War Protesters to Try New Strategy

There will be demonstrations both for and against the war in Iraq this weekend in cities across America, which marks the third anniversary of the invasion. But Washington, D.C., will not be targeted this time. Opponents of the war have a new strategy.

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This weekend marked the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Support for the invasion was strong back when it happened. Much of the public has since tired of the struggle. Polls show half the country thinks U.S. troops should come home now, and 60 percent say it was a mistake to invade Iraq in the first place. Anti-war activists think they can convert such sentiments into public protests using strategies borrowed from the Vietnam War era.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer reports.

NANCY MARSHALL: This weekend there won't be one big anti-war protest as in prior years. No march on the White House or rally on the National Mall, although one event is planned outside the Vice President's house. This year the protesters are taking their signs, drums, and banners to a town near you. They'll spread out across the country with demonstrations of varying sizes in more than 500 cities and towns. Brian Becker is National Coordinator for the Answer Coalition, one of the protest organizers.

BRIAN BECKER: So, we want to go into the neighborhoods and into the communities, all over the country in hundreds and hundreds of places so that people can both participate directly without having to get on a bus or get on a train or get on a plane. They can be involved in the anti-war movement right where they live.

MARSHALL: Becker says many people are against the war, but haven't been able to go to mass demonstrations because of work or family commitments. Becker says by reaching out the grassroots, today's protesters are taking yet another page from the Vietnam era: trying to mold opposition to the war into a potent political force.

BECKER: So that no politician will be able to go into their community without being confronted by angry people in the community saying, Why don't you stand up and reflect the majority sentiment in this community, which is to bring those troops out of Iraq. Not tomorrow but today.

MARSHALL: Kristinn Taylor says that'll never happen. Taylor is the spokesman for Free Republic, which sponsors counter demonstrations in support of the war. Taylor says there will only be a small number of counter demonstrations this weekend, but that doesn't mean Becker's grass roots strategy is working. Taylor says the American people remember the lessons of Vietnam.

KRISTINN TAYLOR: When you make a commitment to a foreign country, like we have with Iraq, you need to keep it. You can't turn your back on them in the middle of it, you know? The good chance: you're going o sentence the Iraqi people to a living hell.

MARSHALL: But some Iraq War veterans say Iraq is already a living hell and the country would be better off without U.S. troops. With the U.S. helping Iraq in other ways, Dereck Repenhagan(ph) served as an army sniper in Iraq for a year. He fulfilled his commitment to the army and was honorably discharged. Now he's working with Iraq veterans against the war. He helped organize a five-day protest march this week from Mobile, Alabama to New Orleans. Repenhagan says, like the Vietnam veterans before them, Iraq War veterans can be very effective catalysts for grass roots mobilization.

DERECK REPENHAGAN: The veterans coming home saying that, you know, the war's awful, and this is my experience, gives them the fortitude to stand up and say, okay, I'm not necessarily have to lead this anti-war movement, but I'll follow the veterans who say that it's rotten.

MARSHALL: Taylor of Free Republic says those veterans will be countered by others demonstrating in support of the war. The American people, he says, will have to choose which lessons of war to follow.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Marshall-Genzer.

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