Sadly, it has come to this. Two years after the invasion
of Iraq, the online powerhouse MoveOn.org which built most of its member
base with a strong antiwar message is not pushing for withdrawal of U.S.
troops from Iraq.
With a network of more than 3 million "online activists," the MoveOn
leadership has decided against opposing the American occupation of Iraq. During
the recent bloody months, none of MoveOn's action alerts have addressed what
Americans can do to help get the U.S. military out of that country. Likewise,
the MoveOn.org Web site has continued to bypass the issue even after
Rep. Lynn Woolsey and two dozen co-sponsors in the House of Representatives
introduced a resolution in late January calling for swift removal of all U.S.
troops from Iraq.
That resolution would seem to be a natural peg for the kind of kinetic
activism that established MoveOn's reputation. A movement serious about
ending U.S. military activities in Iraq could use the resolution as a way to
cut through political tap dances and pressure members of Congress to take a
stand. Down the road, generating grassroots support for a get-out-of-Iraq
resolution has potential to clear a congressional pathway for measures
cutting off funds for the war.
But, tragically, MoveOn's leadership is having none of it. Over a period of
recent weeks, the word "Iraq" appeared on the MoveOn.org home page
only in a plug for a documentary released last year. Inches away, a blurb has
been telling the Web site's visitors: "Support Our Troops: Contribute your
frequent-flyer miles so that American troops can get home." (But not stay
home.) Many soldiers are returning to the killing grounds of Iraq, while a growing
number are vocally opposed to this war.
Why won't MoveOn "support our troops" by supporting a pullout of
troops from Iraq? "We believe that there are no good options in Iraq,"
MoveOn.org's executive director, Eli Pariser, told me. "We're seeing a
difference of opinion among our members on how quickly the U.S. should get
out of Iraq. As a grassroots-directed organization, we won't be taking any
position which a large portion of our members disagree with."
In sharp contrast, early in the 2004 primary campaign, MoveOn committed
itself to endorsing any Democratic presidential candidate receiving more
than 50 percent of the Internet ballots cast by its activists. (Howard Dean
fell shy of a majority, so there was no MoveOn endorsement.) But now,
evidently, a majority of MoveOn members in favor of swift withdrawal from
Iraq would be insufficient if a "large portion" disagreed.
When I asked Eli for clarification, he replied: "We've been talking
with our members continuously on this issue. We've surveyed slices of our
membership in January and in December, and surveyed our whole membership
last spring. That's how we know there's a breadth of opinion out there."
But last spring was a year ago. And any surveying of "slices of our
membership in January and in December" came before the Woolsey resolution
offered an opportunity to find out how the MoveOn base views the measure. In
any event, there will always be "a breadth of opinion" about this
fact that does not trump the crucial need for clarity of purpose.
If MoveOn leaders were willing to submit the House get-out-of-Iraq
resolution to MoveOn's rank-and-file in an up-or-down vote, the chances of a
substantial majority would be excellent. Too bad the leadership of
MoveOn.org is currently unwilling to find out.
The 29 members of the House now sponsoring the resolution are hardly radicals.
They recognize the kind of grisly consequences of equivocation that occurred
during the Vietnam War: refusal to speak forthrightly about the urgent need
to end military involvement only fuels the war's deadly momentum.
It's all well and good for MoveOn.org to excoriate President Bush for his
many big lies in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. But such activities don't
make up for going along with the basics of the present-day Iraq war.
When a large progressive organization takes the easy way and makes
peace with war, the abdication of responsibility creates a vacuum.
Ironically, a group that became an Internet phenom by recognizing and
filling a void is now creating one. And other groups are bound to emerge to
Among the emerging organizations is Progressive
Democrats of America, a fledgling national group with an activist focus
on the Iraq war that is laudably straightforward. "We're organizing a new
campaign in every congressional district we can to call for the end of funding
for war and occupation, and for the transfer of reconstruction assistance to
Iraqis themselves," says Tim Carpenter of PDA. He contends that "public
pressure can awaken Congress to an opposition role."
War in Iraq requires continual funding, of course, so President Bush's
new supplemental boost of $80 billion in war appropriations has been moving
through Congress in recent days. Tacitly accepting the war's continuation,
MoveOn declined to take a stand against the essence of congressional backing
for the war the money that keeps paying for it. Meanwhile, PDA launched
an effort against the $80 billion; the organizing included a National
Call-In Day aimed at members of Congress on March 10.
MoveOn.org pioneered the use of e-mail and Web technologies as creative tools
to further its political agenda. Now that the MoveOn agenda on the Iraq war
has tumbled into the shallow depths of the Potomac, some similar online activism
will be needed if MoveOn's dive is going to be merely temporary. So, to help
get the cyber-ball rolling, please forward this article around the Internet
and post it where appropriate.
Friends don't let friends drive drunk, and peace advocates do a lot
more than shrug when a previously great antiwar organization starts to get
If MoveOn continues to abandon its antiwar base, that base will get the
picture and move on.