Politics & Policy

Protest Not Enough

The antiwar movement is losing the plot.

The call went out on the DC Indymedia website — protest General David Petraeus’s congressional testimony on progress in the Iraq war. For those of you that don’t know, Indymedia is the Drudge Report for people who think that burning jet fuel won’t melt steel girders, mathematical proofs demonstrate the validity of Noam Chomsky’s foreign-policy views and, as we speak, the U.S.’s shadow government is at Bohemian Grove celebrating the gains in their war profiteering portfolio.

“Let’s not let the Bush administration and their supporters in Congress repackage and resell the occupation of Iraq AGAIN. We must be there in significant numbers to say: We are not buying more war. There is no military solution. Bring the troops home!” read the announcement. “Join us to rally before the hearing. Bring your friends, your signs and your outrage!!!”

Indymedia may be a clearinghouse of crazy, but it does command an audience. The event was also sponsored by a number of notable antiwar groups: CODEPINK, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Democracy Rising, Voters for Peace, and unspecified “others.” Petraeus’s testimony was a landmark event in the Iraq war, so I expected a landmark protest.

So I packed my outrage!!! and hoofed it on down to the CHOB (the lovely acronym for the Cannon House Office Building) where Petraeus was testifying at the appointed time for the protest. Here’s what I found:

“Hey guys! If you put those cameras down, we have enough for a pinochle tournament!

Naturally, I was a bit disappointed by the turnout. A quick flash of my press badge, and I was assured by the woman in the oversized straw hat that it was packed!!! inside for the hearing — though the prospect of entering into a packed CHOB just sounded really unpleasant.

But it was really no trouble at all. I got upstairs where the hearing room was and there was a sizeable line to get into the hearing room. However, the assorted throng hardly looked like they were there to Rage Against the Machine!!!:

“Dude, I’m getting total déjà vu from the parking lot scene of that show at Autzen Stadium back in ‘88. The one where Jerry played a KILLER 12-minute version of ‘Fire on the Mountain’? After we get done with this hearing, let’s burn some sage and listen to the soundboard in my car.” Though they are not really visible in the picture, there were actually a number of protesters in line. But by any accounting, the showing was dismal. However, when it comes to protesters, perhaps it’s a matter of quality not quantity. Some guy called “The Rev” at the front of the line did something Capitol Police didn’t like. “The Rev” turned out to be the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, whose slogan is Make Hip Hop Not War. (Rejected slogan: “There are no better spokesmen for nonviolence than Hip Hop artists!”) Anyway, The Rev did something to disturb the peace and the cops soon had him involuntarily waxing the floor:

“OW! Sorry Officer — I meant the other 911 is a joke!”

But the clergyman was small potatoes. While The Rev had his hands busy with the police, some tall gawky woman with The Rev was shrieking “Arrest President Bush instead!” She had definitely brought her outrage!!! She was told by the cops to be quiet repeatedly. She did not quiet down because she is Cindy Sheehan, and according to her credit-card rewards program, if she gets arrested one more time she earns a free flight anywhere in the Continental U.S.:

“Cindy Sheehan is being arrested? Is it Monday already? Maybe Lew is just really into handcuffs.”

Of course, the protesters didn’t rule the day. Because what few protesters were there had competition. Jim on the left is a Navy veteran who came all the way from his house in Belize to show his support for the war effort. Larry, on the right, is a former Navy SEAL who spent 27 years in service to his country. He doesn’t want the “far Left to dominate the debate the way they did in Vietnam”:

“We only came here to do two things — kick butt and chew gum. And we’re all out of gum.”

Jim and Larry are with a group called Gathering of Eagles. Gathering of Eagles has been organizing counterprotests — they claim 30,000 people showed up to their last one in March (The Washington Post only goes so far as to say it was “several thousand.”) Either way, the group has gotten little media attention despite their noticeable presence in support of the war effort — they have another counterprotest planned for this weekend as International ANSWER holds their annual September protest. According to the nonpartisan Eagles’ mission statement, “We vehemently oppose the notion that it is possible to ‘support the troops but not the war.’ We are opposed to those groups who would claim support for the troops yet engage in behavior that is demeaning and abusive to the men and women who wear our nation’s uniform.” The group also states “will accept nothing less than total, unqualified victory in the current conflict. Surrender is not an option, nor is defeat.” Suffice to say, the protesters do not like the fact that Jim and Larry are at their protest. Here’s Larry talking to a protester for the cameras:

“So, uh, in trying to argue for the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq you thought dressing everyone up in pink was a good way to make your case?”

The woman with CODEPINK walked away from Larry in short order. And I left soon afterward. Larry and Jim and the rest of the Eagles had the situation well under control. On the way home, I wondered if the antiwar Left had finally lost the plot. First, that morning’s MoveOn.org newspaper ad calling General Petraeus a liar had completely backfired and put Democrats on the defensive. Secondly, I’ve been covering protests in D.C. for a longtime and I expected a much bigger turn out.

Today’s pathetic showing might be a result of the fact that antiwar groups are extremely frustrated. The word is antiwar organizations can’t seem to work with the Democrats. Leftist leader Rabbi Michael Lerner recently got so frustrated with the lack of response from Congress to the demands of antiwar activist groups that he posted a transcript of a feisty conference call between antiwar organization leaders — including the leader of CODEPINK, sponsor of the protest above — and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D., Calif.) and Congressman Jim Moran (D., Va.). (After announcing four years ago that “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this,” it’s good to know Moran has found a Jew he can break bread with that isn’t part of the Zionist war machine.)

Either way, the antiwar response to the Petraeus testimony is exposing significant cracks in the Democratic strategy. The American public won’t respond to virulent antiwar rhetoric especially at a time when the conditions in Iraq might be improving — perhaps that’s why according to Lerner’s transcript, “We can’t even get Nancy Pelosi to meet with her own peace constituents.” At one point Woolsey suggests that the antiwar folks “should go after the Democrats.” That should work out well for Democrats in an election year.

Of course, going after anybody would require that antiwar groups marshal more than a dozen people at a time. If they couldn’t do it today, when can they?

– Mark Hemingway is a National Review Online staff reporter.

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