When David Kalkstein protests the Iraq war at demonstrations in South Jersey, he notices that most of the people around him share his hair color: gray.

Few young people show up.

"We're lucky if we get one or two," he said. "And sometimes we get zero."

As thousands of antiwar activists descend on the National Mall in Washington today, leaders of local peace groups are asking an updated version of a Vietnam War-era question: Where have all the young men gone? And the young women, too?

It's not that they support the war - a national Election Day poll found 62 percent of them opposed. And teenagers and young adults are selfless in community service. Yet at protests, the people carrying signs are often middle-age or retired.

It's the inverse of the 1960s, when U.S. campuses erupted in protest, sometimes in flames, over the war in Southeast Asia.

Kalkstein, 67, an organizer with the South Jersey Campaign for Peace and Justice, has five buses headed to the capital today - and he's thrilled that 25 percent of the travelers will be college-age.

"From my experience," he said, "that's incredible."

Protest leaders say it's impossible to overstate the impact of the draft in mobilizing the earlier antiwar movement.

"We didn't choose to think about Vietnam, it was thrust upon us," said Robert Smith, 56, staff coordinator of the Brandywine Peace Community. "You had to decide. The Vietnam War made a claim on this society and every young man between 18 and 26. . . . The Iraq war hasn't made the same claim."

Smith went to jail for refusing to be inducted into the Army, a decision taken when he heard the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak in 1967, he said. Friends faced similar crossroads, their choices altering their lives.

Today's young adults, Smith said, have a different idea of "sacrifice, commitment, and even the value of activism."

It's not that no young people take part in the movement. Students at the University of Pennsylvania, among other local schools, have organized transportation to today's march. Younger activists at the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia are going, too.

Aimee George, 20, a globalization-studies major at Gettysburg College, will march with her campus Peace Club.

It's a challenge to raise student awareness because "not everyone has been directly affected," she said. "Some of my friends have friends who have been deployed, so they feel it more.

"On campus, you're going to get both sides," George said. "Some people say we have to be there, and some people say we have to get out."

Historians point out that America has grown more conservative in the last 40 years, a trend reflected in its youth. In 1970, the census showed, 79 percent of college freshmen cited "developing a meaningful philosophy of life" as a top objective. In 2005, 75 percent said "being very well off financially" was important.

Peter Bredlau, chaplain at Muhlenberg College, said that after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he helped a student form a campus antiwar group, the Alliance for Progressive Action. But the group fizzled, never able to attract more than six students.

"Being an antiwar protester, or an 'anti-' protester of any kind, just isn't a credential. You can put 'fed the homeless' on your resume," Bredlau said.

Besides, he added, "they might look back on their parents' generation and say, 'What did those protests achieve? We're still having wars.' "

To the iPod generation, standing on street corners and holding banners can seem anachronistic. Its members are more likely to voice political objections on blogs and other Internet venues. On YouTube, where anyone can post a video, there are hundreds of clips that feature antiwar themes or music.

Lovella Calica, a 25-year-old program coodinator with Iraq Veterans Against the War in Philadelphia, said some established peace groups do not resonate with younger people because they insist on "doing the same things they've always been doing."

"Young people aren't into vigils as much. I'm not. I see why people do it, and I think it's very serious and solemn," said Calica, who is going to Washington. "We have a lot of energy. We want to do things differently sometimes."

Some of her peers organize Internet "sit-ins," where a gang of friends simultaneously logs onto a conservative chatroom. "You can take that room over," Calica said. "You can use it as a soapbox."

Today's high school and college students are concerned about poverty, AIDS, global warming and famine in Darfur. Some trade vacations for volunteer missions overseas.

"Even if they're not out protesting the war, they're doing something," said Karen Porter, 59, founder of the Chester County Peace Movement.

Her group is mostly older people, some of the hardest workers being retired doctors and professors. Antiwar activity can be controversial, she noted, and young people are savvy enough to understand the implications.

"You've got to pick and choose which university, and later which employer, you want to tell," she said.

Porter, who recently joined the Gray Panthers, recalls being tear-gassed while demonstrating against the 1970 invasion of Cambodia. But college freshmen born in 1988 are too young to remember Ronald Reagan, let alone the '60s. In fact, a few years ago, several West Chester University students came seeking her advice.

"They literally said, 'We want to have a demonstration on campus. How do we do it?' " Porter said. "It was very sweet."

Smith, of the Brandywine group, has had similar experiences. The 30-year veteran of peace work was frustrated, after the Iraq war began, to be approached by young people who asked, "Are there peace groups around here?"

There are, he answered. And he encouraged them to join.

"A movement can only continue as far as there are young people," he said. "It's their future. They're going to have to make some choices."

See more at the protest organizers' Web site at

Contact staff writer Jeff Gammage at 610-313-8110 or jgammage@phillynews.com.