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Antiwar movement revitalized by Independents and third party groups

by Damon Eris, published

According to a new study, the antiwar movement in the United States is now driven almost entirely by Independents and supporters of third parties.  The findings have media outlets asking “Whatever happened to the antiwar movement?” even as thousands of Americans took to the streets in cities across the country earlier this month to protest the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

The new paper, published in the journal Mobilization by Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas, analyzes what the authors call “the demobilization of the antiwar movement in the United States” between 2007 and 2009.  Based on interviews with over 5,000 demonstrators at nearly 30 major antiwar protests across the country over that two year period, the researchers conclude that the electoral success of the Democratic party in the elections of 2006 and 2008 led to the large-scale abandonment of the antiwar movement by Democrats, even despite the party’s failure to deliver on its antiwar promises.  

     “Activists identified with the Democratic Party were disproportionately likely to leave the movement as time went on, as they considered Democratic electoral success to be concomitant with the achievement of their policy aims,” they write.  

In their interviews and surveys, the researchers tracked the partisan composition of the protests they attended.  In 2007 and 2008, participation by self-identified Democrats fluctuated between 37% and 54%, and then plunged to a low of 19% in late 2009.  Over the same period, participation by third party supporters and Independents who professed no party affiliation fluctuated between 46%, when Democratic turnout was at its high, and over 85%, as Democratic turnout reached its nadir.  

The report concludes that, “the withdrawal of Democrats from the movement in 2009 appears to be a significant explanation for the falling size of antiwar protests.”  The research team’s surveyors estimated that hundreds of thousands of individuals turned out for antiwar protests in early 2007 and dwindled to the hundreds by late 2009.  

The report’s findings have prompted a number of mainstream media outlets to ask: “Whatever happened to the antiwar movement?”  On April 15th, both NPR and the Wall Street Journal published articles posing that exact question.  The piece at NPR noted that, “Now and then, small pockets of protesters still band together,” while the WSJ report stated that antiwar protests remain at about the levels common in late 2009, “drawing mere hundreds.” 

Remarkably, neither of these articles mentioned the fact that on the previous weekend, thousands of Americans had gathered in New York and San Francisco to protest the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya.  As it turns out, the protests were widely ignored in the mainstream media.  A report by the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting drew attention to the dearth of coverage and called on news media to “stop blacking out progressive protests,” writing: “The antiwar protest had thousands of attendees--and received almost zero corporate media coverage.”  

Neither NPR nor the Wall Street Journal appear to have reported that upwards of 10,000 anti-war protesters gathered in New York City on April 9th, and that thousands more converged in San Francisco the next day, even though these were likely the largest antiwar demonstrations in the country since 2008.  Coverage of the protests was almost entirely confined to local media outlets, third party news sources and blogs.  

The protests in New York and San Francisco, along with smaller gatherings in other cities, were organized by the United National Antiwar Committee, a relatively new antiwar umbrella organization founded in the summer of 2010.  It consists of a diverse coalition of antiwar and peace groups as well as Independent and third party political organizations.  Among the featured speakers at the protest in San Francisco’s Delores Park was Malalai Joya, an antiwar and women’s rights activist who was driven from her seat in Afghanistan’s parliament because of her opposition to both the US occupation and local warlords, according to a report at the Socialist Worker.  

Numerous third party leaders spoke at the events in New York City.  Among them were Howie Hawkins, a former Green Party nominee for governor, Charles Barron, a local elected official and leader of the Freedom Party, and prominent antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, who waged an unsuccessful bid for Congress as an Independent against Nancy Pelosi in 2008, coming in second in the race with just over 16% of the vote.  Sheehan pulled no punches in her remarks.

     “People say there’s only two things guaranteed in life: death and taxes. I can guarantee you three more things: if you vote for a Democrat or a Republican, you’re voting for more war, you’re voting for more economic oppression, and you’re voting for more environmental devastation,” she said to the assembled crowd in the heart of New York City. 

Reportedly, the United National Antiwar Committee is now working to build on the momentum created in New York and San Francisco, and is coordinating with immigrant and workers rights groups to stage a new round of protests across the country on May 1st.  Maybe the mainstream media will take note.