Thursday, April 24, 2008

A stalled U.S. peace movement?
Antiwar activity since 2001

Part Four of a sketchy chronology of the contemporary antiwar movement. Part One. Part Two. Part Three

Peace movement finds causes to support;
Insurgent new Democrats and a counterculture emerge

Despite all the rallies and vigils, the web postings and speeches, probably the most energizing antiwar demonstration since the Iraq invasion was Cindy Sheehan's Camp Casey. Plopped outside Bush's ranch in the baking summer of 2005. Sheehan's demanded that the Commander in Chief tell her why he had sent her son to his death. Her question became the nation's and helped galvanize peace work.

This devastating condemnation of the Bush regime was shortly reinforced by the spectacle of its abandonment of New Orleans to the Hurricane Katrina. We all saw on TV that the people in power didn't give a damn about caring for anyone -- not only faraway Muslims, but also ordinary U.S. residents, especially those with dark skins.

The two events, painfully, gave a U.S. peace movement real live people to fight FOR -- Katrina refugees and "the troops." Though the connections were not always articulately drawn, ever since that time, there has been a powerful infusion into the peace movement of the sort of energy which people have fighting for their own well-being and the well-being of people whose lives they can imagine. And a significant majority of people in the United States have now turned against the war, firmly convinced that somehow, the Iraq war was a mistake. In December 2006, the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq hit 3000; 4000 troop deaths was reached in March 2008.

Counter recruitment -- organizing to discourage enlistment in the military -- had been a named antiwar project from the get-go. The historic peace group American Friends Service Committee provided resources. But as it became more and more clear that U.S. deaths in the Iraq were for no purpose embraced by the majority of the country, as the abysmal treatment of injured vets was revealed, counter recruitment gained energy. Moreover, this work provided an entry space to younger activists. Counter recruitment challenged the daily presence of the military in high schools -- it was real and tangible and often considered disruptive by schools and adults -- an attractive project for young people asserting their own voice. Aimee Allison and David Solnit record the movement in "Army of None."

Concurrently, people seeking to remake the Democratic Party as a loosely progressive coalition shoved their way into prominence and some power. The opportunity created by a new technological and media environment came together with a vigorous push for a generational transition in the party's hierarchy. A new generation wants to be heard by the Democrats. This first showed its force in the 2004 Dean campaign. It has the feeling of a domestic insurgency on the rise, of people who know they are sweeping dead wood away and can't be stopped. As such, it has an attractive force that a peace movement unable to find its imagination notably lacks.

There is no question that these new Democrats' animating issue is the war. They view it as a Republican crime against the country. It is easy sitting within a stalled peace movement to underestimate the excitement and sheer grit that have been expended to breathe new life into the Democratic Party by people who have largely never related to antiwar movement activities. Political blogs, Move-On, and local Democratic committees have become their arena for giving political expression to their antiwar convictions. They take antiwar opinions for granted. They are extremely unhappy with the inaction of the Democrats they believe they put into office in 2006.

Perhaps most important of all, because they found their concerns and beliefs erased in the MSM, as they label old mainstream media, a very substantial fraction of people in the United States generated our own cultural markers. From early anti-Bush outbursts by the Dixie Chicks through Jon Stewart's alternative "news", expressions of revulsion against the regime in power have become commonplace. Open access to new media platforms has unleashed a torrent of creative resistance, apparently shapeless to observers outside it, yet forming to an oppositional culture in which millions live.

This somewhat amorphous oppositional culture, this new "counter culture," is currently fueling the Obama campaign -- and winning a victory over the old culture it sees represented by Hillary Clinton.

This new counter culture is not anti-imperialist. It is not in any way classically left. It is sometimes aware that it is more white than U.S. population demographics warrant. (Concurrently, people of color have long been far more critical of the post 9/11 wars than white folks.) It is often ignorant of the corporate loyalties of its Democratic Party leaders -- but it is a force that wasn't there in 2001. It is far larger and more influential than anything that the self-conscious peace movement has accomplished. A peace movement that is not in some way of this counter culture is simply irrelevant.

One more post to come... some things I've learned while writing this...

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