one, repeat, no one from the corporate media is telling us what is going on in our own movement. We have to do that. And we stand by it.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Before clicking Submit, please complete this simple statement to help us weed out the bots... Thank you! *

Older Article:

Newer Article: