Then George W. Bush won the election, and many disgruntled dissidents packed their posters into their bumper-stickered economy cars. The resilient idealists who remained looked increasingly lonesome, abandoned by the liberals who had once stood by their side and ignored by Republicans who didn't even bother to gloat. These days, after two solid years of Sunday-afternoon protests, the anti-war crowd seems to get about as much respect as lunatics holding "The End Is Near" placards.
Ira Harritt is no lunatic. But as the program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, he has the unenviable task of trying to gather a rabble that's increasingly resistant to being roused, especially when it comes to the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
"Most of us have a feeling that if you mess something up, you should stick around and fix it," Harritt admits. But he still believes that the Iraq war is morally bankrupt and that it's bankrupting the nation. "Militarily, we cannot solve this problem," he says. "Democracy doesn't come through the barrel of a gun. The longer we stay, the more the violence will escalate and the less likely that any government that comes out of the occupation will be accepted as legitimate."
Harritt realizes that the current political climate makes it unlikely that anything will change in the near future. Still, a guy can dream. Vermont, Harritt notes optimistically, has passed resolutions calling for an end to the Iraq war. But Vermont endorses plenty of progressive propositions, and the other states just smile, pat it on the head and reject similar resolutions proposed within their own borders.
Sunday's gathering marks the second anniversary of the official start of the Iraq war. At "Two Years of War ... How Many More?" a reader will recite the names of dead soldiers and civilians. Harritt envisions enough donated ribbons pinned to a canvas banner in the shape of a peace sign to represent each of the 1,687 coalition casualties thus far, as well as many more to illustrate the 100,000-plus Iraqi death toll. But to do so, he'll need a significant spike in support. He's considering unlikely sources, such as right-wing groups.
"We will be looking for partners who wouldn't be our normal partners," Harritt says. He has some talking points that might interest conservatives, such as the fiscal nightmare of funding the war with a supplemental budget and the homeland security hazards raised by shipping so many reservists overseas, leaving America unprepared in case of a domestic emergency. If logic won't lead more folks to the picket lines, perhaps loss of life might become the catalyst. Harritt notes that more than 10,000 Americans died before anti-Vietnam sentiment spread to all sectors of society.
Unfortunately, it's all too easy to imagine a despondent few meeting in the same spot next year -- with many more ribbons to arrange.