You are browsing the archive for peace activism.

Peace in the Pentagon

10:22 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Peace Baby!!!

Peace

I’m a huge fan of peace studies as an academic discipline that should be spread into every corner of what we call, with sometimes unclear justification, our education system.  But often peace studies, like other disciplines, manages to study only those far from home, and to study them with a certain bias.

I recently read a book promoting the sophisticated skills of trained negotiators and suggesting that if such people, conversant in the ways of emotional understanding, would take over the Palestine “peace process” from the aging politicians, then … well, basically, then Palestinians would agree to surrender their land and rights without so much fuss.  Great truths about negotiation skills only go so far if the goal of the negotiation is injustice based on misunderstanding of the facts on the ground.

I recently read another book discussing nonviolent resistance to injustice and brutality. It focused on a handful of stories of how peace was brought to various poor tribes and nations, usually through careful, respectful, and personal approaches, that appeased some tyrant’s ego while moving him toward empathy.  These books are valuable, and it is good that they are proliferating.  But they always leave me wondering whether the biggest war-maker on earth is left out because war isn’t war when Westerners do it, or is it, rather, because the military industrial complex requires a different approach.  How many decades has it been since a U.S. president sat down and listened to opponents of militarism?  Does the impossibility of such a thing remove it from our professors’ consideration?

Here in Virginia’s Fifth District, a bunch of us met with our then-Congressman Tom Perriello a few years back and sought respectfully and persuasively to bring him to oppose and stop funding the war on Afghanistan.  Perriello was and is, in some quarters, considered some sort of “progressive” hero. I’ve never understood why.  He did not listen.  Why?  We had majority opinion with us.  Was it because we lacked the skills?  Was it because of his sincere belief in so-called humanitarian wars?  Or was it something else?  The New York Times on Friday reported on the corruption of the organization where Perriello was hired immediately upon his electoral defeat.  The Center for American Progress takes funding from weapons companies and supports greater public funding of weapons companies.  The Democratic National Committee gave Perriello’s reelection campaign a bunch of money just after one of his votes for a bill containing war money and a bank bailout (he seemed to oppose the latter).  White House officials and cabinet secretaries did public events with Perriello in his district just after his vote.

I know another member of Congress who wants to end wars and cut military spending, but when I ask this member’s staff to stop talking about social safety net cuts as if they only hurt veterans rather than all people I can’t even make my concern — that of glorifying veterans as more valuable — understood.  It’s like talking to a brick military base.

My friend David Hartsough was one, among others, who spoke with President John Kennedy when he was President, urged him toward peace and believed he listened.  That didn’t work out well for President Kennedy, or for peace.  When Gorbachev was ready to move the Soviet Union toward peace, President Ronald Reagan wasn’t.  Was that because of sincere, well-meaning, if misguided notions of security?  Or was it senility, stupidity, and stubbornness?  Or was it something else?  Was it a system that wouldn’t allow it?  Was something more than personal persuasion on the substance of the matter needed?  Was a new way of funding elections and communicating campaign slogans required first?  Would peace studies have to revise its approach if it noticed the existence of the Pentagon?

Of course, I think the answer is some of each.  I think reducing military spending a little will allow us to be heard a little more clearly, which will allow us to reduce military spending a little further, and so on.  And part of the reason why I think it’s both and not purely “structural” is the opposition to war that brews up within the U.S. military — as it did on missile strikes for Syria this past summer.  Sometimes members of the military oppose, protest, or even resist wars.
Read the rest of this entry →

Doing Time for Peace

10:18 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Hundreds of Americans, young and old, are regularly going to prison, sometimes for months or years or decades, for nonviolently resisting U.S. militarism.

the cover shows hands bound in ribbon, one flashing a peace sign

Doing Time For Peace

They block ports, ships, submarines, trains full of weapons, trucks full of weapons, and gates to military bases.  They take hammers to weapons of mass destruction, cause millions of dollars worth of damage, hang up banners, and wait to be arrested.  They cause weapons systems to be canceled, facilities to be closed, and Pentagon policies to be changed.  They educate and inspire greater resistance.

The people who do this take great risks.  U.S. courts are extremely unpredictable, and the same action can easily result in no jail time or years behind bars.  Many of these people have families, and the separation is usually painful.  But many say they could not do this without their families or without their close-knit communities of like-thinking resisters.  A support network of several people is generally needed for each resister.

More often than not, a great sacrifice is made with no apparent success in terms of governmental behavior, either immediately or even after a lengthy passage of time.

Police are becoming more violent.  Sentences are growing longer, and prisons are becoming more awful.

Increasingly, the corporate media ignores such actions, dramatically reducing the educational and inspirational benefits.  When Steve Downs was arrested for wearing a “give peace a chance” t-shirt in a shopping mall, a reporter called up a local peace group and tried to get them to admit they’d prompted Downs’ action.  When they said they’d never heard of him, the reporter replied, “Oh, then it’s a legitimate story!”  “In other words,” says Downs, “if a group protests in support of their constitutional rights, it’s not a legitimate story.  If one hapless individual blunders into an arrest, then it is!”

And yet, people who devote themselves to nonviolently resisting war can know that they are part of a movement that does result in improved policies.  And they can know that if more people joined them their chances of success would increase without limit.  That is to say, if enough people joined in, complete success would be guaranteed.  That is to say, peace on earth.

Rosalie Riegle has just published a wonderful collection called Doing Time for Peace: Resistance, Family, and Community in which she transcribes her interviews of 68 peace resisters, friends, and family members — selected from 173 whom Riegle interviewed between 2004 and 2007.  The book is not in the least polemical, more sociological.  The speakers struggle with their memories and goals, and with questions about whether what they do is worth it.

The question of whether a sacrifice has been worth the effort often remains an open question for a very long time.  This book collects heroic, inspiring, and eye-opening actions and presents them with undeniable honesty and humility.  Imagine if millions of people were to read this book.  Suddenly countless actions done quietly or with little notice would be having a whole new kind of impact, and actions engaged in decades back would be revived — perhaps in a more illuminating manner than before, as a result of the insights gained by the participants.

One resister quoted in Doing Time for Peace, Kathleen Rumpf, recalled an action she was part of in 1983:

Read the rest of this entry →

The State of the Anti-War Movement

6:14 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

A magazine asked me this morning for my thoughts on Iraq and the peace movement.  What did this war produce?  I replied:

·      Over a million human beings killed plus extensive structural and cultural damage amounting to sociocide, which we could have prevented and didn’t, which we could regret and make reparations for but instead are largely uninformed about.

·      A lesson taught to other nations that nuclear weapons are needed to prevent a U.S. invasion, a lesson also taught by the assault on Libya.

·      A lesson taught to other nations that might makes right and aggressive killing and torture are to be used when one can get away with it.

·      Entrenchment of a fossil fuel / war industry, environmental damage, economic damage, damage to international relations, and a huge rollback in civil liberties and the right to assemble and protest.

·      Enormous enlargement of the war industry, privatization of the military, and a strengthened ability to legally bribe politicians and control them.

 

In the peace movement, there’s good and bad:

·      We exposed the lies on which the war was based and educated everyone else, but most still don’t grasp that the lies are common to all wars; they think this one was unique.

·      We played a role in ending the war.  But it was a larger role than we are aware of, so people don’t take enough encouragement from it.

·      We built international relations among peace activists in numerous nations, building an anti-bases movement and an anti-NATO movement, and building relations with activists in the nations attacked by ours as well.

·      We exposed the financial cost and the cost in U.S. military lives.  But — again — few know about the far greater cost in Iraqi lives.  And very few understand that the base military budget dwarfs the war budget and is equally misspent.

·      Coming out of that, we have a nation strongly opposed to massive ground wars.  But we have a nation willing to accept air and drone wars.  And why not?  They don’t hurt anybody!

·      We should have been much stronger.  And we should have pushed harder when the Democrats took power by pretending to listen to us.  Instead, 3/4 of the U.S. peace movement went to sleep.  So, we have to have Republicans in power to have a peace movement — a severe weakness.

 

What, I was asked, should be done to mark the 10-year anniversary of the invasion next March?

We should apologize, I said.  We should make reparations to Iraq and much of the region, including Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen, etc., all of which our troops should immediately leave.  We should launch cultural and student exchange programs instead.  We should open prosecutions of those responsible, from Bush and Obama on down.  We should move funding from the military to green energy.  We should shut down all foreign bases.  We should announce the dismantling of all nuclear weapons.  We should end NATO.  We should reaffirm the Kellogg-Briand Pact.  We should reform and democratize the UN and the ICC.  Or at least those of us willing to have a peace movement, either because Romney is president or because we’re willing to confront Obama now that he’s a lame duck and really really doesn’t give a damn, should move things as far as we can in that direction.

In the meantime, we should build on what was built in Chicago protesting NATO.  We should assist in opposing what look like false prosecutions of activists coming out of that event.  We should learn the approach being developed by militarized police forces around the country, which includes huge numbers of undercover police and infiltrators, attempts at entrapment and provocation, and public relations scare tactics used to demonize activists and reduce participation.  We should learn from what worked in terms of coalition building and turnout, and what arguably could have been done better — such as a public commitment to nonviolence by the organizers.

We cannot reduce public organizing, education, and pressure to elections.  We’ve just seen how that works in Wisconsin.  I had the misfortune to catch a bit of Bill Maher last night, and he was denouncing Occupy Wall Street for not being as smart as the Tea Party, not being as serious, not devoting itself to electing people.  As if the tea partiers who opposed bank bailouts have elected representatives.  As if the tea partiers who opposed restrictions on civil liberties have elected people.  As if tea partiers outraged by the concentration of power and wealth in a corrupt two-tiered system have had their concerns remotely answered.  To the extent that the Tea Party has actually changed anything, it has done so primarily by pressuring the government from the outside, including by demanding that the Republicans become even worse than they were or be abandoned.  This has produced walking-disasters of officials independent enough to sometimes get things right, as when Senator Rand Paul has blocked pro-war legislation.

Occupy Wall Street has the Net Roots Obamanation and the Take Back the American Dried Up Raisin in the Sun conferences, with their support for war and anything else if its Democratic.  It’s to the credit of every activist who has avoided falling into that trap.  We should be lobbying Congress for good bills and for better bills that don’t exist yet.  There are bills to end the Authorization to Use Military Force, to ban the sale of weapons to abusive countries (does that include our own?), and to require diplomacy with Iran.  There should be bills to begin a process of conversion from a military to a civilian economy.  But primarily we should be educating, organizing, and building a movement to resist the bipartisan pro-war consensus.  We should not be dumping our energies into lesser-evil electioneering.  Here are some upcoming events:

June 17, 2012, New York, N.Y., Protest NYPD Abuse and Targeting of Muslims

June 24, 2012, Washington, D.C., March Against Torture

June 22-26, 2012, everywhere, Actions Against Torture

July 14, 2012, Wisconsin, Peacestock

August 8-12, 2012, Miami, Fla., Veterans for Peace Convention

August 27-30, Tampa, Fla., Protest the RNC

Sept. 1-6. 2012, Charlotte, N.C., Protest the DNC

On Afghanistan, I think we need to insist that staying is not the best way of leaving.  We have three-quarters of the United States with us on wanting to end the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.  There is no need to worry about being too radical.  There is no need to frame our position so as to appeal to patriotic entrepreneurs, and so forth.  Three-quarters of the country agrees with us.  Can we get them active?  Can we get them talking, writing letters, calling shows, blogging, marching, attending events, pushing their organizations and the media and Congress?  Obama wants to keep a large number of troops in Afghanistan for another two and a half years, reducing them at an unspecified rate to an unspecified number, and then keeping them there 10 more years, after which it will be time to step back and consider the situation.  The House, but apparently not the Senate, wants to require a minimum of 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but Obama already wants the funding at that level and is committed to considering after the election whether to take the Pentagon’s advice and keep 68,000 or defy the Pentagon.  Betting on what that actually means largely comes down to whether you imagine that, contrary to all established trends, a politician gets better by becoming a lame duck rather than worse.  We need to demand all troops home now, to expose the horror of the war, to amplify the voices of Afghans opposing the occupation, to encourage resistance in the military, to escalate our protests, and to build understanding of the numerous tradeoffs, financial and otherwise.

We need to resist the cries for U.S. war in Syria.  There are remarkably few stories in our corporate media about the healthy state of democracy in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else the United States has built a nation by destroying one.  There is little outrage over killing and torture by U.S. allies in Bahrain.  Many supporters of war in Syria are open about their motivation of overthrowing a government that is friendlier to Iran than Israel.  But Tunisia and Egypt have brighter futures because of the tools of nonviolence.  Violence is not quick.  When the U.S. armed fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the damage was not easily contained.  Pouring gasoline on a fire in Syria could be worse.

We need to expose the lies about Iran and to remind people constantly of the lies that they knew were lies about Iraq.  Possessing weapons is not grounds for war.  Iran is not working on any nuclear weapons.  An Israeli war will be understood by Iran and the world as U.S.-authorized, as of course it will be.  Iran has not violated the non-proliferation treaty, while the United States has.  War and threats of war are crimes.  Sanctions that starve people, not to mention “cyber-war,” are properly considered acts of war.  Iran has threatened no one and has sought to agree to inspections and control of uranium not required by any law or treaty.  But the U.S. President and most Congress members are pretending that the onus is on Iran to cease doing what we know it is not doing.

Meanwhile, Obama, not content with having enlarged the military, its global presence, its budget, its privatization, its power to operate within the United States as a police force, and its capacity to act in secrecy, has given himself the power to murder anyone, anywhere, picking the names of the nominees from his secret kill list.  RootsAction.org is launching a petition aimed at banning weaponized drones and undoing the kill-list program.  Numerous organizations are taking part, and the petition will be sent to every possible national and international authority.  Your organization is invited to sign on.

Part of what drives all of this madness is the money poured into it.  The military budget has grown every year that Bush or Obama has been president thus far — and even more so if one looks at all the departments that get military spending.  Obama is proposing to cut Iraq and Afghanistan war spending in the military budget from $88 billion to $44 billion.  Quite a halfway measure for wars he claims are over or ending.  And the budget control act requires, unless Congress undoes it, that $55 billion more be cut.  But it could be cut from veterans care, from non-military diplomacy, or from other non-military areas.  Even if it is cut from the military, we’re talking about $55 billion out of a budget that is well over $1 trillion.  We ought to be insisting on much larger cuts and building a major coalition of groups that want the spending for useful purposes, want their civil liberties, want our natural environment, and want to stop killing people.