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Russell Shaw Headshot

OK, You Marched: Now Here's What You Should Do Next

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For the last couple of days, I have been ensconced in a downtown San Francisco hotel room, within faint earshot of yesterday's Iraq war protest and parade. There have been more such events today around the nation and the globe.

By all accounts, the parade was quite colorful: chants about WMD lies, "no more blood for oil," etc. It appears the parade attracted advocates for other causes, ranging from Palestinian rights to gay rights to women's rights to veteran's rights to animal rights.

But even as one who is more in agreement with the marchers than not, I have to wonder: what exactly do these marches accomplish besides an opportunity to vent? Are these colorful parades really the best way to reach out to "Support Our Troops," Yellow-Ribbon America? The America where voters, scared by Sept. 11 and whipped into frenzy by fright-wing radio and tv hosts, put politicians in place that supported, and still largely support this war?

I then thought, "how do you reach these people?" How do you get Yellow Ribbon America to change their minds and demand rather speedy withdrawal from the Iraq quagmire?

I personally do not think you reach Yellow Ribbon America by parades full of folks who, including some wounded or disaffected Iraq (and Viet) veterans, are likely to be regarded by red-state voters with a radio button tuned to Hannity, as a motley crew at best, and treasonous at worst. This was the same crowd that ate up the Swift Boaters' lies about Purple Heart-holding John Kerry, so you are not going to change their minds by trotting out some pissed-off vets.

To their credit, the organizers of this weekend's marchers did have a strategy of bringing the marchers to the suburbs of America. But from what I have seen, these events were just a more restrained effort at preaching to the converted. Soccer Moms with children were in abundance. So were thoughtful bookstore employees, baristas, musicians, members of the traditionally liberal "helping professions: teachers, nurses,social workers, some folks from progressive ranks of certain National Council of Churches member congregations. They all had their say and it must have felt good.

But was Yellow Ribbon America listening? I am talking about the Yellow Ribbon America full of huge, 5,000, 10,000, 15,000-member megachurches with families of faithful young men who were aggrieved about 9/11 and volunteered in droves for military service. I am talking about Yellow Ribbon America where Support our Troops bumper stickers are seldom joined by Gore or Kerry stickers-candidates who would not have invaded Iraq in the first place or would have had an exit strategy by now.

This is a Yellow Ribbon America whose support for the war, and for those office-holders who argue that we must stay the course, is largely intact. Not only that, but this is a Yellow Ribbon America whose sheer numbers can fully or significantly neutralize the types of voters who marched this weekend.

So how do those of us who would like to see the war end reach out to Yellow Ribbon America? Not by marches. You may think that marching helped end the Vietnam War, but the sociopolitical equation was different then. You had the draft, and a significant percentage of unwilling soldiers. Now you have a volunteer Army made up largely of an enlisted corps who, enraged by 9/11, poured out of the small towns and the evangelical churches to fight "evil." And even by virtue of their initial enlistment, National Guard types are mostly not cut from pacifist-inclined cloth.

So how best to reach Yellow Ribbon America? Through their belief system.

I would like to see those who favor a speedy exit from Iraq contact these conservative, evangelical churches and offer to involve their members in sincere, respectful debate about Iraq. Let us come to your congregations, your youth groups, your events, and engage you in your view, and our view, of the Iraq war and its moral compass. And if it takes thoughtful clergy from our side, let us come to where you meet, and maybe we can learn from each other.

The way I see this, readers, if we can change 5 percent of Yellow Ribbon America toward a view that this war is not about good vs. evil- that can have a positive impact on the current electoral cycle and a more enlightened public policy.

I remember Michael Moore once stating that if progressive Americans don't talk to other Americans but just talk to each other "in the basement of Unitarian churches," then nothing will change for the better.

He was, and is, right.