Three years ago, Chantel Azadeh, 23, an antiwar activist at the University of California, Irvine, would never have imagined herself working on an electoral campaign. Ghafari, who belongs to an anarchist group called People Organized against War, Empire and Rulers, wasn’t exactly the incremental-change type–and she certainly didn’t see much difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. But 2004 may be different. “The last two years have done a number on a lot of people’s minds,” she says. “You might be surprised to hear this from an anti-authoritarian, an anarchist, but this election I plan on getting involved. I think it’s crucial that we get Bush out of the White House.”
Protests against Bush’s war on Iraq drew more students than any other recent protest movement, and they were younger, more working-class and more racially and geographically diverse. Now it looks as if that protest energy may provide momentum for the 2004 elections. The enthusiastic volunteerism of right-wing students played a significant role in electing George W. Bush. It stands to reason, then, that progressive students, if equally savvy, could help toss him out. Azadeh is now planning to devote herself to that project, joining many other antiwar students who have been skeptical about electoral politics in the past.
A survey of young people conducted for MTV by Peter D. Hart Research Associates found that one out of every twelve respondents had attended an antiwar protest–and many more said the war had affected their voting plans. Fifty-three percent of those eligible to vote planned to pull the lever in 2004, a dramatic increase over recent past elections. “We’re poised to see the highest [youth] participation yet,” says Jehmu Greene, executive director of Rock the Vote. Though two-thirds of the respondents in the MTV poll said they supported the war, 54 percent believed that those who protested the war were “acting patriotically” and only 41 percent said they would vote for Bush. These numbers suggest ambivalence about Bush and good will toward the antiwar movement–a real opening for young peace activists who want to build a voting bloc of their peers.
Though Rock the Vote took no position on the war, the organization views antiwar sentiment and the economy as the two most powerful vehicles for increasing youth voter participation this election cycle. A newspaper ad the organization co-sponsored with TomPaine.com, Peace Action and TrueMajority urged young people to register to vote, calling voting “the only peace demonstration the president can’t ignore.” It was illustrated with origami-style instructions showing how to fold an antiwar placard into a ballot.
This is far from an empty exhortation, given the surprisingly large field of antiwar presidential contenders. Former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley Braun took a stand against the war. The Rev. Al Sharpton became an antiwar activist himself, addressing numerous protest rallies. Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich was one of Capitol Hill’s most dogged voices for peace, sponsoring an antiwar resolution and now demanding evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Even moderate Vermont Governor Howard Dean is running on his antiwar record, drawing attacks from the Democratic Leadership Council. Before Bush, says Dean supporter Franz Hartl, 25, most young liberals weren’t driven to get involved in presidential politics because “things weren’t so bad.” But the Administration’s extreme conservativism and its pre-emptive war on Iraq have changed the calculation. Besides, he says, young people “don’t like to be lied to.”