More than half of the U.S. population thinks the war in Iraq is a failure. The president's approval rating has hovered below 30 percent because of discontent with the conflict — and there is no end in sight to the violence and American casualties inflicted by a mostly unseen, easily disguised enemy.
Although the Bush administration insists that the war in Iraq is not headed in the same direction as the Vietnam War, evidence increasingly suggests that the two conflicts are eerily similar ... except for one crucial factor: Where is today's protest movement?
It's out there — it's just not marching on Washington every week.
Before the war began in 2003, millions of people mobilized in protests across the globe to voice their opposition to the war in one of the largest protests of its kind in history. But since then, despite some occasional large-scale gatherings and media-grabbing activity by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, the anti-war movement in the U.S. has been largely been unseen and unheard by the general public.
But even though it hasn't drawn the attention of reporters and cameras, key organizers of the anti-war movement say it's bigger than ever, and its size far exceeds the more photogenic Vietnam protests, which are credited with putting pressure on presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon to end U.S. involvement, as well as turning the tide of public opinion against the war.
"Protests are just one form of getting involved," said Tom Matzzie, Washington Director for MoveOn.org. "There are a lot of people getting involved in their communities, through elections and their college campuses. The Internet has made it easy for people to get involved to stop the war — and millions and millions of Americans log on to stop the war."
While a 500,000-strong anti-war rally was staged in Washington on January 27, the real engine for the movement is on the Web. On a daily basis, sites like MoveOn.org, Andrewsullivan.com and United for Justice & Peace (http://www.unitedforpeace.org/) are trying to help kept the fires of dissent stoked, while YouTube has emerged as a platform for user-generated protest of all stripes.
In January, a YouTuber named Warren25smash uploaded a curious three minute video in which the calm, sometimes profane Englishman urged people to post their own videos with the message "get out of Iraq." Hundreds complied, from a hand-drawn, peace-sign-laden animated clip set to the tune of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" (with a chorus of "Get out of Iraq") to a trippy five-minute song decrying the war in which a breathless MC posting as Cheeryvibez asks, "What's happened to our dreams of world peace?!" over a driving techno beat.
These protesters generally have little kind to say about Bush, but few flame the president as hard as Timz (a.k.a. Tom Hanna), an American-born rapper of Iraqi descent who eviscerates the war and the commander in chief in the clip for his song, "Iraq." Wearing a black hoodie and rapping in front of a background that shifts from the desert to quick-cut images of dead bodies, exploding shells and prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib, the smooth-flowing MC raps, "Dear Mr. George Bush, why do you insist to make a fool of us?/ For over 200 years we stood for what's good, now we're despised by our peers/ And what do you do but add fuel to the fire and send in more troops."
The song, which bumps on a Middle Eastern groove, features the ready-for-radio refrain, "There's a war goin' on outside/ No birds 'round here, just bullets that fly/ There's a war goin' on outside/ There's death everywhere but I feel so alive."
Timz said he was inspired to record the song more than a year ago because of his ethnic heritage, as well as his anger as an American over the way the war was being conducted. "Ever since the beginning of the war, my heart wasn't into it, I didn't agree with it ... Looking at everything, you kind of feel helpless," he said.
"What ever happened to WMD's? What happened to all of that stuff that our soldiers are risking their lives for?" he continued. "So it's like, 'How can I get my voice heard, how can I say something and make a difference?' So naturally, being a musician, if you're making music, you put a lot of feelings and thoughts and emotions into your song, and I have plenty of thoughts and emotions and feelings about the war, so it's just natural that I'm gonna put my message out through music."
The rapper said that he's hoping that by using hip-hop as his medium he'll inspire more young people to get involved.
There may be more receptive ears out there than he expects. One activist estimates that the anti-Iraq peace movement is probably more robust than the Vietnam war movement was: Judith LeBlanc, national co-chair of the group United for Peace & Justice, the nation's largest peace coalition, with more than 1,400 member groups. "From my vantage point, I think we're seeing, in a very short period of time, an incredible amount of organizing and activity," LeBlanc said. "Now you have protests [like the one in January] and you also have this incredible congressional pressure going on because of the shift after the recent elections."
LeBlanc said that during one recent week of the debate on the recent troop "surge" in Iraq in Congress, nearly 1 million phone calls and e-mails were sent to members of Congress stating opposition to the war. "When you tabulate the numbers, it far outstrips the opposition to the Vietnam War over a 10-year period," she said. "This war caused record numbers of people to vote in the midterm elections and the biggest thing that reflects how broad this movement is: For four years there have been hundreds and hundreds of regular vigils that take place in small towns in neighborhoods and in big cities every week."
Unlike the past, when big marches in Washington and New York made headlines, MoveOn's executive director, Eli Pariser, said the Internet age has allowed organizations like his to coordinate protests in 1,000 cities across the country, which he thinks might even better illustrate to members of Congress that their constituents are upset about the war.
"I think people are opposing the war in different ways than they used to," he said. "I think they are giving money to candidates who are against the war; helping change elections to propel people who are against the war into office; I think they're doing things locally. We had 1,000 events across the country the day after President Bush announced his escalation plan (see "President Bush Orders 21,500 More Troops To Iraq; Democrats Blast Plan") — so it's not all about big marches anymore, but that's just a tip of the iceberg.
"There are millions of people in this country who are upset about the direction of this war and want Congress to do something to change it. We aren't going to take no for an answer, and we want to facilitate that in every way that we can."