George W. Bush may have had it right after all when he dismissed protests against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a “focus group’s” futile efforts.
It has been eight years this week since the United States began the costly and bloody war in Iraq chasing after mythical weapons of mass destruction. Concocted lies scared the public into believing now-dead dictator Saddam Hussein was prepared to use the WMDs against us. Nearly 10 years has passed since U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan in a still unsuccessful attempt to end terrorism, eliminate the Taliban and capture Osama bin Laden.
The wars continue, but protests in Kansas City and elsewhere have mostly subsided except for the grim start-of-war anniversaries such as now or the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy. The public outcry has ended despite the majority of Americans turning against keeping U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The conflict has lessened for U.S. troops in Iraq with President Barack Obama’s withdrawal of combat troops. But Iraqi civilians still die at an alarming rate as the instability Bush created continues.
In Afghanistan fighting is ongoing with an increase in the number of U.S. combat troops and military drones flying bombing raids that also sweep into Pakistan. Civilian casualties keep mounting, too.
Maintaining passion and drive in protests is tough. People have jobs, families and obligations that don’t include standing by curbsides in large numbers trying to fire up an apathetic public.
As numbers have dwindled, those left staffing protest outposts seem like crackpots. They are looked upon as if they resemble the infamous Japanese soldiers on deserted islands who kept fighting after World War II had ended because they never got word that Japan had surrendered.
It’s not just antiwar protesters who are running out of steam trying to get the public’s attention. Union leaders in Wisconsin and Ohio are finding it difficult to maintain large numbers of people to protest state funding cuts and attacks on collective bargaining.
Initially in Wisconsin, tens of thousands of people protested Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to eliminate most collective bargaining rights for teachers, firefighters and other public workers. By the time Republicans took an end-run action without absent Democrats, only a few students were protesting.
In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich has pushed for passage of a bill allowing unionized public workers to negotiate wages, hours and certain work conditions but not health care or pension benefits. The proposal would do away with automatic raises.
Like the antiwar protesters, the workers have jobs they have to maintain. America isn’t Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen or Libya. There is neither the wildly angry protest by people against their rulers nor has the military been alerted to squelch the free speech action.
World outrage over the protests and some deadly government responses in the Middle East and Africa helped fuel some changes. Protesters have stayed connected to the latest news through social media. It has provided them with information and strategies that the government-run and corporate media wouldn’t touch.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this month even praised Al-Jazeera, saying it offered more “real news” even to people in the United States than some of America’s news outlets. Al-Jazeera has helped keep interest high in the protests, adding to the social media plume.
In the early years of the war effort, news media quoted government officials telling people to go to malls and big box stores and do their patriotic duty by shopping. Or in the case of union protests against states trying to strip collective bargaining rights, people are sold on organized labor being unnecessary, elements of the past and something the nation can’t afford in today’s bad economy.
The danger in the growing apathy in the public’s willingness to exercise free-speech rights in our democracy and even to go to the polls in big numbers is elected officials won’t take seriously those who bother to protest or vote. The dissidents are just a “focus group,” right?
People will give up and give in. The protests that some may have participated in will be just laughable footnotes, if they appear at all in U.S. history books.