“To resist despair in this world is what it is to be free,” said Gandhi. Or was it the old punk band Operation Ivy? Whatever. To put it another way, this time in the words of the American poet Jim Harrison, “There is a certain boredom in anger.”

The war is underway and those of us who hoped to stop it face a double frustration. The first is that, well, the war is underway. The second is that it still looks like this assault will be brutal, if short — the southern oil fields are already liberated (whew!) and plenty of white flags are snapping in the haboob. The chances of stopping a superpowered war being run on the geopolitical equivalent of a soccer mom’s schedule are incredibly slim. Ugly, but true.

Among the people around me, I see the despair: we failed to stop the killing. I’m usually a believer in the motivating power of negative thinking, but this time I’m not buying in. No, we didn’t stop the war. But we did transform it, and it’s important that we lay claim to our successes. If we don’t, people like Condaleezza Rice and David Frum will.

We gave expression to global public outrage; now we fight not for a “silent majority,” but for a majority with the weight of historical fact. We created the political space necessary for the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and other nations to openly oppose American unilateral power (a debate that, far from weakening the United Nations, has strengthened multilateralism as a force for peace). We precipitated a democratic crisis in Britain. We have made it extremely difficult for the U.S. to sustain anything but a short, relatively clean fight. (If this war begins to sag — if pundits begin to use the dreaded word “quagmire” — it will leave America deeply divided.) We have delivered the following message to the White House: “You still don’t get it, do you?”

All of this is important to the war in Iraq, where our hard victories will make much more likely the rose-tinted predictions of pro-war leftists like Christopher Hitchens. Had all of us jumped aboard as eagerly, and with as much certainty that the outcomes of this war would be humane and democratic, we would have guaranteed that they would not be.

Most importantly, the peace movement has made a tremendous difference to the larger battle. I remember on September 11 hearing people ask whether the attack might one day be remembered as the end of American empire. My feeling, strong then and even stronger now, was that it was not the end, but the beginning. And while ur-leftist jargon makes me break out in hives, I sincerely believe that we have entered into an imperial struggle — one in which the grand battle against war in Iraq has been a milestone.

This is a long game, after all. Over the weekend, while lying on the asphalt with hundreds of other peaceniks blocking Vancouver’s downtown intersections, I wondered what we were still fighting for. Everything, I decided. Everything is up for grabs. We are a constant reminder against war crimes and against a breakaway conflict between Turkey and Iraqi Kurds. We are a demand that the U.S. prevent the humanitarian crisis that it was told this war would catalyze. We are, too, allies for those Arab reform movements that reject both jihad and McWorld.

Perhaps above all else, we are an early warning. After the bombs, what? Will the imperial power move along the “axis of evil,” or will it be held to account for massive reparations for its wars and sanctions on Iraq? No, we didn’t stop this war — but we may have stopped the next one. We have wounded the Bush administration, and, at some point, it will need to shore up its political capital. Will it do so through perpetual war, or, say, self-determination in Palestine? Consider this: one way that we as a peace movement might succeed is by turning our opponents into heroes.

Yes, it turns my stomach, too. But no one said peace would be easy.