One notable thing about Representative Brian Baird's town-hall meeting at Fort Vancouver High School on August 27 is that there were no high-school students there.
I know that political town halls with congressmen aren't keggers, but Baird's meeting was about his support for the war. And the auditorium was jammed with at least 500 angry people, stewing about the Democratic rep's new status as a war booster. However, no one in the audience was young. I didn't even see any college-age students. There was a middle-aged punk lady. There was a 30-year-old Iraq war vet. There was a Vietnam special ops veteran. There were lots of retired couples.
People like to compare the United States' fiasco in Iraq to its war in Vietnam. But one defining thing about the Vietnam era was this: Youth took to the streets, shut down campuses, interfered with the military, protested en masse. Students were the shock troops—pulling off effective and daring demonstrations to dramatize the widespread sentiment against the war.
Not so at Fort Vancouver High School. Obviously, there is broad-based sentiment that the war is f'ed up. But without creative hell-raisers, it's all old ladies from the 18th District Democrats wagging their fingers at their congressman.
Noticing that youth were absent from Baird's meeting led me to another, more jarring realization: There's no substantial protest movement at all. For all the complaining we do about Bush's creepy war on democracy at home to fight for democracy abroad, the left hasn't actually stood up for democracy at home when we most need to tap its possibilities. No wonder Bush feels okay teaming up with AT&T to clamp down on American citizens.
Locally, the antiwar movement had its only and finest hour (or 24 hours) when a band of protesters occupied Senator Maria Cantwell's Seattle office in April 2006. Cantwell was forced to alter her position on the war.
Would Baird have given cover to President Bush if he'd known there'd be consequences—confrontations, road blocks at Ft. Lewis, maybe. But Baird knows the tone of today's antiwar movement isn't at that scale. Consider: We're four years into this war. Four years into the Vietnam war this country witnessed the most raucous antiwar protest in the country's history at the Democratic Convention.
Four years after we invaded Iraq? Baird got an earful from voters like Barbara Wills of Vancouver, who whispered to me at the meeting, "Well, of course, I'm going to vote for him."
All was quiet as I drove home up I-5, passing Fort Lewis along the way.