Self-inflicted wounds

By ADAM REILLY  |  March 30, 2007

Times are a-changin’
David Corn, the Washington, DC, editor of the Nation, is a rare left-leaning critic of current anti-war methods. In 2002, Corn wrote critically about the movement’s far-left hodgepodge of issues and ANSWER’s roots in the Workers World Party, which backed the Soviet Union’s 1956 invasion of Hungary and has subsequently supported Fidel Castro, Kim Jong-Il, and Slobodan Milosevic. “If you’re trying to maximize your potential to get good coverage and to attract other people, the better your message is, the better your chances are,” Corn says. “You can’t control how the media is going to see you; you can just present the best and most effective image you can, and then see what happens.”

But Corn also thinks the point may now be moot. “Without having any empirical data to back this up, it’s my instinct that the days of having much of an impact on the political process with street protests are gone,” he says. “If you could get 10 million Americans to flood Washington, that’d be different, but these demonstrations bring in tens of thousands, maybe 100,000 or 200,000. . . . If you’re a congressman from Ohio, and 100 people from Ohio show up in New York or Washington and get swept up in this giant flood, it really doesn’t mean much to you. But if you had those 100 people back home in your district, working really hard to convince their fellow citizens to put pressure on you, then you’d have to start worrying.”

Maybe Corn is right. After all, the rise of groups like may mean the real future of collective political action is online, not in the streets and shared public spaces. What’s more, the broader anti-war cause is already moving forward in fits and starts: look at the sober conclusions of the Iraq Study Group, or the Democrats’ 2006 takeover of Congress, or the recent House resolution setting a timetable for withdrawal.

Still, the continued affinity for mass protests is more than an anachronism. Something elemental happens when people mass with a shared purpose: convictions are reinforced; frustrations and hopes intensify; passers-by stop and watch, whether they agree or not. When this happens, the media confront a choice: do we tell our readers and viewers and listeners about this — and if so, what do we say? Public protests alone may not end the war in Iraq, but they can help or hurt the cause. There’s still time to act accordingly.

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