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Anti-War Groups Seek Breakthrough Moment

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Anti-War Groups Seek Breakthrough Moment

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Anti-War Groups Seek Breakthrough Moment

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

On Monday, it will be four years since the start of the war in Iraq. Anti-war groups plan all sorts of demonstrations over the next several days, in Washington and across the country. It's an odd time for the anti-war movement. Their cause has broader support than during most of the Vietnam War, but that doesn't mean anti-war activism is being embraced by the mainstream.

NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: Two scenes from the anti-war movement...

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Peace will...

OVERBY: Earlier this week...

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Peace will...

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Peace will come.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Peace will come.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) And let it begin with me.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) And let it begin with me.

OVERBY: Twenty-some protesters jammed into Senator Barbara Mikulski's office for a five-hour occupation. Mikulski's a Democrat and a critic of the war. These protesters from Peace Action want her to vote to cut off funding. Their leader is Gordon Clark.

Mr. GORDON CLARK (Peace Action): This is a moral crisis for our country right now - every bit as severe a moral crisis of the Vietnam War. I need to know how Barbara Mikulski herself is going to vote and act, and not hear her talk about other people's votes as the reason she can't do things.

OVERBY: But if that sounds like something right out of the 1960s, consider this scene.

(Soundbite of applause)

OVERBY: One evening last week at a Washington bistro called Busboys and Poets...

Unidentified Woman: Maxine Waters...

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Woman: ...just walked into the room.

OVERBY: The Democratic congresswoman is one of the fiercest anti-war voices in Congress. But tonight, she's coaching the women's group Code Pink on the fine points of face-to-face lobbying. Activist Tina Richards takes the microphone. Her son has done two tours in Iraq, and may do a third.

Ms. TINA RICHARDS (Activist): This afternoon, I was able to meet with Jan Schakowsky for about an hour.

OVERBY: Schakowsky, a Chicago Democrat, opposes the war, but she's also in the Democratic leadership. And the leadership is pushing what's called a supplemental appropriation bill. With limits, it will finance the escalation. Code Pink says the bill is too weak. Richards sees Schakowsky slipping away.

Ms. RICHARDS: She had just gotten through a meeting with Nancy Pelosi. What could I say to her to convince her to still vote against the supplemental?

OVERBY: And Waters tells her about Schakowsky.

Representative MAXINE WATERS (Democrat, California): She made the strongest argument about the contradiction.

OVERBY: That is, adopting a resolution against sending more troops and then approving money to do exactly that.

Rep. WATERS: I know that's a strong point with her. You know, to be reminded of it over and over again may help to bring her back.

OVERBY: This is a far cry from Vietnam...

(Soundbite of Vietnam protest)

Unidentified Group: Hey, hey, LBJ, how many babies did you kill today?

OVERBY: ...and President Lyndon Johnson. Demonstrations defined that era, but what about the Internet age? Modern demonstrations draw bigger crowds than anything in the '60s, but Tom Hayden, who helped organize his share, says they're held mostly to get media validation.

Mr. TOM HAYDEN (Anti-war Activist): If you stopped having demonstrations, then the media would be all over you. If you have demonstrations, they undercount. If you don't have demonstrations, they just black you out entirely.

OVERBY: But Vietnam protestors are back, just doing things differently. Sociologist Fabio Rojas from Indiana University has been surveying today's activists.

Professor FABIO ROJAS (Sociology, Indiana University): They are a big cluster of people who lobby Congress, are these older people, probably who participated in the civil rights movement, Vietnam and so forth. But when you look at the street protestors, you see that there's a big spike in youth, the 25-year-olds.

OVERBY: Rojas says organizing has changed, too, from the old days when groups held meetings.

Mr. ROJAS: There would be a lot of interaction, a lot of discussion. Now in the modern day it's a lot more likely that you'll get an e-mail.

OVERBY: Quite possibly an e-mail from MoveOn.org. The group recently held a virtual march with MoveOn members telephoning Capitol Hill. MoveOn's Washington director is Tom Matzzie.

Mr. TOM MATZZIE (Washington Director, MoveOn.org): Because you don't have to attend a meeting to participate in the organization, it means more people can get involved.

OVERBY: The problem is that involvement online can be invisible to outsiders. Van Gosse is a history professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and he's active in Historians Against the War. He thinks the movement needs to get past ideology into hard-edged, even partisan politics.

Professor VAN GOSSE (History, Franklin & Marshall College): We need to do the things we know how to do well but start doing new things as well.

OVERBY: New things such as what?

Mr. GOSS: I think the anti-war movement really needs to overcome these self-imposed barriers to involvement in electoral politics.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) ...Let my life be lived for the good, good of my soul...

OVERBY: As for those protestors at Senator Mikulski's office, this morning Mikulski gave a speech chewing them out. He said they just don't get that the money for escalation is tied up with money for protection and veterans' aid.

Senator BARBARA MIKULSKI (Democrat, Maryland): You can sit in every single day. You can follow me throughout my Senate career. You can follow me to my grave. I will not vote to, in any way, harm the United States men and military, nor will I cut off the support of help to their families.

OVERBY: So if the activists want to woo lawmakers, maybe occupying their offices isn't the best way to do it. Maybe they should work inside the system and, say, offer to hold a fundraiser.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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