The most recent protest in NYC has provided further proof that massive antiwar demonstrations are a thing of the past. On August 2, an antiwar protest took place in Times Square on a summer Saturday and at the most a couple of thousand showed up. Attendance at antiwar events has steadily declined after the spring of 2006. This is despite the fact that public opinion against the war has grown. So the all important question is why has participation dropped?
The first reason, or culprit, is the Democratic Party and their unofficial recruiting affiliate: Moveon.org. Speaking from local experience, attendance at our vigils depends on Moveon's participation. It is only when they direct their members to one of our vigils that we have a great attendance. And though their claim to fame slogan is "Democracy In Action,"- it should be renamed to "Democrats In Action"- because currently their focus is on winning the election.
The anticipation of an Obama election has robbed many in the antiwar crowd of the urgency to protest. Because of his opposition from the beginning of the war and his promise to remove our combat troops in a little more than a year, it can seem that the most effective way to end the war is to elect him. One only needs to visit the Moveon.org website to see that though there are references to beating McCain and supporting Obama, there are no announcements for antiwar events. Moveon.org did not restrict attendance to this event, but they did nothing to support it either.
But the Democrats alone do not kill peace protests. Today's peace movement is diverse at best and fractured at worst. The failure to account for the different groups in today's peace or antiwar movement is hurting participation. For example, many antiwar advocates, like those in the Democratic Party, oppose the war for business reasons. The Iraq War, for them, is wrong because we could either better spend our resources on other problems or our efforts are not effective. These antiwar protesters see no moral issue involved with the invasion of Iraq. Their sentiments are echoed by Obama and many Democrats.
Other antiwar protesters are just against President Bush and the Republicans. They, and loyal Democrats, seem to have no problem with US military actions as long as they are ordered by a Democratic President. So they get very defensive when one mentions that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children were killed by the sanctions employed during the Clinton presidency. These people tend to blame those deaths solely on Saddamn Hussein. In addition, these protesters have no problem with expressing intense hostility against President Bush and all of his supporters""expressing these sentiments is not consistent with promoting peace.
In addition, there are those antiwar protesters who are just antiestablishment leftovers from the 60's. Some of the latter group can be identified by their Che Guevara tee-shirts. Such activists either are unaware or are not bothered by the degree of violence that was used by Che.
Then there are some, but certainly not enough, antiwar protestors who object to war for moral reasons. Some are familiar with the Russell-Einstein manifesto that tells us our only choice is between war and survival. Others oppose our war in Iraq because we violated the standards employed at the Nuremberg Trials which said that wars of aggression are the supreme international crime. Ironically, we used the same defense in justifying our invasion of Iraq as the Nazis used for their war crimes in WWII. And there are those protesters who believe that all wars are wrong. These protesters are not just against war, they against all violence.
Unfortunately, most of the speakers, at the protest, appealed solely to the antiestablishment revolutionary crowd of the peace movement. The other groups of protesters could have easily felt left out or even uncomfortable as they listened to one radical speaker after another. In addition, most of the speakers yelled with the volume of the street preachers who were performing at the "Jesus Loves NY"- rally a block from our protest except that our speakers sounded angry. This combination of volume and anger will appeal only to a few.
There is another reason why there has been a decline in war protests attendance; it is us. It is who we are as Americans. Other than reacting to sudden impacts, we tend to focus on obtaining the American Dream. This dream, for the average American, is more about getting than giving. But activism, when done right, is more about giving than getting. So outside of the special occasions, such as reacting to a traumatic event, Americans tend to focus more on getting than giving. In addition, part of getting involves cooperating with the system that provides us with our opportunities. But activism often pushes us to challenge this system. Thus being an activist induces guilt for some because one often feels like they are biting the hand that feeds them.
While our protests remain small, we are losing tremendous opportunities to influence our government. And the effects of our lost opportunities can be easily seen. Those new Congress members we had put our hopes in continue to fund the war effort with their votes. And unless we can adapt and get more people to join us, things, like war, will remain the same.