Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Reuters covers the peace movement -- badly!

This is a joint-entry by C.I. and Elaine.

Reuters ran an interesting article today that had some observations worth thinking about and some 'facts' which were flat out wrong. The article is entitled "U.S. protests shrink while antiwar sentiment grows" and the byline credits Andy Sullivan.

Antiwar rallies drew hundreds of thousands of people at the war's start in 2003, although only 23 percent of Americans then said the invasion was a mistake, according to a USA Today/Gallup Poll. That figure is now 58 percent.

Yes, their pre-war rallies did turn out massive numbers and among the reasons were young people were lied to and hyped. They were told that just turning out would end the illegal war before it started. Getting the numbers out for those protests became more important for some than telling the truth. After the illegal war started, students and first time participants felt not only lied to but powerless as well. As a result, picking up the pieces was extremely difficult. Since there may or may not be a war launched on Iran, the peace movement should damn well learn a lesson and not again sell protests against an impending war as anything other than registering opposition.

Reuters argues that turn out in DC has "dwindled" and notes that a Troops Out Now Coalition rally in DC last weekend drew less than one-thousand. That figure may or may not be correct. The figure they offer here is incorrect: "Saturday's protest, sponsored by the Troops Out Now Coalition, came two weeks after an antiwar event sponsored by the ANSWER Coalition, which drew roughly 10,000 people." That figure is wrong and it's hard to believe it's wrong by accident. They contrast that with the January 2006 UPFJ rally -- featuring Iraq Veterans Against the War, Jane Fonda, Bob Watada, Susan Sarandon, Medea Benjmain, Sean Penn, Liam Madden and others. (See The Third Estate Sunday Review's "How Not To Stage A Rally.") Of that rally, Reuters notes, "United for Peace and Justice, which has tried to focus on ending the Iraq war, drew 100,000 people to a January protest." 100,000 at the start of the year, ANSWER only had 10,000 last month! It's a decrease!

But it's not. Refer to Associated Press' "100,000 March Against Iraq War in Washington: 200 Arrested in Dramatic Mass Die-In" and you see that "10,000" isn't correct for ANSWER's September rally.

This is a "trend story" and "trend stories" are notorius for fixing the facts. Troops Out Now Coalition may or may not have had a small turnout last weekend. ANSWER did not have a small turn out. We were there and it was 100,000 people. If Reuters were to include the actual figure, the "trend story" would fall apart which is why we believe an intentional decision was made to 'fix' the numbers.

Troops Home Now Coalition doesn't want to work with ANSWER. Well then live with numbers you get. ANSWER can put out a call and people do show up. ANSWER knows what it is doing. Some groups may not know what they are doing. We do not know that this is the case for Troops Home Now Coalition. We do know it is the case for the miserable rally in Fort Worth, Texas on September 1st. Despite big name speakers, including Cindy Sheehan, despite being held on a Saturday, the rally was sparsely attended (less than 300 was the estimate). We flew out to Texas, landed at DFW and did so because the organizers of that "rally" did a s**t poor job. They failed to get the word out. The Tuesday Iraq snapshot before the rally was the first announcement -- the organizers didn't even put out a press release until the Wednesday prior. They did not post fliers at the many public libraries in the Dallas - Fort Worth area. They did not visit the colleges to put up fliers or speak to students despite the fact that the area has many, many colleges. They had a designated media contact person at their website who did not respond to e-mails -- from individuals wishing to attend as well as from the big, mainstream press. They scheduled a nine to five event on what was for many people a day off. Instead of using a city that was well known to all in the surrounding areas (Dallas was the city to use), they went with Fort Worth. They instructed people to use public transportation. But Fort Worth has a bus system only and no bus dropped off at the rally site. Dallas has a bus system and it has a light rail. People from the surrounding areas could park at any of the train stations (as many commuters do) and catch a train had the event been held in Dallas. The rally itself started at 12:30 p.m. with the march to follow. On a hot, summer, Texas day they decide the noon time heat is the perfect time for a rally to be followed by a march. Yet, they also wanted people there as early as nine a.m. Instead of encouraging those willing to show up to attend, they issued a cry that you needed a ticket. You could print the ticket up online . . . if you had a printer. If you didn't have a printer, you needed to find one to attend. If you heard about the rally in casual conversation and did not have a computer, you better beg that stranger or acquaintence to print you up a ticket. With the organizers insistence on public transportation, how were people outside Fort Worth encouraged to get into the city? Via the Trinity Express -- a train that did not run as often as the organizers posted it did on their website.

Bad planning, failure to get the word out, failure to respond to requests to take pictures, failure to do anything other than book speakers led to a low turnout. Hopefully, none of these mistakes were made by the Troops Home Now Coalition but everyone's point in reporting "How Not To Stage A Rally" was to make sure that it was understood, if an event has low turnout, that's not necessarily a reflection on the public sentiment but it may be a reflection on the abilities of the organizers.

"The base that we work with was saying to us, 'We've been to Washington a lot in the last four years, we don't want to go to Washington again,'" national coordinator Leslie Kagan said.

Leslie Kagan? Is that Robert's sister?

Leslie "Cagan." C-A-G-A-N. With United For Peace and Justice. Leslie Cagan is correct. Those speaking on campuses have heard this complaint repeatedly throughout the year. Students complain (rightly) about having to skip work (a lot more students have to work their way through college these days and many are dependent upon weekend work hours due to class schedules), about having to raise money for trips when they're already struggling with the ever sky rocketing tuition, and about arriving for a big rally that ends up being the same speeches they've heard before and no real actions. Leslie Cagan is 100% correct and United For Peace and Justice demonstrated wisdom in calling for local actions next month. Hopefully, local organizers will actually work at getting a turn out and not just in lining up speakers for what turns out to be a private party.

United For Peace And Justice, as the article tells you, isn't sure whether or not it wants to work with ANSWER. It needs to decide pretty quick. Students are getting damn tired of it. If United For Peace and Justice doesn't want to work with ANSWER, many students could live with it. It wouldn't be the end for UPFJ. They might have a smaller turnout or they might not, but making a decision would be an improvement. As a student in Madison said last week, "It's like when Dad told us he was separating from Mom but they might get back together. We were strung along for months. They got a divorce. Just do it already, quit stringing us along." It should be noted that UPFJ will take the blame for the split. They are the 'parent' wanting to move on and seen as such. But a decision needs to be made because the repeated refusal to make a decision is getting on students nerves. Many feel a decision has already been made but they're being treated like children and not informed of the decision.

We're not saying that's what happened. We're not slamming UPFJ (or ANSWER). We are noting the mood on campuses. UPFJ can decide to work with ANSWER or not, but the attitude is a decision needs to be made.

We're not weighing in on the decision and appreciate the work that both organizations do individually and the work they've done when they've combined their resources.

We will, however, weigh in on one thing. Common Dreams has reposted the Reuters article. Others may end up reposting it as well. Leslie Cagan's name is mispelled and the number for ANSWER's turn out last month is a HUGE error. The Troops Home Now Coalition number may be a mistake as well. We did not attend or follow that rally. But when obvious mistakes are made in an article, at the very least a footnote is required. People trust Common Dreams and they will read the article there and assume that "10,000" is correct when it is not.

As to the issue the Reuters article skirts about splintering -- the peace movement is splintering. That's not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of "VOTE" groups have been wrongly billed as the peace movement. They push "VOTE DEMOCRAT." They are not the peace movement and students are aware of it. We both saw it during Vietnam, groups faded when they were timid or foolish. New groups sprung up to replace them.

Tina Richards' Grassroots America, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Up are among the groups most admired on campus that were created after the illegal war began. Among student organization, SDS is the most talked about. They are admired because they call out Congress, not just the Republican side of the aisle. They are admired because they tell it like it is. They are seen as independent because they act independently. Norman Solomon and Phyllis Bennis have both repeatedly warned against the peace movement confusing itself with the Democratic Party. We join with them in saying that would be a huge mistake. It's dishonest and always has been but it's also a tactical mistake today because sentiment against the illegal war is so broad that it's not confined to Democrats and third parties who will put up with sitting in the back of the bus. Ralph Nader has consistently called out the illegal war. Any event that does not invite him to speak is making a mistake. At the ANSWER rally, there were boos last month when he started speaking. Nader's not a novice. He continued speaking and the applause when he finished was overwhelming.

On the subject of fears or hurt feelings, we condemn the article that FAIR ran in Extra! which whined about the attention Jane Fonda received for participating in the January rally. Sour grapes was how it read. Fonda has spoken out against the illegal war all along including doing a campus tour before the illegal war began. She has kept a low profile out of concerns that she might damage the effort. While that was very nice of her, it's a real shame that Extra! couldn't show the same niceness. Instead it was whine that Fonda got on the evening news. That all the TV clips showed her. As opposed to? Exactly how often does a peace rally get that kind of attention? Not very often. She put herself out there and she knew the right wing would slam her for it (which they did). The last thing she deserved was that snotty little piece in Extra! whining that she got attention. We were at the rally and she was the second most popular speaker [we wrote about that in "Show Me What Democracy Looks Like (1-27-07) "]. She reached a huge cross-section with her speech. (Bob Watada was the most popular speaker for those wondering -- Ehren Watada's father.) She put herself out there knowing the attacks would come. That FAIR elected to join in those attacks was very disappointing.

Yes, she is a two-time Oscar winning actress but she is also a lifelong activist and even in the 90s, when she feels she did little, she was working with the United Nations. Reducing her to an "actress" or, worse, a "Hollywood actress" dishonors her and all activists who have additional jobs. Fonda's clip did get massive attention from the TV industry and the clip came with audio. It was a powerful moment and that many not attending actually heard about the rally was a plus. There was no reason to treat it, as the Extra! article did, as a minus. No reason, that is, except sour grapes on the part of the author. As two who were active during Vietnam, we remember those same sour grapes about Fonda then as well. It was petty 'back in the day.' It's embarrassing as well as petty today when so few in the arts will use their voice to speak out. Slamming Fonda -- actress, feminist, best selling author, business woman, and actvist -- makes it all the more difficult to convince other artists to speak out. If you don't grasp the value in artists speaking out, you obviously have either forgotten the Vietnam era or didn't live through it. The right-wing has never forgotten and that's why they slam a Fonda or Penn or Janeane Garofalo or . . . .

That's a joint-post done with Elaine and click here for it with italics. I'm too tired to put them in. The e-mail address for this site is