WRL releases special report assessing the antiwar movement

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 today’s antiwar activists were opposing war when it was very unpopular to do so, and this courage to take an unpopular stand—especially in the time immediately following 9/11—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.


  1. Is the country really moving left, or is it just Bush fatigue? I hope it’s the former, but I think there’s evidence in both directions.

  2. I can’t help but point out that the corporate media has a big part in this. Some reports say they presented many hundreds of pro-war voices before hostilities began, and a half dozen anti-war voices.

    So what did they do after it turned sour? Did they give the anti-war voices their time in the sun? Of course not. Profits would be hurt if they were to point out how abysmally bad they did at their jobs before. Profit is their first consideration. Chomsky always says they are legally bound to maximize profit, but I don’t know exactly where he gets that.

    For example, “So they are required legally to maximize power and profit no matter what[.]” from this article.

  3. Oh, and I quit my high paying job the day the war started, and didn’t work again for a couple years. Eventually I both ran out of saved money (one year) and friends willing to loan me money (another year plus) and had to go back to work.

    War striking never became particularly faddish.

  4. Part of the problem is that the war movement is stuck in the 1960s, when the conflict was virtually internal. The Iraq War (and Afghanistan like it) is far more complex– it requires more than just demanding the troops come home, it requires real analysis and problem-solving. But few of the [visible] anti-war people seem to acknowledge that.

    Let’s take a simple example: how many anti-war activists have actually gone to Iraq? As far as I know, only the Christian Peacemakers have done that kind of work. That’s a handful of people out on the fringes of a movement that claims millions of people– and they were largely ignored (even though at least one paid the ultimate price).

    If you want to end the war, someone’s going to have to think outside the (1960s) box.

  5. Well, quite a few activists have been to Iraq. Amy Goodman, some of the main people in ANSWER and UFP, Code Pink sponsors trips there, etc.

    One problem is mass action tactics are tired and governments and media know how to route around and counter them.

    Also, mass protests on one hand attack the mass media for being compliant to the government but on the other want maximum coverage to get their message out. Seems a bit self-defeating to expect mass media to give good coverage after calling them lackey stooges.

  6. Yep. Mass action is at best a supplement to the real work of creating consensus on both (or in this case, all) sides. Sometimes mass action has no place at all.

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