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Antiwar Effort Emphasizes Civility Over Confrontation
By KATE ZERNIKE and DEAN E. MURPHY With the war against Iraq in its second week, the most influential antiwar coalitions have shifted away from large-scale disruptive tactics and stepped up efforts to appeal to mainstream Americans. One of the largest groups, Win Without War, is encouraging the two million people on its e-mail list to send supportive letters to soldiers. Other groups have redoubled their fundraising for billboards that declare “Peace is Patriotic” and include the giant image of an unfurling American flag. The changed tone comes after a week of street protests marking the start of the war that reduced San Francisco to anarchy, turned Chicago ’s Lakeshore Drive into a parking lot and paralyzed major roads in Atlanta, Boston and other cities. This week, the nation’s largest antiwar coalitions said they were abandoning their plan to disrupt everyday life. Instead, they said, they would direct protests at federal institutions, corporations and media conglomerates that “profit from war” in an effort to attract attention but not offend most Americans. The shift reflects a tension that has existed within the nation’s antiwar movement for months. Radical groups like those weaned on the antiglobalization protests that disrupted Seattle four years ago sought more civil disobedience. More mainstream groups like the National Council of Churches were afraid that confrontational tactics would only alienate the American public. At least for now, the more mainstream groups have gained the upper hand. They have sought to cast their movement as the loyal opposition, embracing the troops but condemning the war. Within the movement, which includes everything from small groups in small towns to a large alliance of more than 200 organizations, radical elements still exist. But the larger and more influential groups ha ve sought over time to sideline them, deliberately excluding certain speakers, dismissing certain tactics, marginalizing certain protests, in a determined effort to avoid being dismissed as career malcontents. The week before the war began, another major coalition, United for Peace and Justice, declined to join in sponsoring a rally put on by International Answer, a group whose names stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, saying its message was too leftwing and alienating. And even the umbrella organization that helped shut down San Francisco’s financial district last week began its more mundane protests this week with an announcement that demonstrators interested in thuggery should keep their distance. “If we’re going to be a force that needs to be listened to by our elected officials, by the media, by power, our movement needs to reflect the population, ” said Leslie Cagan, cochairwoman of United for Peace and Justice, and a career political organizer.
“It needs to be diverse,” Ms. Cagan went on, “it needs to be large, it needs to include the people who could be described as mainstream — but that doesn’t exclude the people who are sometimes thought of as the fringes.” Even the more mainstream groups are full of people who have spent large stretches of their lives on the front lines of protest movements, from the civil rights struggles to antiglobalization campaigns. But they say they have learned from their own mistakes. So while attacking corporate America for driving this war, antiwar groups have co-opted corporate strategies, rolling out media campaigns as if opposition to war were a new kind of cola. For weeks, public relations firms have sent news organizations daily suggestions for interviews and “great visuals ” that feature protesters. Groups practicing civil disobedience make sure their designated publicity person avoids arrest, to remain available to television cameras. One organization even “embedded” reporters among protesters the way the Pentagon did with its troops. “The great lesson from Madison Avenue is repetition, ” Ms. Cagan said. “If you get the same message out in different ways, you begin to break into people ’s consciousness.” The New Era Rallying Round the E-Mail Lists The last time a vast antiwar movement took American streets was during the Vietnam War, so comparisons between this movement and that one are inevitable. The new antiwar groups take pride in the size of the crowds they have been able to mobilize. They have grown a protest movement the size of which it took Vietnam-era organizers four years to build — this time, without a draft and even before the first body bags might shock people into the streets. United for Peace and Justice, for example, says it took only six weeks to get 350,000 people to a rally in New York in February, and Win Without War says it took four days to set up 6,800 candlelight vigils the week the war began. “I am rather pleased with the way things have gone,” said Michael N. Nagler, the founder and former chairman of the Peace and Conflict Studies Department at the University of California at Berkeley. “I have been monitoring the peace movement for almost four decades, and often wringing my hands in despair for its lack of savvy and lack of organization. ” Still, it is a different era now. Protest has become routine, no longer seen as an assault on the country’s values and culture the way it was when demonstrators descended on Washington in the 1960’s. The Internet makes it far easier to organize swiftly and draw out crowds. In fact, some might say this movement — which unlike the one during Vietnam began before the start of the Iraq conflict — failed in its most important goal: to stop the war before it commenced. Certainly the protesters say they have learned that they need a long-term strategy. “It’s tremendously saddening, ” said Eli Pariser, international campaigns director of MoveOn.org, a member of the Win Without War coalition, said of the start of the war. “At the same time, there still is optimism that in terms of our larger goal, which is to end this foreign policy that is so dangerous, there’s still hope, and quite a lot of it.”
The Mobilization In Diversity There Is Strength The antiwar movement is a set of diverse groups that often overlap, swapping staff, money, and office space, acting in concert and alone. Some are offshoots of well-known national groups with multimillion-dollar budgets, large paid staffs and other agendas: The Sierra Club and the National Council of Churches, the National Organization for Women and the N.A.A.C.P. Others are more obscure or formed explicitly in the context of the war: Code Pink, September 11 Families For Peaceful Tomorrows, People for a Gasoline-Free Day. And many cities have their own organizations with their own distinct local flavor. Direct Action to Stop the War, with no paid staff, no offices and no formal fund-raising efforts, dominates the protest scene in San Francisco. One of its leaders, Patrick Reinsborough, had led an effort to pressure Home Depot to discontinue the sale of products made with old- growth trees. Another, Mary Bull, is the coordinator of the Save the Redwoods/Boycott the Gap Campaign. She was once arrested, dressed as a tree, outside the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington. The coalitions against the war have drawn on the budgets and staffs of the larger national groups that have joined in. Many of the newer organizations are too fresh to have reported finances to government regulators. But they say they have also gotten money from various other sources, including the Barbra Streisand Foundation; Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s; and Paulette Cole of ABC Carpet and Home in New York City. They say they have also raised significant amounts of money in smaller increments online. Win Without War says it raised $400,000 online in 48 hours, with an average donation of $35. The Mainstream Shift Opposing the War, but Still Patriotic When the antiwar protests began to gather steam in the fall, the large-scale rallies were being run by International Answer. Answer brought together an amalgam of demonstrators, including antiglobalization protesters and longtime Socialists. Some of its chief organizers were members of the Workers World Party, a radical Socialist group that has defended Slobodan Milosevic and the North Korean and Iraqi governments. In the protest community, the group was especially known for good organization: in some cities, Answer would go early in the year and snap up protest permits for the largest public places on the best dates. Last fall, many smaller groups opposed to the war were planning to attend the rally Answer had organized for Oct. 26 in Washington. But the afternoon before the event, representatives of about 50 groups gathered at the Washington office of People for the American Way, a liberal group that is known for causes like opposition to conservative judges. It was a diverse set, including Black Voices for Peace; the Institute for Policy Studies, which is a left- leaning research center; and the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group. Many in attendance knew each other from past protests.
For nearly a month in private conversations, they say they had been sharing their concerns that Answer’s oratory was too anti-Israel, too angry. They worried that its rallies were not focused enough on the war: banners in the crowd were as much about “Free Palestine ” and “Free Mumia” — a reference to Mumia Abu-Jamal, imprisoned for killing a Philadelphia police officer — as they were “No Blood For Oil. ” “Answer is a radical left group and not very mainstream in terms of its image,” said David Cortright, a veteran of the Vietnam War and the protests against it, who attended the meeting as head of the Fourth Freedom Forum, a research center promoting peaceful resolution of international conflicts. “It was not the kind of movement I thought would be able to attract the kind of mainstream support I thought was out there.” They decided that afternoon to form a new coalition that would operate apart from Answer. They named it United for Peace and Justice. It immediately began planning small actions for December and January in various cities, and a large rally in New York City on Feb. 15, where speakers would be told that their remarks had to be about the war and nothing else. Later that same October day, eight people from the meeting went out for dinner, worried, some of them say, that even their new alternative to Answer would not get the support of important mass constituency groups like labor, veterans and churches. Over Chinese food, those eight agreed to create another group, calling this one Win Without War. To join, said Mr. Pariser of MoveOn, one of those attending, organizations had to explicitly sign on to the notion of being patriotic and taking a “reasonable” stance toward a conflict with Iraq, which at that time meant the continuation of weapons inspections. “Right from the beginning we tried to frame it as a message that would go down well in broader communities than just the antiwar crowd,” said Mr. Cortright, another of the eight. “The average labor guy out there wants to be seen in that mainstream, patriotic light.” Win Without War announced itself in December with a news conference and a Web site identifying itself as the “mainstream” voice against the war. Doing so allowed it to win members like the N.A.A.C.P., the National Organization for Women, the Sierra Club and the National Council of Churches and gain access to their mailing lists and memberships. “Affiliating with other organizations that don’t normally get involved in peace movements gave us a way to appeal to middle America,” said Bob Edgar, general secretary of the council of churches. Answer itself continued to organize rallies. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a steering committee member, said her group took the “most progressive stand.” She said the other coalitions included elements “far more to the right.” And other smaller groups would spawn, local groups in various cities and towns, national groups like Code Pink, which appealed to women, and the Iraq Pledge of Resistance, which signed people up in advance to commit nonviolent civil disobedience the day the war began. But most of those groups affiliated in some way with one of the two large national groups — if only to list their events on the national Web site. As time went on, United for Peace and Justice took on the job of organizing rallies. Win Without War’s task focused on the news media. It took as its national director a former
Democratic congressman from Maine, Tom Andrews, who had been working with a public relations firm hired by the coalition. The Internet would prove crucial to both organizing and media. United for Peace and Justice said 40,000 people signed up for e-mail bulletins about actions against the war. Win Without War says its e- mail list includes more than two million addresses. Earlier this month, Win Without War created a worldwide candlelight vigil online, allowing people to enter their ZIP codes to find the nearest one. A crucial player in Win Without War’s campaigns has been MoveOn, an organization originally started by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to provide a way for voters to go online to express their opposition to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. In January, Mr. Pariser sent out an e-mail message saying that the organization wanted to buy a newspaper advertisement, and could raise $27,000 privately if it could raise the same amount online. The Debate Civil Disobedience Is Toned Down Within two days, Mr. Pariser said, online donors pledged $400,000, and the group bought several newspaper advertisements, a radio commercial, and ultimately, several television spots. One, in which a scene of a small girl plucking daisy petals morphs into military images and a mushroom cloud, borrowed heavily from the “daisy” commercial that Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign used against Barry Goldwater in 1964 to stir fears about nuclear Armageddon. When the war started last week, United for Peace and Justice and Win Without War were split over civil disobedience, the tool that many in the antiwar movement had been saving for the start of hostilities. United for Peace said it supported nonviolent civil disobedience, while Win Without War said it did not. But as the general shift in strategy swept the peace movement over last weekend, United for Peace and Justice scaled back its advocacy of civil disobedience. Its Web site now encourages those against the war to light a candle for peace, to wear a black armband, to display a yellow ribbon. Smaller regional groups seemed to take the cue, trading sit- ins for bike rides for peace. In New York, antiwar groups called for mass civil disobedience on Thursday. There were more than 200 arrests but most protesters remained orderly. They specifically fixed on Rockefeller Center, because it is the home of General Electric, its NBC subsidiary and The Associated Press. Organizers say news media companies and companies like G.E. will profit from the war, whether from high ratings, newspaper sales, military contracts or payments to rebuild Iraq after the war. The most notable example of the new tone came in San Francisco, which had emerged early on as a hotbed of the antiwar movement. Last week, the goal of the San Francisco umbrella organization, Direct Action to Stop the War, had been to disrupt the city’s everyday life. Twenty intersections and thoroughfares were picked as places to stop traffic, with demonstrators sitting on the asphalt and refusing to budge. More than 2,300 people were arrested in three days, the largest number of arrests in such a short time period in decades, the police said.
The civil disobedience achieved its main goal of attracting attention around the world. But it also annoyed a good number of San Franciscans, most notably Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr., a Democrat who is sympathetic to the antiwar cause. At one point he urged the demonstrators to leave San Francisco and converge on Crawford, Tex., where President Bush has a ranch. So at a meeting Sunday night at San Francisco’s St. Boniface Church, some of Direct Action’s most active supporters, joined by members from many other groups, including United For Peace and Justice, decided to accommodate the mood of a city — and country — at war. “We agreed to a change in tactics,” said Renee Sharp, who when not protesting the war works as an analyst for an environmental advocacy group in Oakland. “We no longer need to disrupt business as usual; we’ve made that point. Our goal isn’t to make life difficult for everybody living here.” The shift was swift. At a training session for protesters early Monday morning near the San Francisco waterfront, a young woman in a knit cap took the microphone. As had been the routine at other gatherings, she led the crowd of 300 or so in a recitation. “Repeat after me,” she said. “I do not want to answer questions. I want to talk with my lawyer.” But the script then deviated markedly from that of the weeks before. After people pored over a poster board map and got their assignments — most were told to block entrances to the Transamerica Pyramid building — they were sent marching in a fairly obedient form of disobedience. They headed down the sidewalk alongside the streets that last week they had mobbed. This time they were in neat double file led by a Franciscan priest holding two church candles. The procession was so orderly, a large group of police officers having breakfast outside a nearby bagel shop did not even budge as it passed.
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