The Rev. Robert Moore of the Coalition for Peace Action in Princeton, N.J., is ready to keep the heat on the Bush administration.
He says the peace movement has a responsibility to continue organizing and demonstrating to show the president and the world that there is significant American opposition to war with Iraq.
I spoke with Moore, executive director of the Princeton coalition (one of two chapters in New Jersey and 27 chapters nationwide), on March 18, the day after President George W. Bush issued his 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, but before war had broken out and I write this with the knowledge that war is imminent, likely to come within days.
Peace groups quickly denounced Bush's 15-minute speech. Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice, an umbrella group that has been coordinating protests across the country, said the ultimatum would "not deter us but rather reinforces our commitment to use every creative ounce of energy to stop this war," including a demonstration planned for March 22.
The group also called for a national mobilization in Atlanta on April 5, a day after the 35th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "to strengthen the link between justice and peace issues." [Editor's Note: Both demonstrations came after our deadline.]
Like Cagan, Moore was indignant, but he also was hopeful -- and extraordinarily committed. He outlined what he called the deceptions the administration has been using to persuade the American public to support this ill-conceived war -- including falsified evidence and the repeated canard that Saddam Hussein was somehow linked to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"His speech the Thursday before (March 6) mentioned Iraq and Sept. 11 11 times together," Moore said. "He never said they were involved, but by mentioning them together so many times, he suggested it."
And the administration's efforts appear effective, with a majority of Americans telling pollsters they support Bush's handling of the Iraq crisis and more than half believing that at least one of the Sept. 11 terrorists was from Iraq.
But those numbers appear soft -- while about 70% of the respondents to a March 17 Washington Post-ABC News Poll said they supported Bush's 48-hour ultimatum, less than half said they strongly supported it. And it's important to remember that presidential poll numbers almost always spike upward on the night of a major policy announcement or speech and then tend to fall in the days and weeks following.
And thousands -- perhaps millions -- have taken to the streets all across the country in protest against this war over the last several months, including a national walkout staged by high school and college students in early March.
To my way of thinking, the sheer number of protesters is an indication that there is a solid core of Americans opposed to war and that this opposition is much stronger than the support gauged by pollsters. After all, it takes a far greater level of commitment to step out in the freezing winter temperatures, risk arrest and make your presence known than it is to answer a list of questions via the telephone.
And this is one of the reasons that Moore remains optimistic.
He says that the participation of the major labor unions -- the national board of the AFL-CIO and many of its affiliate unions have adopted resolutions and individual union members have marched with members of peace organizations at recent demonstrations. This is a historic shift, he says -- the labor union generally was hostile to the antiwar movement in the 1960s.
"Participation of the labor groups adds more clout to our protests, more legitimacy," Moore says. "There was this impression, this peaceniks vs. the hardhats kind of thing in Vietnam -- and we weren't identifying with working class perspectives on the issue."
One reason for the change, he says, is that the unions learned that they were duped by the government, "by the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and other lies."
He says peace activists also have taken many lessons from their experience fighting against the Vietnam War -- in particular, that the peace movement has to be careful not to confuse the soldiers with the policies of the government.
"We should never have made it appear that we were against the troops over there," he says. "We were opposing a policy of the US government and the troops were just pawns in a game."
While Moore was still hopeful that a war could be averted, he said he was moving ahead with plans for demonstrations timed for the day after the first bombs fall. He says the goal will be to "shorten the war, to make it as short as possible and to limit the loss of life -- not only of soldiers, but of the innocent civilians of Iraq."
Some groups opposed to the war:
Peace Action, which formed from a merger of SANE and The Freeze, has been organizing for peace and disarmament for more than 40 years and has 27 state and local chapters across the country. The national office is located at 1819 H Street NW, Suite 420 & 425, Washington, DC 20006; phone (202) 862-9740; fax (202) 862-9762; www.peace-action.org.
United for Peace & Justice brings together a broad range of organizations throughout the United States to help coordinate opposition to a US-led war on Iraq. Phone (646) 473-8935 on the East Coast and (415) 255-7296, ext. 311, on the West Coast. See www.unitedforpeace.org/
Hank Kalet is a poet and managing editor of two central New Jersey newspapers. Email email@example.com.