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Measuring the Success of the Anti-War Movement

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Measuring the Success of the Anti-War Movement

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Measuring the Success of the Anti-War Movement

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ALEX COHEN, host:

Five years ago, the war was just beginning.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I was covering the conflict from Washington from MORNING EDITION, interviewing people like Andy Kohut of the Pew Research Center.

(Soundbite of NPR recording)

CHADWICK: Andy, tell me where is U.S. public opinion right now on this?

Mr. ANDY KOHUT (Director, Pew Research Center): U.S. public opinion is rallying to the president's decision to go to war. After the president's speech on Monday night, levels of support, it went from the high 50 level almost to the 70 percent level.

COHEN: Well, Alex, support might have been high, but there were also plenty of protests. And that's what I was covering back then. I went to one of the largest anti-war demonstrations in Southern California on Hollywood Boulevard.

(Soundbite of NPR recording)

NEAL CONAN: Tom, thanks very much. We want to get to a reporter who's with us now, Alex Cohen. She's with us from Los Angeles in front of the CNN building. And Alex, as I understand there's a demonstration underway there.

COHEN: Yes, there is Neal. It began about an hour ago at the corner of Hollywood and Vine.

This past weekend, to mark the fifth anniversary of the war, protestors came back to that very same block of Hollywood Boulevard.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Among the crowd gathered was Kathleen Schwartz of North Hollywood, who came to the demonstration before she headed off to a UCLA basketball game. She was shading herself from the sun with a yellow umbrella.

Can you remember back five years ago when all of this began, what were you doing then?

Ms. KATHLEEN SCHWARTZ: I wasn't doing anything like this. I never thought that it would get to this point. I'm going to show you something. On my umbrella here, this is when I started. I thought it was only going to be a few people dying.

COHEN: And can you read what that says?

Ms. SCHWARTZ: It says Bush Lied, Thousands Died. And then I've crossed out every time there's another hundred people dying. And now we're only 13 short of 4,000 and it's just, it's devastating to me. It's just absolutely incredibly devastating.

COHEN: There were a lot of people on Hollywood Boulevard last weekend, but as Kathy agreed, not nearly as many as there were here five years ago.

Ms. SWARTZ: There are thousands of people that think this war is wrong. And they may be aren't here publicly doing it, but they do believe.

COHEN: Why do you think people don't come out? Why do you think people might oppose...

Ms. SWARTZ: It's hard, it's tough. I'll tell you one thing here, okay? My game starts at 3:00 o'clock, the UCLA. You know, this is Southern California. We've got soccer games, we've got work. We got to do this, we've got to that.

COHEN: Brian Becker is the national coordinator of the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, or ANSWER Coalition, the group that sponsored Saturday's rally.

Mr. BRIAN BECKER (ANSWER Coalition): The anti-war movement has had its ebbs and flows, as do all vital social movements.

COHEN: Those ebbs and flows apply to both the size of the anti-war movement and its influence. For instance, Becker says, when President Bush declared that the mission has been accomplished in Iraq, attendance at protests waned, as the anti-war movement seemed almost moot. But soon after, he says, it became clear that the mission had not been accomplished and thousands more began showing up at anti-war protest and rallies.

Mr. BECKER: And by October 25th, 2003, six months after the fall of Baghdad, we had a demonstration of 100,000 people back in Washington, D.C., and it was clear that the anti-war movement had wind in its sails and it was a vital requirement for the people of this country to stand up and be involved in the political process.

COHEN: Becker says attendance and demonstrations has been strong lately. Last fall, they organized a march on Washington, D.C. and they estimate that 100,000 people were there. Becker and nearly 200 others were arrested, but to what end?

Mr. BECKER: Evaluating the success or failure of an anti-war movement is tricky because we have to say, well, what would be occurring if the anti-war movement were not here?

COHEN: Political science professor Scott Sigmund Gartner studies social movements at the University of California at Davis.

Professor SCOTT SIGMUND GARTNER (University of California at Davis): If you say, has the anti-war movement been able to get the United States out of Iraq, clearly the anti-war movement has not been successful. If you're saying has the anti-war movement been facilitating the movement largely through America against the conflict, there I think it's more complex.

COHEN: Gartner says today's peace movement has some factors working against it, including what he calls a lack of leadership. There's just no modern day equivalent of Abbie Hoffman or Jane Fonda, he says. And that may be due to the perception that during the Vietnam era many anti-war Americans were also anti-soldier.

Today, Gartner says, most people make a point of expressing support for the troops even if they oppose the war.

Prof. GARTNER: You have to have a set of credentials that allows you to speak in a way that's anti-war without seemingly being anti-soldier. Cindy Sheehan, who's son Casey died in Iraq, clearly has that set of credentials. John Murtha, who's got purple hearts from Vietnam and had been visiting wounded constituents at Walter Reed Hospital, also clearly has that set of credentials. But a lot of Americans don't have those set of credentials, and as a result I think they feet hemmed in and unable to speak this subtle message of being against the war but in favor of the troops.

COHEN: But there is a new group of anti-war protestors who do have those credentials. We'll hear about them in just a few minutes when DAY TO DAY continues.

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