My turn: Anti-war activists must act

Posted: Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass famously remarked, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has. Never will."

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This truism aptly describes the reason for the creeping irrelevance besetting Juneau's two primary peace organizations. Unless Juneau People for Peace and Justice and Veterans for Peace can transform this city's anti-war majority into an active and effective political force, then they may as well close up shop since neither our troops nor the Iraqi people appear to be benefiting from their unwarranted cautiousness.

The one constant in this war has been the ever-morphing strategies the various sides have employed for achieving their goals.

From "shock and awe" to the "surge," America's efforts have predictably been to no avail.

The insurgents, on the other hand, have utilized sectarian division and traditional guerrilla tactics to a more successful outcome.

Juneau People for Peace and Justice and Veterans for Peace have, somewhat bewilderingly, steadfastly pursued a rather tepid approach to mobilizing domestic opposition to this war. While this course of action may have served them well in the early stages of the conflict, these same methods now appear woefully inadequate for taking an existing majority for withdrawal and leveraging it against our government's recalcitrance.

The nearly exclusive focus of these groups' present outreach is to convince the public that the war is wrong - morally, legally and practically. Unfortunately, this fixation fails to appreciate that this objective has already been accomplished. If national polls are any indication, then it's safe to say that more than 70 percent of Juneau residents want out of Iraq sooner rather than later. Are Juneau's peace organizations waiting for 80 percent?

One might expect that the confidence marshaled from this moral mandate would translate into a more assertive strategy appropriate to a changing political context but one would be sadly mistaken. Not long ago, for example, Veterans for Peace read a list of questions over KTOO directed toward Sen. Ted Stevens. These queries, one presumes, were intended to either shame him into submission or elicit an accounting for his unwavering allegiance to the neocons' imperial plan to control Iraqi oil fields. Did Veterans for Peace really believe this man might lose a night's sleep or, perhaps, give himself a good talking to following its Larry King-style slow-pitch grilling?

Equally innocuous, though well-intentioned, is the group's on-going weekly vigil at Marine Park. The group's placards honoring the troops are mainly viewed by a combined mix of international visitors and the usual Lower 48 cruisers. Is the goal in this case to incite Norwegians and Arkansans to inundate the un-holy trinity of Stevens, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young with postcards taking them to task for endorsing Bush's war crimes?

Even more politically anemic has been the activity of Juneau People for Peace and Justice. Except for sponsoring the occasional film at the Gold Town Nickelodeon or speaker at some tucked-away venue, this group risks leaving an even smaller footprint on the body politic. This comes after having established a respectable legacy for helping bring about Juneau's justifiably proud designation as an anti-war town.

When recently presented with a possible organizing project built around a ballot initiative supporting a soldier's right to resist this war, the leadership of both organizations deemed the proposal too politically risky, thereby, thwarting the effort.

Likewise, as reported in the July 5 Juneau Empire, both groups united to march in the Fourth of July parade. Instead of using the opportunity to launch a bold and exciting project to advance the local anti-war movement and parlay supportive but quiescent sentiment into active nonviolent resistance, they, once again, were reduced to simply reminding us how bad things are in Iraq and at home.

Public opinion is no longer our problem. Neither yellow ribbons nor peace symbols are keeping anyone alive. Speaking truth to power may bring a clear conscience or a self-satisfying sense of righteousness, but it does nothing to alter the balance of power. Our problem is not truth but power. They have it. We don't. I believe Douglass would nod in agreement.

• Albert Petrarca is a Juneau resident.

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