Anti-war left has trouble convincing Obama followers to protest Libya involvement

Jeff Winkler Contributor
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Life ain’t easy for an anti-war liberal.

President Barack Obama launched air attacks against Libya eight years to the day George Bush sent bombs over Baghdad. Back in 2003, the lefty site MoveOn.org “flexed [its muscle with] ‘virtual marches,’ in which tens of thousands of protesters jammed Senate and White House phones, fax machines and e-mail boxes with antiwar messages.” Originally founded to encourage the public to “move on” from Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades, MoveOn.org repositioned itself as a heavyweight in the early 2000s anti-war movement.

This time around? A little less than a week after the attack, MoveOn.org has articles bashing “Out-of-Control Republicans in Wisconsin,” but hardly a mention of the bombing in Libya. Well, there is a post noting that John McCain called Muammar Gaddafi an “interesting man” on Twitter two years ago. So much for moving on.

After Obama addresses the nation tonight about the government’s recent intervention in Libya, perhaps the left can coalesce around a message. It’s hard enough when the administration won’t call the action a “war,” but anti-war groups with a traditionally liberal bent are having a tough time rallying those who so adamantly opposed Republican President Bush’s war.

“I don’t expect much, to be honest with you,” Eric Garris, founder and managing editor of AntiWar.com, told The Daily Caller. AntiWar.com was established during Bill Clinton’s intervention in Bosnia. The group’s an old hand at nonpartisan anti-war objections. Garris predicted only “small demonstrations” against the recent Libyan conflict and said it would only be included as an “add-on” to demonstrations against the anniversary of Bush’s war.

The past week seems to have borne out that prediction. With rallies already scheduled, the anti-war group Code Pink included the Libya intervention as part of its protest message. Although it was originally an “add on,” Code Pink’s co-founder, Medea Benjamin, said the group tried to make Libya the focus. The turnout, however, wasn’t great.

“We got maybe 2,000 people out at the most,” Benjamin told TheDC. “We used be be able to mobilize tens of thousands of people. And it’s just … we don’t have the same numbers anymore.”

During the Bush years, Benjamin said it was fairly easy to find people willing to mobilize against war. With powerful Democratic party-backed groups like MoveOn.org, it seemed much of the public had bleeding-heart syndrome. That’s no longer the case, now that one of their own is in the office.

“It was certainly easier to mobilize under Republican presidents,” said Benjamin. “A lot of the organizations that are bigger than ours are affiliated with the Democratic party and they are reluctant to criticize the president.”

Susan Sloan, national staff coordinator for the anti-war group ANSWER, pointed out that her group has been holding protests all across the country since last Wednesday. Sloan was reluctant to comment specifically on the lukewarm response from the mainstream left — traditionally anti-war — after the Libya attacks.

“I think there may be a section of the movement that’s very tied to the Democratic party who will have that perspective,” said Sloan. “But from the point of view of ANSWER, the groups that have really been in the streets, we’ve been building a movement that’s been independent from the Democratic party.”

Asked about the general size of the protest in front of the White House this past weekend, Sloan said she wasn’t sure of exact numbers.

“We didn’t put out a count because it was very hard to calculate because we were there for about three hours,” she told TheDC. “And so many people came in and out of the demonstration that we really didn’t really have a good count.”

As for the protests ANSWER organized in other cities across the country, “there were a number of weather issues, almost every city had terrible weather, actually,” said Sloan.

“I heard it was a bit of a circus — with folks there also re: Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, etc.,” Code Pink’s Benjamin told TheDC when asked about the weekend protests in Washington, D.C.

Lawmakers’ responses haven’t been much better — on either sides of the aisle —  as they try and figure out how to dance around partisan rhetoric when commenting on the current attack. Like ANSWER and Code Pink, however, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, is one of the few whose message hasn’t changed.

Last week, the Ohio representative called Obama’s action in Libya an “impeachable offense” after he failed to seek congressional approval, and Kucinich is already looking for ways to cut funding for the war. Speaking with TheDC, Kucinich said the 2003 antiwar response  was “extraordinary” and that “there were millions of people gathering in protest.”

Like Sloan, Kucinich was reluctant to criticize those anti-war protesters during Bush’s years who have become all but ghosts this time around.

“I don’t know. I have tried to be supportive of this president, but this violation of the Constitution is so clear that if his friends can’t tell him, who will?” Kucinich told TheDC. “I don’t want to criticize anyone else for not moving forward. I make it a point that when I see something, I don’t look to the left or the right, but to move as quickly as I can to move forward and to protect the Constitution and to stand for peace. That’s what I’m doing. That’s what I always do.”

At least it’s clear that Kucinich — like Code Pink and ANSWER — haven’t moved on.

Chris Moody contributed to this report. Email Jeff Winkler and follow him on Twitter