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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Light Freezing Drizzle Fog/Mist
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Iraq and the will of the people
Antiwar efforts may seem futile, but there is reason for hope

This is a time of grim milestones: The fifth anniversary of "shock and awe" on Wednesday, March 19, and the death of the 4,000th American service member in Iraq, which will occur soon.

It is a week to reflect on the war and occupation of Iraq - and what, if anything, we can do to end it.

This is also Holy Week for Christians, marking the death of their Prince of Peace at the hands of an occupying army. Good Friday coincides with Iraq Moratorium #7, a national grassroots action calling for an end to the war.

If it were up to the people of Wisconsin, the war would have ended long ago - or never started. In 2006, referendums calling for troop withdrawals were passed by 35 Wisconsin communities, an effort coordinated by the Madison-based Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice.

The state is a hotbed of antiwar activity. With the convergence of the fifth anniversary of the war and the Iraq Moratorium this week, local peace groups across the state are sponsoring more than three dozen actions.

Wisconsin peace groups hold more Iraq Moratorium events on the third Friday of every month than any other state except California, with seven times the population. Hayward has set the standard for participation, turning out 80-plus people for a vigil in frigid temperatures in a city of 2,100. An equivalent percentage turnout would have 8,000 people in the streets in Madison and 12 million nationally.

But does any of it matter? Is all of that activity having any effect, or is it just wasted effort?

Let's face it: President Bush is not persuadable. He will stay the course until he leaves office, and is trying to make long-term commitments to bind future presidents to Iraq. Voters elected a new Congress in 2006 with a clear mandate to end the war, but the Democratic leadership has been as chickenhearted as Bush is bullheaded.

The Democratic presidential candidates are cautious, while Republican John McCain talks of 10 or even 100 more years of U.S. troops in Iraq. An election that shaped up as a referendum on the war seems focused on anything but that issue.

The news media have moved the war off the front page. When Sen. Russ Feingold's bills calling for a new Iraq strategy and troop withdrawal were recently debated for two days in the Senate, it scarcely got a mention. Last week's Winter Soldier hearings, in which courageous Iraq veterans told their stories of what life is like on the ground there, were largely ignored by the mainstream media.

The death of American Number 4,000 may merit a media mention, but that number doesn't begin to tell the story. Another 30,000 Americans have been wounded, and countless others traumatized. The total number of Iraqis killed, injured or displaced from their homes approaches five million, roughly the population of Wisconsin.

In the face of all of that, it would be easy for the antiwar movement to become disheartened. But activists remain committed to pressing the issue in the months ahead, to ratchet up the pressure on Congress and the president, current and future.

Despite the malaise that seems to have enveloped the country on the issue, there is one reason for hope, if not optimism.

Remember Richard Nixon's Silent Majority, which he insisted supported the Vietnam war? Today's Silent Majority opposes the war in Iraq and wants it to end. Public opinion supports an end to the war, with a solid majority saying the war was a mistake and supporting troop withdrawals.

Americans don't need to be convinced. The peace movement's challenge is to mobilize them, to get them to speak out, and to tell the politicians as well as the pollsters that they want this bloody, senseless war to end.

A casual reading of the leading national liberal blogs reveals that the so-called netroots, for the most part, seem content just to wait for a Democrat to occupy the White House and end the war. That's not good enough.

This is the time to hold the candidates' feet to the fire, to insist on solid commitments to end the war, to make it politically untenable to support a prolonged American presence in Iraq. That is what eventually happened with Vietnam. It should already have happened with Iraq.

Will Friday's street corner vigils end the war? Of course not. But they will help, in a small way, to create the climate that can end it and inspire others to act.

One thing is certain: Doing something is infinitely more likely to have an impact than doing nothing, which is guaranteed to have none.

Curse the war's darkness, but light a candle of resistance, too.

Bill Christofferson, a Vietnam veteran, former journalist, and longtime political consultant, now retired, lives in Milwaukee. He is a volunteer member of the national Iraq Moratorium committee.

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