Anti-War Movement Breaks Ranks with the ‘60s
Reuters Monday, March 31, 2003; 11:30 AM By Greg Frost BOSTON (Reuters) - Peace vigils and rallies against war in Iraq have broken out in U.S. towns and cities, drawing hundreds of thousands of participants. Student strikes are disrupting college campuses, where old protest anthems like “We Shall Overcome” mix with the tinny sound of speeches belted out over bullhorns. The scene may resemble the Vietnam-era U.S. student movement. But scratch the surface and it soon becomes clear that this peace push is strikingly different from that of the 1960s when it was a movement of the young, of university students and of those on the political left . Now participants in U.S. anti- war protests cut across the spectrum of ages, races and backgrounds and include many who would consider themselves mainstream Americans. They are joining a more predictable crowds of college students, environmentalists, socialists, anarchists and other activists. John Llewellyn, a 45- year-old computer industry worker from Knoxville, Tenn., is among the tens of thousands of people who turned up at a recent anti-war protest in Boston—the city’s biggest demonstration in at least 30 years. A former “longtime Republican, ” Llewellyn said he has never protested against anything in his life and admitted he does not fit the mold of an anti- war activist, but said President Bush’s policies have gone too far. “It’s gotten to the point that it’s scary, ” said Llewellyn, who was visiting Boston with his family. NOT THE ‘USUAL SUSPECTS’ Although turnout at anti-war rallies has been strong, polls show that most Americans support the war in Iraq. Still, many of Llewellyn’s fellow protesters said the war has stirred something within them that has lain dormant for decades and, in some cases, their entire lives.

“This is the first time I have ever done something like this,” said 66-year-old Jung Ming Wu of Acton, Massachusetts, as he gathered with thousands of other protesters gathered in a park in Boston. “It’s very emotional.” Victoria Carter a 46-year-old actuary, said her appearance at the Boston rally was her first since taking part in an anti-apartheid protest decades ago. “I usually trust the government, but this time it’s different,” said Carter, who lives in the Boston area. Eli Pariser, the international campaigns director of MoveOn.org (http://moveon.org), an online political network that claims more than 1.3 million U.S. members and another 700,000 around the world, said many of those involved are not “the usual suspects.” “They’re ordinary folks who often have never been politically involved before and consider themselves patriots,” said Pariser, who is based in New York. “But they feel so alarmed by the direction the country is going and possible consequences of war that they feel like they have to get involved.” The participation of many middle-of-the-road Americans is no accident. Some anti-war groups have consciously reached out to the mainstream by avoiding some of the more strident rhetoric and confrontational tactics of recent left-wing campaigns such as the anti-globalization protests at the Seattle World Trade Organization talks four years ago. Some anti-war strategists have strived to cast their cause as a patriotic one that loyal Americans can embrace as part of the nation’s moral conscience. TECHNOLOGICAL BOOST Technology also aids their cause. Armed with e- mails and the power of the Internet, anti-war activists organize protests in hours, not the days or weeks it took their predecessors. One of their tactics before the war began involved bombarding the White House and Congress with electronic mail and faxes in a bid to block telephone lines. Joseph Gerson, a 56-year-old Boston-based pacifist, marvels at the speed at which rallies are put together, and he envies the breadth of information available to protesters online. “I spent a big part of the Vietnam War era organizing anti-war protests in Arizona. We were pretty isolated. There was a right-wing monopoly newspaper, and we were dependent on what outside speakers would bring in or what we got in the mail. That was slow,” says Gerson, a former classmate of Bill Clinton at Georgetown University in the 1960s.

Gerson said he is stunned by how quickly the anti- war movement has grown, noting that it took years to reach a critical mass of people opposed to the conflict in Vietnam. New York has already seen two demonstrations within five weeks numbering in the hundreds of thousands—a broad coalition of 200 groups under the umbrella of United for Peace and Justice. RE- ENERGIZED STUDENTS Part of the movement ’s strength, Gerson said, comes from a newly energized student base—a big shift from the economically booming ‘90s that generally kept a lid on campus activism. “The students who are coming out to demonstrations ... are rediscovering their political power,” he said. “They are learning lessons about American society and about democracy that have been submerged for the last decade.” Further distinguishing the present peace drive is the absence of a draft that sucked a generation of American men into military service and served as a major catalyst for the peace movement of the late ‘60s. In place of the draft, Gerson said, is a sense of “straight altruism” shared by people who are simply concerned about their country’s future. Stephen Nathanson, a philosophy professor at Northeastern University and a former Vietnam-era peace activist, said many current demonstrators also are more comfortable with their sense of patriotism. “In the ‘60s, people just accepted that if they were against the war, they were going to be anti-patriotic,” Nathanson said. “Now, people seem to understand that you can oppose the war because you’re patriotic. People who oppose the war actually think it’s bad for the country, that it will make the country unsafe.” Joshua Jackson, an anti-war organizer at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts, said activism is not confined to “lefty” college towns like Madison, Wis., or Berkeley, Calif., -- and it goes beyond the free-love, drug-happy flower power of the late ‘60s. “Sure there are punk rockers and hippies taking part,” he said. “But this is not a countercultural movement: You’re seeing a lot of ‘normal’ people involved with this.”