Ah, the oft-heard progressive lament. It’s usually followed by a list of complaints about the ignorant American “sheeple,” too consumed with sports scores and Lindsay Lohan news to care about what the government is doing in their name. I don’t necessarily buy this. I think Americans are able to pay attention to Lindsay Lohan and follow news about the Iraq War.
When someone cries out to me “why aren’t we hitting the streets!” my first answer is usually, we are--including massive rallies in New York City during the Republican National Convention and the huge Sept. 2005 march on Washington, D.C.
But there’s another reason. Sunday’s New York Times Magazine contained an article about the new, post-hippie style of war protest--the K Street kind. The article looks at Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, “a coalition of activists, policy outfits and labor unions,” working to lobby Congress as well as mobilize constituents. The question they ask is, Can Lobbyists Stop the War?
The playbook for opposing a war has changed markedly since the street-protest ethos of the anti-Vietnam movement. Tie-dyed shirts and flowers have been replaced by oxfords and BlackBerries. Politicians are as likely to be lobbied politely as berated. And instead of a freewheeling circus managed from college campuses and coffee houses, the new antiwar movement is a multimillion-dollar operation run by media-savvy professionals.
“They are to the left what the N.R.A. is to the right,” says a
Democratic strategist with close ties to the party’s congressional leadership. “They’re very effective in turning up the volume and demanding a response.”
This is all true. I’m not sure the right wingers have completely grasped the truth about the modern anti-war movement, that we’re not tie-dye wearing hippies munching on vegan stew and driving to protests in biofuel-powered vehicles. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those things, of course.) Part of the reason is that we do still have old school war protests; who can forget all that media coverage of Joan Baez serenading Cindy Sheehan and her fellow protestors at Camp Casey? The media loves this stuff because it’s an easy sell; the image is already in the collective unconscious: “anti-war protestor = hippie.”
And that’s fine with me. While the wingers and MSM focus on obvious targets, coalitions like Americans Against Escalation in Iraq are lobbying Congress and raising funds, and have pushed the anti-war movement farther, faster, than the previous generation’s Vietnam War protests did, and we don’t have a military draft to fuel our movement. We have righteous outrage at an unjust war that is bankrupting the country.
And then there’s this:
“The moment we’re in can change the course of American history,” he said. “We can show that conservatives can never again be trusted to run the foreign policy of this nation.”
A.A.E.I. is far more integrated into the political and media establishments than the hippies ever were. “They couldn’t figure if they wanted to take their clothes off, smoke pot, burn the Capitol or end the war,” Wiley Pearson, Matzzie’s other deputy, says of the 1960s counterculture protesters. Pearson, who is 59, spent 22 years in the Marines before finding a second career promoting progressive causes. Matzzie says political and lifestyle radicalism was a gift to supporters of the Vietnam War that his allies will not give again. “Nixon’s strategy was to demonize his opponents,” Matzzie says. “Some of the politicians who are supporting the war want to be protested by fringe groups. We’re not going to play that game — we’re not going to let them off the hook. We’re going to put their own constituents in their faces.”
The message to pro-war conservatives is simple: We're organized. We're well-funded. We're politically connected. We have access. And we will win this debate because the American people are with us. We are the American people, rank and file. So you can either get on board now and end this debacle in Iraq, or you can go down in history as the political party that can never be trusted to run our foreign policy again. It's your choice.