The venerable War Resisters League was formed in 1923. They are a radical, pacifist antiwar group. They’ve just released a thoughtful report on the state of the antiwar movement after a “Listening Process” of interviewing 90 organizers across the country.
The primary question they want to answer is, why is the antiwar movement currently so anemic and apparently powerless, especially considering that most of the populace opposes the war?
They conclude, as I have, that the antiwar movement too often marginalizes itself, either through believing it is still a voice crying in the wilderness or through trying to out-Left each other and thus alienating the middle they claim to want to attract.
Many of todayâ€™s antiwar activists were opposing war when it was very unpopular to do so, and this courage to take an unpopular standâ€”especially in the time immediately following 9/11â€”is admirable. The problem is when we become so accustomed to being ostracized or marginalized for our politics that standing against the majority becomes a merit in itself, hard-wired into our circuitry. We cling to an identity of the righteous few who cry out in the desert, with no one listening. We stop looking for common ground and for openings and become resigned to a world in which our hopes will never be realized.
The country is moving to the Left. Sharply. The antiwar movement needs to move towards this and most importantly, listen to what people in the center are saying. Because you can’t have a mass movement until people in the political center are part of it. This also means many Left groups will need to resolve their conflicting motives. Are they organizing to end the war or using the antiwar movement primarily as a way to recruit for their group? The latter approach is self-defeating because the center will never want to be part of a hard Left group, and by only appealing to the hard Left, such groups limit their reach and influence.
The election of Obama, whether he’s liberal or not, presents a opportunity to the Left as expectations for change will be huge. We need to be more optimistic and to genuinely reach to the center and listen to what they are saying.