Not Your Mother's Peace Movement

Major anti-war groups change strategy, hoping to win over mainstream voters the Bush administration can't ignore

Other organizations, among them the 100,000-member California Federation of Teachers, not only stated opposition, but joined a peace march in San Francisco in October.

And that's not to mention advertisements. A group called No Iraq Attack, recently started by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist, is circulating a petition opposing military action; the initiative seems to be moving through academic circles like wildfire, having gained more than 13,000 signatures. Advertisements in the New York Times call attention to the petition, which includes signatures of more than 120 faculty members from Harvard University alone, along with others from Stanford, Princeton, and New York universities and the University of California, Los Angeles, to name a few.

"The movement has become a movement much faster and at a much greater scale than I would have believed given the circumstances -- in the wake of Sept. 11 and the threats to security and the sense of a very strong president," says Zia Mian, research associate and lecturer at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. "To have such a rapid movement to challenge [President Bush] on a central part of his foreign policy is surprising.

The Oct. 26 peace march in San Francisco was the 
largest here in decades.
Paolo Vescia
The Oct. 26 peace march in San Francisco was the largest here in decades.
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee is one of only a few politicians 
endorsed by California Peace Action; rather than 
endorse candidates, the group usually tries to obtain 
promises from them to vote in favor of peace issues.
Paolo Vescia
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee is one of only a few politicians endorsed by California Peace Action; rather than endorse candidates, the group usually tries to obtain promises from them to vote in favor of peace issues.

"If someone had told me a year ago that one year from now there would be a vote in Congress on a resolution giving the president the power to take a military action and that 100 members of Congress would vote against it, I wouldn't have believed it. I think that shows already that they are responding to the fact that their constituents expected them to do this."

It's more difficult, however, to determine whether financial support for anti-war groups also has grown. Philanthropic campaigns are often planned years in advance. Trends in giving generally shift more slowly than public opinion does, which is not to mention that the economic crisis caused by 9/11 has affected donations to charities across the board. Plus, for reasons unrelated to current affairs, some large foundations that had focused on funding peace and nonproliferation initiatives -- notably, the W. Alton Jones Foundation and the Merck Fund -- essentially got out of the business over the last year.

Still, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that new money is coming in to peace coffers, some of it via new organizations that have hit the scene.

Ted Turner and former Sen. Sam Nunn joined forces to start the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit organization focused primarily on nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Earlier this year, Turner pledged some $250 million to the organization over the course of the next seven years.

And, in the streets, California Peace Action's Ferenbach has seen indications of a boost in financial support along with the renewed sense of enthusiasm for his organization's cause. (California Peace Action is 99 percent member funded, and less attached to foundation grants than some other activist groups.) During the massive door-to-door campaign in June, one of the organization's canvassers signed up a new member -- who promptly wrote out a $5,000 check.

"We've had a lot of major donors crank it up this year," Ferenbach says.


By any measure, the simultaneous marches in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco late last month marked the largest show of force by the American peace movement in a long time. But the movement continues to show internal strain. Some of the more mainstream peace groups were initially reluctant to participate in the October demonstrations because the events' organizer, a group called International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), has strong ties to the radical left and violent protest.

The difference in style between the larger, moderate peace groups and more militant war-and-weapons protesters is a source of some irritation for both sides, says Physicians for Social Responsibility's Parfrey. "They think we're moderates, or sellouts," Parfrey says. "Our people do civil disobedience too, they may just do it in suits."

In the end, last month's marches constituted an expression of opinion, and made no immediate difference to an administration planning a war or to its conservative supporters, many of whom lump suburban parents who aren't sure the United States should go to war with the violent anti-globalization protesters of Seattle.

The idea of the new peace movement, explains Parfrey, is to create a safe place for enough moderate, middle-class suburbanites that the White House has no choice but to pay attention.

"They don't listen to Phish, they're not burning the flag, they're not handing out the Daily Worker, they're not raising their fists," Parfrey explains. "But they want to show that they are wholly against what Bush is doing."

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