Sunday, February 1, 2009

How do we know if/when we have a healthy, effective peace movement?

How do we know if and when we have a healthy, effective peace movement? There are, arguably, many, many peace and justice organizations in this state (this includes Voices For Peace Institute) and in the country, small and large, with and without paid staff...many of them are trying to either stop certain wars the U.S. is involved in and/or to prevent the U.S. from getting involved in future wars. And yet...congressional election cycle after congressional election cycle comes and goes, and presidential election cycle after presidential election cycle comes and goes, and, it seems to this observer that the U.S. remains firmly entrenched in militaristic thinking and behavior...using its military (or by proxy, the militaries of other nations) to get its way abroad.

How can you and I know when and if American peace groups have even begun to change the way voters think and vote, and the way the federal government behaves, when it comes to the military-industrial-congressional-corporate-complex? What does this kind of a political milieu look like?


Helpsmeet said...

So many ways to think about the answer, Lou, so many levels. For instance, our peace movement is healthy and effective when WE are healthy and peaceful (which is far from obvious for many activist groups - we're terribly human). But we also thirst for a nationwide way to be "effective". We're moving out of Iraq (after 6 years), so that's a kind of effective, and Obama is now talking about the exit strategy for Afghanistan (after 8 years). So maybe we're slowly effective.

But I believe that we have to look at the big picture and long-term. Death and injury from war has been DECREASING over the centuries, as we've centralized. Yes, the toll in war is horrendous and large, but there used to be countless smaller wars going on, and the percentage overall toll was greater than now. So the peace drift of the centuries has been positive - though certainly not enough for our tastes, of course. Listen to my 2-part Northern Spirit Radio interview with Loren Cobb for more background on this - Part 1 and Part 2

Don't discount the progress, however. Yes, Vietnam was horrible, but the American people came around and got us out of that war - and that also happened with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. This is momentous, that the people with the biggest cache of weapons said "Stop" to war. We just have to refine the procedure so it doesn't take a decade to turn the heads around.

I don't think we should ever expect people to be completely free from the greed, lusts, and fears that are the fuel for war, but we can help build strong community that would be less susceptible to such forces. If we can't work it out between the well-meaning folks of Eau Claire, how can we ever expect peace in the Middle East?

We'll know we have a healthy, effective peace movement when we peacefully learn to surmount OUR differences and tensions.

Anonymous said...


While I can't either confirm or deny Helpsmeet's claim that humanity grows more peaceful as time passes, in either case I find the levels of war and violence in the world today unacceptable.

I don't think it's helpful to claim small victories such as the idea that a withdrawal plan from Iraq or Afghanistan is progress. These wars have taken an horrific toll on the people of both Iraq and Afghanistan, and we in America who opposed the wars didn't do enough to try stop it.

At the beginning of the Iraqi war, and into 2004, Arundhati Roy emerged as an international leader of the peace movement. She made several speeches in a years time as she accepted the Sydney Peace prize in Australia, as a Keynote speaker at the World Social Forum, and at the Riverside Church in Harlem where Dr. King gave his historic "Beyond Vietnam" speech.

While she applauded the efforts of those ten million people who took to the streets globally in the month before the invasion of Iraq, she remarked that what troubled her is that we came out on a Saturday; that no one had to so much as even take a day off of work.

She remarked in subsequent speeches that colorful demonstrations, weekend marches and annual trips to the World Social Forum were not enough to stop war.

Inexplicably no one listened to her and she soon faded from public view. The Saturday marches continued, as did the killing and dying and suffering in Iraq.

In summary, we'll know we have a healthy, effective peace movement when we can mobilize sufficiently to disrupt the "business as usual" of empire, which happens almost exclusively during the week. We're a long way from that in this country. I keep hoping something will happen to make us realize that peace won't come without taking some real risks, or making some real sacrifice.

Steve Carlson