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Can Lobbyists Stop the War?
By Michael Crowley
September 9, 2007

How the Left Spent Its Summer Vacation
By Cliff May
September 20, 2007


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Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI)'s Visual Map

  • Antiwar coalition of 12 organizations calling for immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq
  • Founded by MoveOn.org's Washington, DC Director Tom Matzzie
  • Coordinates extensively with key Democrats on Capitol Hill

Established in January 2007 with the aim of bringing about an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI) describes itself as “a major, multi-million dollar national campaign to oppose the President’s proposal to escalate the war …”

After Democrats had won control of Congress two months prior to AAEI’s founding, President Bush did not, contrary to many leftists’ expectations, announce that he would end America’s military presence in Iraq. Instead he responded with a plan to deploy an additional 21,000 troops in an effort to quell the insurgency there. This prompted MoveOn.org’s Washington, DC Director Tom Matzzie to create AAEI. Says Matzzie: “We realized we needed a big campaign on the war because there was this mandate out of the election, but the Democratic majorities were thin and they hadn’t been united on the war, ever.”

Prior to his work with MoveOn and AAEI, Matzzie had been an Online Mobilization Director for the AFL-CIO. In 2004 he worked as Director of Online Organizing for John Kerry’s presidential campaign. In 2006 he worked on behalf of antiwar Democrat Ned Lamont, who was seeking to take a Connecticut Senate seat from Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-Independent who favored America’s involvement in the Iraq War.

After forming AAEI, Matzzie quickly recruited a large team of leftwing activists to join his new organization, which is structured as a coalition of groups devoted to a consistent antiwar objective. Though AAEI claims that its member groups represent points “across the political spectrum,” its coalition members in fact hail exclusively from the political Left. These members include Americans United for Change, Campaign for America’s Future, Campus Progress Action, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, MoveOn.org, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the United States Student Association, USAction, Vote Vets, Win Without War, and Working Assets.

From its earliest days, AAEI’s principal source of funding has been MoveOn.org.  SEIU has also contributed heavily, as have a number of individual donors whose identities Matzzie refuses to publicly disclose. By September 2007, AAEI had spent $12 million on a combination of grass-roots organizing, polling (Matzzie hired the prominent Democratic pollsters Stan and Anna Greenberg), and television advertisements aimed at persuading the American public and Washington legislators that U.S. involvement in the Iraq War was bad policy. Matzzie states that shaping the media’s coverage of the war, and thereby “influencing the environment that the debate is taking place in,” constitutes “a huge part of what we [AAEI] do.”

AAEI’s efforts are focused most intensely in fifteen target states: Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

In the summer of 2007, AAEI launched its “Iraq Summer” campaign, a three-month “organizing initiative to end the War in Iraq.” Explained AAEI, “Those of you who are old enough will remember Mississippi Summer that helped pass the civil rights laws, and Viet Nam Summer that helped end the Viet Nam War. Iraq Summer will be the 21st century edition of those historic projects.” Aiming “to help fracture critical elements of the Republican base of support for the war by early fall,” AAEI deployed 110 organizers who were trained at the Maritime Institute in Baltimore -- a union training facility -- to the 40 Districts of key House and Senate Republicans who steadfastly supported “the President’s disastrous policy in Iraq.” In all of these Districts the organizers used “field operations, coalition building, paid and earned media strategies, volunteer events and cutting edge online organizing to turn up the heat on Republican members of Congress who are blocking a safe end to the Iraq [W]ar.”

AAEI gives each of its organizers a $125 video camera -- called “The Flip” camera -- which can be plugged into a USB port on a computer. With this equipment, AAEI activists have produced (and posted online) hundreds of videos showing their confrontations with supporters of the war.

According to a September 2007 New York Times piece: “[AAEI] coordinates extensively with Democrats on Capitol Hill. Matzzie himself meets with Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, ‘maybe once a month,’ he says, adding that he talks to their staffs ‘once a day, or at least a couple times a week.’ (Senior Democratic aides sometimes even join AAEI’s conference calls.) This might entail discussions of political strategy or more substantive policy briefings by experts from AAEI’s member think tanks.”

AAEI’s modus operandi bears little resemblance to that of the Vietnam-era antiwar demonstrators, who adopted a counterculture “hippie” image and took to the streets in massive numbers. By contrast, AAEI heeds the advice of the late organizer Saul Alinsky, who advised radicals to adopt the dress and appearance of the middle class, so as not to make themselves vulnerable to the charge that they are nothing more than fringe extremists. “Nixon’s strategy was to demonize his opponents,” explains Matzzie. “Some of the politicians who are supporting the war want to be protested by fringe groups. We’re not going to play that game — we’re not going to let them off the hook. We’re going to put their own constituents in their faces.”

Because AAEI views the election of Democratic political leaders as essential to achieving its antiwar objectives, the organization has generally avoided getting involved in the Democratic presidential primaries -- so as not to “split the coalition,” as Matzzie puts it.

In the summer of 2007, AAEI hired Shari Yost Gold as its fundraising coordinator. In 2004 Gold held that same title with America Coming Together.



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