Where is the Antiwar Movement?

Is the anti-war movement dead, needing CPR, or ever existed?

Clearly in the beginning it was strong. Congress knew what millions of Americans and people throughout the world knew, that the war was base of lies and fraudulent testimony; only Congress went along with it to prove how ‘tough’ they could be in an election year.

But what has happened? When was the last time we’ve seen a real demonstration? And I don’t mean Spring fairs with Frisbee throwing and chants of Kumbaya? Why no shutting down of the entrance to the Pentagon (other than for the obvious security hurdles)? Why no shutting down of major routes going into DC? So many ‘why no….’ Lessons should be learned from the pro-immigration movement in their previous May Day shut-downs.

Unfortunately, the peace movement itself is a major player in the war. Let’s take an example from Baltimore. For years, there’s been a peace vigil every Friday at rush hour at a particular site. The organizer told the Baltimore Sun that he knows that this will not affect the end of the war. The only purpose it serves then is to satisfy egos and justify doing something or anything. But where is this vigil? It’s in front of the Homewood Friends Meeting House (Quaker) in the most liberal section of the city. It is also just blocks away from Johns Hopkins University, a right wing school but in a very ‘progressive’ neighborhood. The only radical thing they’re calling for is to honk for peace. No calls for wholesale impeachment of Congress, including most Democrats. No calls for war crimes trials against all responsible from the Bush/Clinton/Bush administrations. Why aren’t they in the working class sections of the city, or in the inner city, or in the staunch conservative sections of the County doing a regular vigil? Aren’t they the people one must attract to build a grassroots movement against the war? Not in an area where opposition to the war already ranges in the ’80s to ’90s percent.

Although this vigil, and so many like it throughout the country, may appear to be part of an anti-war movement it is also contributing to the war effort. Here’s how. In a ‘democracy’ like ours, the ‘voices’ of all people are encouraged. When the war parties can point to a constant vigil that remains polite and pathetically innocuous, the war advocates can say, “See. We are a country that encourages peaceful demonstrations. Aren’t we a great nation worthy of emulation throughout the world?!” In reality, because the movement with these vigils is so ‘peaceful’, they give credence to an overall system that engages in massive crimes against humanity. To this day, not a single elected Congress member or Senator from Maryland calls for immediate withdraw, impeachment, and trials. That includes Congressman Cummings, past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who claims to be against the war but hasn’t been shy about voting for whatever the Pentagon has wanted. And unlike the defeated Democrat Congressman Wynn of Maryland, Cummings does not even support impeachment. This long-standing vigil has had no practical effect in all its years.

One can counter and say it was the peace demos against the Viet Nam War and the Civil Rights marches that helped to end the war and bring certain levels of legal equality to all Americans. The reality is is that it was the military rank and file in revolt that was the major impetus to ending the war and the water hosing of innocent black children and the unleashing of dogs on bystanders by Bull Conner that galvanized the nation in support of civil rights. It was the brutal murders in Mississippi and Kent and Jackson State that woke up the nation as well as middle class body bags returning home. Singing Kumbaya might relieve tensions and put people in a better consciousness, but it’s the violence that people react to that affects change. And yes, there are counter examples. Ghandi, people power in the Philippines, and standing up to the tank in Tiananmen Square are notable for a non-violent approach to standing up against oppression. But even they would not have been effective for radical change if they were not reacting to violence by the British, the Marcos regime, and the Chinese authorities, respectively.

We should not deny that both methods have affected change. Relying on just one approach, though, in our fight to end this war is simply not enough. Disobedience, civil or otherwise, needs to be part of the movement. When the electoral and legislative process fails to end the war, what options do we have left? Changing the Party and face in the Executive Branch will only be cosmetic. The wars will go on, occupation of Iraq will remain permanent, and we will still maintain military bases all over the world.

Myles Hoenig is a veteran of the Prince George's County Public School system in Maryland, USA. He's a long time activist for social justice. He lives in Baltimore. Read other articles by Myles.

28 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. rosemarie jackowski said on June 10th, 2008 at 9:11am #

    Myles, thanks for a great article.
    There is no ‘Peace Movement’. The vigils and protests continue to do more harm than good by creating the illusion that those types of political actions are effective. In addition, they trivialize the slaughter that has been waged in Iraq since 1991.
    Another problem is that those who claim to favor peace, too often call it “Bush’s War”. It is NOT Bush’s War. It might be Congress’s War, or more accurately it is really the Voter’s War. Until 95% of the voters amend their way and refuse to vote for Dem/repubs, it is they who must be held responsible for the deaths of millions.

  2. Max Shields said on June 10th, 2008 at 11:04am #

    rosemarie jackowski you are right it is not Bush’s War, but it is more than a single war or a signal Congress. It is the corporate fueled empire that continues regardless of administration or Congress. To be sure they are active players (we are stubbornly complicit).

    Anti-war or pro-peace is a trivialization of slaughter and murder. While there may be an impetus like resources (oil) or ideology (necon/neoliberal/interventionism/zionism) I’ve begun to see that those are all pretexts for what is at bottom a ruthless disregard for life of any kind.

  3. ILoveCorporations said on June 10th, 2008 at 11:30am #

    It’s hard to sing protest songs and take on Bush Co. when you’re struggling to pay your bills and pay for your health insurance. Most people don’t want to “rock the boat” because they are afraid of what the government (or boss) will do to them.

    Thanks to 9/11, protesting just isn’t as fun or as safe as it used to be. Rally anywhere but designated “free speech zones” and you risk going to jail or worse.

    It’s also difficult for people to rally around movements or protest figures or songs because our culture is so much more fragmented and cynical than it used to be. There are so many sources of information now that is hard to believe in any of them.

  4. Edwin Pell said on June 10th, 2008 at 1:16pm #

    A ruthless disregard for human life is just a tool. The motive is the lust for power/money.

    I think there are few voters willing to accept the privations that would come from less oil. So yes, it is the voters occupations and the voters wars.

  5. rosemarie jackowski said on June 10th, 2008 at 1:36pm #

    Max, I agree with what you say BUT, the bottom line is that if the voters really wanted change, change would happen.

    Edwin…the topic of oil is near and dear to my heart. I live in New England where experts predict that people will freeze to death in the coming winter. This in a country where there is oil for yachts, recreational aviation, NASCAR, etc. Maybe we don’t need more oil. We need fewer Hedge Fund Managers and Speculators.

  6. Max Shields said on June 10th, 2008 at 2:59pm #

    rosemarie voting at this stage changes the tactics and strategy, but not the outcome. We have had endless war for the last 60 years. And this country has really had almost no lasting peace since its “birth”.

    So, while we can frame McCain as the uber-hawk; Obama is at best the softer side of the imperialist war-machine. But make no mistake, he will be the commander-in-chief death.

    Yes there is Nader. And a showing of a few percent given the way the system is set up is probably a high mark. We can say the “voters” are to blame for not voting in Nader; but I suspect you would not go that far.

    The only exit is a transformative revolution. It cannot be waged at the ballot box (at least not at the national level). At the national level, the trillion dollar energy powers alone will own the White House. Grass-roots will not penetrate that citadel.

    Transformative revolution will happen bio-region by bio-region if it is to happen at all. The alternative will be utter collapse, tyranny and unmasked fascism.

  7. rosemarie jackowski said on June 10th, 2008 at 3:39pm #

    Max… Voting would change the outcome if dems/repubs were voted out of the Congress. Yes, the voters are to blame for not voting for Nader. If not the voters, who? All that being said, I might agree that if voting mattered they would never hold elections, BUT that is only because voters tend to be uninformed. Voting will not change things as long as the voters are ignorant.
    The alternative to the ballot is the gun. I am not sure that I could support any violent revolution but wasn’t it Malcolm X who said that it is criminal to teach a man to be non-violent if he is under attack. How many children and other civilians have been killed in Iraq? Maybe that would justify a revolution. Maybe it is time to stand up and pick a side. The “utter collapse” of any country that invades another nation and slaughters children would be a good thing.

  8. Max Shields said on June 10th, 2008 at 4:05pm #

    “The alternative to the ballot is the gun. ”

    I’m not advocating a violent revolution, but a transformative one.

    I understand the use of violence for defense and am not a pacifist.

    However I agree with you on Nader and your sensibility regarding the slaughter we indulge in.

    I just don’t think a voting system allows for real change (and perhaps is the best weapon against it). That is not to say voting is totally irrelevant; it’s just not what it’s cracked up to be.


  9. Max Shields said on June 10th, 2008 at 4:26pm #

    Just a quick clarification: a two party system firmly entrenched does not provide any real change. While we don’t have a real representative government we are light years away from a truly participatory one.

  10. GL Rowsey said on June 10th, 2008 at 5:24pm #

    There was also a self-immolation (in 1966?) outside Robert McNamara’s window at the Pentagon, Myles. And it was given significant play in Errol Morris’ The Fog of War-Eleven Lessons from the Vietnam War (2004). That act was of course a response to previous self-immolations by Buddhists in South Vietnam, and my recollection is that it had a considerable impact on public opinion in America.

  11. GL Rowsey said on June 10th, 2008 at 5:30pm #

    The larger truth is that a war has never been stopped by voters. And the Chipmunk is still employing the falling dominoes theory: if aggression in one country (Iraq) is seen as failing and the public is rumbling, attack an adjacent country (Iran).

  12. Deadbeat said on June 10th, 2008 at 6:18pm #

    ILoveCorporations says…
    Thanks to 9/11, protesting just isn’t as fun or as safe as it used to be. Rally anywhere but designated “free speech zones” and you risk going to jail or worse.

    There was a vibrant anti-war movement in 2003 — two years after 9/11. However the “left” is very much at fault for its demobilization.

    Ms. Jackowski says…
    Voting would change the outcome if dems/repubs were voted out of the Congress. Yes, the voters are to blame for not voting for Nader.

    Let’s see in 2000 the “left” embraced Nader’s campaign and he garnered 4-5% of the vote. Then in 2004 the “left” abandoned him as well as the anti-war movement and left a political vacuum now being filled by Obama.

    The point is when there was a huge interest among the “voters” (populous) to stop the war and to engage in the drive to war (and it was NOT for oil) the “left” chose to demobilize and diffuse that energy to elect ABBer John Kerry. Since 2004, the “left” had done nothing to re-energize and to reignite it. The abandonment of Nader in 2004 by the “left” (including such notable like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn), created a tremendous vacuum. The only real “organizing” that occurred during this period wasn’t on the “left” but the “liberals” (such as DailyKos) who filled it with Barack Obama.

    Now the “left” is pissed off’ed that people are lining up behind Obama because when he is contracted against Hillary Clinton and John McCain he looks as “progressive” as Robert Kennedy — how’s that for irony.

    Yet Ms. Jackowski has the audacity to fault the “voters” when they in fact took the initiative to get out and PROTEST while the “left” was finding all kinds of ways to disengage.

    I thank the author for posting this article but please don’t be too hard on citizens when the so-called “left” leaders played a HUGE role in fostering the current political alignment.

  13. hp said on June 10th, 2008 at 6:20pm #

    Lloyd, remember this? If you do, you’re rare. Everyone I ask about this looks at me like I’m crazy. That’s beside the point..


  14. GL Rowsey said on June 10th, 2008 at 6:35pm #

    Jesus hp do you know who wrote it?

    November of 2006 was two months after I discontinued Depakote and Lamictal. I was still pretty fucked-up, but it looks like almost nobody else read it either. An incredible piece of writing that somehow omits poor what’s-his-name (who was holding his 2(?) year old daughter but pushed her away) outside big Mac’s pentagon window.

  15. GL Rowsey said on June 10th, 2008 at 6:39pm #

    so, deadbeat, what about their motives — as opposed to their emotions and judgments, in your eyes — do you think makes lefties despicable?

  16. hp said on June 10th, 2008 at 8:13pm #

    Lloyd, this is the best I could do. It is very short but does have a name and the comments are very personal and insightful.
    An incredible event to be totally disregarded by our ‘fourth estate,’ which in reality is a fourth rate estate.


  17. Giorgio said on June 11th, 2008 at 4:32am #

    “I’m not advocating a violent revolution, but a transformative one.” so says Max Shields.

    Well, mate, that’s precisely what Ron Paul IS advocating!
    But then where is his support from the Progressive Left? Virtually ‘Zilch’….
    The problem with most of you guys, peace-lovers, whitewash your consciences by ranting about it but deep down in your subconscious are only too glad to garner the benefits of imperialism….

  18. Max Shields said on June 11th, 2008 at 6:07am #

    Giorgio: “But then where is his [Paul’s] support from the Progressive Left?”

    From what I know of Ron Paul he is not progressive. But more to your point – HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT?

    While you make these claims, Deadbeat bashes the generic left with not keeping the “voters” glued to Nader in 2004. He has a point if Michael Moore is the poster child for the progressive left.

    We know there is NO monolithic LEFT or PROGRESSIVE in the United States of Amerika. So, why play these silly games?

    The dominate system is rigged and the vast majority of voters, such as they are, will not march off en mass and do a write-in for Paul or Nader.

    Are we clear on that? Let me repeat, the system is rigged! It is owned by the mighty special interest/elites, mostly corporate and yea, AIPAC has it’s mighty say. The rest is a waste of time because fundamental social and economic justice kind of change will not happen by using the SYSTEM THAT IS RIGGED!!!!

    Instead, I submit, that change is only possible at the local level. Eye ball to eye ball.

  19. Lloyd Rowsey said on June 11th, 2008 at 6:18am #

    Bingo again and hurray for you, Max. But don’t spend too much of your mental energy demolishing possible provocateurs, we need you fresh as possible every day for as long as you can be. And nota bene: If you were born before 1942, like I was…daytime naps can be good.

  20. Brandy Baker said on June 11th, 2008 at 7:10am #

    I think that the point that Myles brings up about the anti-war movement being “too nice” is spot on. I see the signs at these vigils, “Bring the troops home”, “Out of Iraq”, etc and they are now bland slogans with no punch. Pretty platitudes. Months ago, an anti war protestor was with a group in front of Barbara Mikulski’s house and she had a great sign: pictures of dead Iraqi children and a caption that read: “Barbara Mikulski, YOU are responsible for this.” Many other peaceniks would consider this an act of violence. I know, pretty dumb. Also, there were some peaceniks who felt that protesting in front of Mikulski’s house was too confrontational so while they were doing that on Fridays, there was another group down the street in front of Homewood protesting.

    Also, the peace movement here in Baltimore gets very defensive when you bring up the anti-war movement’s support for the Democratic Party and their failure to hold them accountable, a core reason why the movement is so ineffective. Citizens For Peace, a Baltimore City anti-war group that really exists on-line more than anything else, kicked Myles off of a listserv when he and I were both bringing up the fact that the anti-war movement needed to stand up to the Democratic Party and that in 2008 we should exercise the power of negation and vote third party or independent. We were accused of “trying to divide the peace movement” and causing trouble. Divide what? is my question. Unity with no discussion of strategy is the only way they will operate.

    Also, we were protesting outside of cardin’s office with some of them about a year ago and they gave a list of demands to Cardin’s rep. They were so nice to him and they treated him like gold because he was a Quaker. being nice to these people or their representatives is a slap in the face to the millions who are dead because of Bush and the Democratic Party. At a UFPJ demo in spring 07, Myles and I went up to the representatives of Feingold, Hager, and a couple of other eps and said (screamed), “Where the fuck were your guys when this was starting? Why the fuck didn’t they do anything hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis ago?” Fuck Feingold and Hager and the others. Having their aides holding signs doesn’t do anything. They should be holding press conferences every day demanding that Congress end this. It’s so sad that our standards are so low.

    We have to accept that the anti-war movement at its very core are partisan Democrats. So few were out when Clinton was bombing Iraq. I don’t mean that we should be all holy about their absence during Clinton. People became more progressive because of this current war and future wars will be hard to sell as a result. But this shift to the left has no voice because the anti-war movement won’t do what it takes to end this. We have to protest Obama everywhere he goes, saying that he MUST promise to end the war immediately when he takes office or we’ll vote for McKinney or Nader.

  21. hp said on June 11th, 2008 at 9:30am #

    Max is right. It all starts at home. Hard to be a ‘citizen of the world,’ if you’re not a citizen at home.

  22. dan e said on June 12th, 2008 at 12:40pm #

    oh jesus. such confusion, so much muddled thinking.

    beware false aggregations: “the left”, “America”, “We”, “progressives”, “the antiwar movement”, “the Free World”, “The Media”. Expressions like “the white man”, “the American Woman of Today”.

    Why not discuss the roles of specific organizations, candidates, public figures? Such as Progressive Democrats of America, UFPJ, ANSWER/PSL/FPA, the Green Pty, Nader & supporters, who hope you’ll forget Cynthia McKinney exists, ditto GP, also the three others vying for the GP Nomination.

    Isn’t it obvious that all the “antiwar” honchae continue to hold hands with Democratic officeholders/candidates/punditutes/operatives? Even Cynthia McKinney’s webpage has an article by Head Rat of 2004 David Cobb: “AnybodybutBush, so All Out For Kerry!” I tend to have considerable faith in Cynthia as an individual, so giving benefit of doubt until after July 10 GP Convention in Chicago: if once she wins their Nomination, the GPers will get off their, uh, hands & actively support her, she might get enough visibility to make the whole exercise worth the energy investment. But don’t hold yr breath: the Blackout on the McKinney candidacy, in which Nader is a key participant, is almost 100pct effective so far.

    Cindy Sheehan: is she still on the PDA Steering Cmte? Still a fan of Tom Hayden?

    Lloyd, I’m definitely with you re “pre-1942”. As a certified depression baby, everything since the mid-nineties is to me just the aftermath. That is if I’m not really dead already & all this is my expiring dream:)

    Well, all I gotta say, if you don’t like what’s going on but you still socialize with Demock-rats, you’re willynilly still part of the problem.

    Like the first rule is Do No Harm? Or do as little as possible? It’s impossible to live as a critter on this planet without harming other living beings, but can’t we all at least refrain from killing beings who bleed same way we do, and stop legitimizing these Dumbocrat politicians & those who brownnose them, like Karen Bernal, Norman Solomon, Media Benjamin? Stop tailing along behind them, stop being Extras in their Dog & Pony productions? Such as these corny “vigils” described in a comment above?

    Better you shld stay home, or get together with a cpl friends & try seriously to understand what’s going on.

    If you figger it out, do let me know, need all the help I can get:)

  23. hp said on June 12th, 2008 at 7:01pm #

    Dan e, if I told you, you’d just laugh at me.

  24. GL Rowsey said on June 12th, 2008 at 8:22pm #

    Someone asked about Cindy Sheehan’s campaign. The latest I’ve found is more than a week old:


  25. Ahmet Zappa said on June 12th, 2008 at 9:04pm #

    Thanks for your contribution. As a Buddhist, world peace is the most important thing in the world. As a Deadhead, we have a communal feeling and peaceful gatherings opposed to a “Stormbringer” concert.

    If you vote for John McCain, you are voting for a hundred year war and many deaths. SOS. Older guy. And we are so stupid, we will elect him! I hope it is not my child or your child who gets killed by a car bomb or roadside bomb for what? ________ (please fill in)

  26. dan e said on June 13th, 2008 at 9:27am #

    “Moonbattery”: went to it, saw, report: Dont Bother. Rightwing Kookblog. Nothing on it has anything in common with what I said re Cindy’s ties to various Democrats, PDA, Tom Hayden et al. My take is she’s a sincere well-intending person possessing certain unusual political talents but a sucker for flattery, and so far not able to completely overcome influences of her earlier environment/experiences which had her believing she lived in “America” (sic). But if she manages to do ANYTHING to put a crimp in Nasty Pelosi’s career, she’s done us all a great service for which I applaud her.

    “hp”: read your stuff in the past. Yes, I’m laughing at you.

    Brandy Baker: thanks for your perspicacious insights! Sounds like Baltimore may in some respects resemble Sactomat — oops, I mean Salmonnento…

    Rosemary J: thank you for thanking Myles H for his superbly focussed focus. And your other astute takes.

    Max, you aren’t really stupid but you’re a bore. “Eyeball to eyeball” my ass: try going “eyeball to eyeball” with the local bank as it files to have the local Sheriff evict the family who couldn’t generate enough income locally to cover their Subprime mortgage. Local peasnicks, incl. Greens, Pwogwessive Dumbocrats, Codepinkers, Peace&Freedom, got local Demo-controlled city council twice to pass Resolutions begging for “Peace” vs. Iraq. Hohum, the Widow Matsui ignores them, will sail to reelection. Cheney, Bush, Templesman & Assoc. continue as before, not even a hiccup of real opposition. Obama will if elected continue present policies, a fact he doesn’t make any attempt to conceal. Clinton at least made Promises & elevated Tokens but Obama doesn’t bother, why should he when he’s got unaminous support of every Black Democrat on the (virtual) Plantation.

    Like I say, I don’t pretend to know what the answer is, but whatever it is it starts by severing all ties to all Democrats, no more footsie-footsie. And by recognizing that this is a global, international problem so you have to stop kidding yourself that by ignoring everything outside your “local” attention span you’re anything but part of the problem.

    No, it’s not enough to try to “live Green”. Jesus what bs. Now we have Green real estate developers, who get their Long Green from the same NYC bankers as the rest of them.

    I don’t know where Max lives, & don’t care, but wherever it is, economic life is controlled by the Imperial Center, just like life in Gaza or Haiti. Unless of course he’s posting from somewhere in the imperial orbit of the Middle Kingdom? Iran, maybe? Which exhausts the options I know of.

    A bunch of crazed maniacs now control the levers of Power, that is the DOD, Executive Security industry, “Intelligence” “community” (what a phrase). By keeping your head down & trying to be Eco-friendly it’s possible to escape coming to their notice — if you happen to have a means of existence in an area they’re not focussing Ethnic Cleansing efforts on at the moment. Which is why I’m able to say stuff like this without expecting a knock on the door at 4AM tomorrow.

    Let’s see, what can I think of to post that will convince unsympathetic readers that I’m just a harmless old crackpot?

  27. Myles Hoenig said on June 13th, 2008 at 10:52am #

    dan e
    I had to look up perspicacious. Big words like that are usually flattering but I wasn’t sure.
    What’s the reference to Salmononento?

    I think the overall message of my piece, at least regarding Baltimore, is if you want to be really actively involved in real grass roots movement, don’t come to B’more.

    But not all is hopeless here. Anytime vets against the war are active, B’more or elsewhere, you can find some real activists. Also, unknown to this group, there’s a very strong student led organization (Algebra Project) and its offshoots, that are really taking on the establishment in this city regarding public education. They are some of the very few activist heroes in this city. Also, there’s a coalition to stop our utilities in their rate increases. So much to say about them but overall, they’re fine examples of what grass roots activism is all about. The anti-war movement here? Lame!!


  28. dan e said on June 13th, 2008 at 4:00pm #


    Salmonella found in tomatos, esp. Roma/”Saladette”, last cpl wks. Found 3 real nice Romas last trip to store, then had to throw them away. Erstwhile “Sactomato” fits profile of “B’more”: not the place to come to commence Activism, that is if you want more than bandaids.

    Thanks for your note,