It is a bitter cold Friday afternoon, and three people stand bundled up against the wind on a downtown Indianapolis street corner, silently holding signs pointed toward the rush-hour traffic. Two of the signs are in blue and white, with the words "War is not the answer" printed next to a drawing of a dove. The other sign reads, "Peace is patriotic."
This presence across from the Minton-Capehart Federal Building has been a weekly vigil since shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, when President George W. Bush chose to respond to tragedy with warfare.
A few folks driving or walking by wave at the demonstrators; a peace sign is flashed. Most just stare and move on.
"Just as Bush did, this president is sending American teenagers overseas to kill and be killed by people who did not attack us."
The small turnout of demonstrators and lack of reaction by passersby are pretty typical, says Ron Haldeman, who along with his late wife, Jane, has led the weekly actions since their beginning. "Mostly we get no response," he says. "There is almost no negative reaction, but we also don't get as much positive reaction as we did a year or two ago."
A year or two ago was a very different time. Then, Americans seemed ready for a new approach to international challenges. Many of the people who knocked on doors, staffed phone banks and sent in online donations to the historic Barack Obama presidential campaign did so because of his early and consistent opposition to Bush's bloody mistake, the Iraq War.
Now Obama has embarked on his own futile exercise of treasure, lives and goodwill, vowing to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and increase the use of Predator drones to launch missiles in Pakistan. Obama's comparatively fuzzy counterpledge to begin withdrawal in 2011 was walked back by cabinet members and generals almost before the words were out of the president's mouth.
Not that Obama's plan was a surprise. He has long stated his intent to ramp up the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, despite a mounting body of evidence that such a move would be counterproductive. Ambitious politicians are historically afraid to embrace nonviolent responses to international problems.
"Politicians also respond to pressure from citizens, especially when expressed through an effective grassroots movement."
But politicians also respond to pressure from citizens, especially when expressed through an effective grassroots movement. That mobilization of people power was supposed to be the real change that the remarkable Obama campaign represented.
Last year, millions of volunteers, including the thousands who helped deliver the unlikely Obama victory here in Indiana, spoke with their feet. And, just over one year ago, on that giddy election night in Chicago's Grant Park, hundreds of thousands gathered to cheer progress they hoped went beyond a mere partisan election victory.
Now, nearly half of the American people disagree with the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Presumably that includes a disproportionate number of those Obama volunteers since polling shows most self-described Democrats oppose the war.
Yet, just as Bush did, this president is sending American teenagers overseas to kill and be killed by people who did not attack us.
A handful of peace advocates stand in the cold, and last year's agents of change shrug.
Fran Quigley is a visiting professor of law at the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis and a staff attorney for Indiana Legal Services. He can be reached at email@example.com.