Whether or not the Iraq War is another Vietnam, John Clendaniel says the anti-war movement he is helping to organize has begun to resemble protests from the end of the Vietnam War.
Clendaniel, of Squirrel Hill, works for the local chapter of the Quaker organization American Friends Service Committee, and he helped fill one of four Pittsburgh buses sent to the Jan. 27 anti-war rally in Washington, D.C. His group, Pitt Against War, included students from Duquesne University, Carnegie Mellon University, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh -- even middle school and high school students -- who joined a crowd in the capital estimated to be 100,000 strong. The group was more racially diverse, Clendaniel says, than even the last D.C. march in September, which he says relied more on "young hippies and old hippies." The January march also included more trade-union representatives and "more everyday people," he adds.
A re-formed '60s group, Students for a Democratic Society, is also back, helping to sponsor the students' simultaneous rally alongside the National Mall. And anti-war veterans groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War, Clendaniel says, will once again be "key to the resistance."
Pitt Against War was ill-positioned -- and chanting "Troops out now!" too often -- to hear the message of the high-profile speakers. ("Sean Penn impressed me because he was so loud and angry," Clendaniel says.) But the goal was not to end the war tomorrow, as welcome as that outcome might have been to participants. "The focus is really to build a broad, mass anti-war movement [so that], regardless of who is in Congress, there is this large mass-movement that would make it politically infeasible to continue the war," he says. Come January 2009, he adds, "We think the same pressure can be exerted on whomever ends up in the White House."
This first national protest of 2007, originally scheduled to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War's start on March 19, was moved up earlier to capitalize on November's heavily anti-Bush election. Anniversary rallies are still set for March 24; Pittsburgh's will be held in Oakland.
Francine Porter of Shaler Township, Pittsburgh coordinator for the women's anti-war group CodePink, led members from the city, Scottdale, Altoona and West Virginia to the D.C. gathering. She was happy to hear national CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin lead a chant of "Women Say Pull Out" -- the Pittsburgh chapter's slogan, now adopted nationally. "I know it's a little edgy, people might be offended by it, but I think this war is offensive," Benjamin says.
"The nice thing about this rally is that the message was clear," she adds: "No more funding for the troops, troops home now. It's a really important time for the left. It's good to see so many people on the street."