With the inauguration of the Obama administration and a shift in rhetoric–if not substance–around US foreign policy, much of the progressive left in the United States is being forced to rethink how it approaches organizing, understands the US role in the world, and its relationship to those in power.
Nowhere is this more true than in the anti-war movement. Gone are the years of the Bush administration when it was simple to mobilize people. It was easy to turn people out for the frequent protests against “Bush’s war” and to critique the policies of the Bush administration. Dissent was something that was easy to understand in light of Bush’s low approval ratings.
Organizing under the Obama administration–particularly for the anti-war movement–will likely be dramatically different. Obama campaigned on a promise to “End the War” in Iraq. And while his Iraq policy is problematic on a number of levels, there is the popular perception that the US presence in Iraq will end sometime soon. At the same time, Obama has pledged to escalate the war in Afghanistan–an issue that has always been difficult for the anti-war movement to deal with, even under the Bush administration.
In light of this, many national anti-war movements are adjusting their focus, redirecting organizing efforts, and launching new campaigns that respond to the new political context.
Iraq Veterans Against the War
The veterans’ organization Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) greeted the Obama administration with a television ad that aired in several cities on Tuesday just before he was inaugurated:
- End the war in Iraq
- Shut Down Guantanamo
- Reject the Military Commissions Act
- Stop Torture
- Work to eliminate nuclear weapons
- Hold direct, unconditional talks with Iran.
- Abide by Senate approved international treaties.
The group produced a video outlining these promises:
Code Pink has declared that it intends to “be the string around his [Obama] finger that reminds him to practice what he preaches and deliver the change our country so desperately needs.” To that end, the group had a low-key presence at the inauguration with people wearing pink ribbons to inaugural events that said “Obama, keep your Promises for Peace” and is organizing further actions.
Military Families Speak Out
Military Families Speak Out is organizing a four-day event in February to “Demand ‘The Change WE Need‘” by calling on Obama to support an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq. The group is highly critical of Obama’s withdrawal plan:
“President Elect Obama opposed the war in Iraq before it started, calling it a “dumb war.” But he and his advisors have also said that they plan to spread the return of combat troops from that “dumb war” out over sixteen months and to keep tens of thousands of other troops on the ground in Iraq indefinitely.”
In February, the group is planning a teach-in involving the voices of military families, veterans, and Iraqis, a march from Arlington National Cemetery to the White House, and lobbying focusing on members of Congress.
United for Peace and Justice
United for Peace and Justice–the largest anti-war group in the United States–has launched a campaign called “Beyond War, A New Economy is Possible: Yes We Can!” that seeks to expand anti-war work and take advantage of the energy of the Obama campaign
“This campaign seeks to mobilize a new base of people who have been inspired by Obama and want to see an end to war with that money going to fund housing, healthcare, education, jobs and a radically different environmental policy. So much hope and inspiration despite the most challenging of economic and environmental times needs to be nurtured with lots of opportunities to learn and grow.”
It hopes to do this through an initial phase that includes organizing in local communities that began on Martin Luther King Day and culminating in an anti-war march in New York City. The group hopes to expand the analysis of the anti-war movement to place more of a focus on economic and racial justice, to work on alliance and coalition building around these issues, and to do base-building work to improve the strength of anti-war organizations and to talk.