The 10-year anniversary for the movement that sprung up against the war in Iraq is on the horizon, and it presents an opportune time to reflect on its progress, and more importantly, the lessons that can be learned from its shortcomings.
While activists were busy organizing in the fall of 2002, the dramatic debut of the movement’s true size and global dimensions took place on February 15, 2003. On that historic date, millions took to the streets around the world in the largest antiwar protest in history. Two days later, Patrick Tyler wrote in The New York Times that there were now perhaps “two superpowers on the planet—the United States, and worldwide public opinion.” Continue reading
In the fall of 2002, as the Bush Administration heightened its campaign for invading Iraq, small groups of activists began protesting the plans for invasion, seeking to avert the impending war. While they were ultimately unsuccessful in stopping the war itself, activists successfully mobilized millions around the world as part of their anti-invasion campaign, resulting in what has been called the largest protest in human history on February 15, 2003. After the start of the Iraq war the following month, protests continued, though their size, tactics, and focus changed during the course of the war. As the 10 year anniversary of the start of the anti-Iraq war movement approaches, Mobilizing Ideas has invited scholars and activists to reflect on the movement and its trajectory. How has the anti-war movement changed over the past 10 years? How has the anti-Iraq war movement differed from past anti-war movements? In what ways has it succeeded or failed in reaching intended outcomes? Has it had any unintended consequences? What can this movement teach us about issues like coalition-building, activist burnout, and movement trajectories?
We thank our distinguished scholars and activists for this month’s dialogue:
Catherine Corrigall-Brown, University of Western Ontario (essay)
David Cortright, University of Notre Dame (essay)
William Gamson, Boston College (essay)
Michael Heaney, University of Michigan (essay)
Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Nonviolence (essay)
Lisa Leitz, Hendrix College (essay)
David S. Meyer, University of California, Irvine (essay)
Eric Stoner, Waging Nonviolence (essay)
Andrew Yeo, Catholic University of America (essay)
Enjoy the essays, and join the debate by posting your opinions in the comments.
Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Dan Myers
The campaign against the war in Iraq was the largest, most intensive antiwar mobilization in history. On February 15, 2003 an estimated 10 million people demonstrated against the war in hundreds of cities across the globe, the largest single day of antiwar protest ever recorded. A month later another massive wave of global protest occurred, this time at the local level, as millions of people gathered in 6,000 candlelight vigils in more than one hundred countries in a last minute plea against war. People across the globe spoke out as never before in a unified voice against invading Iraq. Continue reading
It would be an exaggeration to claim that there has been a significant and visible mobilization against the war in Iraq for the past several years. The misinformation used to justify the war and the failure of any workable formula for the governance of Iraq after the removal of Saddam Hussein rather quickly caused a broad segment of the public to adopt a quagmire frame. With the election of a President who was critical of the war and who promised to end it in an orderly fashion, the opportunity to mobilize any significant constituency to take collective action to end this war was essentially closed.
Nevertheless, there are some lessons to be drawn from this experience. Continue reading
The number and scale of national protests aimed at ending the Iraq War were significantly smaller beginning in 2007 than they had been in the earlier years and lead-up to the war (see Heaney & Rojas’s 2011).
While many in the peace movement remained active as the Iraq War continued for five more years, their political actions were much more fragmented and radicalized from 2007 onward. The diminishing size and scope of Iraq War protests contradict public opinion because it was not as though the war became popular among Americans in its later years. Instead while public opinion about the Iraq War became more negative, large political actions against the war decreased. In this essay, I examine how civilians’ distance from the Iraq War contributed to this contradiction. Continue reading
Almost 11 years have passed since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Those events catalyzed a series of global military actions by the United States, which led to an international social movement opposing these actions, especially against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Given that the antiwar movement has existed largely in abeyance since 2009, enough time has passed to begin to reflect on the policy, political, and social effects of this movement.
Our baseline expectations for the policy effects of the antiwar movement ought to be low. In general, antiwar movements tend to be less successful in achieving their goals than other social movements because they challenge the security interests of state actors and, thus, receive relatively little facilitation from the state. Continue reading
On February 15th, 2003, millions of people from around the world took part in a series of coordinated protests against the impending war in Iraq. Although estimates of the number of participants ranged from six to thirty million, it was, without a doubt, the single largest protest event in human history to that date (BBC News 2003). Many scholars commented that the unprecedented level of successful global coordination against the war was made possible by the work of institutional leaders cooperating in large scale coalitions (Boekkooi, Klandermans, and van Stekelenburg 2011; Corrigall-Brown and Meyer 2010). These types of coalitions seemed indispensable for this level of mobilization. However, the recent success of the intentionally unorganized Occupy movement challenges us to reassess the necessity of formal coalitions between organizations and ask: in what contexts are formal coalitions needed for mass mobilization and how do formal organizational coalitions shape the nature of campaigns? Continue reading
Just over a decade ago, activists around the world organized the largest coordinated set of peace protests in history, trying to stop the impending invasion of Iraq. On February 15, 2003, millions of people took to the streets in the largest cities of the richest countries, with the largest turnouts appearing in countries were governments were poised to support the war (Walgrave and Rucht 2010). The demonstrations captured media attention and the political imagination of would-be activists around the world. They did not, however, stop the war. On March 20, 2003, a multinational coalition comprised overwhelmingly of American military forces started a bombing campaign designed to inspire “shock and awe,” and pave the way for a relatively smooth invasion with minimal non-Iraqi casualties. In relatively short order, the American-led coalition ousted Saddam Hussein’s regime and installed its own provisional government, promising an orderly transition to democracy. That didn’t quite happen. Continue reading
In April of 2003, I returned from Iraq after having lived there during the U.S. Shock and Awe bombing and the initial weeks of the invasion. Before the bombing I had traveled to Iraq about two dozen times and had helped organize 70 trips to Iraq, aiming to cast light on a brutal sanctions regime, with the “Voices in the Wilderness” campaign. As the bombing had approached, we had given our all to helping organize a remarkable worldwide peace movement effort, one which may have come closer than any before it to stopping a war before it started. But, just as we’d failed to lift the vicious and lethally punitive economic sanctions against Iraq before the war, we also failed to stop the war and the devastating civil war it created. Continue reading
Millions of citizens around the world mobilized on February 13, 2003 to protest the impending U.S.-led invasion in Iraq. It was arguably the largest anti-war protest in history.[i] One month later, the United States and the coalition of the willing rolled into Iraq, initiating a war which would drag on for eight years. As we now know, the Iraq invasion did not sustain the global anti-war effort as perhaps imagined by some of the earlier organizers.
Looking back, it is easy to dismiss the protests and broader anti-war movement (and by extension the peace movement[ii]) as ineffective and naïve. It is also tempting for social movement scholars to respond by qualifying what defines movement “success,” and argue that anti-war mobilization, while failing to end (much less stop) the war, generated other intended or unintended social and political consequences. This includes raising public consciousness about the human effects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; drawing support for center-left candidates or opposition parties; or building new transnational ties and networks. Continue reading