Since March 2011, Syria has been embroiled in a civil war between loyalists of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and an array of loosely affiliated armed rebel groups seeking his ouster. As the death toll in the conflict continued to mount and the Syrian military increasingly relied upon more advanced and heavy weapons to thwart the gains of the rebels, the United States and several of its allies began to arm the rebel groups and warn the Assad regime that the use of chemical weapons would result in punitive consequences.
In the aftermath of the August 2013 sarin gas attacks that killed several hundred people in the suburbs of Damascus, the United States led an effort to gain international support for a military strike intended to degrade the offensive capabilities of the Syrian military and punish the Assad regime for its purported use of chemical weapons. While public opinion in the United States generally opposed involvement of the US forces in the Syrian conflict, the prospect of chemical weapons used against Syrian civilians often generated support for US military intervention. However, as the evidence of chemical weapon usage by forces aligned with Assad became more concrete, American public opinion hardened against the military strikes proposed by the Obama administration.
Resultantly, activists and their networks began grassroots efforts to voice opposition to the prospect of American-led strikes against Syria. As with many other events of national and global importance over the past several years, activists used social media outlets and other digital technologies to organize, grow and project their views into the public discourse.
Facebook groups calling for opposition to military strikes were formed. Twitter hashtags such as #NoWarWithSyria, #NoWarInSyria, #HandsOffSyria, #DontAttackSyria and the like flooded the microblog site with anti-war messages. A “We the People” petition demanding that the Obama administration avoid strikes against Syria was initiated and, as of September 16, 2013, garnered the signatures of more than 25,000 people.
In addition, activists also employed more traditional forms of contentious political action. Specifically, many of these anti-war groups called for public demonstrations against military strikes and protests were held in cities large and small across the United States. In Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Portland and San Diego demonstrations were organized and held to express disagreement with the Obama administration’s talk of military action. However, unlike the run up to other military conflicts, each of these demonstrations attracted at most only a few hundred people.
|City||Date of Demonstration||Est. Attendance|
|Los Angeles||August 31, 2013||200|
|San Diego||August 31, 2013||150|
|Washington, D.C.||August 31, 2013||100|
|Boston||September 9, 2013||150|
|Portland||September 9, 2013||50|
|Chicago||September 10, 2013||50|
|Minneapolis||September 14, 2013||150|
In the days before the 1990-1991 Gulf War, the 2001 Afghanistan campaign, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the 2011 Libya intervention, large public demonstrations against the use of military power occurred; often attracting thousands or tens of thousands of activists to each event. Yet, while US public opinion is decidedly opposed to striking Syria, analysis by the Gallup organization reveals that public opinion was far more supportive of these earlier military actions. Counter intuitively, the military actions with more public support garnered larger public demonstrations while prospects of military action in Syria, which have greater public opposition, have resulted in smaller public demonstrations to date.
What might explain this phenomenon? A general sense of war fatigue in the United States; an anemic economic recovery that has monopolized public attention; a bitter, partisan political atmosphere that has diminished collective national identity; or simply reluctance of the peace camp to strenuously criticize a center-left administration? Or rather-is it simply as Medea Benjamin – founder of Code Pink – recently observed, that “that the antiwar movement is a shadow of its former self under the Bush years.”
Perhaps Benjamin’s assessment is correct if we only measure the success of the antiwar movement by the size of public demonstrations; however, if we gauge the effectiveness of an antiwar movement by its ability to both shape and reflect a public sentiment opposed to the application of force, then the Syria anti-war effort was quite successful. The fact remains that activists opposed to military strikes on Syria were able to make their voices heard and, in ways great and small, helped shape public opinion against such action. While massive, on-the-ground demonstrations against war in Syria were mere shadows of their predecessors, online forms of activism were widespread and robust.
Originally published by Anthropology News – Online