"The antiwar movement today is a bunch of beleaguered people, half of whom have very bad judgment," he said. "I'm afraid a lot of people have just given up."
On the streets
The day after Obama's speech, Code Pink, the ANSWER Coalition, and four other antiwar groups sponsored a San Francisco rally opposing the Afghanistan decision — the first indication of whether Bay Area residents were motivated to march against Obama.
ANSWER's regional director Richard Becker told us the day before, "I think we're going to get a big turnout. The tension has really been building. We may see a revival."
But on the streets, there wasn't much sign of an antiwar revival, at least not yet. Only about 100 people were gathered at the intersection of Market and Powell streets when the rally begun, and that built up to maybe a few hundred by the time they marched.
"I'm wondering about the despair people are feeling," Barry Hermanson, who has run for Congress and other offices as a member of the Green Party, told us at the event. He considered Obama's decision "a betrayal," adding that "it's not going to stop me from working for peace. There is no other alternative."
As Becker led the crowd in a half-hearted chant, "Occupation is a crime, Afghanistan to Palestine," Frank Scafani carried a sign that read, "Democrats and Republicans. Same shit, different assholes."
He called Obama a "smooth-talking flim-flam man" not worthy of progressive hopes, but acknowledged that it will be difficult to get people back into the streets, even though polls show most Americans oppose the Afghanistan escalation.
"I just think people are burned out after nine years of this. Nobody in Washington listens," Scafani said. "Why walk around in circles on a Saturday or Sunday? It doesn't do anything."
Yet he and others were still out there.
"I think people are a little apathetic now. Their focus in on the economy," said Frank Briones, an unemployed former property manager. He voted for Obama and still supports him in many areas, "but this war is a bad idea," he said.
Yet he said people are demoralized after opposing the preventable war in Iraq and having their bleak predictions about its prospects proven true. "Our frustration was that government ignored us," he said. "And they'll probably do the same thing now."
But antiwar activists say they just need to keep fighting and hope the movement comes alive again.
"We don't really know what it is ahead of time that motivates large numbers of people to change their lives and become politically active," Becker told us after the march, citing as examples the massive mobilizations against the Iraq War in 2003, in favor of immigrants rights in 2006, and against Prop. 8 in 2008. "So we're not discouraged. We don't have control over all the factors here, and neither do those in power."
Antiwar groups will be holding an organizing meeting Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. at Centro del Pueblo, 474 Valencia, SF. Among the topics is planning a large rally for March 20, the anniversary of the Iraq War. All are welcome.