Resistance is futile -- or is it? - Page 6

San Francisco was the epicenter of the failed movement to prevent the Iraq War -- but the movement that emerged here may still change the country

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SFBG cover as the war started.

Her San Francisco case, in which Bull won a multimillion-dollar judgment, is still under appeal and now in mediation. Bull said the protests five years ago did make a difference, something she tells those who fret about its apparent failure. "I tell them to look at what issues the candidates are talking about now and I thank them for protesting then."

"Even though we had millions throughout the world, we were sort of blocked, but now we're regaining that momentum," Melodie Barclay, a massage therapist who was also arrested with me on the first day of the war, told me recently. "We can't judge it by the fact that we didn't get the momentum we wanted."

Norr started his antiwar activism working with Students for a Democratic Society in Boston, protesting the Vietnam War, which he said shares many similarities with the current situation, for good or for ill. He said that people tend to forget that while the protests then were huge and helped end the war, the movement did wane after Nixon ended the draft and substituted massive aerial bombardment for boots on the ground.

"The protests dropped off considerably," he said. "A lot of the things that drove people to take risks in the late '60s had faded by the early '70s."

He thinks the current administration learned a lesson from those days: it's easier to maintain a war effort if the average citizen isn't affected.

But there are other factors as well keeping a lid on the antiwar outrage.

"The culture has changed too. Young people are oversaddled with debt. People in schools seem to be docile. The culture as a whole seems to be more individualist and consumerist," Norr said.

Yet some young people have woken up and many of them are funneling their energies into a peace group that was formed in the summer of 2005: World Can't Wait, as in: the world can't wait for the end of Bush's second term before we change our direction and leadership.

"We don't just want them gone, we need to repudiate their program," said Giovanni Jackson, a 26-year-old WCW student organizer. "If we're going to change anything, we need the youth."

Jackson was at WCW's founding convention in New York City, which came just as New Orleans was being flooded and then essentially abandoned by the federal government.

"When [Kerry] lost, people felt demoralized and World Can't Wait kind of stepped into that situation," Jackson said. "There was a lot of demoralization in the antiwar movement at that time."

The group organized protests and student walkouts on Nov. 2, 2005.

"Everyone has their moments of doubt," he said, "but I'm motivated by the crimes we see everyday."

 

THE LESSONS

One of the biggest barriers to galvanizing people and turning the fifth anniversary of the war into something that might make a difference is the presidential election, which is diverting the energy of many potential protesters — and at the same time, offering some hope that a new president may lead to peace.

After all, every single one of the Democratic presidential candidates has promised to withdraw troops from Iraq, with varying timelines and numbers of US personnel left behind. And with enough encouragement, they might be willing to help change the status quo.

Many of the activists who volunteered their time and money to help move the Obama campaign into its front-runner position came out of the antiwar movement, and Obama's strong stand against the war has been a key factor in his popularity.

Becker and some other activists don't have much faith that a change in presidents will change the course in Iraq, although he agrees that much of the energy now surrounding Barack Obama derives directly from the antiwar movement.