Ballots Can Keep Bullets From Flying

World

An irresponsible war of choice, launched by an arrogant administration with shifting justifications and heedless of world opinion, has sparked a new wave of activism in the United States.

Millions of Americans have hit the streets since last fall to protest George Bush's push for preemptive war against Iraq. But Mr. Bush wouldn't listen. He dismissed protestors and their concerns.

Would he listen any better if everyone who has attended a march pledged to vote in 2004? Or if, in addition, everyone who carried a sign, made a speech, sent an email, wrote a letter or lit a candle for peace committed to register one new American voter every month between now and the next presidential election? Would he get the message if a groundswell of new peace voters went to the polls in 2004 and showed how regime change can happen peacefully?

Do the math. Let's say that two million Americans participated in some way in protests against the war (there's no way of knowing, but we think this is a conservative estimate). Say each of them commits to registering one new voter every month between now and Election Day 2004. That would yield 36 million new voters registered for peace. (Some 56 million Americans are eligible to vote but are unregistered, according to the U.S. Census.)

Of course, that would be unprecedented. But a register-for-peace drive would be hugely significant if it signed up even three million new voters.

More important still would be a massive get-out-the-vote effort aimed at all peace-minded citizens, newly registered or otherwise. The same activists doing the registration might commit to phoning each of 10 or 20 peace voters once per month, and then weekly in the month before election day. A GOTV effort like that could increase turnout by millions in November 2004.

That would be one peace demonstration the president could not ignore.

"Peace" means more than just "anti-war." It summarizes in a word the concepts of economic and environmental justice, civil rights, equality, democracy and compassion. With that understanding in mind, peace organizers can broaden the call for a massive registration and GOTV effort.

The ACLU will soon announce that its membership has grown 33 percent since 9/11 -- a sign that the public perceives the administration's homeland security policies as a threat to civil liberties. Likewise, the more the public comprehends the anti-environmental agenda pushed by the White House and its friends in Congress, the less they like -- Sierra Club membership is up 15 percent since Mr. Bush came to Washington. And polls show shrinking support for the Bush economic program as Americans grasp the profound implications of the president's Robin Hood-in-reverse tax policies.

Clearly, preemptive war and unilateral foreign policy are just two issues on American minds, and a register-for-peace movement might benefit from these new public concerns. It might also find support among Americans suffering from lack of health insurance and among seniors unable to afford their prescription drugs.

Everyone loves a winner, and the unsurprising rout in Iraq by our best-in-the-world U.S. soldiers, cheered on by television news, has produced a spike in American public support for military action in Iraq. (It also proves how overblown the Iraqi threat was to begin with.) The White House obviously hopes to sustain it by shaking the sword at new targets, like Syria, and by crying "we told you so" while pointing to the discovery of buried chemical or biological weapons labs.

Those opposed to the adventurism in Iraq and elsewhere must not heed the triumphant certitude of hawks. They must answer it with determination to make change.

Dissenters, disparaged as unpatriotic by some hawks, undoubtedly caused President Bush to think twice before launching his preemptive war, despite his feigned indifference. Demonstrators neither defended Saddam nor excused his illegal weapons. They did, however, seek a way to disarm the dictator that would strengthen, not weaken, the international community, and one that would avoid all-out war.

What's clear now is that the changes they sought, and still seek, need more than vigils, marches and chants. Political leaders who want to wage war may be deterred when everyday people register for peace and promise to vote. Ballots can keep bullets from flying.

Elizabeth Ready served 12 years in the Vermont Senate and is now in her second term as Vermont's Auditor of Accounts. John Moyers is Editor in Chief of TomPaine.com.

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