The group this study examines is an anti war group, called IVAW or Iraq Veterans Against the War (http://www. ivaw. org) initially organized by veterans of the Iraq War in 2004, one year after the start of the war in Iraq, and have expanded their mission to opposing the conflict in Afghanistan. This is clearly a group with potential, with a defined core demographic, but one which is, while sophisticated in the tools it is using, failing in its fundamental mission and goals, not to mention not maximizing the considerable power of the tools it has at its disposal.
Yet despite these failings, the group is extremely holistic and uses many proven tactics, albeit unsuccessfully or not maximally utilized or executed, either lifted directly or fused into a new medium, used across many historical struggles – ones for civil rights, gender equity, art as protest, AIDS activism, and even class struggle, although in the latter issue, the group is still struggling to find its way to define its strategy effectively as all social activist groups do in America on this issue. But the fact remains, you won’t find many graduates of Harvard stationed in Kabul.
And in a country reeling from high unemployment it is a perfect time to hit the establishment on exactly this issue. Overall Organizational Structure National Overview The current organization is a mostly virtual 501(c) 3 (non lobbying) non profit, with a national office located in New York City, and a website. There are four full time employees, 1,700 members, who are listed online, and 61 chapters in 48 states. Figure 1: IVAW Chapters Nationally Regional Organization The regional chapters are staffed by volunteer state/field organizers to coordinate state wide campaigns of all sorts (described below).
The group has volunteer speakers (mostly vets) and a board. Core Demographics & Membership The core demographic are vets, both old and young, and their families. The socioeconomic level is primarily blue collar working class and those from America’s heartland, who signed up to serve because they had no sense of American foreign policy, or enlisted in the National Guard to get a college or advanced education in the first place, without realizing that they would be called upon to serve in actual combat and for repeated tours of duty which is unprecedented in American history.
To the extent that the organization provides educational outreach, they are exceptional in their holistic approach. Where the group fails is how they do not effectively use the tools at their disposal to mobilize their membership. And that failure is contributing both to their low member count and to their ability to mobilize a mass protest to both wars. Fundraising The group raises funds through membership dues, volunteer fundraising efforts and selling merchandise.
What is interesting and highly unique if not commendable about the merchandising it sells, however, is that much of it is produced by members, so the group is actively contributing both through their membership dues AND through their personal experiences to support the organization financially. It is a unique, therapeutic, and self sustaining model and one that creates greater unity for members.
It is also a tactic, along with alternative outlets for TV production borrowed from the AIDS movement and The Quilt, which used the same tactics, albeit not always online, although the gay community, in particular, was one of the FIRST niches as a community, to use the internet and art as a way of building community, particularly in response to AIDS and social exclusion, not to mention build a social protest movement over 20 years ago. Tactics Employed & Why Website As Information & Organizing Tool
The group uses various tactics including predominant reliance on its website as an information source and organizing tool. Despite the cyber advantage, their tactics mirror many of those used in classic anti war organizing efforts, from Vietnam onwards, with a few other movements mixed in (such as ACT UP). It’s just mostly anti Vietnam war protest gone cyber. However the website also includes valuable information that includes sections for those who would not necessarily know how to find it, or have the education to even know where to look.
As a result, it is a valuable information tool for its members alone, not to mention free to anyone who stumbles across the website. Information includes: Supporting War Resisters Publishing the activities and ongoing stories of those who are actively refusing to participate in the policy of stop-loss, or the policy of forcing soldiers to serve repeated tours of duty against their will. Further the group is following each case and actively encouraging its membership to support each active resister by contacting the army base in question to support the resister to the army brass.
Providing Information on IRR (Resisting Individual Ready Reserve Recall) Intimidation Tactics The group provides information about DoD’s increasingly aggressive tactics to force people who are no longer required to report for National Guard Duty, how to avoid being penalized or how to get legal guidance and representation online. Resources for Active Duty Service people, National Guard and Reserves The group provides information to active duty service members about what rights they have, posted on their website. Press Aggregator/Social Media Tool
The group is actively promoting its message throughout both the traditional media and the blogosphere. The articles it generates are also posted on its website as links to the other sites and these articles serve as both information for readers and as links in a social community as part of an online activist strategy. Active Projects In addition to being a passive information source, the group is actively documenting the experiences of vets both as a healing tool and as an education and outreach effort. These include:
Combat Paper: A sort of AIDS Quilt project for veterans, who literally beat their uniforms into paper and make these into art projects, transforming psychological scars and wounds into art as a healing process. Warrior Writer’s Project: A collection of essays that are the culmination of creative workshops (3 already have been held) where vets talk about their experiences in a healing environment and then write these experiences down. One book has already been compiled from such writing. At the second and third exhibits, readings from the first book were combined with photographs from the war.
More exhibits are planned and so is a second book. Truth In Recruiting: Small groups are organized where vets talk about the lies the military perpetuates in recruiting and what to expect of active service. Veteran Gulf Reconstruction Project: The group is trying to raise money online to help rebuild the destroyed gulf communities they believe the money going to fight the wars is being diverted from rebuilding and further, vets living in the region. Coalitions: The group is building coalitions online with other natural allies.
Listed groups on the website include: Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families For Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Bring Them Home Now! Campaign, National Youth and Student Peace Coalition and United for Peace and Justice. The Blog & Social Media: The group has its own blog on its website and its members are clearly using social media networks as well (including posting video on You Tube and Vimeo for example). Field Events/Individual Speak Outs/Educational Events: The group holds events around the country, organized by the state organizers and often filmed and posted on the website.
These range from policy discussions to individual vets’ who’ve served, who talk about their experiences in the field and why they are opposed to the wars. The Winter Soldier Project: By far, the most effective and powerful tool but underutilized for some unknown reason, is a project they have initiated called the Winter Soldier Project. It consists of short films, distributed almost everywhere on the internet, from the actual website of the group, to Vimeo to You Tube. One particularly powerful documentary is linked here.
Why these have not gone viral is beyond comprehension, particularly given their powerful testimony, gripping video, and every day people reacting to what they hear in hardly militant circumstances, hardly the “hippy radical militant” anti war protester stereotype. The Role of the Group as an “Activist” Organization The activities of the group are clearly activist, as described in the activities above with a clearly defined agenda: to stop the wars and reinvest the money in America to build a more just and peaceful country and world.
That is the fundamental definition of an activist organization, and one that uses traditional tools of an anti-war group at that, updated for the cyber age. The fact that they are so conscious and holistic in their approach to both stopping the wars and linking this to social inequity, civil rights and other societal injustices is even further evidence of their rightful appellation as an activist group. A Holistic Approach to Resistance The group is clearly using tried and true tactics as many online organizing groups before it.
Unfortunately, in part, probably due to lack of funding, a mostly volunteer organization and a battered population of members, many of whom are on disability themselves, the group is severely limited in the kind of money it can raise and the ability of its members due to complicated disabilities that doctors still don’t know how to treat. Strategic and Tactical Failures Part of the group’s failure is the failure to identify the right demographics or utilize “cross niche” strategies for viral and social marketing for the powerful information they have to share and have already collected.
Clearly they understand that linking to other veterans’ and student organizations is important, and clearly from the videos they produce, they are attracting a multicultural audience across middle America for their presentations, and not turning them off with militant tactics (such as Larry Kramer used or those used during the white student campus protests during Vietnam). That said, the latter two campaigns were highly effective, and achieved their goals, as much as they engendered violent reaction.
One issue that is directly responsible for the group’s failure to capture more attention, is that they fall short, just as many before them, including the Obama campaign, of connecting in the way different demographic groups use the technology they have access to – in other words understanding that with the proliferation of G3 cell phones capable of accessing the internet for example, lower class people have access to the internet, but activists who want to reach them, in this case precisely the demographic this group wants to reach, but don’t know how to do so. A theory expanded upon by Lavato when he writes:
“The next step of activism is for grassroots groups to connect online and offline organizing like Obama did, but targeting working-class people…. And the first step is for us to learn how our communities use their media and to engage them on their own terms. ” This certainly answers the question for example, with a national unemployment rate as high as it is, and again falling predominantly on this demographic, why aren’t these videos, much less membership going through the roof? Even Larry Kramer was able to organize the sick and dying into an effective national organization WITHOUT THE INTERNET.
That said, his tactics were very different. Perhaps that might explain why anti war efforts now including this group are so ineffective. Because the population Larry Kramer was fighting for was far more ostracized if not stigmatized than mostly straight young kids fighting for their country. How come these soldiers and vets are so ineffective seven years into two wars when Kramer effectively changed the way the government dealt with a devastating epidemic it otherwise would have ignored in far less time with far less effective tools?
The answer lies in that IVAW have all the right instincts, and all the right tools, but they are fundamentally failing to implement them in the right ways. And that comes from a disconnect in strategy and class that is always present in every social movement that is driven from top down, rather than the grassroots. Which seems to be the problem here too. Strategic and Logistical Overhaul The group needs to start targeting states where there are large populations of military bases, and thus vets, and states with horrific social services (i.
e. Medicaid), combined with high unemployment rates, like Texas, North Carolina, California, Colorado, etc. as shown on the map below. Figure 2: Map of 3 Month Decline in Economic Activity February – April 2010 The group needs to plot strategy demographically and economically if they are really going to make a difference, just like a political campaign. Cyberspace is a very nice place, but you have to ground it to have an effect.
Feet on the ground and votes in ballot boxes are ultimately the most effective weapon in any organizational change “we can believe in,” to paraphrase a recent presidential candidate who used such techniques far more effectively. Conclusion The group is using tactics borrowed from successful grassroots and cyber online activist organizations such as Move On, (which may be the source of one of its failings) and of course political organizations of all kinds, offline and on including the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, MoveOn, ACT UP to even those used in the early days of anti-Vietnam protests.
Why they haven’t connected to OTHER niche groups outside of the traditional ones they are already connected to is rather shocking, particularly given their sophistication in other areas. It also explains why they aren’t meeting their mission. Particularly as Obama has just pushed through the largest military budget in history. America is spending more for war under a Democratic administration, than even Bush, who expanded DoD’s budget to an all time high. The time is ripe for a group like this, with all the tools it has at its disposal, to explode, based on historical precedent and current widespread economic domestic suffering.
It is a tragic case of a great idea, with all the right tools and dedicated people, who just don’t know how to execute their strategy and connect it to a larger, mainstream (or cross niche audiences) who will connect with the right message to help them achieve the ends they desire. An end to all wars and a reinvestment of America’s considerable resources in causes that are both domestic and associated with socioeconomic justice in America. Bibliography Cappuccio, S. N. (2006). Mothers of Soldiers and the Iraq War: Justification through Breakfast Shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC.
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