WASHINGTON – After a bare few thousand protesters showed up in Washington on Saturday for an antiwar rally promising a turnout of hundreds of thousands, the movement’s leaders are being forced to admit that its aging personnel are spread too thin, not gaining new recruits, and are being sent into demonstrations inadequately equipped with outdated slogans and incoherent political concepts. Sources close to antiwar leaders confirm discussions with key Congressional Democrats about restoring the movement to Vietnam-era levels by instituting an antiwar draft.
The low turnout on Saturday is a dramatic reminder that today’s activists, kept busy demonstrating for Palestinian rights, homosexual rights, partial-birth abortion, the Kyoto treaty, and military intervention in Darfur, have completely failed to win over the hearts and minds of young, protest-age Americans, who view them as a nuisance and would rather watch American Idol.
“How can we have a self-respecting Vietnam-style antiwar movement if the nation isn’t prepared for sacrifices?” complained one peace-movement strategist. “Is it too much to ask that more of the nation’s young people be forced to serve on the front lines of the peace movement? If they’re in college they’re already used to being pushed around by their professors, and if they aren’t in college they’re probably too stupid to get real jobs anyway—even the Army won’t take them—so they may as well be forced to join us. I think that’s a small price to pay for being born into a nation that’s the world’s worst terrorist state, and an international pariah.”
Representative Charlie Rangel, who stayed away from the rally, responded to questions at his office about a possible antiwar draft, saying that the new Congress would not rush into any decisions, but would not take it off the table. He agrees in principle that the country needs greater sacrifices wrung from it in addition to higher taxes, and being drafted into the ranks of the antiwar movement would be one solution.
“We all know that only poor people without any other choices join the Army,” Rangel explained, “so it makes sense that the privileged, educated brats who are getting the world handed to them on a platter need to have their choices taken away, too. If the American people think they're going to see one of their own kids on TV walking around dressed up like Uncle Sam on stilts, they'll think twice about going to war."
Critics of the antiwar movement’s strategy have long contended that its leaders rushed into opposition to the war in Iraq with faulty intelligence, and with too few committed protesters. Even while coalition forces in Iraq stubbornly continue to kill and capture terrorist insurgents, the number of news-grabbing antiwar publicity stunts has fallen to all-time lows. At one point, Cindy Sheehan was the lone representative of the movement, yet the monthly number of her ejections from public events has dropped nearly 50% from ejections of only one year ago.
Actor Tim Robbins admitted that the antiwar movement has been straining to meet its commitments. “Susan and I (referring to wife, Susan Sarandon) do as much as we can, but our busy schedules as Hollywood actors mean we have to appear only at those events where the amount of press attention, quality of cameras, and proper lighting are guaranteed to show the best possible side of our message.”
Sean Penn agrees with Robbins, pointing out that celebrities have been required to return repeatedly to the spotlight since the invasion of Iraq to solve difficult problems of war, famine, and injustice, including Penn’s recent heroic intervention in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Penn's wife was at the rally, brandished a sign that said “Send My Husband Home."
Even if the antiwar movement weren’t failing to meet projected recruitment goals, leaders would still be leery of a surge of new, untested protesters out on the streets, where they become easy targets for pro-war TV commentators who ridicule them for their shallow reasoning and overall lack of seriousness.
Critics have also noted how protesters lack training, and are sent out with only poor-quality equipment.
Protester Seagull Spoonerman, 59, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, felt that this rally was the least effective one he has attended in his long, antiwar career. “Just look at this sign they gave me,” he said, indicating where he had flung it onto the pavement. “It’s talking about ’Hey, Hey, LBJ!’ I mean, c’mon, we all know this is Nixon’s war!”
But organizer Julia Wungtott thought that criticism of the signs was unfair. Says Wungtott, “We couldn’t know that all our ‘Saddam Was Innocent!’ signs would become obsolete before we could get enough ‘Saddam Was Murdered!’ signs printed. You go to war protests with the equipment you’ve got.”
Schuyler Van Potz, 22, a student at Brown University, and a veteran of at least three violent rallies protesting the World Trade Organization, also was unimpressed by Saturday’s turnout. “I’ve been here since, like, last night, and I’ve only had like, maybe two, or maybe three chances to hook up, and like one of these totally old ladies keeps texting me. She’s like a hundred year old! It’s like, Jane! Dude! Lose the helmet and maybe find some guy your own age.”
Even local police were unimpressed, encountering only one act of suspected civil disobedience, when 300 protesters trespassed on the grounds of the US Capitol, shouting “Our Congress,” and, “We want a tour,” and trying to force their way into a side door. Subsequent investigations indicated the gang—consisting mostly of AARP members—really did just want a tour, thinking they may return with their grandchildren during summer vacation. Others reportedly just wanted to use the rest rooms.
Longtime peace activist Melody Cowsill resists calls to draft more and younger protesters into the movement. “The all-volunteer peace movement we have right now includes some of the smartest, best-educated, and most ideologically committed protesters we’ve ever had,” she said. “More than half of them have PhDs, and almost 90% of them have defaulted on multiple student loans.”
With such a diverse and often contradictory set of issues to protest, the peace movement is stretched to the breaking point. Organizers such as Wungtott and Cowsill are stung by accusations that they never should have started protesting the war in Iraq at all, as it only shifted focus off the movements’ protests of the war in Afghanistan.
But Cowsill takes heart when she thinks of how the Baathist insurgents and Al Qaeda in Iraq have stepped up to push the democracy in Saddam’s former dictatorship to the brink of failure.
As she gazes out over the lines of people on the Capitol Mall waiting to use the Porta-Potties, she says, “America has elected us to take the country in a new direction, and with any luck, what we did for the poor country of Vietnam, we will do next for the poor country of Iraq.”