The Seeds of an Anti-Iran War Movement in San Diego

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Over the weekend a small group of protestors objected to the possibility of war with Iran. Will others follow their lead?

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Conor Friedersdorf


On Saturday I spent several hours on the streets of downtown San Diego interviewing passersby about their thoughts on the upcoming presidential election and American politics generally. I'd planned to capture their insights in vivid high-definition video, the better to convey them to their fellow citizens. As it turned out, nearly everyone who I approached gave some variation on the response, "I'd happily speak with you, but I don't really know anything about/pay attention to/care at all about politics." I put away my equipment and reflected on the useful reminder that those of us who read and write about national affairs on the Web exist in a bubble.

Perhaps an hour later, my fancy camera all packed away, the weekend bags of my fiance and I slung over my shoulders, I saw several blocks away some San Diegans with a message. They were protesting the possibility of a war with Iran over its nuclear facilities, perhaps figuring that pro-war forces have long since launched their own campaign. After running awkwardly down the sidewalk, jaywalking, and fumbling for equipment in a way that made me appreciate the action skills of every photojournalist, I managed to capture a short video using all the wrong settings:

Antiwar protest video from Conor Friedersdorf on Vimeo.

As you can see, it was a very small rally. Despite the fact that I'd have tweaked the chant ("No more Jesus kill"?), the optics, and even some of the slogans on the signs, I'd have to call it a success. Observers on the street, many of whom seldom think about politics, were confronted by the idea that America may once again be thrust into a war that a lot of their fellow citizens are against. The dissenters afford a significantly different impression about Iran than the evening news, which tends to focus on the possibility that Iran will get nukes and attendant sabre-rattling. 

Even in San Diego, where there's a big military presence and a population more conservative than in California's other major cities, the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan have presumably left citizens more receptive to anti-war arguments than they would've been in 2001 or 2003. And that is certainly the mindset of the American public writ large. I remember in the run-up to the Iraq War when folks who opposed it were cast by their adversaries as anti-American hippies, and the most radical protesters were made out to be representative of the whole cause.

Now that a lot of Americans have concluded that Code Pink was more correct about Iraq than The Weekly Standard, the same trick presumably won't work given a halfway competent anti-war movement. At the same time, the prospect of war with Iran, which could theoretically be even more catastrophic than the War in Iraq, hasn't inspired nearly the same opposition. Maybe it's time for that to change. President Obama hasn't been agitating for war like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did. On the other hand, Obama showed in Libya that he doesn't have a problem surprising the American people and Congress by entering into a war without anyone's permission, never mind the War Powers Resolution and the constitution's grant of the war powers.

The time to object is now.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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