Anti-war movement has lost momentum of previous years

The anti-war movement isn't what it was in 2003.

Then, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across America to protest the lead-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.Saturday in Washington — in what's billed as the largest peace protest since President Barack Obama announced that he will send more soldiers to Afghanistan — organizers are planning on a crowd of 1,500.

"People are burned out," explained the rally's organizer, Laurie Dobson. As she and other anti-war activists struggle to remake their movement, they also acknowledge the obstacles.

"We're fighting a harder fight right now," said Dobson, who said anti-war efforts have been upstaged by the battle for health care reform and have been hampered by the bad economy.

She and others also acknowledge a certain awkwardness: Activists now find themselves up against the same politician many of them helped elect.

"The peace movement has a new adversary in front of them," said Tom Hayden, a former California state senator who was a leading critic of the Vietnam War. "He's intelligent, speaks the language of the peace movement and is trying to reach out to the center-left of the country with his message. It's much more formidable to argue with Barack Obama than it was with Bush or Cheney."

Obama has gone to lengths to portray the war in Afghanistan as fair retribution for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Alluding to Afghanistan in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech on Thursday, he defended the idea of a "just war."

The fact that some Americans may find the war in Afghanistan "morally ambiguous" has hurt anti-war efforts, said Todd Gitlin, a professor who studies social movements at Columbia University.

During the Vietnam War, Gitlin said, many people on the left "felt very clear emotionally that the war was wrong and unjustified." Without that conviction, he said, "you won't throw yourself into the anti-war movement."

"The so-called anti-war movement has been a colossal failure," said the Rev. James Lawson, a long-time peace activist who played a key role in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. "The whole thing has failed. We have not prevented the United States from becoming the most militarized society in the world. We have not stopped our tax dollars from going toward military and war."

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