All social movements need an “outside” strategy and an “inside” strategy. The growing number of people participating in rallies and marches in opposition to President George W. Bush’s plans to invade Iraq is heartening. The participants in protest events have included large numbers of ordinary Americans with no experience as activists and no ideological ax to grind. They think Bush’s war plans are premature or reckless.
But most Americans who oppose Bush’s war plans don’t show up for these protests. Polls show that since last October, when–under the pressure of the November elections–Congress voted to give Bush the broad authority he asked for to use military force against Iraq, and to act alone if necessary, Americans have become more ambivalent, hesitant and skeptical about going to war with Iraq. In growing numbers, Americans now oppose giving a free hand to a President with an itchy trigger finger. Without an “inside” strategy that gives people more conventional ways to voice their dissent, however, the peace movement will appear smaller and more marginal than it really is.
The street protests, along with petitions, newspaper and TV ads, and bumper stickers, have forced Bush to proceed more slowly than he and his advisers had planned. But ultimately, only Congress can effectively stop the Bush Administration from waging war–directly, by tying Bush’s hands, or indirectly, by reflecting the public’s mounting aversion to war with Iraq. Antiwar forces have begun to acknowledge this reality by focusing attention on Congress’s role and mobilizing support for resolutions to limit Bush’s options.
“We have to put up as many obstacles as we can,” explained Erik Leaver, a foreign policy expert at the Institute for Policy Studies. “We need to pressure members of Congress to come out against the war. Legislation gives the grassroots something to grasp onto.”
The strategy seems to be having an effect. On January 24, as Bush was putting the finishing touches on his State of the Union speech, 129 Democratic members of the House of Representatives–more than a quarter of all members–sent him a letter asking him “to use the opportunity provided in the upcoming State of the Union Address to offer assurances both to the American people and the international community that the United States remains committed to the diplomatic approach and comprehensive inspections process agreed to in the UN Security Council.”
The letter, written by Representatives Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Ron Kind of Wisconsin, called on Bush to “sufficiently weigh future decisions regarding Iraq on the assessment” given by the UN weapons inspectors, “including additional inspection time and resources as appropriate.” Kind was among the twenty-six signers who had voted for the war resolution last October. These original signers changed their minds as a result of grassroots organizing and public opinion in their districts–an indication that the antiwar movement outside the Beltway is being felt inside it, even though only a few major newspapers published stories about the letter.