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Online Chapter: Peace Symbols: Posters in Movements against the Wars in Vietnam and Iraq

Wars and Peaces

The U.S. war in Iraq has generated the largest antiwar movement in the history of the world. Indeed, the New York Times went so far as to declare the wider movement the “world’s second superpower.”10 On February 15, 2003, somewhere between 10 and 20 million people in more than six hundred cities in sixty countries across the globe demonstrated against the then-impending war. This, the largest “focus group” (as G. W. Bush dismissively called it) ever assembled, rested to a great extent on the cyber- and face-to-face networks forged by the movement(s) for global justice (see chapter 9).

The global justice movement has been the backbone of the efforts to end the Iraq war, both in the United States and around the world. While there was initially some concern that a peace movement would distract from larger movement goals,11 calls for resistance to the invasion came quickly from the European Forum and soon thereafter the World Social Forum—the central meeting site of the global movement. The extensive network provided by the global justice movement, along with more specific antiwar discourses and networks arising from earlier opposition to Desert Storm, are the main reasons for the unprecedented fact that a very large antiwar movement grew up in the United States and around the world prior to actual combat.

Figure 26. Five hundred thousand people rally in New York on eve of war, February 15, 2003. Source: “No War on Iraq.”. Visited May 31, 2005.

One of the key coalitions active in the United States, United for Peace and Justice (UPJ) bears in its very name (and likewise in its constituent groups) the mark of the globalization movement. The UPJ “peace through justice” coalition is made up of more than thirteen hundred separate organizations whose normal focus is on racism, the environment, gender justice, sustainable agriculture, human rights, health care, and dozens of other issues. But all perceive the war as threateningto the achievement of their social and environmental justice goals. Other important and wide-ranging coalitions include International ANSWER, Not in My Name, and Win Without War. These coalitions are broadly representative of the whole populace, but as in the sixties, students and other young people have played an especially dynamic role. Youth subcultures including neo-hippies and New Agers, punks, riot grrls, ravers, and hip-hop boyz and girlz add flavor to the mix, alongside just plain kids fighting for justice and peace. Again, most of these youth learned their organizing skills in the movement against corporate globalization, and in that movement they learned that the wider the base, the stronger the structure.

While stopping the war proved impossible in the face of a U.S. president contemptuous of the views of anyone beyond his small circle, the sometimes tense coalescence of the antiwar and global peace movement created a strong dynamic whose power has already greatly shaped the U.S. political landscape. Despite Bush’s narrow reelection in November 2004, polls showed that by election time the majority of Americans, joining the rest of the world, believed the war in Iraq to have been a “mistake”—far much too mild a term, certainly, but a far cry from popular U.S. sentiment as the war began, and one measure of the movement’s impact. Compared to the years it took to turn a majority of Americans against the Vietnam War, this is a phenomenal achievement. The percentage of negative responses continued to grow into 2005.

While the U.S. movement against the war in Vietnam only slowly took advantage of its international allies, the peace movement directed against the occupation of Iraq was, thanks largely to the antiglobalization network, international from the beginning. At the World Social Forum, in Mumbai, India, in January 2004, a subgroup held a General Assembly of the Global Anti-war Movement. As the organizational site that most fully legitimates a claim to a single global peace and justice movement, the formation of a separate antiwar assembly suggests that antiwar work is necessary but partial. As activists embedded in a larger structure, these antiwar workers are among those most likely to bring to light the transnational intricacies of struggle in which the evolving movement(s) in the United States will play its particular role. The movement for global justice has the potential to become a rich alternative to the clash of fundamentalisms among the right-wing evangelical crusaders in the White House, extreme Zionists in Israel, and jihadi militants like Osama bin Laden whose cause the war has done so much to further.

10 Patrick Tyler, New York Times, February 17, 2003.
11 See Nacha Cattan, “Anti-Globalization Movement Split on War,” Forward, October 12, 2001, 6.

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