American Friends Service Committee
Sara Burke, Managing Editor
Sam Diener, Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
A Movement to Change the World?
Roxanne Lawson is the Mobilization Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee.
Since September 11, 2001 the US peace movement has experienced a powerful resurgence. This incredible growth in membership and participation rose out of a need to combat the militarism of the Bush Administration and its policy of widening a misleading and globally oppressive "War on Terror." Not only are traditional peace organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee, Fellowship of Reconciliation, and Peace Action continuing their long-established defense of pacifism and nuclear disarmament, but groups that did not previously speak out against US military interventions, including Physicians for Social Responsibility and mainstream Hollywood actors, also joined in rallying opposition to the war on Iraq. Despite this growth, political and ideological differences, classism, racism, nepotism and the desire to pander to the "mainstream" are keeping the peace movement from realizing its potential to deeply and positively impact US foreign and domestic policy.
The past eighteen months have seen the birth of two major national anti-war coalitions, Win Without War (WWW) and United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). Along with International Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), which was founded in the fall of 2001 as an outgrowth of the Workers' World Party, these coalitions have mobilized an unprecedented number of people in opposition to the war on Iraq at a historic pace. Note that the anti-Vietnam-War movement peaked in 1971, many years into the war, while the movement to stop the war in Iraq mobilized large numbers of people even before the second Bush administration had fired an official shot.
These diverse coalitions hold as their collective objective the need to stop the Bush administration and its allies from carrying out an endless global war and further eroding civil liberties. Both UFPJ and ANSWER also seek to publicly clarify the links between militarism and US economic policies. This anti-war movement has grown out of organizations which were active in opposition to what some define as the first two battles of the War on Terror: the war on human rights and civil liberties at home and the war on Afghanistan. The current overlapping alliances between groups created to focus on these areas and the traditional US peace movement, have grown out of new and innovative ways that groups responded to the 2003 war in Iraq.
While in many regards positive, these new alliances and formations tend to mask the nuanced differences between coalitions. As a result, these nuances are often lost on many individual organizers and activists, to the detriment of the overall strength of the movement. This crystallization has also masked the fact that despite mobilizing in historic numbers, the united "anti-war" and "peace" movement in the US is still largely underdeveloped and is in fact neither united nor peaceful. Organizers are left debating: Is the movement's goal to stop the invasion of Iraq? To stop all wars? To end all social inequalities? Or simply to bring the troops home?
The simplest type of organizing requires that interested parties gather at a given place at a given time and express opposition to a given policy. While mass mobilizations provide a big media bang and help coalitions make a name for themselves (in fact, one of the major US coalitions restricts its actions almost entirely to calling for and organizing large demonstrations), they do little to articulate and advocate clear operational alternatives, sway policy makers in Washington, or engage segments of the population that are unwilling or unable to march in large numbers. The mainstream media oversimplify our positions and often erroneously classify us into "good" protesters and "bad" protesters. The "good" protesters are older, usually of European dissent, and are portrayed as moderates. The "bad" protesters are young, of color, and are portrayed as violent extremists. Even without the media's interference, tensions frequently arise in the streets around tactics, ideologies, and definitions of nonviolent social change. The anti-war movement's over-reliance on mass mobilizing, at the expense of ballot campaigns, tax resistance, and other tactics of dissent have caused it to become myopic. This shortsightedness has cost the movement its ability to think of ways to engage new people and new ideas.
Even more divisive than tactical and factional allegiances are the classism and racism, two festering sores of the US anti-war movements. Largely unable to recognize class privilege, the movement makes claims of solidarity, however in practice often speaks for and not with the poor of the US. Many organizers think the way to live in solidarity with the poor and reject the classist capitalist model is to disengage from the outward trappings of privilege. However, denying class advantage is as impossible as denying skin color; both lies benefit only those with privilege. Affluent members of the peace community hide behind the anti-war movement, condemning physical violence, instead of attacking the economics behind the wars. Withholding money from health and education is, in fact, just as violent as building missiles, aircraft carriers, and guns - it is simply more insidious.
Although the post-Vietnam-War era anti-war movement appears to organize in progressive and cutting-edge ways, in reality it continues to exclude a large segment of those who could be mobilized. Web-based mobilizing is convenient and effective in reaching certain segments of the US population, but over-reliance on this medium to get the word out often overshadows the methods of paper flyers, phone banking, and face-to-face conversations. Many progressives have had the experience of being excluded by meetings and gatherings where acronyms (AFSC), insider euphemisms ("spokes," and "twinkle if you agree"), and personal relationships overshadow the ability or desire to work together on crafting innovative and effective strategies for social change. While few traditional peace organizations would consider themselves racist, classist, or sexist, these deeply encoded "isms" profoundly affect the nature of the work and the composition of who comes to the table - thus prompting many progressive people of color (of all ages) to decide that the peace movement still is not ready for them.
Among many organizers the demand for movement building is perceived as a way for individuals and organizations in the movement to consolidate their power and monopolize diverse organizations. Nonviolent organizers and institutions need to do the work necessary to disprove this myth by letting new voices lead, by letting individuals come to an organic understanding of nonviolence, and by truly understanding the radicalism of nonviolence themselves.
All of the major US anti-war coalitions boast that they contain a range of member organizations and leadership including people of color organizations and poor people's unions. The critical eye observes that these 'minority' organizations are often members in name only, with no real impact on major decisions, or are sometimes groups or individuals with no real accountability to members of the communities they represent. In these instances the true decision makers speak for the poor from a place of privilege or in a limited way.
The anti-war movement has failed to do the critical work of engaging with communities of color beyond the casual organization of specialty "feeder" marchers and choreographing multi-hued photo-ops. Moreover, the work of outreach to communities of color is largely left to activists of color; such movement building is seen as outside the sphere of "white allies" in positions of power. Only when the peace movement truly organizes to achieve economic, social, political, and personal justice will we all be able to build a movement that will change the world.
These issues of racism and classism are further exacerbated by the nepotism and cronyism that plague the US peace movement. As with many other social movements, both progressive and conservative, the peace movement operates on an unchecked "insider/outsider" hierarchy which goes largely unnoticed but has profound effects on people of color, poor people, and other historically marginalized communities. Under the guise of an anti-hierarchical system, people of color, women, and others were erased from the "historic" peace movement in the US and are still being erased, habitually silenced, talked over, and ignored. At gatherings of national coalitions, young people and people of color are often called on to play only certain roles; carrying banners, offering opening comments and prayers, providing cultural entertainment, and taking notes. Rarely are they asked to facilitate the "business" at hand.
In order to build a nonviolent social change movement, the current peace movement first needs, in the words of George Jackson, to "come together; understand the reality of our situation." To do this, groups working to end war must begin to address the root causes of war; they must address poverty and power, the racism in the US, and the Ameri-centrism in the world. The movement must also begin to broker peace within itself. As organizers and activists we must all realize that having a non-US accent or being under 25 shouldn't relegate you solely to leading others with accents or others under the age of 25. We must all do more to ensure that new voices are heard. We must go beyond caucus organizing and make the issues of youth, of immigrants, of people of color, and of the economically oppressed the central issues of the anti-war movement. As long as we see the struggles of these communities as separate from achieving peace and an end to war, the goal of peace will elude us.
We must recognize that joining behind a banner is less important
than forging a common understanding. We must give up trying to
"win" with or without war, and focus on saving humanity.