Taking to the Streets

This isn't your momma's protest movement, says Alex Cohen. Why do college students seem to be more comfortable posting satirical Youtube videos than taking to the streets?

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen.

We now continue our look at the past five years of the anti-war movement.

The nature of protest today is different. This is not you mama's anti-war movement. Or at least it's not my mama's anti-war movement.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting)

COHEN: My mom and dad were two of more than a 100,000 Vietnam war protestors who marched on the Pentagon in 1967. Part of that rally included a plan to encircle the building and try to levitate it.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting)

COHEN: Of course there was no Internet then, no opportunities for online petitions, or viral YouTube videos like this one where john McCain's positions on the Iraq war are set to music.

(Soundbite of YouTube video)

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): We're gonna have a lot of combat wounds. And my friends, it's going to be tough, and we're going to have a lot to do. That old Beach Boys song, "Bomb Iran"...

COHEN: Today a lot of younger Americans may oppose the war but that doesn't mean they'll take to the streets. That may well be because of several changes in circumstance, says U.C. Davis political science Professor Scott Sigmund Gartner. In this war, he says, there's no draft.

Dr. SCOTT SIGMUND GARTNER (University of California at Davis): The research that I've done, those males who were of draftable age in the Vietnam war were much more likely to be against the war than other males or other aged people.

COHEN: Gartner adds that during the Vietnam war, many college students came from affluent families and had more time to protest the war. Many of today's students come from middle class families. Some are already married and have families of their own. He says a lot of student today feel they don't have the time to invest in the anti-war movement because they're too busy trying to pay for school. Some of the people who are most committed to fighting the war in Iraq now are young men and women who've been there.

Unidentified Man: If you all take you seats, please. We're going to get started.

COHEN: Last week, members of a group called Iraq Veterans Against the War met in Silver Spring, Maryland, and shared first hand accounts of their experiences in Iraq.

Staff Sergeant JOSE VASQUEZ (U.S. Army): My name is Staff Sergeant Jose Vasquez. I was in the Army from 1992 to 1997.

COHEN: Among the veterans gathered was National Guard soldier Jabbar Magruder(ph). When the war started, Magruder was living here in California, and he says he supported the mission.

Mr. JABBAR MAGRUDER (Army National Guard): Because I felt that we're going to be going in, hunting for weapons of mass destruction, getting rid of Saddam Hussein, and that we would be, you know, handing the country back to the Iraqis and giving them their freedom away from a dictator.

COHEN: Magruder, a black hawk helicopter mechanic, was sent to Camp Speicher in Tikrit in 2004. Once he saw the situation first hand, he says he lost faith in the war.

Mr. MAGRUDER: The justifications for us being in Iraq had changed so many times that it just finally got my - got my breaking point.

COHEN: He says he thinks Americans are more likely to take the anti-war message seriously when it comes from someone like him - someone who's been there.

Mr. MAGRUDER: The difference that it makes is credibility. It's the fact that because, you know, because the veterans have been there. They've experienced it. They've put - you know, they've put the boots on ground.

COHEN: That credibility can sway opinions, says U.C. Davis Professor Scott Gartner, but soldiers who have lived through a tour of Iraq may not influence Americans as much as the soldiers who never come home.

Prof. GARTNER: There's very strong evidence that as people die in your community, as there are local casualties in your community, that dramatically affects your attitude and can dramatically increase the likelihood of you becoming an anti-war protestor; in particular having anti-war thoughts about the war, anti-war public opinion and attitudes on the war.

COHEN: Recent polls show that as many as two-thirds of Americans no longer support a military presence in Iraq. As the death toll among American troops approaches the 4,000 mark, Gertner says, it's likely that the anti-war sentiment in this country can only continue to grow.

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