[A-List] Lean Times for the Anti-War Movement
critical.montages at gmail.com
Mon Apr 6 22:25:48 MDT 2009
A lot of left-of-center US activists and organizations backed Obama
explicitly or implicitly. The result is that they have put themselves
out of business, empowering their class enemy rather than building up
their own bases. -- Yoshie
CQ WEEKLY – VANTAGE POINT
March 28, 2009 – 1:31 p.m.
Lean Times for the Anti-War Movement
By Shawn Zeller, CQ Staff
In the months leading up to the war in Iraq and over the course of the
bloody insurgency that followed the 2003 invasion, no anti-war group
was bigger than United for Peace and Justice.
Although it never boasted a huge staff or budget — topping out at nine
paid employees and $450,000 in annual revenue from foundations and
individuals — United for Peace played a crucial role in coordinating
hundreds of demonstrations, including a 2003 global day of protest
that featured a rally at U.N. headquarters in New York that the group
says drew more than 500,000 participants.
But with an anti-war president now in office and the economy in
tatters, the organization is tiptoeing on the edge of bankruptcy. This
winter, United for Peace sent out desperate appeals informing donors
that it was in danger of closing its doors if it could not raise new
revenue. The response was good, providing some stability through the
spring, says longtime national coordinator Leslie Cagan. Even so, the
group issued another appeal this month, saying it is “not yet out of
the difficult financial straits.”
Nor is it alone. The anti-war protest movement in general seems to be
suffering financially for its political success.
The Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition, another umbrella
group, has recently faced money problems as well, while struggling to
keep its members motivated. This month’s Washington rally by the
group, known as Answer, drew only about 3,000 protestors to the steps
of the pentagon, according to police.
“You certainly see that the promises the Obama campaign made have had
some impact on the anti-war movement,” says Answer’s national staff
coordinator, Sarah Sloan. Additionally, the coalition has been
distracted lately by a long-running fight with the District of
Columbia over whether it put up posters illegally. The city wants
Answer to pay more than $60,000 in fines; Sloan says the coalition has
abided by local regulations and has no intention of paying.
The colorful activist group Code Pink says it has maintained its
fundraising of $350,000 per year and has done it, according to
national media coordinator Jean Stevens, by shifting its focus away
from the Iraq War to the AIG bonus scandal, Afghanistan and the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We’re seeing a sense that, ‘OK, that’s
over,’” she says of grass-roots activists’ feelings about Iraq. “The
general sense within the country is it’s an old issue.”
In recent strategy sessions, Stevens says, the group’s leaders have
thought about ways to fire up grass-roots activists by linking the
current financial imbroglio with the war. Stevens says Code Pink is
now making the case that, absent the Iraq War, more attention might
have been focused on financial regulation and more money spent on
pressing domestic issues.
But Stevens concedes that some people find that a bit of a leap. “To
motivate people that this is money worth spending, they want to feel
they are going to see some immediate return, and that’s tough,” she
Cagan, meanwhile, says fundraising at United for Peace has fallen by
as much as 50 percent. “It’s been a really dramatic decline,” she
says, and it’s because President Obama is in office.
“Some people believe that with the new administration and the changes
in Washington, the work of the anti-war movement is not as important
as some of the other issues of the day,” Cagan says. One result is
that Cagan has had to reduce her staff by two-thirds: Only three
people now work in the group’s New York office. And in early April,
that number will fall to two when Cagan, 61, steps down after leading
the group since its founding. No replacement has been hired. An
advertisement for the post on the group’s Web site indicates United
for Peace expects to maintain a budget of $250,000 going forward, a 44
percent decline from its peak.
All this comes at a time, Cagan says, when anti-war activism is still
important. She, like many activists, is not happy with the time frame
Obama has laid out for a full withdrawal from Iraq — he’s pledged to
remove all troops by the end of 2011 — or with Obama’s plan to
increase the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
But many of United for Peace’s past donors, stretched by the financial
crisis, are not so passionate. “It’s enough for many of them,” says
Cagan, “that Obama has a plan to end the war and that things are
moving in the right direction.”
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