Have War Protesters Been Betrayed by Obama?


Hundreds of thousands of antiwar protesters turned the public tide against the war in Vietnam decades ago, altering the course of history, but years after a "sea of humanity" marched on Washington protesting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, those wars continue.

Meanwhile, according to a new study, the antiwar movement in this country is on life support, its numbers diminished, its composition much more radicalized, its bank accounts running on empty.

The mainstream Democrats who once dominated the movement moved on with their lives, abandoning the movement to a relatively small cadre hardcore antiwar activists.

And the White House continues to wage wars that were easier to start than to end, despite the fact that candidate Obama pledged in 2008 to end the wars.

The study, published in Mobilization: An International Journal, was conducted by political scientist Michael Heaney of the University of Michigan and sociologist Fabio Rojas of the University of Indiana. The two met while graduate students at the University of Chicago in the late 1990s and they have been following the antiwar movement ever since.

"The antiwar movement should have been furious at Obama's 'betrayal' and reinvigorated its protest activity," write Heaney and Rojas. "Instead, attendance at antiwar rallies declined precipitously and financial resources available to the movement dissipated."

Antiwar Movement Was Never Just About the War, Study Says

So what happened? According to the study, the antiwar movement was never just about war. It was also about George W. Bush. With him out of the picture, the issue does not seem as "threatening" as it once did.

The researchers conducted brief surveys with 5,400 demonstrators at 27 sites across the country, mostly in Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, from January 2007 to December 2009. In addition, they interviewed 40 antiwar leaders and attended many smaller rallies.

The largest membership in the movement consisted of Democrats, according to the study, but their numbers plunged from 37 percent in January of 2009 to 19 percent in just 11 months.

'The World Says No to War' Protest Mobilized 10 Million People

"Democratic departures left the antiwar movement fragmented and empowered radical elements within the movement," the study says.

That's a vastly different picture than the one just six years earlier when protesters around the world took part in "The World Says No to War." Approximately 10 million people were mobilized in hundreds of cities worldwide for that event, described as "the largest internationally coordinated protest in history."

Heaney, lead author of the study, was an antiwar protester himself in those days, he said in a telephone interview.

"In January of 2003 I was part of a march that involved hundreds of thousands of people marching on Capitol Hill. "There was just a sea of people. An unending, unbelievable mass of people just marching down the street."

In early 2007, with Barack Obama in the wings, participation in antiwar rallies began to drop "by an order of magnitude," according to the study. By October 7, 2009, the researchers "counted exactly 107 participants at a Chicago rally."

Wars Continue But Antiwar Movement Dwindles

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