Part Five of a chronological look at the phases the contemporary U.S. peace movement, originally developed for the Historians against the War conference held in Atlanta in April. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four.
So here we are: on the one hand, we, the peace movement, have won. Majorities of us clearly have had it with imperial wars. Young people are especially clear:
And nevertheless, our rulers are determined to go on.
What does looking back over what has happened since 2001 tell us?
Making peace is long, hard work. The attacks of 9/11 gave our rulers an excuse to run with their wildest imperial ambitions. As my WarTimes/Tiempo de Guerras coworker Max Elbaum always reminds groups, stopping a empire in full charge is hard. Lyndon Johnson knew that Vietnam was not a war the U.S. could win before he made a major troop commitment. Yet that war dragged on another eight years. We shouldn't be kicking ourselves that we haven't stopped this one.
We need to build a movement based on what people really care about, not what we think they should care about. Sounds simple, but it isn't. There's a reason corporations and politicians do market research before they launch their campaigns. A peace movement doesn't do that; we seek to inject a value into public discourse, not ride existing values.
But we can look at what has really moved people to action and build from there. To that end, here's a short list of people who I've met in the course of my work and peace activities since 2001 who stand out for me as exemplifying activism that comes from deeply internalized values.
- A couple of weeks after 9/11, I stopped by a free concert. The culture was hiphop anti-violence activism, a long planned festival turned to a new purpose. In attendance was a Japanese-American for whom the internment of his parents by U.S. authorities during World War II was a burning memory. Though engaged in a tough election campaign for local office, he chose to be there to witness against suspicion and fear that leads to racist stereotyping. (By the way, Jeff Adachi won!)
- In 2005, I saw Nadia McCaffrey speak out about the death of her soldier son at a showing of the AFSC project, the traveling, growing, array of empty boots representing killed U.S. soldiers. The families of the relatively small number of folks who have had to fight these wars, along with vets themselves, have carried a disproportionate share of effective peace organizing.
- In the same category, I think of a Code Pink activist who just won't stop. Her nephew followed his testosterone into the service and she marches, rallies and gets arrested because she loves him.
- Just recently, I met a single mother in Kansas City who drives a barely functioning car and struggles to keep body and soul together. But she gave up a full weekend day to attend a workshop on how to stop military recruiting in her daughter's high school. She is determined that neither her daughter nor any of the young woman's friends should serve as cannon fodder for these wars.
- In 2006, while volunteering for a (more or les) antiwar Democrat trying to win a Republican held Congressional seat, I met a grandmother who found herself running a local campaign center out of her basement, helped by hundreds of volunteers including a local Pakistani-American Muslim who aimed to protect his community by working inside the U.S. process. Both felt they needed to change what the country had become since 9/11.
Our stumbling peace movement has tried to form itself alongside, but not so much inside, momentous changes in the generational/technological environment. And the peace movement has in some ways been more a spectator to these changes than a catalyst.
The open internet has created a vast arena in which a counterculture, mostly inhabited by people who don't remember 1968, thrive amid oppositional attitudes. And this population is far larger than the peace movement. Here's a description from within:
This can be read as more than a little fuzzy-wuzzy, and obviously there are millions who have no part of this cultural shift. But there are also millions who do and they are very much influencing adaptations in the Democratic Party and the Obama campaign that may determine who'll occupy the ruling seats next November.
In conclusion, I want to repeat something I brought up in Part One that Bill Quigley wrote in 2001.
Repeating what we have always done has not been ALL the peace movement has done, but it has been a great deal our activity. Meanwhile, mostly outside the peace movement, others have taken a stab at that necessity I quoted Bob Wing naming on Sept. 14.
A more effective peace movement needs to be offering a vision of a plausible, sustainable global community that doesn't hinge on U.S. use of force to maintain empire. Elements of that vision clearly need to include challenges related to technology, climate change, and how to rein in cancerous capitalism. We really haven't known how to put out such a vision yet.
That's not surprising -- it is hard and perhaps, also, the struggle against empire may not have changed us enough so that we could see it. But the group(s) that find elements of that vision will discover that millions are already with them, looking for something similar, ready to elaborate something as yet unknown. They just don't currently identify with the peace movement.