Antiwar movement plots next step

With more icons than bombs falling in Iraq, US-based march for peace evolves into a fight over humanitarian aid, Bush policies.

With the battle in Baghdad turning from an attack into a policing operation, and images on TV showing Iraqis defacing pictures of Saddam Hussein, it would seem there's little role for antiwar protesters anymore.

Fewer people are showing up at rallies, and morale is waning in some places. But if many protesters are keeping a lower profile, others are soldiering on, focused on how to keep their views on US policies high in public thought. Whether vocally or quietly, they insist that their cause is alive - and that history will vindicate their views.

"Our position has always been that the repercussions of war sometimes take years or decades to play out," says Eli Pariser of Moveon.org, an online lobbying group with more than 1 million US members. "The fact is, we probably won't know for years who was right."

This long-term view, for now, has been overshadowed in US public opinion and the news media. Most Americans say they support the war. Conservative talk-show hosts bluntly urge those who opposed the war to admit they were wrong - something protesters will not concede.

Unswayed by images of toppled statues and cheering Iraqis, some activists are more galvanized than ever, ready to oppose a continued military presence in Iraq and what they consider the aggressive mind-set of the current administration.

Where they go next is driven by what organizers say is the idea that their efforts were never just about stopping one war, but about highlighting connections between US foreign and domestic policy, and challenging the precedent being set for preemptive wars.

"There's not one iota of proof yet that what the US has done there has helped anyone," argues Bob Wing, one of the national leaders of New York-based United for Peace and Justice.

To keep up the momentum, activists are now focused on a range of issues, from electing a new president as one way to change foreign policy to highlighting how much money is spent on weapons instead of schools by planning protests on tax day (Tuesday). The rebuilding of Iraq is also a target, with concerns about a Pentagon-controlled postwar situation prompting opposition to the selection of Jay Garner, a former Army general and defense contractor, to head a new Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

The goal of some who are still protesting is to keep Americans engaged with what happens next in Iraq, where a humanitarian crisis could be looming. "The plight of the Iraqi civilians could be worse after the war than it was before," says Brad Grabs of the Kansas City Iraq Task Force.

CRITICS, including some in the antiwar camp, argue that the peace movement's message was never as clear as it could have been in terms of reasons for opposing the war and alternatives to military action. Some protesters found the single idea of stopping the war enough for them, but now are reconsidering the effectiveness of mass rallies when so many issues are being addressed.

"There was a place where I felt we were being heard and respected. Now I feel the message has gotten lost for taking to the streets," says Karen DiPane, a protester from Callicoon, N.Y. "[Now] it's a multifaceted number of problems that I think people can still see, but it's a lot harder to understand how to influence those changes."

She decided at the last minute not to go to a rally in Washington over the weekend. But she and others stay involved by writing letters to their elected officials, for example. They don't feel they were wrong to oppose the war, arguing that a quick end to the conflict was expected, given USmilitary might, and that underlying concerns remain about the direction of US policies.

"People who turn to antiwar protesters and say, 'You must have been wrong,' don't understand where we're coming from," says Katharine Preston, an activist from Lincoln, Mass.

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