Protest Groups Using Updated Tactics to Spread Antiwar Message
By LYNETTE CLEMETSON
New York Times
January 14, 2003
WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 — As the threat of war with Iraq heightens, leaders of the antiwar movement are feeling an urgency to mobilize the masses. But in contrast to the tactics of the 1960's, many organizers are trying to sound a note of patriotism and distance themselves from the stereotypical images of angry flag burners or scruffy anarchists.
Marches are still a crucial tool, and protest leaders are hoping that tens of thousands will turn out for an antiwar rally here on Saturday. But organizers are also trying to spread their message through the Internet and enlist a diverse range of allies.
In recent weeks, groups representing labor, the environment and the poor have agreed to help raise money and commit bodies to local and national protest efforts.
This week a group of Republican business executives organized by movement leaders published a full-page letter in The Wall Street Journal under the title "A Republican Dissent on Iraq," warning President Bush: "The world wants Saddam Hussein disarmed. But you must find a better way to do it."
Activists say branching out is necessary to combat a popular president and a public mood altered by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
"It's like the 60's is the only lens through which many people grasp protest, but in many ways we've moved on," said Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action, a 45- year-old organization that has joined United for Peace, a coalition of 120 groups protesting a war with Iraq.
Participants in the growing efforts cut across the political spectrum, from far-left radicals to cautious conservatives. Last Saturday, at a meeting in Chicago, representatives from labor unions that supported both the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars adopted a resolution opposing a war with Iraq and raised $30,000 for the movement.
But because many of the new techniques occur online and in closed-door meetings, organizers are aware that they need to increase the visibility and volume of their protests.
"It's easy to network with the Mennonites. It's harder to go on Fox News and have people yell at you," said David Potorti, a member of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group whose founding members all lost immediate relatives in the 2001 attacks. "But time is running out, and our biggest challenge now is to get out there and be heard by people outside of ourselves."
A flurry of public dissent is planned over the next several weeks, tied to critical dates like Jan. 27, when Hans Blix, the chief United Nations weapons inspector, gives the latest report on his findings in Iraq, and Jan. 28, when the president gives his State of the Union address.
Some efforts are directed at people who may be skeptical about the war, but who are not comfortable attending marches and who do not want their names or money attached to catch-all activism that includes protests of Starbucks or sport utility vehicles.
Last month, Win Without War, the most mainstream of the antiwar coalitions, announced its formation with a carefully worded mission statement. "We are patriotic Americans who share the belief that Saddam Hussein cannot be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction," the statement read. "But we believe that a pre-emptive military invasion of Iraq will harm American national interests."
Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, a member of the coalition, was responsible for the signed letter in The Wall Street Journal.
"Let's be clear," the letter reads. "We supported the gulf war. We supported our intervention in Afghanistan. We accept the logic of a just war. But Mr. President, your war on Iraq does not pass the test."
The letter's primary backer, Edward Hamm, a retired Minnesota businessman, said he sought out the business group because of a lack of organized Republican dissent.
It did not matter, Mr. Hamm said, that the group's founder was the liberal entrepreneur Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's. The group had the structure to help Mr. Hamm get his message out, and they allowed him to frame it from a Republican point of view.
"There's no one in the world more for gunboat diplomacy than me, but this administration hasn't proven its case," said Mr. Hamm, who said he gave several hundred thousand dollars a year to the Republican Party. "Insane left-wingers are not going to convince people of that. You need Republicans, business people and military people. I started casting about, and I found these guys."
Much of the efforts are taking place online, where Internet protest organizations like MoveOn.org and TrueMajority.com are struggling to transform Web-based dissent into actual activism.
The MoveOn Web site enlists users to sign a petition opposing a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. It then instantly sorts and logs signers by state, to facilitate organizing at a local level. Users can make credit card donations to antiwar efforts.
When the organization decided last month to extend its work online to the production of antiwar newspaper and television advertisements, the site raised more than $300,000 in 48 hours. The average donation, said MoveOn directors, was about $30.
"You have to meet people where they are," said Eli Pariser, 22, international campaigns director for the online group. "You get a lot of people to chip in a little bit, and then it's our job to translate that into something bigger."
In addition to large groups with deep pockets, the protest movement is reaching down to the neighborhood level, encouraging citizen support in the form of letters to political leaders, discussions at churches and community centers and small-scale public protests.
Some grass-roots organizations have been wary of joining the larger antiwar effort, fearing a loss of financing from conservative foundations that support the administration's position on the war. But fears about broader losses to social programs are bringing more domestic groups into the fray.
"The foreign and domestic issues intersect in a way that could create a real crisis for the millions of people here in poverty," said Wesley Woo, a field organizer in San Francisco with the Center for Community Change, a 35-year-old organization that works on issues including health care, housing and welfare reform. Mr. Woo's group, which has never joined an organized antiwar effort, fears that the billions devoted to a war will mean less money for their efforts, and it has joined both Win Without War and United for Peace.
For all the new ways of drawing people into the movement, antiwar protesters are concerned that too much of their activity still exists among like minds behind closed doors. Ultimately, organizers realize, few things can replace a big, rowdy rally. Nearly all of the groups participating in the new movement are urging members to attend this weekend's rally.
Organized by International Answer, the rally will include a march to the Washington Naval Yard, where a mock weapons inspection team will demand access to weapons of mass destruction in the United States. Not exactly a mainstream move, but one sure to draw attention.