The most powerful antiwar actions of the spring are not likely to occur in Washington. National antiwar groups will mount marches, lobbying days and other traditional initiatives. But it would take a monumental push to change the thinking of Republican majorities in the House and Senate, which are not yet ready to break with the Bush Administration on Iraq issues, or to convince an overly cautious Democratic opposition to press for withdrawal. And divisions over strategy and focus will continue to make it hard for a national antiwar movement that has struggled to communicate the depth and breadth of frustration with the war to do so in the brief period before the capital city becomes fully obsessed with this fall’s Congressional elections.
But politics do not begin and end in Washington. So it is that the antiwar messages most likely to be heard and acted upon by Congressional Democrats and wavering Republicans trying to figure out how the war will play at the polls in November will come from their hometowns. It is there, at the grassroots, that a growing number of activists are organizing with an eye toward communicating to Congress that, as Wisconsinite Keith Schmitz says, “It’s OK to oppose the war.” Schmitz helped qualify an antiwar referendum for the ballot in Shorewood, a Milwaukee suburb that is one of thirty Wisconsin communities voting this spring on whether to leave Iraq. The referendum campaign, which organizers hope will serve as a model for similar efforts in more states, coincides with a renewed push by antiwar campaigners to get city councils to call for an end to the war. Coordinated by the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, this “Cities for Peace” push has picked up steam in recent months, with seventy-six local governments, including those of Chicago, Philadelphia and Sacramento, urging, in the words of a resolution passed unanimously by the Baltimore City Council, “President Bush and the United States Congress to commence a humane, orderly, immediate and comprehensive withdrawal of United States military personnel and bases from Iraq.”
Activists are also trying to communicate to members of Congress through home-state political parties, labor unions and places of worship. Progressive Democrats of America has successfully lobbied seven state Democratic parties to endorse withdrawal. US Labor Against the War and individual unions convinced last year’s AFL-CIO convention to call for the “rapid” withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, and state federations, labor councils and local unions have stepped up efforts to deliver that message across the country. Almost three dozen mainstream Christian denominations signed a February letter that signaled a more aggressive antiwar line, stating, “We have failed to raise a prophetic voice loud enough and persistent enough to deter our leaders from this path of preemptive war.” That move followed a call from the Union of Reform Judaism for an exit strategy and, perhaps most important, for congregations around the country to promote a deeper dialogue about the war and how to end it.
Such efforts are not a replacement for national actions. Marches still matter, as do campaigns like the joint effort by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and MediaChannel.org to protest jingoistic coverage of the war by major media outlets and the “Women Say No to War” petition drive organized by Code Pink. Even with polls suggesting that the majority of Americans think the Iraq mission has gone badly awry, war foes in many regions still feel isolated, and high-profile national initiatives signal there is an antiwar movement that citizens can and should join.