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Peace Movement Shifts Focus

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After a break in momentum as war in Iraq broke out, the U.S. anti-war movement is broadening its focus from opposing war in Iraq to broader issues of war and peace and striving to shape the terms of the 2004 elections.

The enormous anti-war movement, which drew in millions of people worldwide, is beginning to make the transition from simply opposing the Iraq war to framing a positive vision for the future, according to Leslie Cagan, co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, a leading group in the anti-war movement. This vision includes a US foreign policy grounded in international law, respect for the sovereignty of other nations, accountable elected officials, and the defense of civil liberties, she said.

Protesters are pressing this vision through daily protests, vigils, and civil disobedience. Organizers are also striving to bring issues of war and peace into the debate leading to the 2004 elections and force candidates to answer to the movement.

“We need to create an umbrella that enables lots of people to use lots of different tactics to work for peace and have a vision that is bigger than one candidate,” said Bill Dobbs, media coordinator for United for Peace and Justice.

Such tactics include drawing atten-tion to failures of Bush administration policies and using the movement against war in Iraq as a springboard to stop further American wars.

For example, signs that once read “No Iraq War,” now say, “No U.S. War” and urge the administration to stop what is being called a war on healthcare, education, and civil liberties. Thousands of Americans have also made a political statement by refusing to pay their income taxes, money they believe will be used for the U.S. military.

Protesters are highlighting the conflict between fighting a war to liberate Iraq and then occupying the country, and are calling for an international peacekeeping presence to help rebuild the country. Chants and signs at protests are calling for an “End of Empire” as America's foreign policy is seen as increasingly imperialistic and the threat of an unending war becomes more plausible.

The anti-war movement is also targeting corporations that will profit from the war in Iraq and future military incursions. Protesters have demonstrated against corporations such as Halliburton, Bechtel, the Carlyle Group, Texaco, and Exxon. International protesters are boycotting U.S. goods, especially those made by corporations that were major donors to the Republican Party.

With an unprecedented number of people and organizations involved, two challenges for the movement are to stay united and continue to draw in new people, said Peter Lems of the American Friends Service Committee.

Another challenge for the movement is battling the frustration that people feel at Bush's disregard of world opinion.

“We have to say to each other, yes, it's frustrating and, yes, it's upsetting, but that doesn't mean we should stop trying,” Cagan said. She urged people to remember that while the war in Iraq was not stopped, it is the beginning, not the end, of the enormous outpouring of world opposition that has been called “the world's other superpower.”

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