Syria Strike Protesters Hope to Harness Momentum Saturday in D.C.

Organizer says turnout will likely be lower than at similar protests against Iraq War.

Demonstrators gather near the White House to protest U.S. military action against Syria, Aug. 29, 2013.
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Opponents of President Barack Obama's plan to launch air strikes against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad believe they have momentum on their side. Seasoned anti-war protesters hope this momentum will manifest itself Saturday, when they march from the White House to Capitol Hill.

"The fact that [constituent advocacy] is making a political impact in Congress may give people a sense of power and that could make people more likely to participate," Eugene Puryear, a national organizer for the ANSWER Coalition - whose acronym stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism - told U.S. News.

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Many members of Congress cite constituent feedback against the planned Syria strike as a reason for either opposing or being indecisive about intervention. Obama said Aug. 31 he would seek congressional approval for such a mission as political dissent mounted.

ANSWER and CODEPINK, the feminist anti-war group that frequently heckles public officials, are sponsoring the Saturday protest with the United National Antiwar Coalition.

Participants will meet around noon near the White House, and will then march toward Capitol Hill. Puryear said organizers distributed thousands of promotional fliers at Washington, D.C., Metro stations this week.

Buses are transporting protesters from New York City, Puryear said, but "most of it is people moving on their own power" from cities along the East Coast.

"For us, having done this for a while, that's always a good sign of momentum," he said, citing a flood of emails and phone calls requesting information.

It's unclear how the size of the protest will compare to demonstrations against the Iraq War, which was authorized with overwhelming support from Congress in mid-October 2002. A protest staged by ANSWER on Oct. 26, 2002, shortly after that congressional vote, attracted an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 participants for a march from the White House to Congress, UPI reported.

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Although polls show the American public is more opposed to the proposed Syria strike than it was to the Iraq invasion, it's unlikely crowds will be a match for those assembled 10 years ago.

"There's a little more stated opposition in the polling," Puryear noted. "What we've seen is large amounts of people being opposed, but we haven't had this month-long build-up like with Iraq. It's very different in that sense."

The attack on Syria would purportedly punish Assad for killing more than 1,400 civilians near Damascus using chemical weapons, but opponents fear faulty intelligence, the possibility of more extensive U.S. involvement in the two-year Syrian civil war and that al-Qaida-associated rebels may benefit from U.S. attacks.

Anti-war Quakers will likely be among the Saturday march participants, although Michael Shank of the Friends Committee on National Legislation told U.S. News the FCNL, which lobbies against war, won't formally be participating. In addition to the traditionally pro-peace Quakers, Brethren, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist church leaders are advocating against a strike. Pope Francis has declared Saturday to be a worldwide day of prayer and fasting to encourage a peaceful resolution to the situation in Syria.

Internet petitions against military action are also gaining traction. As of Friday morning, a petition hosted by MoveOn.org is closing in on 38,000 signers, while one by Roots Action boasts around 73,000 signatures. A petition by TV pundit Dick Morris has 63,000 and another organized by Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., has 60,000. The most popular anti-war petition on the White House website has more than 21,000 signatures and the number of signers on a petition being promoted by former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is not publicly visible.

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It's unclear if Congress will approve the strike next week, but momentum appears to be swinging against the war. According to CNN.com, 115 House members currently oppose the proposal while a mere 23 support the strikes. In the Senate, 24 members are in favor and 19 are against.