Protest Movement Had All the Slogans and Symbols of the '60s but Lacked Popular Support WAR IN THE GULF

March 10, 1991|By Ellen Uzelac

It was a '90s-style peace movement but the symbolism was vintage '60s.

Even before the war started, peace activists had begun to wrap a social movement around the Persian Gulf conflict. Chanting '60s-style peace slogans, protesters lashed out at American icons -- the White House, the United Nations, the Pentagon -- and across the nation, sporadic and often spontaneous protests drew thousands of supporters.

It was a movement with '60s props: peace symbols, tie-dyshirts, sit-ins and teach-ins, and fiery speeches by Daniel Ellsberg and Philip Berrigan. But unlike the anti-war movement of the '60s, which was led by college students, the resuscitated peace movement strove to have Main Street appeal.

Supporters of the movement included the American Library Association, the National Council of Churches, the National Organization for Women and the Military Families Support Network, a national alliance of opponents to the war who had kin serving in the Persian Gulf.

Still, the anti-war movement never attracted great numbers. Clearly, opposition to the war was never the prevailing national sentiment. Again and again, opinion polls showed the vast majority of Americans supported the war effort.

In many quarters of the country anti-war protesters were labeled anti-American despite their attempts from the beginning to make clear their support for the welfare of U.S. troops. The movement's slogan: "Bring the troops home now."

Organizers did not restrict themselves to a strictly anti-war agenda. In Washington on January 26, at the nation's most heavily attended peace march, many of the 75,000 protesters brought other social causes to the arena: AIDS funding, racial injustice, gay rights, the homeless and poor.

The movement's focus on such a vast array of domestic issues was, according to critics, part of its undoing because it fractured support. Too, leaders expected public support to build after U.S. casualties mounted -- a factor that the quick ground war put to rest.

From the beginning, the protesters took swipes from President Bush and on the Friday after the war ended, the president concluded in a news conference: "There isn't any anti-war movement out there. . . . [a] handful of voices, but [I] can't hear them."

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