Naked City

The daily grind of the anti-war movement

On Monday, April 25, Margorie Wood, a grandmother and an anti-war activist for Texans for Peace, slowly made her way up the Capitol stairs. Unlike all the bustling lobbyists inside, she had to stop and ask for directions from a petite blonde with a patriotic bow tie before she could deliver to various legislators the petition she carried in a simple canvas bag. The 300-signature document called for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

Contrary to peace activist stereotypes, Wood describes herself as a radical, or root, conservative. She finds much of her moral inspiration in the Bible, and in it she also finds many reasons to oppose the war in Iraq: "We shouldn't be greedy, whether it's about somebody else's spouse, somebody else's car, or somebody else's oil. We shouldn't try and go get something that doesn't belong to us. It's wrong."

Texans for Peace focuses on building the peace movement in Texas by supporting activist groups. Among other activities, the organization maintains an e-mail list they send out to some 10,000 people. Charlie Jackson, founder of Texans for Peace, claims "interest in peacemaking activities has grown by 50% in the last three years." That's where people like Wood come in. Wood describes herself as "just a mother who is mad about the war." Jackson suggests that the desire of parents to keep their children from getting killed accounts for much of the current growth of the anti-war movement. "The anti-war movement right now is growing from the military families, and those people who are most affected by [the war]. They may have supported the war at the beginning, but they're fed up with the continuing situation," Jackson said.

To varying degrees, numbers from other organizations bear out his claim. United for Peace and Justice, a national coalition of groups opposed to warfare, says their membership has increased over the past few years from 12 to more than 1,300. The financial records of Christian Peacemaker Teams, an ecumenical group that sends delegations of pacifists to global hot spots such as Iraq and Colombia, show an increase in donations from $649,000 in 2001 to $806,000 in 2004.

Despite these figures, the movement simply isn't as visible as it was during the run-up to the Iraq war. Anti-war rallies have noticeably decreased in size since the beginning of the war. The bulk of anti-war activity has moved from flashy rallies to offices, living rooms, and dormitories. Robert Jensen, a professor at the UT School of Journalism and an outspoken activist, says, "There are people in a lot of small settings that are not visible to the media where this kind of work goes on." Anti-war groups these days spend most of their time meeting, networking, training, viewing movies, testing organizational methods, and developing an alternative vision.

Critics of the anti-war movement charge that it is a fuzzy-headed naysayer with no positive agenda of its own. Anti-war activists, however, characterize their movement and its vision as developing. Jackson believes the anti-war movement is "at about the same point the environmental movement was say 50 [to] 75 years ago, which is to say it was almost nonexistent. … I think the social justice, nonviolence movement is working towards being a mass movement, but we're a long way from achieving that."

The anti-war movement to date has been largely ineffective in its chief goal of influencing U.S. foreign policy. As Pat Youngblood, a coordinator for Third Coast Activist, puts it, "A big part of what we do right now is to focus on the education. … We're grasping for how to translate that into a movement, build that into political power." Despite its lack of success on the international level, the movement has some strategies it can apply locally. Texans for Peace, for example, will wage an anti-recruitment campaign this fall as part of an effort to convince parents not to let their children join the military.

Like the environmental movement before it, perhaps only a catastrophe, or a set of catastrophes, will bring the anti-war movement to the foreground. "One of the tasks of people committed to global justice is to keep alive alternative frameworks so that when this culture does start to unravel economically, politically, ecologically, they make sure that there's a place for the culture to have a soft landing," Jensen says.

While the movement waits for the prevailing political winds to change, however, Texans for Peace's Wood gets up each morning, puts on her shoes, and promotes her group's vision of a just world. "You just do it," Wood says. "If you don't do it, nobody else is going to."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Margorie Wood, Texans for Peace, anti-war movement, Pat Youngblood, Third Coast Activist, Robert Jensen

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