e-mail us


The peace enterprise goes global

As men, women and children lit candles in New Zealand, signaling the start of the worldwide vigil, organizers at MoveOn.org flashed the early tally: 6,311 vigils scheduled in 135 nations. In just a week’s time, the seeds of the unprecedented candlelight peace vigil, crossing through every time zone, were coming to fruition.

By the time the demonstration ended, millions around the globe had participated in a total of 8,000 candlelight vigils in 140 countries.

Such organizing speed for such a massive protest would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. However with the development of the Internet, the antiwar movement has gained an enormously powerful new tool. If Vietnam was the first television war and the Gulf War made CNN a media power, the attack on Iraq seems likely to be the first war of the Internet.

At 7 p.m. in each time zone on the evening of March 16, candles were lit, symbolically joining together the aspirations and hopes of the entire human family, in one last plea for peace. If the Internet has changed the way we live, then part of that change has involved the birth of new and creative peace actions that cross national, ethnic and religious lines.

This latest action came as a response to a cry from religious leaders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Rev. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches. “On Sunday evening people in every corner of the globe will shine beacons of light throughout the world,” said Tutu. “May our candles rekindle the light of reason and hope so that war will be averted in Iraq and peace will prevail in the world.”

Tutu’s words were posted on MoveOn.org (moveon.org) and Win Without War (winwithoutwarus.org), the electronic engines of the worldwide peace movement. Win Without War is an international coalition of church, feminist, human rights and environmental groups.

“It appears that the Bush administration will fail to win Security Council support for war, and world public opinion has been a key part of this. Help keep up the pressure by attending or scheduling a candlelight vigil on Sunday in your area,” the MoveOn.org site stated. “Beginning in New Zealand, this will be a rolling wave of candlelight gatherings that will quickly cross the globe. It’s up to you to make this happen. Today we are asking individuals, like you, to organize a vigil in each community.”

Visitors to the MoveOn.org site were directed to choose their country and city. U.S. citizens were able to type in zip codes to locate or initiate a local candlelight vigil. As the vigils took place, participants were directed to take electronic photos and post them on the MoveOn.org Web site, which quickly got inundated.

The candlelight protest was the third major peace action organized by MoveOn.org and Win Without War in less than a month. In late February, MoveOn.org brought countless peace voices to Washington, swamping Senate and White House telephone switchboards, fax machines and e-mail boxes with hundreds of thousands of messages opposing military action against Iraq. Win Without War also collected and presented the United Nations with a petition of more than 1 million names taken from 200 countries urging the Security Council to choose tough inspections over war.

MoveOn.org, meanwhile, has leveraged the Internet to create an organization with the ability and credibility to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was originally set up in 1998 by two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who believed the impeachment of Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal was damaging the political process. Joan Blades and her husband, Wes Boyd, thought it was time to “move on” from the scandal and established the site as a way of reaching people with similar views who would help them coordinate protests and send their views to politicians and the media.

During the impeachment row, MoveOn.org generated more than a million e-mails and 250,000 phone calls to Congress. After Sept. 11, the Web site became involved with peace causes, and as the likelihood of war with Iraq heightened last fall, MoveOn.org’s database of supporters expanded. Using the estimated $15 million raised from backers, MoveOn.org went on the offensive with a series of antiwar commercials launched during the Super Bowl broadcast in late January. The ads, one of them featuring actor-activist Martin Sheen of “West Wing” fame, urge President George W. Bush to “let the inspections work.”

“We have over 750,000 people on our network in the United States, and basically people go to our Web site, they sign up, and it’s that easy,” Eli Pariser, 22, who runs MoveOn.org from his bedroom, told one reporter. “They’re involved, they’re receiving e-mails from us, they’re taking action. Our members are patriotic, mainstream Americans. They come from all sorts of walks of life ... and they’re basically getting together around this very simple message, which is [that] this war in Iraq doesn’t make sense, let’s let the inspections work. But beyond that, they don’t really have a lot in common.”

In the lead up to the war, the antiwar voices mobilized through the Internet in the United States and elsewhere were loud enough to give the Bush administration pause, but not noisy enough to keep it from plunging ahead with plans to attack Iraq. Peace activists are now hoping other Internet sites like ElectronicIraq.net, which has recruited a network of “on-the-ground” Iraqis to submit photographs and written dispatches of the war from inside Iraq, will chip in and eventually turn public opinion away from the war. The hope is that, at the very least, a fuller picture of the conflict will emerge than was able to squeeze past Defense Department censors during the first Gulf War.

National Catholic Reporter, March 28, 2003