The majority of Americans support the war against terrorism since the attacks upon the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to numerous polls in the media.But it may not be easy to tell from seeing protestors participate in peace marches, rallies and candlelight vigils across the country.
There is a growing sentiment among groups that war is not the answer.
But Carol Jablonski, associate professor for communication, said she does not think the terrorist attacks will incite massive peace protests.
“In a national crisis, there is a tendency to respond in a knee-jerk fashion,” Jablonski said. “The more fearful people are, the more likely they are willing to support existing authority.”
Americans are fearful because the attacks occurred on American soil without warning. Unlike people in countries such as Israel, Americans are not accustomed to the mind-numbing sight of daily bombings and dead bodies. America’s comfort zone has been shaken, and it may be some time before the country regains confidence.
The dissenting opinion, pegged by many as unpatriotic, has taken shape in the form of protests spanning the country from Los Angeles, where peace demonstrators held a moment of silence for the victims but also protested military retaliations, to Washington D.C., where an anti-war rally was held on Sept. 29.Even Floridians have displayed their opposition to military action. Approximately 200 people gathered on the steps and sidewalks flanking City Hall in St. Petersburg at a rally for peace and justice instead of war on Sept. 23.
Not everyone was fond of the protestors’ message.
One man, angered by the procession of people marching to City Hall, flicked protestors off and proceeded to wave the American flag.
While some feel it’s unpatriotic to protest against war, others feel the expression is patriotic.
Sandy Thompson, a protestor at the St. Petersburg rally, said, “It’s the right to free speech. What is (this) democracy we’re supposed to be defending, if not the right to dissent?”
Garrett Norman, a USF student majoring in business and finance, does not believe the protests will influence public opinion. He said too many people believe war is the best action.
But Norman said he does not believe protesting the war is unpatriotic. “That’s what America is all about, being able to speak your own opinion,” he said.
Ken Killebrew, a mass communications professor said protestors won’t have as much impact on the public as the government.
“But the protests will remain relatively small and infrequent until something happens,” Killebrew said.
“What protesters do won’t change public opinion. (However), what the government does will change public opinion.”
Liza Menietti, a USF student majoring in criminology, said the protests won’t sway her opinion because she strongly believes the U.S. military should retaliate against the terrorists.
Based on past terrorist attacks, Menietti said, “The terrorists are going to keep committing more and more acts of terrorism with greater intensity and with more powerful weapons until we take a stand against terrorism.”
Like many anti-war protestors, Stephanie Mildred, a member of the newly formed Coalition for Peace and Social Justice, hopes this is not the case.
“I wouldn’t be doing this if I believed we couldn’t change public opinion,” she said.
At the very least, Mildred said the protests might provoke more people to feel Americans have a responsibility to know what the United States is doing domestically and internationally because the terrorist attacks stem from U.S. foreign policy decisions.
Protests are nothing new to a country founded on large-scale dissent, albeit in the form of the Revolutionary War.
Like previous anti-war protests, protestors face the arduous task of generating mainstream acceptance.
According to Jablonski, changing the course of public opinion begins with disseminating the message to as many people as possible. The media can either impede or facilitate exposure for protest groups, she said.
According to Killebrew, the media is not shying away from covering the protests because of widespread patriotism. “They are not giving it page one coverage, but they are reporting on it,” he said.
Mildred provided an example of where the media impeded the coverage of the St. Petersburg protest. The media was informed of the news conference concerning the anti-war demonstration. Some reporters expressed interest, but none attended.
“That was a form of censorship by the media,” Mildred said.CPSJ is attempting to build a broad coalition that transcends racial, religious, ideological and political differences, said Omali Yeshitela, a community activist who organized the St. Petersburg protest.
But while that may aid them in garnering more support, it may also hinder their cause.
According to Jablonski, building a coalition is difficult because some people have their own agendas besides peace. It can be distracting to hear different messages besides that of peace, she said.
For example, one speaker at the Sept. 29 rally in Washington, D.C. directed his message almost entirely to the cause of freeing Mumia Abu Jamal, a former Black Panther who is on death row for killing a police officer.
When groups inflect different messages into their demonstrations in order to further their own agendas, it can blur the cause for peace, further confusing the audience the protesters are trying to reach, Jablonski said.
At the St. Petersburg rally, Yeshitela deviated from the message of peace to compare the funding of the war to the funding of the black community.
“I’m upset that George Bush has $40 billion to make war,” said Yeshitela.
“The only thing we want to do is to have some economic development in the black community and we can’t get a damn penny,” he said.