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Did the Cindy Sheehan vigil succeed?

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But, Professor Gitlin adds, as a turning point, "it's reversible." Sheehan could lose the initiative, as other candidates for antiwar spokesman jockey for the limelight. Media imagery will be crucial. An important test of the future will come in September, when the nation's capital plays host to what is evolving into dueling rallies.

First, on Sept. 11, the Pentagon is sponsoring an event called the Freedom Walk, to honor the victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks and show support for the US military with a walk from the Pentagon to the Mall. Organizers hope to create a national movement in future years, with walks around the country to commemorate 9/11. Critics see the event as an attempt to boost support for the Iraq war. Recently, the Washington Post withdrew its co-sponsorship of the event, citing the potential that it could become politicized.

Then, from Sept. 24 to 26, antiwar groups are organizing three days of events here in Washington, starting with a march and rally and culminating in what their website calls "mass nonviolent direction action and civil disobedience." Immediate withdrawal from Iraq is just one part of the agenda, which includes a call for "global justice" and protection of immigrants' rights and basic civil rights.

Whether the Sept. 24-26 rally attracts a large mainstream turnout could have a dramatic impact on the future of antiwar activism - and how politicians of both parties respond. A central demand of the protest - immediate US withdrawal from Iraq - does not reflect the majority view of Americans, analysts note. Polls show about one-third of Americans hold that position.

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