Although social movements in the United States are staged by coalitions, the politics of movement coalitions and the internal and external factors that affect their formation, maintenance, and dissolution are understudied. Here, we use the 2002-2003 movement against the impending war in Iraq to refocus analytical attention and sharpen theory on social movement coalitions. We contend that external circumstances, or political opportunities, are critically important factors that affect the propensity of social movement organizations to cooperate in common cause. Further, we contend that cooperation among groups can best be seen as variable, rather than dichotomous, and argue that political context affects the extent of cooperation among cooperating groups. We examine the importance of political context through a comparison of the first and second Gulf Wars. The decision of social movement organizations to join a coalition is akin to the process whereby individuals join social movements, involving an assessment of costs, benefits, and identity. As the political context changes, the costs and benefits are assessed differently and, for this reason, actively engaged coalitions are difficult to sustain over a long period as circumstances change. By looking at the antiwar movement generally, and the Win Without War coalition in particular, we show that cooperation was born in the second Gulf War out of the political opportunities presented by the George W. Bush's administration. We conclude with a call for more research on social movements as coalitions.

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