Last December I wrote an optimistic cover story for The Nation predicting that “peace advocates will likely have the best funded antiwar message in history” during the coming election year, as “tens of millions of dollars will be raised for voter education and registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns through the 527 committees which disseminate election messages independent of partisan candidates.”
A new network, it was believed, would take the linked messages of the Iraq War and economic recession to millions of voters beyond the previous reach of the peace movement. A total of $12 million already had been expended on independent campaigns in Republican districts in late summer 2007, and much more greater cumulative funding was expected, from groups ranging from MoveOn, SEIU, members of the Democracy Alliance and wealthy Democratic donors who already had maxed out in candidate contributions.
It was downhill from that point, for reasons that may never be explained. For one thing, there was resentment that the $12 million might have been wasted in top-down campaigns that failed to break the Republican support for Bush’s war. Then in early September 2007, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and coalition coordinator Tom Matzzie were meeting with Democratic donors in New York City when a new setback occurred. The MoveOn ad attacking Gen. David Petraeus caused a severe Republican backlash, making already-nervous Democrats even more nervous at the association. Matzzie faded from view. Nevertheless, plans moved forward for an independent campaign on the “Iraq recession,” but then there came a “complete drop-off of funding for antiwar organizing,” in the words of Jeff Blum, director of US Action.
“I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to watch each day go by with opportunities missed…just because we lack the resources to do what we know needs to be done,” says UFPJ director Leslie Cagan. “If we, UFPJ, had $100,000, a mere fraction of that $100 million, we could put organizers in key states around the country and give them the tools to work with for several months.” Blum adds, “We need an earned media effort that helps us reframe the war in a cross-cutting way that moves a substantial number of Americans to take the view that the war is wrong and connect it to a solution, namely, to safely, quickly and completely end the war, starting January 21, 2009.” Blum believes an antiwar media message would be most effective around the upcoming presidential debates.
Ironically, the biggest single factor in the collapse of the massively funded peace project might have been the rising and unexpected primary campaign of Barack Obama, himself an antiwar candidate. Not only did unprecedented contributions flow online to Obama but the Senator also strongly disavowed the use of 527 committees (which are named after a section of the federal tax code covering independent contributions). In practical terms, this meant that big donors would not feel as “rewarded” for independent expenditures as they would for direct contributions to the presidential campaign and other party committees.
Furthermore, according to a usually reliable Washington insider, Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid lost some enthusiasm for highlighting the Iraq issue because it exposed the Democratic Congress’s failure to defund and end the war.