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An Anti-War Movement in Search of Crowds

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An Anti-War Movement in Search of Crowds

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An Anti-War Movement in Search of Crowds

An Anti-War Movement in Search of Crowds

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While some citizens have protested against the Iraq war ever since the invasion of March 2003, the movement has failed to mobilize large numbers of people in public spaces. Has that changed now that a majority of Americans oppose the war?

JACKI LYDEN, host:

Today's anti-war protest may be one of the largest in years, but while polls say that most Americans are against the war, most people have not been taking their politics to the streets.

NPR's Allison Keyes explains why.

(Soundbite of cheering)

ALLISON KEYES: Standing behind the podium at today's rally, United for Peace and Justice national coordinator Leslie Kagan smiled as she looked at the largest crowd she'd seen at an anti-war rally in awhile. Kagan says the Democratic takeover of Congress this past November is a big reason why people came out today.

Ms. LESLIE KAGAN (National Coordinator, United for Peace and Justice): The key issue in November was end the war and bring the troops home. We decided to take the energy that came forth in November and bring it right, literally, to the front steps of the Capitol today.

KEYES: Before the war in Iraq started in 2003, there were worldwide protests. Code Pink Women for Peace co-founder Jodie Evans says once the war started, people were disillusioned.

Ms. JODIE EVANS (Co-founder, Code Pink): After we invaded, it really took the air out of - it kind of was a solar hit to the anti-war movement, which is - You know, here we experience 13 million people worldwide in the streets one day saying no to war and it had no effect.

KEYES: There's another big reason anti-war protests haven't been drawing large numbers.

Professor ROBERT PUTNAM (Harvard University): A lot of the power behind the protest marches of the '60s and '70s had to do with the draft.

KEYES: Harvard University professor Robert Putnam, an expert on civic engagement, says this war is directly affecting a smaller group of citizens. Plus, Putnam says, three decades ago people stopped flexing their activist muscles.

Prof. PUTNAM: Demonstrations have kind of gone out of style over the last 30 years as a way of expressing opinions. In recent years, a variety of examples of big, large demonstrations have had one-shot success.

KEYES: And, Putnam says, people may no longer believe protesting makes any difference.

Prof. PUTNAM: People have become much more cynical over the last 30 years about government. And I think that means people don't any longer have the same confidence that they can do anything that would actually affect what's happening in terms of public decisions in Washington.

KEYES: Some activists acknowledge that the number of anti-war groups and the sub-agendas some of them have might be confusing to the public. But former congressman and Win Without War national director Tom Andrews says the diversity of voices being heard in this movement is a strength, not a weakness.

Mr. TOM ANDREWS (National Director, Win Without War): The more widespread this movement is, the stronger we are. And the key is to focus in on the goal here, which is ending this war.

KEYES: In the age of the Internet and blogging, demonstrations are no longer the only way people are making their opinions known.

Tom Mattzie is the Washington director of the liberal group MoveOn.org.

Mr. TOM MATTZIE (Washington Director, MoveOn.org): You need many tactics to win and that's what is going on now. People are organizing in their communities as well as nationally to force the Congress to stop the president.

KEYES: Mattzie says the agenda is moving forward regardless of what happens on any particular day of the fight.

Allison Keyes, NPR News. Washington.

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