Foreign Policy In Focus invited a group of peace activists and scholars to respond to Lawrence Wittner’s proposal for a strong, national peace organization. Below you can read 11 responses to his essay How the Peace Movement Can Win.
On a sunny Wednesday a few weeks ago, I stood in front of the White House with an orange jumpsuit over my clothes and my head covered with a black hood. There were about 50 of us there. Six were chained to the White House fence.
We had begun the day at the US Federal Court where 89 people were arrested on the fifth anniversary of “war on terrorism” prisoners coming to the U.S. prison and torture chamber at Guantanamo. We appeared for court, and our charges were dropped (most of us had given our names as Guantanamo prisoners). Then we donned the orange jumpsuits and marched through the city to call attention to the torture and abuse being perpetrated by the Bush administration.
Our march and demonstration was somber and quiet. As we stood reading names of Guantanamo prisoners, we heard commotion across the street. Code Pink women dressed as police officers had arrived—blowing whistles and chanting. They were flamboyant (as usual) and waiting for the Democratic leadership, which was scheduled to meet with President Bush that afternoon on the war spending bill.
Between us on Pennsylvania Avenue, police offices amassed by motorcycle, car, van, truck and horse. A tour of helmeted tourists riding Segues appeared. A man wearing a box on his head held a sign “me for president by amendment.” Crowds of tourists took photos.
We did not know Code Pink was going to be there. But we were happy to see them, and we sang “Peace, Salaam, Shalom” with them, our voices mingling across what ended up looking like a trade show of police paraphernalia in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. Once our protest was over, orange and pink hugged, expressing gratitude for each other’s work.
As I was reading Lawrence Wittner’s essay, I recalled this protest moment, the prisoners at Guantanamo encountering the women in pink in front of the police-tourist spectacle that is the White House. I read his plea for the peace movement to adopt a single message and a unified front beneath a powerful national peace organization and his suggestion that this move is necessary in order to “effectively challenge the masters of war, impress politicians and set the United States on a new, peaceful course in world affairs.”
In the “new peace order” proposed by Wittner, neither of our actions would have happened. Our anti-torture witness—which began with 25 people breaking the “embargo” on Cuba to walk to Guantanamo in December 2005—has no office, no central command, no budget, no messaging or framing department. In spite of all those limitations (or perhaps because of them) we brought a lot of attention to the plight of uncharged, untried men and boys at Guantanamo. Motivated by a sense of responsibility and outrage and empowered and invited to full participation by the absence of a top-down structure, people traveled (at their own expense) from as far away as Wisconsin and North Carolina to march through Washington, DC on a random Wednesday afternoon to stand on behalf of victims of torture. Arrested that day were professors, mothers, fathers, a priest, and a woman in her 80s. And Code Pink does not need anything more to impress politicians. They do so daily with their tenacity, ubiquity, and outrageousness, holding politicians accountable through protest (the only way that works any more).
The power of such self-motivated action, the seriousness of commitment displayed, cannot be overstated — not because it was “our action” that happened in Washington on Wednesday, April 18, but because it happens all over the country every day.
Perhaps we would be well served by the structure that Wittner suggests we need in order to be effective. We would certainly be well served by the resources and press attention such a structure could amass if it existed. But it does not exist…. despite many attempts by many good people.
Do we engage in the fraught, fragile, lowest-common-denominator exercise of creating such a structure? Or do we continue to take aim at the warmongers and the civil rights shredders, the deporters and the deprivers, the torturers and TANF scrappers, the liars, equivocators and do-not-recallers? We can’t do both. Let a thousand protests bloom at the thousand evils. We need to take ourselves and each other seriously.
We need to know what we’re up against. We need to act as though our actions matter. We need to see how the evils of torture and the prison industrial complex and immigration “reform” connect and reinforce each other. We need to do more and do it better, and share space the way orange and pink did.
But we don’t need a national peace organization to tell us how to do any of that…
Frida Berrigan is a member of Witness Against Torture and serves on the board of the War Resisters League.
Larry Wittner puts forward a number of important points in his excellent piece, especially the need for a more unified peace movement. He also refers to the need for a more diverse membership and leadership within Peace Action and the broader peace movement. It is this point I wish to elaborate on and emphasize as an essential area to consider in any analysis of the peace movement and its success.
The fundamental challenge for Peace Action–and for the progressive movement as a whole–is this: if we are serious about building political power and effecting social change, we must incorporate working for racial justice–and against racism–into all of your work.
Starting with the historical reality that Europeans conquered and colonized most of the world, we must connect the history of people of color and racial oppression to the history of “whiteness” and military conquest. We need to examine and articulate how race and militarism–rather than just discrimination and war–shape U.S. history, society, and the dominant militaristic worldview that is used to scare, intimidate, divide, and dominate people. This is not to minimize the importance of confronting and eliminating all forms of discrimination and oppression in our society, but it is necessary to acknowledge the specific historical nexus of racism and militarism in the formation of the United States, as well as our global society.
Wittner has also frankly assessed our own movement, correctly characterizing it as overwhelmingly white, and I would add middle-class. As such, our movement reflects the historical weaknesses that have plagued American progressives and radicals for much of our history.
Often, in attempts to address this, people of color are sought out by progressive organizations and asked to work on staff or join the board, with the best of intentions. However, people understand when power and leadership are being shared, and when their perspectives and experience are valued–and they also know when they are just being asked to fit into the current culture and fill a slot on a diversity report.
In my experience, most organizations are willing to do outreach to people of color, find ways to “cut” their issues to address perceived concerns of people of color, and to spotlight people of color in their public activities and events. But that willingness rarely extends to reworking organizational priorities or to changing their political foci and begin to confront racism–or even simply to become more diverse. I have often put it to people this way: “What are you willing to give up so that our organization will look more like the society we are trying to change and will therefore be able to achieve what we all believe in.”
While that may seem like an overstatement of the situation, I have found that if people cannot answer that question, they are not ready to begin moving down the path of becoming an organization that is reflective of our society and incorporates racial justice into its analysis and work. As long as organizations believe that they cannot let go of what they have always done, whom they are targeting, and how they talk about and think about issues, they will not have the power they need to truly achieve their goals.
Changing how we do our work takes time, patience, and planning–and it happens in the midst of going about our daily activities. Organizations will of course continue to work on traditional peace movement issues, but as they incorporate racial justice into their analysis, strategy, and work they will start to shift their orientation toward long-term goals that include racial justice in addition to an opposition to militarism and war. The same considerations need to be applied to their internal organizational cultures: organizations need to be effective at their day-to-day work, but how one understands what it means to be effective must be evaluated within a larger context than is currently used.
As Wittner states, the peace movement needs to unify the existing diverse array of local, city, and regional peace and justice groups, networks, and institutions while keeping them rooted in communities and accessible to everyone who wants to work for grassroots social change. And those of us already inside of it must recognize that not everyone who “agrees with us” will come to rallies and marches, so we must provide a broad range of opportunities, activities, and ways for people to participate.
We must ensure that our movement is prefigurative in its internal and external politics–that it reflects the society we wish to build. We have to insist upon democracy, transparency, justice, fairness, and effectiveness inside our movement as strongly as we insist on it in our country.
Just as importantly, it is unlikely that we can reframe the role of government–and of militarism, the military, and war–unless we challenge racism and the ways in which war, terrorism, religion, and race have been linked. At the same time, the challenge we face is how to enough build political power to truly transform our militaristic society, and move to a society based on deeply democratic and egalitarian structures and practices.
Brian Corr is co-chair of the National Peace Action board and the founder and lead organizer of the Northeast People of Color Network.
Lawrence Wittner asks the important question: “How can the peace movement win?” His recommendation that peace activists unify under the umbrella of Peace Action may be well taken, but he doesn’t deal with the critical issue of what the politics of an umbrella peace movement should be.
As I see it, our movement faces two key challenges. We need to oppose aggression against Iraq, Iran and other countries. But to be effective we need to go beyond negative opposition and present to the American people a convincing democratic, progressive alternative response to terrorism, repression and aggression. And in order to present such an alternative policy we need to be independent of the Democratic Party. Its imperatives cannot be ours.
Too often the peace movement has been reluctant to champion the democratic and social rights of people living under regimes that oppose the United States, in the misguided belief that to do so would strengthen U.S. imperialism. In fact, exactly the opposite is the case. Such reticence hobbled the peace movement in the days of the Cold War. The U.S. government was able to claim hypocritically that it upheld democratic values when it spoke up against Soviet military intervention in Eastern Europe and for the rights of Solidarnosc in Poland, Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, or dissidents in the Soviet Union. The United States was indeed being hypocritical, since it supported dictators from Saudi Arabia, Haiti and the Philippines to South Africa and South Korea. But peace activists could expose this hypocrisy only by being consistent ourselves in publicly and aggressively defending democratic rights everywhere and opposing great power intervention on both sides of the Cold War divide. The movement’s reticence was dysfunctional.
U.S. imperial policy strengthened repression in the Communist world by handing leaders of the Soviet Union and other countries a propaganda rationale for their actions. Today, there is a parallel when it comes to countries like Iran. The Bush administration is trying to whip up domestic and international support for economic and quite possibly military action against Iran. It demagogically uses the real fact of the Iranian government’s repression — as well as its nuclear program — to justify war against the country. The peace movement needs to speak up loudly and clearly for the rights of Iranian women, trade unionists, gays, journalists and others persecuted by the regime (most of whom oppose U.S. aggression against their country), while at the same time pointing out that Washington’s bellicose stance provides the Iranian regime with an excuse for its repression. More broadly, we need to advocate a U.S. foreign policy that really stands for democracy and social justice – the opposite of the foreign policy promulgated by the leadership of both major political parties today.
There is no need to elaborate to the antiwar activists who are reading this discussion on the perfidy of the Republicans. The thorny issue for the peace movement is the Democrats. While we should welcome any anti-war steps the Democratic Party does take (under pressure), we cannot permit them and the Republicans to define between themselves the terms of the foreign policy debate. After all, one of the chief Democratic criticisms of the Bush administration is that the U.S. military has been allowed to become too weak. The Democrats stand not only for a strengthened military but something reminiscent of Cold War “realism” and “containment.” The Democrats withdrew their initial requirement that Bush secure the agreement of Congress before attacking Iran. The recent Democratic Iraq supplemental authorization bill funds the war and has wobbly withdrawal deadlines, and in fact provides a cover for easily keeping tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for decades to come.
Moreover, the deal the Democrats appear to be forging with the Bush administration distances the party even further from building on popular anti-war sentiment to create a vociferous opposition to the horrible war on Iraq. Meanwhile, mainline Democrats offer no meaningful critique of U.S. economic policy toward the Third World and no real social justice alternatives to the IMF and the World Bank, thus leaving unchallenged the disastrous policies that breed terrorism and political fundamentalism.
Lawrence Wittner writes, “After all, if the peace movement were strong enough, would the Democratic Party dare to abandon it? Perhaps the peace constituency is actually one constituency among many that is wooed at election time, but is too disorganized and ephemeral to have more than marginal influence on public policy.” But the problem isn’t simply the peace movement’s current lack of organized power. The question is, what do we do to build on the power and popular support we do have, so as to gain more power? As the 2008 presidential season approaches, we need to be sure not to repeat the terrible mistake that much of the movement made the last time around when there was practically no visible, demonstrative opposition to official Democratic Party policy from our organizations, even as John Kerry “reported for duty” and supported the war on Iraq. (A major exception to this quietude was International ANSWER, which unfortunately has been deeply compromised by its apologetics for Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, and the leaders of North Korea’s hyper-repressive government and therefore is incapable of gaining the confidence of the American people.)
Past administrations, Democratic and Republican, have done enormous damage both at home and abroad, and even the best policies wouldn’t instantly reverse all the damage. But the peace movement can begin to create a better, safer, more equitable, and democratic world by going to the American people and opposing not only war on Iraq and Iran but proposing a new, comprehensive, democratic, and just foreign policy.
Joanne Landy ([email protected]) is the co-director of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy (www.cpdweb.org).
Lawrence S. Wittner’s essay, “How the Peace Movement Can Win” kicks off a very important conversation. Unfortunately, Wittner’s conclusion — that to succeed “the movement needs a powerful national peace organization with a mass membership” — could alienate a large portion of the peace movement. It also ignores successful strategies that the movement has already developed.
To begin with, the “peace movement” is broader than those organizations that focus primarily on responding to U.S. militarism and disarmament. How often have you heard, “Peace is not the absence of war but the presence of laws and justice?” Included in any such movement must be those activists and organizations that focus on international laws and human rights such as Citizens for Global Solutions, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. What about those who work on conflict prevention and peacebuilding like Refugees International and the International Crisis Group? Are they not part of the “peace movement?” Nations emerging from a conflict have a much greater risk of devolving into war than more stable societies. And what about the development and humanitarian communities? There is a clear link between global poverty, failed and failing states, and war. Organizations like CARE and Oxfam, that provide lifelines to the victims of war, are also on the frontlines of the peace movement.
Wittner laments that the “peace movement is not united. Indeed, it suffers from the great American disease of individualism, atomization and sectarianism.” Yes it is disorganized, but the entrepreneurial nature of this very diverse collection of civil society groups allows for a greater degree of expertise in a broader range of issues than a centralized large organization could ever permit.
Although, Wittner is correct that in many important ways the peace movement is not succeeding, the answer is not to build a new powerful peace organization. We have more than enough peace organizations already. The answer lies in more effectively networking these organizations together in ways that allow them to share common messaging and coordinate their activities between organizations and across sectors when the situation calls for it.
Messaging matters. One of the important lessons learned from the far right is that you can influence policy by creating an echo chamber that makes a message appear as if “everyone is saying it” even if only a few are. For example, Grover Norquist, of Tax Payers for Common Sense, has held a weekly breakfast meeting in Washington, DC, that includes a wide variety of organizational representatives, lawmakers and staff, as well as reporters and pundits. This informal group has been able to control weekly messages across a broad array of issues ranging from abortion to war. Progressives have never managed to create a similar capacity … but we should because when we all say the same thing, we usually win.
A recent example was the John Bolton nomination for ambassador to the U.N. A wide variety of groups agreed to use one basic message, “wrong man for the job.” Whatever else we said supported this message and as a result we won. No matter how hard the administration tried to change this frame, including using the war in Lebanon to bolster the need for Bolton, our core message held and the White House was forced to let him go.
In addition to messaging we need to better coordinate our actions on key issues. There are moments when all sectors of the movement should be able to combine the efforts of our grassroots, our lobbyists, our PACs, and other resource to accomplish urgent goals. But we lack a common meeting place to determine when we have arrived at these moments. Some funding foundations like Connect US, a joint foundation/NGO initiative supported by the Open Society Institute, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, are seeking ways to encourage groups to work together more effectively with a strong focus on using new interactive tools.
Looking forward I believe that organizations and funders must build on these initial steps to build a virtual meeting hall for the peace movement that has an accepted set of rules and procedures, that gives us the structure to work together when needed, and that preserves the autonomy to engage and develop the issues that impassion us. When we have this necessary apparatus in place, the peace movement will win.
Don Kraus executive vice president and director of government relations for Citizens for Global Solutions.
The article provides an accurate analysis of the peace movement today. It also reflects an understandable frustration: public sentiment to end the war and the election of a democratically controlled Congress have not resulted in at least a mini-revolution. Wittner is also on point by concluding that the peace movement needs collective action and solidarity. Both are currently beyond the capacity of the movement.
The author makes two false assumptions: 1) that the Democratic Party and/or Congress has any intention of making significant changes to the status-quo and 2) that the peace movement is willing to yield power to people of color even when/if they are in leadership positions.
Wittner describes the Democratic Party’s seduce-and-abandon pattern that communities of color fall for again and again. This time progressives and the peace movement got used. Welcome to the Club! People of color don’t necessarily fall for this pattern any more. When we choose Democrats, we hope there will be accountability for once.
Yes, exceptions exist such as John Conyers (D-MI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and other honorable examples. But check out the leadership of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The Democrats are as controlled by corporate interests as the Republicans. Democrats make small concessions, but maintain their vested interest in the status quo.
What is needed is a major grassroots-driven demand and action for change, but it has been stymied as progressive organizations refuse to yield power to people of color. Steps to address “diversity” or build “multiracial leadership” are taken. But when this is done outside of a working analysis of racism and power within the institutions, any progress around this central issue is fleeting. Improvement may benefit individuals, but the priorities, policies, and practices of the institutions are unchanged. Too often progressives choose to see racism as an individual problem. We work to add more staff of color and/or place people in leadership positions. But progressive organizations hesitate to demand that our members deal with internal issues of race or class. Consequently, staff aren’t retained, leaders are not adequately supported, and before long the group is bemoaning the fact that, yet again, they have too few people of color involved.
The bottom line? Most leaders in progressive organizations see themselves as the vital change agents, the thinkers and movers around progressive issues. Acknowledging and dealing with the reality of racism on an institutional level, making changes within organizations that would result in building and following leadership from people of color, means that many white leaders would have to step aside, and that is more than this disparate movement is capable of at the moment.
This lack of capacity is part of the legacy that remains from what Wittner sees as the successful evolution from the Freeze Campaign to Peace Action. While the narrow focus and consistency of the Freeze made for an effective movement to reverse U.S. foreign policy with regard to nuclear weapons, a similar strategy doesn’t translate 20 years later. The leadership of the organizations made decisions that I imagine felt pragmatic and necessary at the time. Efforts to link nuclear weapons policy with issues that resonated with low income and people of color communities – jobs, military build up, international racism, corporate greed – was too much work to take on, let alone deal with the class and race dynamics present in such an endeavor. There was no sustained effort to engage with communities of color and low-income communities that suffered from the environmental and economic realities that resulted from U.S. nuclear weapons policy. These people could have filled the streets and the halls of policymakers to challenge power, yet they rarely had any real presence or power within traditional peace organizations.
But imagine how our current movement might be enhanced had opportunities to build relationships, community, leadership, and capacity among all people over the last 20 years been top priorities. Would we have more solidarity, more collective action — the very things Wittner argues we lack today? It’s more than worth a try. It’s essential.
George Friday is the national co-chair for United For Peace and Justice
I do not believe that unity is the true reason for a perceived lack of success by the peace and justice movement! It is rather the lack of concrete systems that would implement the ideas of this movement. The right wing of this country is in control more than ever now because thirty years ago they put into place a plan that would insure the institutions of this land would be controlled by right-wing ideologues for many years to come.
Their think tanks developed the police and fed it to both their base constituency as well as those in places of representative power on all levels, local, state, and federal. Their law schools educated students with a rightwing ideology, helped place them with firms and government officials in order to groom them for control of our courts. Even the executive branch has been captured by right-wing ideologues. From our presidency through our department of justice we are being stripped of our civil liberties and pushed toward the boundaries of fascism.
The peace and justice movement needs to begin with restructuring our own institutions. Here’s an example from the seemingly small efforts of Iraq Veterans Against the War. IVAW has asked GIs to resist the illegal orders that require them to deploy into the Iraq theater. To make sure that resisters have an avenue for success, IVAW has begun to implement systems that will relieve some of the worries that resisters face. (This does not include resisters who have or will go into Canada; the War Resisters Support Campaign in Toronto Canada covers these resisters).
We have found that GIs who resist tend to go through three steps. First, resisters go through repression within their unit or from official structures. Second is discharge from the military. Third are attempts to gain access to the veterans’ benefits that they would have been able to attain if they have not resisted.
In terms of the systems IVAW has begun to create to alleviate these stresses, we have gathered legal and press support for resisters while their units are pressuring them to simply follow illegal orders. We have no real control over the kind of discharge, but our program can help upgrade discharges. The third step in this system is to have personnel who are trained in writing VA claims. This will allow resisters to have all the same advantages as soldiers who do not chose to resist the military.
Now, I am very aware that this is on a very small scale, but it is exactly the type of institutionalized changes that need to be made. Change is in our hands and can be made by a very motivated few. It is up to us to get involved in our system! On all levels progressives regardless of party affiliation must take control of the power. Progressives must run for office at all levels, including the presidency.
Geoffrey Millard spent more than 8 years in the New York Army National Guard, including 13 months in Operation Iraq Freedom. His OIF time was mostly spent at FOB Speicher in Tikrit Iraq. He is now the DC Chapter president of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
We see it in the streets and listen to it in speeches. We read it on flyers, list serves, t-shirts, and buttons. We feel it through music, poetry and art. And we participate in it through small local grassroots organizations and through large national coalitions. This is the peace movement today, and, as Lawrence S. Wittner in his recent article puts it perfectly, it is in fact a “very important part of American life.”
Wittner offers a great comparative analysis of the peace movement over the past 50 years. He presents a useful historical perspective on victories as well as missed opportunities – all leading to the conclusion that, we need a massive grassroots peace organization, akin to NOW, the NAACP, and the AFL-CIO. As a young person – I find this perspective unbelievably valuable. I completely agree that creating a peace organization of that magnitude would probably change the trajectory of the peace movement and therefore the war, but I must also say that I don’t think that is the single antidote to this war and to future wars.
(On a side note, I do think that though it is not an organization, United for Peace and Justice achieves some of those goals of being a massive grassroots peace coalition – just as the AFL-CIO not an organizations, but is a massive grassroots labor federation).
I therefore would like to offer a lofty proposal that is not in contradiction to Wittner’s idea, but rather one that is complementary.
The question Wittner is aiming to answer is, “Why is the peace movement not succeeding?” Though I agree with most of Wittner’s analysis on the fundamental strengths and weaknesses of the peace movement today and his recommendations for making it stronger – I do not believe his question is actually answerable.
The fact is that the peace movement cannot win. Well, at least not alone.
Wittner is completely correct in saying that for the peace movement to be effective, it has be more unified and should look relatively to the successful models of NOW, the NAACP and the AFL-CIO. But I would also look to another successful model, one that started on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City:
….As I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.
As Martin Luther King broke his silence and became intrinsically allied to the peace movement, he linked the fight for peace to the fight for civil rights and created a movement that aimed to destroy both war and inequality. Two movements on parallel paths intersected – and both became stronger.
I was not alive then – but I can imagine the hearts and minds of people recognizing that this was the same fight. Not only against the same target (power), but also one that reinforced one another. The war itself was obviously not only racist, but the underlying principles of the war at home and the war abroad were both racist. The amount of money that we were spending on the war was directly affecting the powerless at home. Peace and justice are in fact prerequisites for one another.
Imagine if we had that moment all of the time – but this time it wasn’t the peace and civil rights movement, it was the peace and corporate globalization movement. As the talking head/pundit Thomas Friedman once said, “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas… And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.” Clearly the other side makes a clear connection between military and economic power.
Or, imagine if it was the peace and HIV/AIDS movements that intersected? Last year, we spent over $530 billion on the military compared to less than 1% of that for HIV/AIDS globally. That too could be considered the same issue.
Creating (or recreating) a massive grassroots peace organization that could speak on behalf of millions of people who share the same vision would absolutely be powerful. Though that cannot happen alone or in isolation. There must be a united movement for change – one that Dr. Martin Luther King had envisioned that we must get back to.
As global apartheid attempts to grow, and people try to obtain more money and power – there are movements that pop up to confront them. Whether it was nuclear weapons, occupation of Palestine, intervention in Latin America, undemocratic global institutions such as the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, exploitation of workers and the environment by multinational corporations, or HIV/AIDS ravaging communities – there have been movements to combat these mechanisms from furthering the gap in who has power and who is powerless.
We are starting to see the beginning of these conversations happening. The previous World Social Forums have started to be a space for activists from across the world and working on a variety of different issues to not only learn from one another’s work, but also start putting together a comprehensive and complete plans for the future. This summer’s first U.S. Social Forum provides hope for many of the groups in the U.S. to talk more in these terms and hopefully will spark a stronger movement between organizations working on foreign policy issues with ones working on domestic issues (because, once again, they are the same issue).
One can also look at the youth and student organizations that pop up every single time an injustice arises (war, sweatshops, HIV/AIDS, fair trade, drug policy, essential medicines, nuclear weapons, education, and the list goes on an on). The National Youth and Student Peace Coalition is a great example of this model of organizing in action. The majority of student and youth organizations in the coalition do not specifically work on peace – but those organizations realize how their work is intrinsically connected to this war (such as United Students Against Sweatshops and the Student Farmworker Alliance).
Lastly, I understand why are movements are somewhat separated from one another. It is unbelievably hard to end a war when you are mixing in other messages. At most protests the message and demand are often diffused and watered down by a hodgepodge of causes and issues. Demands are often taken less serious if the message isn’t clear and unified. I don’t have a very good answer to that – but I would say demands are different than understanding. The more people who understand how these issues are the same, the greater chance there is to achieve that demand – like ending this war.
Saif Rahman is the movements coordinator for the Institute for Policy Studies.
Lawrence Wittner — one of the nation’s most distinguished peace historians — makes a compelling argument that the peace movement “needs a powerful national peace organization, with a mass membership.” Too often, the peace movement, like other social reform movements, has been preoccupied with morality—not effectiveness. Wittner understands that an emphasis on ethics, while important, is insufficient. He challenges the peace movement to rethink its “structure and focus” in order to increase its power and effectiveness. Specifically, he urges small, independent peace groups and unaffiliated individuals to join Peace Action — a large, effective, mainstream peace organization with demonstrated mass appeal.
I agree that the peace movement needs strong organization — and powerful national organizations, including an expanded Peace Action. Wittner makes a good case for Peace Action. Without doubt, he is correct that a less fragmented, more centralized, peace movement would be more effective, and that one way to accomplish this would be for small independent groups to affiliate with Peace Action (or with other large groups). However, although Wittner correctly cites the importance of the AFL-CIO, NAACP, and NOW in building social reform movements, these groups did not operate alone. For instance, in the civil rights movement, CORE, SCLC, and SNCC, among other groups, played an important role in the struggle for racial equality. Similarly, in addition to expanding Peace Action, activists might consider establishing a national peace federation, along the lines of the AFL-CIO, to avoid duplication and give organizational continuity, cohesion, and direction to the peace movement.
A peace federation offers several advantages. First, the peace movement already includes a number of well-established organizations — and they are unlikely to disappear. For instance, several pacifist groups — all founded in the World War I era—have provided an organizational permanence that transcends particular wars. These groups include the Fellowship of Reconciliation (religious pacifist), the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (secular women), the American Friends Service Committee (Quaker), and the War Resisters League (secular pacifist). Their opposition to all (or most) wars — a radical position on the leftwing of the peace movement — has limited their mass appeal. Still, they have served as an important anchor to the peace movement and made significant contributions in both wartime and peacetime.
Second, peace groups are often rooted in different traditions and perspectives; advocate different goals, principles, and tactics; and appeal to different constituencies. Although such differences usually preclude coexistence in one organization, they often can cooperate within a federation.
Third, the federation model is pragmatic. It recognizes that, even though one or more large “flagship” organizations (like Peace Action) might dominate the peace movement, the movement will always include other peace groups — some with very different agendas. Most important, a federation would provide a structure for collective action by independent peace groups. Of course, federation would require compromise and cooperation, but so would any alternative. In summary, a federation would enable independent peace organizations to forge a more centralized, more unified, and more powerful grassroots peace movement “to effectively challenge the masters of war.”
Scott H. Bennett is associate professor of history at Georgian Court University and president of the Peace History Society.
Wittner does the U.S. peace movement a great service in “How the Peace Movement Can Win.” While acknowledging the growing strength and visibility of our movement, he challenges us to engage in much-needed strategic discussion. And he does so with the respectful tone that one would expect from a member of the board of Peace Action.
I completely agree with his observation that the American people rejected the failed policies of the Bush administration — most especially the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq– in the last general election. The election was indeed a clear and unambiguous message.
Yet the new Congress — led by a Democratic Party majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives — immediately ignored that message. Democrats and Republicans have already joined forces to authorize over $145 billion in 2008 to allow Bush to continue the Iraq war.
It strains credibility for any member of Congress to claim to be against the war, yet vote to authorize these obscene amounts of money to continue it. Most congressional Democrats are guilty of this Orwellian double-speak — and the peace movement lets them get away with it. (Representatives John Conyers (D-MI), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Lynne Woolsey (D-CA) and Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) deserve special recognition as genuine champions of the peace movement).
It is especially shameful that the Democratic Party leadership has refused to even allow a debate on any concrete plans to end the war. House resolutions 508 and 1234 would end the occupation, close the bases, bring the troops home, and stop the privatization of Iraqi oil. But these resolutions languish in committees.
If you are for peace, you don’t vote for war. It’s really pretty simple. Likewise, no peace activist should vote for any candidate unable or unwilling to show the political courage necessary to vote to end the war.
Wittner astutely argues that if the peace movement were strong enough, the Democratic Party would not dare to abandon it. But it is not merely lack of organizational unity or structure that allows the Democratic Party to ignore the peace movement. Democrats in Congress have determined that they can take the peace vote for granted. So far they have been correct. In politics, as soon as you are taken for granted, you get taken.
Wittner points to the AFL-CIO as an example of an organization that serves to “provide an important degree of organizational continuity, strength, and central direction” to the labor movement. But precisely because organized labor is also taken for granted, Democrat Bill Clinton and a Democratic-controlled Congress passed NAFTA, which devastated labor and the manufacturing sector of this country. Although the AFL-CIO has sought to repeal the Taft-Hartley Act since its inception in 1947, this “slave labor law” remains on the books and continues to severely restrict the activities and power of labor unions.
Let me be clear, I completely agree with Wittner that Peace Action is the flagship organization of the American peace movement. I hope local peace groups will give serious consideration to his proposal for joining Peace Action as chapters. This would be a compelling step forward.
But that step alone would still be insufficient. If you want to send a message that you will no longer be taken for granted, I urge you to also consider joining a political party that actually advocates for peace. When you register with such a party, you vote for peace, social justice, sustainability, and grassroots democracy every single day. Your registration will alert elected officials, the media, and the entire world that you are joining over 500,000 others who are committed to a fundamental transformation of how our government and our society operates.
David Cobb ([email protected]) was the Green Party candidate for President in 2004 and currently serves as a fellow with the Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution.
If the intent of Lawrence S. Wittner’s article is to attract attention and stir discussion aimed at an honest assessment of the state of the peace movement in the United States, he certainly came up with a very clever gambit. If, on the other hand, he is offering a diagnosis that the problem with the movement is structural and it lacks sufficient central authority, he should be challenged.
It is a pity that Wittner narrowed his framing of the peace movement to Sane/Freeze and similar campaigns. Had he looked at other examples of successful peace movements — the movements to end the Vietnam War, the wars in Central America, apartheid in South Africa, or even civil rights abuses in the United States — he could have advanced more effectively his very serious observation that the peace movement’s dilemma is its “traditional whiteness.” The problem goes beyond whiteness. The movement also suffers from traditional “male-ness” and “middle class-ness.” By no means are these manifestations purely of a structural or organizational nature. They are ideological or, in the secular sense, spiritual.
Wittner’s suggestion to build a highly centralized “powerful national peace organization, with a mass membership” will unfortunately only aggravate these problem. The white, male, middle class dominance of the peace movement will only be further entrenched. History is replete with examples of organizations and movements that started on the ‘solution side” of the equation only to move into the “problem” side. A common element in them was precisely the centralized organizational model and approach that ended up focusing on purely structural and political solutions to the neglect of the underlying ideological/spiritual dimensions, i.e., furthering human liberation.
I lean toward a more democratic definition of social movements as “collective actions” in which the masses of people are aroused, educated, organized, and mobilized to challenge the power holders and the whole society to redress social problems or grievances and restore critical social values. This definition does not focus on one organization, but instead on collective actions carried out by a number of different organizations, all of which might be said to be part of the same movement. Furthermore, this definition also implies dynamism, as it regards the peace movement as a process and not as an entity.
The upcoming third National Assembly of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) may be an excellent occasion to reflect on Wittner’s question of how the peace movement can win. I am singling out UFPJ given the breadth it has achieved as a coalition and the impact it made on U.S. public consciousness in its five-year existence. Since, as its name implies, it is a coalition united for both peace and justice, it is time for UFPJ to look at the justice side of things. Making analyses, educating the public, organizing mass mobilizations, and doing legislative advocacy on the immoral side of U.S. foreign policy is critical. However, such a posture needs to be balanced by domestic concerns, particularly on how the war on Iraq is waged at home. As we will come to realize, the poor, people of color, women, and children are the main casualties of the Iraq war at home.
With the third National Assembly taking place during the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Riverside Church Speech — where he raised the connections of the three evils of economic injustice, racism, and militarism — UFPJ’s deliberations and planning should aim at putting into reality the “peace with justice and justice with peace movement” that MLK strived for.
Bal Pinguel is the coordinator of the peacebuilding and demilitarization progam of the American Friends Service Committee.
Organizations that locate most of their work in centers of power, far away from the places and people where the decisions they seek to challenge have their effect, are likely to become captive to the definition of issues, modes of discourse, and the universe of information that is deemed acceptable there. The notion that a different reality prevails “inside the Beltway” is more than a cliche; it reflects the enormous gravitational pull not towards some mythical, reasonable political “center” but towards the requirements of those who hold the most power.
I am not arguing for abandoning national and international work, but rather for decentralizing it. We need to move the locus and the resources for action, for collective reflection, and for choosing political direction down and out of capital cities, re-embedding it in the actual work of organizing against and searching for some kind of an alternative to the doomed path we are on. We need national and international work that reaches out laterally, locale to locale, allowing us both to support each other and to learn from the experience of people working in diverse ecological settings, political contexts, and segments of the global economy. United for Peace and Justice, to the extent that it functions more as a network than an organization, lean at the top and structured for the most part to allow member groups to coordinate and extend their work, is a small step in this direction.
We do need people in centers of power who can both provide information on their workings and be our voices there. Presently, however, our politics is so out of balance as to have been turned upside down. Political technicians, often people with little experience in any kind of work outside the Capitol, now tell us what we should do. They limit the agenda to what they consider to be “practical,” which means what they can show to the big “progressive” funders as “measurable goals,” which means largely what can be achieved in Congress this year or next.
If you think that all the system needs is a few tweaks and hence that our problems can be solved by what’s likely to be on the congressional agenda sometime soon, then you should continue to support conventional Washington-focused think tanks and pressure groups. If you think it will take more, start building a piece of a genuinely different politics close to home. Put your time and money into places where you can have an actual relationship with other people in an organization, and preferably where you can participate directly in its work, and in making decisions about what to do and how to do it. Support organizations that do cross-issue coalition building on the local level (many national, single-issue organizations have little in the way of a local presence most places, or have local operations whose main purpose is to raise money to support professional policy and lobbying staff thousands of miles away).
We cannot go back to a pre-modern, pre-corporate capitalist world– but we cannot go forward for long in our current way of life without catastrophe. The easy answers all have proved illusory. It is time to commit ourselves to the hard work of building the foundation, the rudimentary possibility, of an alternative politics, and eventually a different society. The only thing I know for sure is that the longer we wait, the harder it will be. And the next time half a million march for peace in Washington, lets make it because they are marching in their own streets, along with tens of millions of others marching together in cities and towns across the country– marching not only for peace, but for an end to the causes of war. When that day comes, real change will become possible.
Andrew Lichterman is a lawyer and policy analyst for the Western States Legal Foundation. This comment is excerpted from No Shortcuts: From this March to the Next.