Daniel May / The Nation & Comments / The Nation – 2018-12-11 01:09:31
How to Revive the Peace Movement in the Trump Era
We need to merge social-justice and antiwar activism
Daniel May / The Nation
(March 16, 2017) — Over the past 75 years, the United States has built the greatest war-making force the world has ever known. Today, our country boasts an infrastructure of global surveillance, flying killer robots, and floating aircraft carriers, all administered from a network of more than 800 military bases in over 70 countries. In recent decades, we decided to erase from that infrastructure any semblance of democratic accountability, allowing the president to make war almost anytime, anywhere, for any reason.
This year, we put at the helm of this global killing regime a reality-TV star who has promised to “bomb the shit” out of our enemies, attack the families of terrorists, and reinstitute torture — and who, in February , proposed increasing the already bloated military budget by $54 billion. Imagine the response of this president to a significant terrorist attack, the damage to our democracy and our world that he might unleash. It helps clear the mind.
In the face of such a nightmare, how do we build the peace movement we need? This is not a new question. Over the past decade, many thoughtful and talented organizers have been working to strengthen the antiwar movement. I came to these conversations a year and a half ago, when I was asked by the Colombe Foundation to help it determine how best to support new organizing against militarism. I began speaking with various organizers and leaders, both longtime antiwar activists and young folks shaping struggles for racial justice, immigrant rights, climate justice, and corporate accountability.
Throughout those conversations, there was consensus that the contemporary peace movement was not nearly powerful enough to mount a serious challenge to the forces of American empire and militarism. As the challenges facing that movement came into focus for me, so did their scale.
It is hard to imagine a more difficult target, from an organizing perspective, than military policy. The US empire today leaves a great deal of ruin in its wake, but its cost is only vaguely felt by most Americans, while its gargantuan profits are pocketed by a few and its most recognized organization — the military itself — is widely celebrated as the most trusted public institution.
In the wake of the election, as the need for a constituency to challenge American militarism grows in urgency, how might such challenges be met? Doing so will require reimagining the constituency, strategy, and purpose of the movement itself. It is not at all clear that a “peace movement” or even an “antiwar movement,” as those have generally been conceived, will suffice. Rather, we need a movement that can speak to the anger that so many Americans feel toward the corporate powers that dominate our politics. Such a movement would expose how militarism is not immune to that influence but is particularly beholden to it. Can such a movement be organized?
WHY WE NEED A PEACE MOVEMENT –
AND WHY WE DON’T HAVE ONE
While most progressives would concede that the antiwar movement isn’t the power it once was, antiwar sentiment remains among the most potent forces in our politics. It was pivotal to Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and his two terms in office brought major victories for those who have spent decades organizing for a demilitarized foreign policy — most notably the nuclear deal with Iran and the establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Yet despite those achievements, the military that Obama passed on to his successor is largely identical to the one he inherited. Troops remain in Afghanistan, making this the longest-running war in American history. In the final years of his presidency, US Special Operations forces were deployed in over 105 countries — more than 80 percent of all of the nations on earth.
Obama authorized over 1,800 drone strikes (that we know of), which killed at least 5,500 people. American arms are shipped throughout the world, supplying the machinery for Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, and Egypt’s domestic repression and counterterrorism operations in the Sinai, to name just three examples. All of this eats up an annual military expenditure larger than that of the next seven nations combined.
What have these billions brought us? Today, Americans are more likely to be killed by their own police, and much more likely to be shot by a neighbor, than by a jihadist. To some, this is proof of the effectiveness of our deterrence; to others, it is evidence of astonishing overreaction. Either way, if the aim of the War on Terror has been to defeat terrorism, then the result has been an unmitigated disaster.
In 2002, 725 people were killed in terrorist attacks worldwide; in 2014, that number was over 32,000. According to the Costs of War project at Brown University, the War on Terror has cost the country nearly $5 trillion — enough to guarantee every American citizen a basic income. Or, if you prefer, enough to make public college free for every American student for more than 50 years.
Many on the left explain the relative weakness of a constituency to challenge this catastrophe by pointing to the limitations of the current antiwar movement. Its leaders are too old, the criticism goes, too white, too ideological, too pacifist, too hippie, too male. Others point to the ease with which the Bush administration was able to shrug off the global wave of protests against the Iraq invasion in 2003.
There is substance to all this, but in crucial ways the antiwar movement is more a victim of its success than its failures. It has largely won the public and the politics. The massive demonstrations against the wars in Vietnam and Iraq — and the disastrous consequences of those wars — generated real costs for politicians who supported them (just ask Hillary Clinton).
Leadership of both parties today remains wary of support for direct intervention. Today, Americans are both opposed to war and accustomed to its permanence.
The Antiwar Movement Is More a
Victim of its Success than of its Failures
This paradox holds because our military policy has shielded itself from the public. Members of Congress pay a political price for authorizing war, so they don’t seek authorization. Americans are reluctant to support bombing in countries they’ve never heard of, so the government keeps those bombings secret.
We don’t want to pay for missions that lack a clear rationale, so the money is borrowed from future generations. We refuse to allow our soldiers to be killed, so the government attacks its enemies with flying robots and outsources much of the fieldwork to private contractors. We don’t want to face the cost of our foreign entanglements, so a smaller percentage of our country is asked to serve, and serve longer. The irony is that these transformations follow from how politically unpopular war has become. Our wars feel so distant because they’ve been made more distant by design.
In the face of such a shift, the antiwar movement has struggled to adapt. A DC-based network loosely gathered under the “peace and security” label advances a diplomacy-first approach. The antiwar base organizes against intervention. Talented organizers and very smart thinkers lead a variety of crucial institutions, but the constituency usually emerges as a political power only in opposition to large-scale interventions.
There were and remain important exceptions to this trend: the anti-nuke movement and opposition to military involvement in Central America in the 1980s, and organizing against the Israeli occupation today. But over the past several decades, popular opposition to US militarism has generally been confined to those moments that look like what we expect war to look like.
The consequence is that American empire expands, with little domestic challenge to its growth. As Todd Gitlin, onetime leader of the anti-Vietnam War movement, put it to me, “So long as our conflicts are confined to the outskirts of empire, I don’t see Americans getting too worked up about it.”
ANTIWAR, PEACE, OR ANTI-IMPERIALISM?
The transformations that our military policy has undergone present enormous challenges to organizing, but also opportunities. These changes have produced a startling consolidation of power and wealth — a ripe target for a political era defined by rage at crony capitalism and anger at a politics that serves only the wealthiest among us.
It is unlikely that President Dwight Eisenhower, who coined the term “military-industrial complex,” could have imagined what has emerged in the past 25 years. Raytheon, the fourth-largest military contractor in the United States and the world’s leading producer of guided missiles, received 90 percent of its revenues in 2015 from the federal government. In that year, Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy took home $20.4 million in total compensation.
Among the large military contractors, this is the norm. In 2014, the CEO of Lockheed Martin — which received 78 percent of its revenues from the government that year — was paid a total of $33.7 million. In 2015, the CEO of Boeing, the second-largest government contractor, earned $29 million — and paid no federal income tax in 2013.
When most of us think of an antiwar movement, we imagine efforts to limit the horror that this lethal network unleashes and to slow its growth. And under President Trump, we will indeed need to challenge the expansion of the Pentagon and prepare ourselves to stop the next war.
But in an era of flying robots, classified special-forces operations launched from bases dotting the globe, police departments overflowing with military-grade equipment, and Saudi pilots dropping US-made bombs on Yemeni villages, we need organizing that challenges the very nature of the beast — not just campaigns that arise sporadically to oppose its most egregious actions.
We don’t yet have a good word for this beast, or for the movement that might challenge it. “Military- industrial complex” sounds both overly technical and dated; “antiwar” doesn’t capture it; and “peace” is almost entirely absent from our political vocabulary today. The rhetoric of anti-imperialism has come to signal a politics confined to the academy, anarchist bookstores, and the drum circles at various protests.
The question of whether a country could rule over others without cost to its democratic principles used to be hotly contested.
Opposition to American empire, however, has deep roots in our politics. The Anti-Imperialist League was founded in 1898 to oppose American annexation of the Philippines and featured a former governor of Massachusetts as its president. Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, and Mark Twain were all avowed anti- imperialists — as were W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King Jr. (and The Nation).
Before the two world wars and the Cold War, the question of whether a country founded on self-rule could rule over others without cost to its democratic principles was hotly contested. American empire today functions through subtler means than annexation, but the future of the antiwar movement (or the peace movement, or whatever it comes to be called) will be determined by whether this tradition can be revived.
While this might strike some as naive, the shifting sands of our politics should unsettle those tempted to dismiss the possibility. The assault on corporate globalization that provided much of the energy behind both Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’s campaigns carried with it an implicit critique of the military infrastructure upon which much of the global economy depends.
Sanders used a primary debate stage, amazingly, to attack Henry Kissinger for working to overthrow Cambodia’s Prince Sihanouk. And though he was a loathsome vehicle for the message, when Trump asked whether the United States should provide defense services for Germany, Japan, and South Korea, when he questioned whether we should remain in NATO, and when he lamented the disaster of the Iraq War, he raised issues familiar to critics of American empire.
Among the many alarming lessons of this election was that strong criticism of a globalized military — traditionally the ground of the left — can be manipulated by a shrewd right-wing demagogue. If progressives do not seize such ground, they will cede it to the isolationist right.
ANTIWAR ORGANIZING AND THE NEW MOVEMENTS
Anyone who has spent time in the antiwar movement quickly finds that the tension that bedevils all progressive politics — the one between policy-minded institutional leaders and more radical activists driven by ideological commitments — is particularly acute in the realm of foreign policy.
The brutality of violence and repression in places like Syria, for example, leads some to sympathize with what has come to be called “humanitarian intervention,” while others see in those same circumstances evidence of the catastrophic results of a misconceived prior entanglement. The upshot is that apart from opposition to large-scale wars like the one in Iraq, progressives as a whole have little shared agenda when it comes to America’s role in the world.
In speaking with organizers and activists about the future of the peace movement, these tensions were ever-present. Many older activists lamented that issues of militarism had become marginal to the broader progressive agenda. And yet most of the younger leaders with whom I spoke described the target of their struggles as inseparable from America’s global policy.
The reason for this gulf, it became clear, is that each defines the problem differently. The traditional antiwar left defines itself in opposition to, well, war. Many younger leaders, on the other hand, are challenging the brutality of an empire that serves the interests of capital and perpetuates white supremacy.
“We know the same companies that are building our prisons are the ones building our bases,” said Ahmad Abuznaid, co-founder of the Dream Defenders, a Miami-based racial-justice organization.
“If one wanted to organize folks in the US that understand the destructive impact of American militarization, immigrants would be a good place to start,” said Sofia Campos, former board chair of United We Dream.
Max Berger, an organizer in the Occupy movement who is currently helping to launch #AllOfUs, a project to organize millennials behind a radical progressive agenda, captured the perspective of many young activists:
“Do we want to be a country where people can go to college without being in debt their whole lives, or do we want to have hundreds of military bases around the world that protect the corporate interests of the elites that own our government? Do we want an empire, or a democracy?”
This orientation challenges the prevailing liberal consensus. The platform released last year by more than 50 organizations involved in the Movement for Black Lives, and the response it provoked, is indicative of the dynamic.
“America is an empire that uses war to expand territory and power,” the platform declares. It calls for a cut in the military budget by 50 percent, the closing of all foreign US military bases, and an end to military support for Israel’s “genocide.” In tying the struggle for racial justice locally with America’s global military policy, the platform inspired those seeking to connect domestic injustice with global issues. (It also outraged some who wondered why a movement to achieve racial justice was addressing the Israeli occupation.)
The perspective of these new movements creates both opportunities and challenges for those committed to demilitarization. If a mass movement to combat militarism emerges, it will likely do so in the same manner as other contemporary movements shaking and shaping progressive politics: not by any existing advocacy institutions, but by a groundswell of grassroots organizing energy.
As Heather Hurlburt, director of the New Models of Policy Change initiative, put it, in striking words from a leader at a DC think tank:
“The progressive foreign policy agenda will not be shaped by us here in DC. It will be made by those young folks organizing in the streets.”
Yet today, engagement between the peace camp and the millennial movements follows a coalition model, as antiwar organizers reach out to other movements for support. Rashad Robinson, director of Color of Change, reflected that in the wake of the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, “you had all these folks jump on the anti-militarization bandwagon — as if the problem was just the military equipment, and not the police using them.”
For people in the Movement for Black Lives, “that just confirmed that these activists care more about their pet issue than about actual black bodies that are getting brutalized.” Moving forward, the agenda will emerge with the relationships.
“We know the same companies . . . building our prisons
are the ones building our bases.”
— Ahmad Abuznaid, Dream Defenders
In the work of building those relationships, the leadership of those hit hardest by America’s foreign policy will prove particularly important: military veterans, some 20 of whom commit suicide every day; refugees, many of whom have fled countries decimated by US attacks or invasions; and Muslim Americans, who suffer the humiliations of Islamophobia on a daily basis.
Groups like Military Families Speak Out, Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, VoteVets.org, and more recent initiatives like Beyond the Choir need to be supported and strengthened. The same goes for organizing in the Arab-American and refugee communities.
So far, the lens of anti-imperialism provides a paradigm for many movements, but not yet a program. A strong case can be made that in fighting the violence unleashed on black bodies over the past four decades by the War on Crime and the War on Drugs — wars fought with some of the same equipment with which we have fought more distant conflicts — the Movement for Black Lives has become the most powerful antiwar movement in America.
But on its own, that movement will not dismantle a structure that demands such an oversupply of MRAPs (mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles) that they end up parked in the lots of over 500 police departments.
Such an effort will require that some of the younger leaders coming up in contemporary justice movements make the struggle against militarism central to their program, not just their analysis. Those organizers who make this their life’s labor will find ways of exposing the cost and waste of imperialism, organizing against those who profit from it, and offering a clear choice between global military expansion and a democracy that serves its citizens.
Perhaps their work will be framed by the profit made from killing, or by the costs of our globalized military, or by the disastrous consequences of foreign entanglements.
Perhaps it will target particular institutions that benefit from the corrosive connections between racism, militarism, and oil; perhaps it will expose how a culture of violence abroad is manifested in a culture of violence at home.
Perhaps it will be led by veterans, or by refugees, or by women, who bear the brunt of so much American violence. All of these directions, and more, will have to be attempted, tested, grown — and supported by funders, many of whom, after Obama’s election, turned away from a focus on war and militarism.
(For its part, the Colombe Foundation is launching a new fund to support such organizing and inviting other funders to join. The fund will support, among other projects, a series of trainings on militarism for movement leaders across the country and a coordinated campaign to address police militarization.)
Whatever shape this organizing takes, it will run into the question that faces all oppositional politics: What alternative is on offer? This dilemma is particularly acute when it comes to American empire, opposition to which can easily devolve into a nativist isolationism.
There is a long history to that trend — many leaders in the Anti-Imperialist League of the late 19th century were as racist as the imperialists, arguing that the browner populations of the Philippines and Puerto Rico didn’t have the racial composition required for liberty.
There are two possible alternatives to American global hegemony, whose decline has perhaps been prematurely declared but is nonetheless on the wane. In one, the nativist impulse prevails and we have an even larger military, contained in a nation surrounded by walls and protected by travel bans. In the other, the United States embraces a true internationalism, working to build institutions to which it will also be accountable.
At the moment, it may be difficult to imagine this latter path. But these past months have given us a glimpse of the consequences that await us if we fail to capture the anger that so many harbor toward an American empire that exacts such terrible costs and benefits so few.
Nothing is promised in politics. Movements rise and fall, truth-tellers often lose, xenophobic nationalists sometimes gain power, cowards frequently prevail. There is no determined arc to our history; no guaranteed results have been foretold.
But at no moment over the past half-century has there been such an opportunity to ask whether our empire serves our democracy or undermines it. The question is whether those committed to a less brutal, less violent, more just, more equal country can muster the imagination, anger, courage, and energy to seize it.
Daniel May has been an organizer with ACORN, the IAF and the SEIU.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Reviving the Peace Movement for the 21st Century:
Responses to Daniel May
Peace advocates consider how the movement
can be revitalized for the 21st century
(March 22, 2017) — Daniel May’s essay in the most recent issue of The Nation, “How to Revive the Peace Movement in the Trump Era,” has stirred up a lot of conversation on the left. In the wake of Trump’s election, May argued, “we need a movement that can speak to the anger that so many Americans feel toward the corporate powers that dominate our politics. Such a movement would expose how militarism is not immune to that influence but is particularly beholden to it.” Here we publish responses to May’s argument from five peace advocates.
The Peace Movement and After
Daniel May’s analysis has done us all a tremendous service. May offers fresh ideas for individuals and organizations who have struggled to keep the peace and antiwar movements relevant in an increasingly challenging political environment.
He also provides an essential perspective on how activists in Movement for Black Lives, as well as those for immigrant rights and against Islamophobia, view the issues of violence at home and abroad in the context of growing corporate power. And he raises perhaps the most important question of all: Is it possible to have both an empire and a functioning democracy?
As May suggests, the crux of the problem from an organizing perspective is that the new way of war — with its reliance on drone strikes, Special Forces, and a volunteer military that many Americans have no direct connection to — makes it difficult to generate a level of activism and engagement that is up to the task of opposing a massive military machine that has immense political power in Washington and beyond. I have referred to this new way of fighting, which accelerated during the Obama years, as “politically sustainable warfare.”
Our challenge is to make it politically unsustainable. This will ultimately require a change in the culture, including a reconsideration of basic assumptions about the role of the US military, police, and surveillance state.
The peace movement’s challenge today is to make “politically sustainable warfare” politically unsustainable.
As awful as the Trump administration’s assault on the most vulnerable in our society has been — not to mention its attack on basic decency, truth, and the foundations of our democracy — it does offer new opportunities for organizing across sectors in ways that can help groups reach beyond the single-issue silos that too often wall them off into separate struggles.
Trump’s draconian budget proposals offer one such opportunity. His $54 billion increase in Pentagon spending would come at the expense of diplomacy, environmental protection, women’s health, the arts, health-care subsidies, legal services for the poor, and other essential programs. These ill-conceived and potentially devastating priorities offer the possibility of building a budget-priorities coalition of a size and breadth that we have not seen since the movement against the war in Vietnam.
We will no doubt take some body blows at the outset of this process, but eventually we can and must build a movement that can help redefine what kind of country America should be.
For the old-school peace movement (of which I am a card-carrying member), any hope for building bridges with the growing movements for equality and social justice should start with learning, listening to, and supporting them, not merely opportunistic efforts to add our issues to their already urgent concerns. This can and should lead us to find ways to reframe the peace issue so as to address corporate power and the threat that a policy of permanent global interventionism poses to democracy at home.
Above all else, the peace movement needs to work with other movements to help nurture a new generation of activists who will address these issues. Whether or not they consider themselves part of the peace movement per se is irrelevant.
Tackling the Politics of Fear
Daniel May has written an insightful and compelling analysis of the need and rationale for a new peace movement. His cogent piece particularly shines in its depiction of the ways that militarism has been shielded from democratic accountability and treated in isolation from the larger economic forces that help sustain it.
May is less helpful, however, in identifying a path forward. He clearly recognizes the challenges that have thwarted previous efforts to expand the movement beyond opposition to a specific war or policy: the old, white, male leadership; the tension between inside-the-Beltway strategists and local community activists; the seeming remoteness of foreign-policy concerns from people’s everyday lives.
What is needed is not just a policy change but also a paradigm shift. Military expansionism is rooted in the “superpower mindset” that the United States has the right, the responsibility, and the power to shape the world to serve its perceived interests. Even many liberals agree with this proposition — only they prefer to see it carried out through less violent means.
Many liberals agree with the superpower mindset — only they prefer to see it carried out through less violent means.
May is correct in his argument that in order to mount a successful challenge to the forces of empire the contemporary peace movement will need to address the many ways in which highly concentrated power and wealth have corrupted American democracy and institutionalized inequality, with especially brutal consequences for black lives.
Making this connection is a necessary but not sufficient step, since crony capitalism is not the only culprit. The military-industrial complex has asserted its dominance by exploiting the politics of fear, first of communism and now of “radical Islamic terrorism.”
To open the conversation, progressives must first explain how they will keep Americans safe without maintaining a global military presence and the constant threat or use of force. This is no easy task, since the antiwar movement has largely defined itself by what it is against rather than what it is for.
Progressives must also recognize that they can’t overcome fear with mere logic. Trying to convince Americans that the terrorist threat has been blown way out of proportion — in comparison to the likelihood of dying from gun violence or preventable illnesses and accidents — is a losing proposition. The appeal must be made at a visceral, intuitive level, and the only emotion that can prevail over fear is anger. But unleashing popular rage against a machine that serves the interests of the privileged few can be a risky business.
Ultimately, a successful campaign will need to transform notions of “us” and “them” in a way that unites people across racial and ethnic lines and transcends geographic and national boundaries. Globalization and technology will aid in this effort, but only if they are utilized to help Americans recognize their common humanity with the rest of the world.
Building A True Internationalism
Daniel May is correct when he maintains that the American peace movement is not powerful enough to pose a serious challenge to US militarism. Furthermore, the “anti-imperialist” program he suggests — highlighting the economic, social, and political costs to Americans of our vast military machine and of US imperialist behavior — may well enhance the movement’s political clout.
But is this program sufficient? After all, American peace organizations have been following it for decades. A staple of their argument has been that US militarism starves social spending at home. Accordingly, they have sought to rally Americans behind legislation to shift federal priorities from the military to education, health care, and other social programs.
At times, this position, coupled with peace activists’ prominent participation in social-justice campaigns, has enabled them to forge mutually beneficial alliances with social-justice organizations. Peace organizations have also charged that “national security” obsessions and an “imperial presidency” have subverted American democracy.
Of course, there are additional ways to ratchet up pressure for peace in the United States. If the millions of Americans who favor a peaceful world would join a peace organization, support it financially, and participate in its activities, the US peace movement would become a far more potent political force. Less fragmentation of the movement among so many groups would surely help, as would more coordination among them and significant election support for peace-oriented candidates.
But a major limitation of a strategy focusing on mobilization of the US peace constituency is the implicit assumption that a peaceful world hinges mostly or entirely on blocking US militarism, specifically. Unfortunately, throughout human history, competing territories and, later, nations have waged wars and engaged in imperialist ventures.
Why should we assume that, with the restraint or even disappearance of US military power, this pattern would change and that nations would abandon their fears of military attack, destroy their own stockpiles of deadly weapons, and end their conflicts? The underlying problem is not one nation’s imperialism but, rather, the proclivity of nations to handle their disputes through war.
The underlying problem is not one nation’s imperialism but the proclivity of nations to handle disputes through war.
A more comprehensive strategy for peace requires what Daniel May refers to, briefly, as “a true internationalism.” To build this internationalism, one based on respect for the common humanity of people in every nation, the US peace movement needs to join hands with the peace movements of other lands in forging a powerful worldwide movement.
The problem of war, like the problem of climate change, is global, and ultimately only a worldwide movement can address it effectively. Moreover, the United Nations must be strengthened and its decisions recognized as international law. Established to “end the scourge of war,” this international organization, long snubbed by powerful countries, was founded as (and remains) the only legitimate guarantor of international security. Fortunately, we don’t have to reinvent itâ€•only emphasize that empowering it is the alternative to reckless militarism.
In recent decades, the world peace movement and the United Nations have been working closely together. It’s this alliance that has the greatest potential for developing a peaceful world.
The Investment Problem
In his analysis of the anemic peace movement, Daniel May calls for a new populist uprising against war and imperialism. But he argues that we won’t see such an uprising until that fight is connected to growing outrage against the corporate powers that promote militarism.
May is right about the vision, and he’s right about the strategy. But as of now there is no one ready to fuel its creation — or to support it once it has arrived.
This new peace movement — one powerful enough to stave off whatever violence the Trump administration has in store — will require risk-taking, emphasis on diversity, grassroots energy, and committed funder support. It will be intersectional, unapologetic, and led by the people most impacted by state-sponsored violence — people of color, women, refugees, veterans — all of whom are currently relegated to the sidelines.
But the tectonic shift necessary to activate this new movement will not be driven or sustained by the small community of think tanks, nonprofits, lobbyists, and funders that currently occupy the peace-and-security space. The community’s deliberations are dominated by risk-averse funding and stale policy initiatives, and the people doing the talking largely reflect the military and government institutions they seek to change: old, white, and male.
The lack of diverse voices starves the field of creativity and innovation, while ensuring the solutions it develops will never meet the needs of vulnerable communities most impacted.
If we expect people to join our movements, we need to invest in grassroots strategies that can actually reach them. According to an analysis by the Peace and Security Funders group, foundations in this space make up less than one percent of total foundation giving.
In 2013, that was just $283 million, far less than the roughly $2 billion provided that year for human-rights work. And just 2 percent of that sum (about $6 million) goes to “public education” globally. The CEO of Lockheed Martin pockets five times that amount every year.
This all but guarantees that a powerful new peace movement will have to come from outside the one that exists today. Eventually, it will leave the old-school network behind.
Peace-and-security funder priorities entrench a top-down, DC-based approach that prizes research and intellectual arguments over grassroots support and rewards incremental policy wins over long-term power-building. The results are neutered messages and narrowly focused campaigns that are utterly disconnected from the concerns of everyday people. And it leaves those groups working to organize locally and mobilize new generations of activists starved for resources.
Funders prioritize a top-down, DC-based approach that rewards incremental policy wins over long-term power-building.
As the Trump administration gears up for massive military spending — including a major expansion of our bloated nuclear arsenal — and lurches toward disaster with North Korea, we urgently need to challenge business as usual in the peace-and-security space. We need humility from its gatekeepers and courage from its funders. We need to trust and empower the people who are most affected by the horrors we’re working to prevent.
And we need those who refuse to change to let others lead the way.
Bring the Peace Dividend Home
To revive the peace movement, we need to start at home first. We need a peace movement to remedy the critical state our country is currently in. War and hate have never solved anything. Instead, they have consumed the lives and funds by the millions.
While we are at war overseas, Americans are at war in their own communities, fighting poverty, homelessness, housing shortages, education and health care inequity, racial divides, police brutality, xenophobia, and climate injustice. Merely surviving in this country, for many, has been a constant emotional, mental, and physical battle.
Furthermore, crowded schools, unemployment, and increased college costs are some of the many challenges Americans face every year. Little is being done to create new jobs or fund schools and hospitals. The American government prefers to invest in military hardware and immigration enforcement.
All the money invested in the military or in trying to keep people out of our country could be used instead to rebuild the United States. One can’t help but wonder how this great nation, with the best universities and medical facilities, ranks 17th out of 40 countries in K-12 educational performance, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The money being spent on immigration enforcement and the military could be used in many ways to benefit the American people. It can help with creating new jobs; according to the Center for American Progress, it’s equivalent to opening 184 new elementary schools or hiring 55,000 new schoolteachers. It could help with childcare costs for working-class families and provide nearly 337,000 Head Start slots for children.
Environmentally, it could be spent protecting the environment and reducing global warming; or it could provide 2.1 million houses with solar-energy panels, or weatherize 460,000 US homes. And that’s not to mention the impact it could have on humanitarian aid, which can provide 10 million life-saving HIV/AIDS treatments.
Moral authority today comes from the grassroots. Clearly, there is a conscience in America that has awakened.
In order to revive the peace movement, we must press government officials to use their efforts, expertise, and funds to rebuild the economic, environmental, and educational system. To make America great again, we must focus on the foundation that has built this country and made it what it is today: immigrants.
It is important to uphold our American values that affirm immigrants as a part of the American fabric. We also need to focus on developing a globally competitive school system, creating affordable housing, healing the racial and religious divides in our communities, making health care affordable, and providing more jobs that will grow the economy for future generations to come.
* * *
Letter to the Editor
In his fine piece, Daniel May gave us the facts, costs, profits, and consequences of war. The antiwar movement calls for diplomacy, the president calls for wars he can win. To win a war we have to make war. We are in a state of permanent war. What would “win” mean?
May calls for building the peace movement.
There are more and more gatherings in living rooms, weekly rallies, petitions, phone calls to Congress, letters to the editors, social media discussions happening now than ever. They focus on non-violent resistance. “Resistance has gone mainstream and has spread to all sectors of society . . . it undermines policies and orders that are un-American,” says Patrick T. Hiller, Director of War Prevention Initiative, Jubitz Family Foundation.
During the civil rights movement and the Vietnam, war we had moral authorities. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. William Sloane Coffin spoke truth to power, provided protest leadership.
Moral authority today comes from the grassroots. There is a conscience in America.
On April 29, we will have an opportunity to grow the movements when 350.org, organizations, and individuals fearing the effects of global climate change gather in Washington. Climate change is apocalyptic, like nuclear war. One takes time, the other destroys immediately. The consequences of both are irreversible.
The president wants a nuclear force second to none. We already have that, with 7,000 of the world’s 15,000 nuclear weapons.
Loose talk today about limited nuclear war or small nuclear weapons is frighteningly irresponsible. Japan and South Korea joining the nuclear club would be illegal and extremely dangerous.
Meeting North Korea’s nuclear capacity with a preemptive nuclear strike is how Gandhi described an eye for an eye making the whole world blind.
North Korea has engaged in attention-getting, irresponsible nuclear buildup. Bombing abandons diplomacy, which succeeded with the Iran Deal, reopening relations with Cuba, and ending the war in Colombia. Talks without pre-conditions deserve a chance.
Let’s double the size of the march on April 29th by bringing together the peace and climate movements. We have much in common and much to gain, and even more to lose if we stay apart. The movements don’t have to merge. We can teach the Earth Charter in peace education, which already includes sustainable development. Climate folks can learn about environmental damage from radiation.
The Women’s March brought together different causes, strengthening all of our voices. We can do that again to save the planet from climate change and nuclear war.
UN Representative, International Peace Bureau
New York City
WILLIAM D. HARTUNG is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (Nation Books).
DIANA OHLBAUM is an independent consultant, a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a board member of the Center for International Policy.
LAWRENCE WITTNER is professor of history emeritus at SUNY Albany, the author of Confronting the Bomb and co-chair of the national board of Peace Action.
MEREDITH HOROWSK is the Global Campaign Director at Global Zero, the international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons.
DEBBIE ALMONTASER is the founder and CEO of Bridging Cultures Group Inc. and the Board President of the Muslim Community Network.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.