A Hodgepodge of Protests

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Most polls say the same thing: overwhelming disapproval with the war in Iraq. But there aren't that many bodies in the Town Square, and anti-war activism seems oddly diffuse. You can find any number of signs at an anti-war rally — from VoteVets to Free Palestine all the way to throwbacks like Students for a Democratic Society. But where is there a real united front — a real anti-war movement? Vietnam-era protests are often trotted out as examples to follow, but times are different — there's no draft, no cool counter-culture, and no baby boom. Many people complain that the anti-war movement is there, strong, yet under covered by the mainstream media — well, today, we're talking about the protest. If you're anti-war, and find that you don't fit into the anti-war activism that exists — let us know why. If you're marching on Saturday, tell us what you think of the organizing principles. Or, if you're an activist, tell us what's working — and what's not.

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I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak. I believed another Vietnam could be avoided with defined missions and the best armaments in the world.

It made no difference.

We have bought into the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). If you would like to read how this happens please see:

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/03/spyagency200703

Through a combination of public apathy and threats by the MIC we have let the SYSTEM get too large. It is now a SYSTEMIC problem and the SYSTEM is out of control. Government and industry are merging and that is very dangerous.

There is no conspiracy. The SYSTEM has gotten so big that those who make it up and run it day to day in industry and government simply are perpetuating their existance.

The politicians rely on them for details and recommendations because they cannot possibly grasp the nuances of the environment and the BIG SYSTEM.

So, the system has to go bust and then be re-scaled, fixed and re-designed to run efficiently and prudently, just like any other big machine that runs poorly or becomes obsolete or dangerous.

This situation will right itself through trauma. I see a government ENRON on the horizon, with an associated house cleaning.

The next president will come and go along with his appointees and politicos. The event to watch is the collapse of the MIC.

For more details see:

http://rosecoveredglasses.blogspot.com/2006/11/odyssey-of-armaments.html

Sent by Ken Larson | 3:00 PM | 9-13-2007

It hasn't gotten bad enough yet for those at home (few are involved personaly) Some think there were protests against the Vietnam War from the start, but in the early years protesters were few (and mostly professors!) and regularly assaulted (by students!). During the Vietnam war it took 6-7 years before the anti-war movement really got going.

Sent by Dan | 3:05 PM | 9-13-2007

The current anti-war movement has failed in large part because it has selected leaders who have closely aligned the movement with the Democratic Party--a party which, as a whole, has consistently supported the war by voting for it and voting to finance it. For example, United for Peace and Justice's rally last January featured several Democratic Congress members. Also, UFPJ's official position for that rally was "End the war in Iraq, Bring all the troops home now!" However, in an interview on January 26th Judith LeBlanc, National Co-chair of UFPJ told NPR's Melissa Block: "When we say 'immediately' we mean make the decision now and then map out a plan." This type of politicking has assuredly increased cynicism by war opponents. As another example, Moveon.org is Democratic Party front group that started to support the Clinton administration.

Sent by Michelle Kinnucan | 3:26 PM | 9-13-2007

Just because a lot of us are against the war and the lying cretins that got us involved in it does not translate into support for the Chomsky reading, Hugo loving, America hating old/new hippies who have now got a reason to put down their guitars and take to the streets again. The louder, shriller and nuttier the Left behaves, the more ammunition it gives the reactionaries to push through their agenda. Most of us do not like either crowd, but right now it is the Wacky Right not the Loony Left that is doing the most damage to our country. But opposition to one does not translate to support for the other.

Sent by George from Oregon | 3:27 PM | 9-13-2007

You are making a HUGE jump to say that because we think we were wrong to get into the war, that we are against the war. It doesn't matter how we got involved - we are involved and now we have to finish what we started. If I break my arm, and I go to the hospital, what if the doctor said, "It was a mistake to break your arm, so I'm not going to fix it."

Sent by Suzanne Leonard | 3:29 PM | 9-13-2007

I think the main difference in involvement is the lack of a current draft as there was during Vietnam. I fought in Vietnam and saw the protests first hand. The younger generation are not as emotionally involved, because there is no reason that touches them. If they made some attempt to reinstitite the draft (which I hope never happens) I think there would be a great up-surge in involvement by the younger generation, because now they are personally involved, whether they want to be or not.

Sent by Tink | 3:30 PM | 9-13-2007

I have noticed that outside of marches in New York City or San Francisco or DC getting a minute or two on CNN, others get only regional coverage. We have regular marches in Portland, Oregon that are not covered in the national media. Likewise in Chicago, even major marches down Michigan Avenue have not gotten coverage beyond. I only know of them because I follow Chicago news sites.

Sent by Gary Dee | 3:30 PM | 9-13-2007

I do not feel that the anti-war protesters represent me even though I want the US out of Iraq. It seems like old 1960s protest in new packaging. When I have seen protests locally the rhetoric used and the speakers who are there turns me off to the movement. So I do not go to protests.

Sent by Matthew Mishalak | 3:33 PM | 9-13-2007

Of course there are no protests. There's no draft. Protests start at universities. There's no chance these guys will end up in Iraq unless there is a draft. Then they would be protesting.

Sent by Rick | 3:33 PM | 9-13-2007

First of all, why would you have Todd Gitlin discuss activism as an "expert?" He may have been an activist a few decades ago, but he's long ago sold out to the Democratic Party. His recent book, "Letters to a Young Activist" basically told young activists not to do what he and others did during the Vietnam War - protest. He instead advocates organizing for the Democratic Party and getting Democratic politicians into office. The fact that his viewpoint goes unchallenged by the host, while anti-war protesters are characterized as "unfocused" and crazy for supporting justice for Mumia and other "political prisoners" is further proof of the increasing conservatism of NPR.
My explanation for why there isn't a bigger anti-war movement? The Democratic Party and groups like MoveOn.org that organize for the Democratic Party give protesters the wrong message: that protesting does not change anything, only electoral politics change things. Well over 50% of the country are against the war, but we've been told repeatedly (from the horses' mouths) that such-and-such politician will change things once they get elected. Well, we elected a Democratic Congress in a sea change last election - what the heck have any of them done? We keep voting for the lesser evil, trying to get someone elected (like Kerry) who is actually in oppostition to some of the ideas that we hold most dear - opposition to the war, universal health care, fair taxes, etc., but all we get is evil. If we fail to stand up to the Democrats and say "We will not continue to vote for you if you fail to do what we put you into office to do," then they will continue to take our votes for granted and instead act in the interests of the corporations that donate money to them, who are all too willing to switch their financial support if they don't tow the line. And you might argue that there's no one else - how about looking at the Green Party, Peace and Freedom, or abstaining? Instead, try getting out in the streets and pressuring the politicians to espouse and act on what you believe in! The lesson of the Vietnam War isn't that the Democrats ended it and that we need to support Democrats, the lesson is that protest and civil disobedience are our only way to show that we're not willing to put up with more years of war.

Sent by Celeste Christie | 3:37 PM | 9-13-2007

Todd's got it: this administration doesn't care if we protest. And it doesn't make the news, or isn't respected by the news. I remember the sixties, and protests were reported seriously. Not so today. I don't think either we or our press is as free as it was in the sixties. I have done everything I can think of to protest this war (since the 2002/03 runup!) short of marching in the streets. I've seen no effect. This administration is much more willing than the Kennedy/Johnson administrations to use unethical propaganda to promote its war.

Sent by Marcia Martin | 3:51 PM | 9-13-2007

I agree with the idea, or hope for, a coming government Enron debacle. The System has been too big and too bad for decades.
A powerful motivator in 1970 was the killing of American college students by our National Guard troops on the Kent State campus in Ohio. We knew back then that we were being spied on by our FBI, etc. Now it is worse and quite blatant due to the current president's obliviousness to the constitutional restraints.
Maybe students are afraid to speak out now, more than we were in the 60's and early 70's. Maybe they are afraid they'll be disappeared into a place like Guantanamo. Also, they are working their butts off to pay for their educations. My friends and I were fortunate almost 40 years ago to have our parents foot most of the bill for college. We were blissfully ignorant of financial reality, but frightfully aware of our own government
endorsing murder of students just like us. Not to mention the thousands of non-students in the armed services who came home dead, disabled, crazy, or are still MIA's.

Sent by Laurie | 3:52 PM | 9-13-2007

The problem with the anti-war protests so far is that they have been led by groups like Answer and United for Peace and Justice. Most people who want the Iraq war brought to an end, do not want to go to protests where there are speakers who rail against Israel, who support Castro, who believe 9/11 was a government conspiracy, who are against globalization, etc etc. All the usual leftist extremist causes. Somehow a movement has to be created that focuses ONLY on the Iraq war, and the price this country is paying for it. Until the issue of the Iraq war is unlinked from all these other issues, I don't think you will be able to really build a mass movement.

Sent by Tim | 3:56 PM | 9-13-2007

My ambivalence toward the anti-war movement is two-fold. First, I have a tremendous feeling of guilt and responsibility when it comes to the Iraqi people. When we upset this hornet's nest, we created a population of hostages. Let's face it, by pulling out we are abandoning these "hostages" to an unknown but doubtless worse fate than even that which they suffer today. The second issue I have is with the anti-war movement itself. When I watch the marchers go by with poster after poster of pro-Palestinian propaganda I am turned off. Jews have always been staunch democrats and activists (as a whole). My parents were involved in the civil rights movement and I was an active participant in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam era. Not only can't I join a march with anti-Israel signs brandished about, but I know people who are actually leaning in the opposite direction in retaliation, which I believe plays right into the hands of the neocons. Distance yourself from these and some other likewise contentious groups and you might find your movement expand.

Sent by Judith | 4:29 PM | 9-13-2007

Your guest speculated that many young people are so disgusted with the war that they will become lifelong democrats. As a twenty-something I can say that that is definitely true in my case. Before the war I wasn't sure if I was a Democrat or a Republican. But George Bush made the choice easy. I will never in my life vote for the party that spawned this evil war.

Sent by Aaron in Japan | 2:25 AM | 9-14-2007

Hi Ken Larson,

Thanks for the links. I am in the process of reading them.

Sent by Tim | 9:34 PM | 9-14-2007

I was at the Protest in Washington this Saturday. I think that people are underestimating the anti-war movement. Maybe it's true that the masses of people in the anti-war movement is not as many as during the Vietnam War, however a small group of people is just as passionate about it. 200 people were willing to jump over barricades and get arrested in front of the Capitol. The first group of people to get arrested was the Veterans for Peace. Police officers walked a line of Veterans up the steps of the Capitol arresting them. That moment alone was an emotional and powerful experience.
Students ARE concerned about the anti-war movement. Writing our representatives and voting is obviously not enough to make any changes in this country. I believe this protest was only the beginning.

Sent by Julia Peterson | 10:58 AM | 9-17-2007