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Anti-war Groups Target Democratic Convention for Protests
Source: University of Florida Released: Wed 01-Aug-2007, 15:55 ET
Newswise — The Democratic Party stands to lose the 2008 presidential election unless it takes a stronger stand against the Iraq war, a University of Florida researcher says.
The loose coalition of groups opposed to American involvement in the Iraq war, which helped defeat Republicans in the 2006 midterm elections, is considerably less sympathetic to the Democrats and plans massive protests at the party’s national convention next summer in Denver, said Michael T. Heaney, a political science professor.
“We see a very clear shift in the anti-war movement against the Democratic Party just in the last couple of months,” said Heaney, who has written an article on anti-war activists that appears in the July edition of American Politics Research journal. “And the basic reason for that is the anti-war forces are very disappointed that the Democrats have not kept their promise to bring the troops home, which was their mandate after the 2006 election.”
The upshot is that instead of focusing their energies on demonstrating at next year’s Republican Party convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul as they did at the party’s 2004 convention in New York, the key players in the anti-war movement have decided to shift their emphasis to the Democratic gathering in Denver, Heaney said.
“We’re going to see tens of thousands of people protesting outside the Democratic National Convention,” he said.
The danger for the Democrats is that the news media will seize upon the disunity and project an image of the party not having its act together, which will ultimately create public uneasiness with the idea of a Democratic candidacy, he said.
“It definitely has the risk of costing the Democrats the election,” he said. “And this should be an election that the Democrats walk away with just based on the fact that the American public is so dissatisfied with the war in Iraq.”
Contrary to conventional wisdom that anti-war groups are aligned with the Democratic Party, Heaney and Fabio Rojas, a sociologist at Indiana University, found divisions within the movement. Roughly 40 percent of these activists support the Democrats, 20 percent a third party such as the Green Party and 2 percent the Republicans. Another 39 percent identified themselves as independents. (Percentages total 101 percent due to rounding).
The anti-war movement is split between those who believe working with the Democrats is the best way to bring about change, an approach that prevailed in the past, and those who think the Democrats are too pro-war and should be shunned, a position favored now, he said.
“In our article we develop this concept that we call the ‘party in the street,’ which is a network of activists and organizations that have joint loyalty to both the Democratic Party and to social movements,” he said. “And this ‘party in the street’ is highly unstable, which we will be seeing the political implications of in 2008.”
To complicate matters, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is a lightning rod for anti-war activists because of her past support for the war, Heaney said.
“I’ve heard nothing positive about her from the anti-war movement,” he said. “From their point of view, she’s taken too much of a hawkish stance and they’re worried that she will continue the occupation of Iraq.”
The Democrats could find their party as divided in 2008 as it was in 1968, with many of its natural supporters on the left camped outside the convention hall, Heaney said.
The Republicans, for their part, have an opportunity to appear strong against a divided Democratic Party by nominating someone who played no part in the war, such as Rudy Giuliani, Heaney said. The Republican Party could even take a “we’re going to fix Iraq” kind of position much like Richard Nixon took in 1968 by promising ‘peace with honor,’ he said.
If the Democrats in Congress were to strongly back a safe and orderly withdrawal from Iraq, that would help appease the anti-war constituency, he said.
Heaney and Rojas studied anti-war protests at the 2004 Republican convention in New York City as well as demonstrations in seven other cities during 2005 and 2007. They found that most demonstrators were between the ages of either 18 and 27 or 48 and 68, with about half having been involved in other social movements. The article is available at http://apr.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/35/4/431.
“The antiwar movement is the largest social movement in the United States today, with tens of thousands of activists and millions of supporters,” Heaney said.
James Gimpel, a University of Maryland government professor, praised the study. “This is an important paper because it is not the product of the ivory tower,” he said. “This research is based on real-world field observations of anti-war activists in action.”