Vision: An Antiwar Movement That Puts Peace Over Politicians
After campaigning as the candidate of change, the man awarded a Nobel Prize for peace has given the world nothing but more war. Yet despite Barack Obama's continuation – nay, escalation – of the worst aspects of George W. Bush's foreign policy, including his very own illegal war in Libya, you’d be hard-pressed to find the large-scale protests and outrage from the liberal establishment that characterized his predecessor's reign (and only seems to pop up when a Republican's the one dropping the bombs).
That's not for a lack of things to protest. Since taking office, Obama has doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan and now looks set to break his pledge to begin a significant withdrawal in July. He has unilaterally committed the nation to an unapologetically illegal war in Libya and in two years has authorized more drone strikes in Pakistan than his predecessor authorized in two terms, with one in three of their victims reportedly civilians. In Yemen, he has targeted a U.S. citizen for assassination and approved a cluster bomb strike that, according to Amnesty International, killed 35 innocent women and children.
But these war crimes, which ought to shock the consciences of the president's liberal supporters, haven't spurred the sort of popular protest we witnessed under Bush the Lesser. At a recent congressional hearing on the bloated war budget, a handful of CODEPINK activists were the sole dissenters. Thousands poured into the streets to cheer Osama bin Laden's death, but no Americans were in the streets decrying the drone attack that killed dozens of Pakistani civilians weeks earlier.
While die-hard grassroots peace activists continue to bravely protest U.S. militarism, with 52 people arrested last month protesting outside a nuclear weapons factory in Kansas City – if they'd been Tea Partiers protesting Obamacare, you may have heard of them – there's no denying that the peace movement has taken a beating.
The question is, why? Part of the reason is the financial crisis. It's hard to protest war when the bank's foreclosing on your house. And it's hard to find money for a trip to Washington, DC, when, like 14 million Americans, you're unemployed.
War has also become normal – routine, boring – to many Americans, with U.S. troops stationed for nearly ten years in Afghanistan and eight in Iraq. And after the first volley of smart bombs, wars are barely covered by the media, eclipsed by the latest scandal involving a politician's privates. Beyond apathy, many who once took to the street may now no longer see the value of protest in the face of the enormous power of the military-industrial complex.
But a recent study suggests that a major reason why the antiwar movement has withered even as the warfare state has grown is simply that the party in charge has changed.
After surveying 5,398 demonstrators between 2007 to 2009, the University of Michigan's Michael T. Heaney and Indiana University's Fabio Rojas found that prior to Obama's election, up to 54 percent of antiwar protesters were self-described Democrats. After his inauguration, that number fell to less than a quarter.
“Democratic activists left the antiwar movement as the Democratic Party achieved electoral success, if not policy success,” the researchers write. That is, Democrats successfully “exploit[ed] the antiwar movement for their own electoral success,” and many of their supporters took that as a victory in and of itself.
Instead of continuing the hard work of organizing and protesting unjust wars, too many people took the election of politicians with “D”s after their name as their own Mission Accomplished. Instead of continuing direct action, too many were content voting for “their” team and calling it a day, never mind the policies those they voted into office continued once in power.