The calamity of Hurricane Katrina and criticism of the federal response are fast becoming a rallying cry in the antiwar debate.
About two dozen protesters staged a rally outside the White House yesterday and are redirecting their arguments to compare the relief effort in New Orleans with ongoing spending in Iraq. They even have a new slogan.
"From Iraq to New Orleans, fund human needs, not the war machine," many of the protesters shouted in Lafayette Square last night.
"We're reorienting the antiwar movement to make the connection between the vast expenditure for the war in Iraq and the woefully inadequate response to the victims of Katrina," said Brian Becker, national coordinator for the ANSWER Coalition, which sponsored the rally.
Protesters, who have sought to illustrate the domestic toll of the war, have seized on the disaster as a way to further their antiwar message.
War supporters said this tactic is predatory and political.
"It's an extremely cheap shot to go out and immediately spin an event that is so catastrophic," said Melanie Morgan, chairman of Move America Forward, a California-based group that supports the Bush administration. The group staged a counter-protest to a nearly month-long vigil outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex., by Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq.
The Katrina argument has spurred Morgan's group to begin fundraising to counter a planned Sept. 24 antiwar protest in Washington, Morgan said.
The group contends that National Guard troops were ready, available and came to do their job once summoned. But antiwar groups said most of the southern National Guard troops are in Iraq and the administration's attention was on the war abroad, not the crisis at home. They said the response to Katrina was the first palpable example .
"I believe it is the most vivid and compelling demonstration that the war in Iraq is not only needlessly taking lives of human beings, but it is needlessly diverting precious resources," Becker said.
For Howard University student and ANSWER organizer Caneisha Mills, going to New Orleans to see Katrina's impact "showed me that our government wasn't prepared and made the connection . . . clear."
The New York offices of United for Peace and Justice, a sponsor of the Sept. 24 rally with ANSWER, have been inundated with calls from people who want to join the movement because of their dissatisfaction with the federal response on the Gulf Coast, said Leslie Cagan, national coordinator for the group.
"Just in the past two or three days, the phones have been ringing off the hook here," Cagan said. "I think this disaster is helping more people make the connections and see the ways this war is impacting our nation."