New York, NY —Americans opposed to a war against Iraq are hoping for a big turnout for a protest rally in Washington DC today. WNYC's Brian Lehrer thinks the new anti-war movement could become a force in American politics -or not.
There's been one coordinated day of anti-Iraq war protests around the country so far - October 3rd - and it didn't get the press its leaders hoped for. Though the Central Park demonstration was surprisingly big - organizers say 20,000 and no one has issued a competing figure - The New York Times angle on the story emphasized the unfocused potpourri of messages that seemed to emanate from the stage. The San Francisco Chronicle article on THAT city's demonstration headlined the dominant hair color in the crowd: gray.
Will today's DC rally do any better? Here are nine do's and don'ts that can be the difference between launching this movement into the mainstream or right out onto the fringe:
#1.Do make this a single issue movement. There are many worthy goals under the sun, from ending racism to fighting AIDS to challenging multinational corporations. But save the rest for another time. You're trying to stop a specific war.
#2. You have a great opportunity to get an ambivalent Middle America on your side. Don't blow it with excessive rhetoric. For example, don't denounce the whole war on terrorism as an imperialist plot for American domination of the world. We were brutally attacked on September 11th by a group that would gladly drop a nuke on Times Square if they could. Americans are rightly afraid, and interested in self-defense. Endorse the war on Al Quaida and say this is not that.
Similarly, don't make President Bush the enemy. While YOU may think President Bush is a stupid arrogant cowboy, most Americans find him down to earth and righteously angry about September 11th.
#4. Resist the temptation to bash Israel. The Middle East has lots of bad actors - Arab dictators, Palestinian terrorists, Israeli occupiers. The situation is complex. Condemn the violence on both sides, and most Americans will rally behind you. Just condemn Israel and most Americans won't trust you. With a balanced message, you can also cultivate one of the traditional core groups of anti-war protesters: progressive Jews.
Do use the horrors of September 11th and the DC sniper. Americans now know what it's like to suffer through bombings on our soil, and a marksman in the weeds. Say we don't want to inflict that on the families of any OTHER nation, even if the cause is just, unless it's absolutely necessary, and you're not convinced it is.
Do Play the CIA off the White House. Senior staffers at the CIA believe Saddam is contained and does not currently have an alliance with Al Quaida.
Do remind your audience that the CIA says the thing most likely to drive Iraq and Al Quaida together is if the US starts a war.
Do educate people about history. Vice Pres. Cheney and Ass't Defense Sec'y Paul Wolfowitz have been advocating this war for a decade. Sept. 11th gave them a new hook for their old agenda. But if the CIA is right about Saddam and Al Quaida, nothing has really changed
And finally, do invoke the name of Paul Wellstone. Yes, he only died yesterday, but Wellstone personified the pro-America but anti-war ethic that could represent this young movement at its best.
The rally today can attain the Wellstone standard. Or it can be an I Hate America festival, frame your audience as your enemy, and turn most of them off. It's your choice.