United States

The Phony Antiwar Movement

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

Two university researchers have proven, by the numbers, what the real antiwar movement has known for years: that many of the folks that turned out in such large numbers to demonstrate against America’s wars when George Bush was president, were really only opposed to Republican wars. Thus, when Barack Obama captured the White House, the so-called antiwar movement largely collapsed.

The new study was put together by Michael Heaney, of the University of Michigan, and Fabio Rojas, of Indiana University. It shows, essentially, that many Democrats were motivated to pick up peace placards and shout antiwar slogans more by their dislike of George Bush and the Republicans, than for genuine opposition to America’s multiple wars around the globe—wars that Obama expanded upon, while adding his own, new theaters of war. Professor Heaney puts it this way. “The antiwar movement should have been furious at Obama’s ‘betrayal’ and reinvigorated its protest activity. Instead,” says Heaney, “attendance at antiwar rallies declined precipitously and financial resources available to the movement have dissipated.” The professor concluded that, “The election of Obama appeared to be a demobilizing force on the antiwar movement, even in the face of his pro-war decisions.”

In other words, much of the antiwar movement was phony, a cynical gathering of partisan Democrats who were really never all that concerned for the victims of U.S. imperial warfare, or for the huge dislocations that the national security state places on the U.S. economy. No, they just wanted their guy, the Democrat, to win. Once Obama was safely in the White House, the antiwar movement was all but dismantled, having served its partisan political purpose. For the phony antiwarrior, imperialism with a Democratic face is just fine.

Heaney and Rojas came to their conclusions by surveying 5,400 participants in 27 antiwar demonstrations in Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and other cities from January 2007 to December 2009. The researchers carefully constructed the respondents’ political and activist histories and affiliations. A clear pattern emerged: once Obama was elected, Democratic activists dropped out of antiwar politics. People affiliated with third parties remained, and became more central to the now smaller, but more radical, movement.

It really didn’t require a university degree to understand that United for Peace and Justice, UFPJ, the antiwar umbrella group during the height of protest, was behaving more as an arm of the Democratic Party than as principled peace activists. The shallowness of these phony antiwarriors was so obvious; UFPJ was widely derided as United for Peanut Butter and Jelly.

A much smaller antiwar movement survives under the leadership of UNAC, the United National Antiwar Committee.

The people that like the Democratic Party more than peace, are gone—and are not likely to return until the Republicans recapture the White House—at which point these phony peace advocates will pretend that they never left.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at

Black Agenda Report, May 3, 2011