US anti-war divisions
Infighting splits US war protesters
The Democrats' retreat on Iraq sparked a rethink of anti-Bush strategy
June 3, 2007 The Observer
The American peace movement has been plunged into disarray after failing to persuade the new-look Congress to stop the war, amid mounting warnings of a summer bloodbath in Iraq.
When its most high-profile controversial figurehead - bereaved mother Cindy Sheehan - quit the anti-war campaign and the Democratic party in disgust last week, her resignation statement revealed the deep divisions. Now opponents of President Bush are warning that the anti-war movement and the Democrats have little time to salvage their credibility if they want to end the war - and take the credit for it.
Sheehan shot to fame when she camped outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in August 2005 and refused to move until he met her to explain the 'noble cause' for which her son Casey had died in Iraq the previous year. Bush never did.
But 'betrayal' was the only word used to describe the Democrats last week by the pressure group Military Families Speak Out, after the Democrats 'caved in' by agreeing to continue funding Iraq without setting a withdrawal deadline.
Even as Sheehan's decision to withdraw after three years' campaigning cast a spotlight on the state of the US peace movement, it was eclipsed by her announcement that 'Camp Casey' - the chunk of land she bought to hold protests outside Bush's ranch - was up for sale.
Despite her repeated declarations that she would use it until Bush resigned or was impeached, reports emerged that she plans to sell it on eBay. Without missing a beat, the conservative group Move America Forward announced it would buy Camp Casey and erect a war memorial there, leading Sheehan's sister, DeDe Miller, to declare it would be 'a cold day in hell' before they would get their hands on it.
'It's going to be a bloodbath this summer,' said Celeste Zappala of Gold Star Families - the campaign group of relatives who have lost loved ones in Iraq and want the troops withdrawn now - after claims by senior US generals that the violence in Iraq would hit a new peak this summer. 'I think campaigners are feeling disheartened at the moment, but some of us cannot walk away,' she added in an apparent dig at Sheehan.
But while some believe that Sheehan may return to the peace movement after a spell out of the limelight, she seems unlikely to kiss and make up with the Democrats - or one of their most famous support groups, MoveOn.org - which has become the other high-profile face of the US anti-war movement.
She called MoveOn's reputation as a big player in the anti-war left 'hilarious', accusing it of being so tied in to the Democrats and their electoral cause that they clammed up when the party failed to protest about the war.
Military Families Speak Out admitted that the anti-war movement was 'fragmenting' - a view endorsed by the Crawford Peace House, a campaign based near Bush's ranch, which is calling for the anti-war movement to 'regroup'.
'The peace movement is in disarray. It's run by the Democrats and they are scrambling to try to show that they are anti-war, but no one is fooled any more, and Cindy Sheehan just added an exclamation mark to that,' said John Walsh, a commentator for the leftwing online newsletter Counterpunch
Lawrence Wittner, professor of history at the State University of New York, agrees: 'The movement needs a powerful, national peace organisation, with a mass membership,' he added. 'Only then will it impress the politicians.' Others believe the only way for the peace movement to make a difference now is for its various groups formally to break with the political parties with which they are aligned - in other words, the Democrats. 'We need to make the Democrats really feel the shame of their capitulation. If they get it, maybe they can retrieve some respect from the people who actually voted them into power,' said Gary Leupp, professor of history at Tufts University.
Some draw consolation from history. Among them is Judith Le Blanc, co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, who points to the anti-war movement's fight during the Vietnam war and supports Democratic tactics. 'Vietman was not ended with one vote. It took five votes to withdraw funding and, during that time, [President Lyndon] Johnson began bringing the troops out. I think the Democrats are using the politics of reality,' she said. Le Blanc promised a 'hot and heavy' summer for campaigners to persuade lukewarm Democrats that their careers are on the line. 'We are not giving up,' she insisted.
Labels: US anti-war