Think back just a couple of years, and you'll return to the tail end of the Bush Administration. For some, it marks the terminus of the good times: when America didn't look to allies in order to make foreign policy, when we were on the right road against "abortionists," and abstinence-only education got boatloads of money to save our children from certain sexual promiscuity and queerness. For others of us, it was like waking up from an 8-year nightmare.
Against this neoconservative haven it felt urgent to form pockets of resistance, to keep progressive values alive, like gripping white-knuckled onto one's oral history, hoping the next generation will remember it the same way. Anti-war and left-leaning groups popped up by the dozens, marching on Washington, interrupting congressional hearings, staging die-ins, linking themselves across DC streets with PVC pipe and handcuffs. Web site after Web site launched, rockets in hyperspace with a message about change.
When we watched the numbers come in on election night in 2008, we called it change. And then we remained a war nation.
The face looking at the cameras from behind the desk at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest was new, certainly, but the message was not very different, other than giving a tentative date for leaving Afghanistan, which later was softened as a date we'll think about leaving. People were disappointed, even angry, but somehow the urgency had swept away from them. There weren't nationwide protests decrying President Obama's policies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Perhaps it's a Shark News Story issue, but in the inverse. In the summer of 2005, there were many news stories about shark attacks on the East Coast. Actual numbers of shark attacks were fewer than the two preceding years had totaled individually, but nobody noticed that (or at least it didn't get any news time). Still, folks stayed away from the beaches in droves, and the next wave of news reports showed empty beach after empty beach.
So maybe there are scores of demonstrations going on, but nobody cares enough to drive a truck to them and put them on the news. I thought I'd do a round-up:
Code Pink—well, they're still making a bazillion press releases for protests around the country, including attempting to interrupt General Petraeus going to the White House during the Israeli Prime Minister's visit last week, and dressing up as mermaids to protest the BP oil disaster. Not getting so much in the way of airtime, but it's a good website to check out and see what may be going on locally.
United for Peace and Justice—in my humble opinion, this group is a little bit like that drawer in my mother's kitchen; everything is in it. While its main foci are Iraq and Afghanistan, it also has program areas around military funding, climate justice, and civil liberties. UPJ just participated in a workshop in Detroit at the US Social Forum, but there wasn't much in the way of protesting.
Cindy Sheehan—last March 21, we passed the seven-years-in-Iraq marker. And our war in Afghanistan now is, ingloriously enough, the longest war the US has ever been engaged in. So much for Mission Accomplished. But also so much for Sheehan's ability to bring out the masses and the reporters. This year's anniversary protest with Sheehan as a headliner was the smallest ever.
A.N.S.W.E.R.—protestors, including those from A.N.S.W.E.R., flocked to Boston to protest Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who signed two anti-immigration bills into law this summer, each one sounding more nonsensical than the last. Although there were hundreds of people at the Beantown event, it didn't get much coverage at all. Not that A.N.S.W.E.R. was great at generating coverage before Obama took office.
Perhaps it's that the rough economy and stubborn unemployment have made themselves more of a priority than foreign-soil wars right now. Or maybe we're too agog at people like Brewer and Rand Paul to be thinking about extremists from other countries. With Bush and Cheney—the original focal points of these protests—now out of office, progressives didn't think about how to carry on without evil figureheads to create enough anxiety to get people on buses to Washington. Or maybe the press only likes to cast its spotlight on high-contrast protests, like Tea Party people ranting against the Democrats in power. Because for this moment, they're the ones who are bringing all media to the yard.