Here in New York, the sponsors of the Feb. 15 anti-war rally claimed a crowd of 375,000 to 500,000. The Washington Post said "at least 100,000." The police commissioner thought it was around 100,000. By Manhattan standards, this is not a big number. When Paul Simon sang in Central Park, 750,000 to 800,000 people came.
Ken Layne, an Internet blogger, points out that 200,000 people turned out to watch the Daytona 500 on Feb. 16, so the anti-war rallies in Manhattan and San Francisco may have drawn about as many people as one auto race held in the rain in Florida.
Maybe a million Americans turned out nationally to protest the war, Layne wrote, compared to 6 million who showed up over the weekend to watch Ben Affleck in "Daredevil," and 50 million who went to church on Sunday.
Whatever the numbers, the demonstrations were depicted in the media as so significant (taken with the larger and heavily anti-American rallies in Europe) that President Bush had better pay attention and change course.
One newspaper headline said "Anti-War Protesters Fail to Sway Bush on Plans for Iraq." Gosh, how stubborn can he be? Offhand comments by anchormen and letters to the editor expressed surprise that Bush failed to alter course when he learned that maybe one-half of 1 percent of Americans had taken to the streets for a couple of hours.
The media also fulfilled the deepest hopes of organizers by depicting the protest as a festival of soccer moms. Success depended on this because of the presence of Stalinists, Leninists and Maoists among the key organizers of the "peace" movement.
The sponsor of the New York rally was the umbrella group United for Peace and Justice, which can be described as the crazy far-left on its best behavior. The co-chair is Leslie Cagan, an oldtime radical organizer and a member of the Committee on Correspondence, which came out of a split inside the American Communist Party in 1991.
UPJ comes on as moderate enough to attract the churches and groups like Greenpeace. Its real function may be to deflect attention from the real power in the anti-war movement, ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), which doesn't bother to look moderate. ANSWER is a front group for the hard-left International Action Center (IAC), which is a front group for the Workers World Party, an old-line Stalinist group with legendary organizing skills. The WWP supported the Soviet invasion of Hungary, backed China's massacre in Tiananmen Square and fiercely supports Kim Jong Il's fanatic regime in North Korea. Few people in the "peace" movement seem bothered by having to listen to Leninist orators or walking along in marches with fans of North Korea.
The most hotly debated issue on the far-far-left is whether inspections in Iraq should go on forever, or whether inspections are illegitimate acts of war that must stop immediately. The latter notion is favored by ANSWER and Ramsey Clark, the addled former attorney general, now a figurehead for the IAC. He defends Slobodan Milosovic, says the United States has already launched genocide in Iraq and argues that Jesus Christ was a terrorist.
The stench arising from the organizers attracts zero interest in the mainstream press. Writing in National Review, Byron Scott called it "the story no one wants to hear about the anti-war movement." If anti-war demonstrations were being organized by a tobacco company or the Augusta National Golf Club, the liberal establishment would erupt in screams of protest. No screaming now, though. These sponsors are just off-the-wall loonies and Stalinist front groups.
Coverage of Feb. 15 gave us conventional soccer-mom reporting, focused on ordinary Americans, preferably Republicans, veterans and people who had never marched before. Wholesomeness was everywhere.
The news media and the organizers' Web sites featured photos of children and earnest "give peace a chance" demonstrators. But if you poke around the Internet, you can turn up different pictures and messages at the New York rally: the ritual scorn for "Amerika," "Queer Resistance for Palestine," hammer-and-sickle flags, pictures of Che Guevara and the predictable images of President Bush as Hitler. The banners of ANSWER, some huge, seemed to be everywhere. Apparently the far-left presence was bigger and uglier in San Francisco and Europe.
Many anti-war people understand the problem of relying so heavily on the Stalinists. They say little, but they wonder whether the soccer moms will crowd out the Stalinists, or whether the dangerous hard left is in the process of taking over the "peace" movement entirely. Good question.