Four More Years – of the Afghanistan War? Not On Our Watch!

July 20, 2011
by Kevin Martin, Executive Director
Updated from a previous blog post

When I first heard a report of President Obama’s decision to remove only 5,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan this year (which turned out to be only half what he announced June 22, with another 23,000 troops to leave by September, 2012), my first thought was “did he forget a zero?” The decision was disappointing but not surprising. Remember, candidate Obama promised to escalate the Afghanistan war (which he did, twice), and as president, he has committed himself to “winning” it (whatever that means, I’m reminded of the pacifist Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin’s quote, “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake”).

Moreover, the military has consistently and effectively influenced the president’s decisions on the war, with former Secretary of War Robert Gates, Generals David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal and others constantly speaking in public and to the media “setting policy,” which the president has enabled (Truman or Eisenhower would doubtless have fired them for that).

The President’s decision to prolong the war despite escalating public and congressional pressure surely reflects the malign influence of the Military-Industrial Complex (though I don’t mean to give the president a pass here, he is accountable for his decisions). The MIC won’t be taken down quickly or easily, perhaps not in our lifetimes.

But it will be taken down. The U.S. Empire is on the decline. Let’s replace it with a flowering U.S. Republic (in the phrase of the philosopher Johan Galtung). Protesting the wars and scourges of the Empire is only half our job. Empowering people to envision and decide what comes after, or along with, that decline is even more important. Even some in the military realize the U.S. needs a new foreign policy, one based less on belligerence and military might and more on peaceful diplomacy and international cooperation, as the recent “Mr. Y” article showed (see http://www.wilsoncenter.org/events/docs/A%20National%20Strategic%20Narrative.pdf).

At a recent reception near the United Nations at which I was humbled to be honored by non-governmental organizations that work at the UN, I asked attendees to close their eyes and envision that more peaceful, just world we will help build as the Empire declines. I asked folks to shout out what they envisioned. “A peaceful future for our children,” “meaningful jobs for all,” “an environment restored, with green energy technology and good public transit,” “health care for everyone” and “the end of nuclear power” were just some of the inspiring visions shared that night. It was beautiful!

So this is not a time to despair. Yes, we at Peace Action are sick of all wars, whether a Republican or Democrat is in the White House. But signs of our successes at shaping that new world abound:

  • Public opinion is now solidly against the Afghanistan war – that’s our doing!
  • The House and Senate finally sent strong messages to Obama of their opposition to the war, mostly because of our hard work.
  • Congress is pushing the administration on the illegality of the Libya war.
  • (Now former) Secretary of War Gates on the defensive in his last Senate hearing, reduced to declaring about Afghanistan “it’s not a war without end.”
  • The recent U.S. Conference of Mayors resolutions calling for redirecting war spending to human needs and advocating the global elimination of nuclear weapons.
  • The military budget is still gargantuan, but the organizing and political climate for working on this issue is the best we’ve seen in decades – our Move the Money campaign is growing every day!
  • Next year’s Peace Voter 2012 campaign could be one of our most important yet, as citizen-activists take control of the debate over wars, military spending and nuclear weapons and force House, Senate and Presidential candidates to address our issues on our terms!
  • The Peace Action affiliate and chapter network is growing, very impressively, into new states and regions (please see the “Affiliates in Action” article and photo of our new affiliate, Nebraskans for Peace in this issue!)

Peace and justice work is hard, there’s no question about it. That’s why we call it “the struggle,” not “the picnic.” But we have momentum, and the power of the people, on our side, let’s never forget that, and most importantly, let’s organize that power!


Getting Fired up in the White Mountains: Northeast Regional Retreat

July 20, 2011
By Judith Le Blanc
Field Director

Nearly one-half of people polled now think the US can make major cuts in defense spending without putting the country in danger, according to a 7/18/11 Rasmussen Poll.  What will it take to translate that sentiment into policy change? Movement-building and a stronger, bolder Peace Action.

In the rush of activities and mobilizations, organizers rarely get the opportunity to step back and explore ways to improve our practice.

That is why the core organizers of Peace Action affiliates in the northeast region decided the time was right to gather at World Fellowship in the White Mountains of New Hampshire to get fired up.

Peace Action affiliate leaders from New England pose for a group photo after several days of planning

The July 9-11, 2011 training retreat agenda included discussions on building a stronger movement to cut the Pentagon budget to fund human needs and bring our tax dollars home, organizing the 2012 peace vote and growing Peace Action online and in our communities.

NH, ME, MA, and NY shared their challenges and victories as part of the two-day seminar, which was a blend of fun, skill-building and inspiration.

Although the participants ranged in age from early 20’s to senior citizens, all had come into activism as a personal and political reaction to difficulties and challenges in our world or community. All, no matter what age or background, shared a belief in the need for organized action for a better world.

Kevin Martin, Peace Action Executive Director, in opening the discussion of the weekend said, “We must help empower our constituents, help raise people’s sights and broaden their understanding of the decline of the US empire.”

A lively discussion ensued about the nature of the “political moment” and what is on the minds of people in our communities. Most agreed that Peace Action needs to articulate an alternative foreign policy, get more onto an offensive footing and join in with others to find ways to express, in positive terms, the way out of the mess the country and world is in.

In the discussion on the 2012 peace voter efforts, New Hampshire Peace Action talked about how they successfully “bird dogged” Candidate McCain. He revealed, due to a great “bird dog” question, that occupying Iraq for 100 years was not out of the question. As one person said, “That was a shot heard round the world!” Despite our limited resources, Peace Action made a big contribution to the 2008 elections.

One of the last frontiers of 21st century organizing is online. Emails or Facebook or Twitter will never replace the face-to-face grassroots work we must do to organize in our communities.

Jonathan Williams, Pace Action Program Associate, outlined the “ladder of engagement” from signing a petition or an event sign in sheet to becoming activists and donors. Each affiliate brought and reviewed their last 2 months of emails. All left with an idea or two for how to improve their online communications.

The campaign planning session was a spirited exchange on how to put cutting the Pentagon budget into a set of doable, timed steps that build pressure on the decision makers and wins victories along the way. We took a few steps back for a deeper look and inspiration from the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. No great social change has happened without a campaign style of organizing.

The heart and soul of the retreat was the session on strengthening Peace Action affiliates and chapters. We took a look at the organizational culture of decision-making and integrating new people into leadership. We discussed the challenges of setting goals and planning. Across the board participants cited recruiting and retaining members as one of the biggest challenges.

The evaluation was meaty with praise as well as ideas for improvements for the next retreat. Plans are being made for regional retreats in other areas of the country. The national staff is more than willing to do trainings in your area or connect you with local trainers we are in touch with.

Special “shout outs” go to Anne Miller and Will Hopkins of New Hampshire Peace Action and Shelagh Foreman and Cole Harrison of Mass Peace Action for agreeing to be the “frogs in our biology class.” We had the opportunity to dissect detailed accounts of their efforts in a number of sections of the retreat agenda!

 


Aug 6 & 9: Hiroshima & Nagasaki Commemorations

July 19, 2011

Every year around August 6 and 9, Peace Action and its grassroots network of chapters and affiliates host and participate in activities to commemorate the anniversaries of the 1945 nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

This year, the tradition will continue with festivals, candle-lighting and other creative remembrances of those who lost their lives or were injured during these attacks. Peace Action will reach out to local communities to stress the importance of building the movement for zero nuclear weapons at the local, national and international levels. We want to make sure that nuclear weapons are never used again.

In addition to activities here at home, representatives from Peace Action are also invited every year to Japan by our sister peace group Gensuikin to join Japanese and other peace activists from around the world in solidarity and remembrance of those horrible attacks.

Last year, Peace Action’s Organizing and Policy Director Paul Kawika Martin travelled to Japan where he spoke before thousands of peace activists from Japan and other countries around the world.

In the coming weeks, Peace Action will have a complete list of activities planned by our grassroots network around Hiroshima and Nagasaki Days. Visit peace-action.org for more information.

Planned Events:

  • July 16: Massachusetts Peace Action will host a festival for a Nuclear Free Future, connecting nuclear weapons and the use of nuclear power on the anniversary of the first nuclear weapons test.
  • Genesee Valley Citizens for Peace will have its annual Hiroshima/ Nagasaki evening in Avon, New York (date to be announced). Following a solemn vigil, there will be lighting of candles music by local musicians. More information will be available on their website at gvcp.org.
  • Sunday, August 7, 2011, at Loose Park Lake in Kansas City, Missouri, PeaceWorks Kansas City is having its annual Hiroshima-Nagasaki Remembrance. Activities will include 45 lanterns for 1945, the year the atomic bomb was dropped, 66 gongs for 66 years since the bombing, 30 large mounted posters from the Hiroshima Peace Cultural Museum and guest speakers.

In the coming weeks, Peace Action will have a complete list of activities planned by our grassroots network around Hiroshima and Nagasaki Days. Visit peace-action.org for more information.


“It is eating everybody else’s lunch.”

July 14, 2011

I’ve received a lot of email alerts this past week and they’ve all been about the same thing: stopping cuts in vital programs such as Social Security, Medicare, funding for day-care programs, education and infrastructure.  Cuts I don’t support, and I don’t think you do either.

Will you sign our petition to cut the Pentagon’s budget, not Social Security and Medicare?

As Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) put it: “The military budget is not on the table.  The military budget is at the table – and it is eating everybody else’s lunch.”

Public opinion polls repeatedly point to a preference of cutting military spending, insuring the wealthy pay their fair share, and ending subsidies and tax breaks to large corporations – Big Oil & Wall Street.

That probably won’t stop the House from approving a $530 billion Pentagon budget for 2012. It’s $9 billion less than the President requested but $17 billion more than it was in 2011. Add in $119 billion for the seemingly endless wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq its $649 billion.  How’s that for fiscal responsibility?

Hands off Medicare and Social Security! Sign our petition to cut Pentagon spending today.

Serious about cutting waste?  First stop: The Pentagon, largest bureaucracy in the world. The wasteful spending list is long and the amounts are staggering:

  • $100 billion each year to operate over 900 military bases overseas
  • $40 billion a year to maintain the country’s nuclear arsenal
  • $180 billion over the next 10 years to ‘modernize’ nuclear warhead factories and delivery systems to maintain the US nuclear arsenal indefinitely
  • $119 billion a year to occupy and wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan

Pressure is building for a deal on the debt limit.  But so far, President Obama hasn’t given enough ground to satisfy Tea Party compliant Republicans without further and more drastic cuts in domestic spending.  This is absolutely the wrong direction.

Sign the petition to cut the Pentagon’s budget, not Social Security and Medicare and pass this on to those you think agree and will take a stand.

Peace Action serves on the Sustainable Defense Task Force, a bi-partisan panel made up of national security experts organized by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) to prepare a report for the President’s deficit reduction commission.

The Task Force released a report last June titled “Debt, Deficits and Defense: A Way Forward,” outlining specific options for reducing the Pentagon budget by more than $900 billion over the next ten years.

It really comes down to guns or butter.  Time to choose.  Let’s cut the Pentagon’s budget, not Social Security and Medicare.

Humbly for Peace,

Paul Kawika Martin
Political Director
Peace Action

P.S. The House will vote on the Pentagon budget this week, the Senate will take it up soon thereafter.  Debt limit negotiators have just over one week to complete their business.  It’s time to be heard.  Sign the petition to cut the Pentagon’s budget, not Social Security and Medicare and pass this on to those you think agree and will take a stand.


House Votes on Defense Appropriations – Keep the pressure rising!

July 5, 2011

Many of us are frustrated about the slow crawl of progress towards peace, but here at Peace Action, our frustration never turns into silence. If anything, we get louder.

Today, the House of Representatives votes on the 2012 Defense Appropriations bill. This is our opportunity to get louder.

Call your Representative today at (202) 224-3121 and tell them to support amendments that bring the troops home from Afghanistan within one year and reduce the Pentagon budget.

1. Call your Representative today. Call (202) 224-3121, or find your elected officials online using this form.

If you don’t know the name of your Representative, not to worry. Call (202) 224-3121 and give the operator your zip code and they will transfer your call. The best time to call is between 9:00am and 5:00pm Eastern. That said, Congressional staff repeatedly remind us that all calls count! It’s never too late to make your voice heard. and keep the pressure up.

2. Tell your Representative:

“I am calling because the U.S. needs to bring the troops home from Afghanistan sooner than the President’s plan and we need to reduce the Pentagon budget.  I would like Representative _____ to cosponsor and vote for any amendments to the House Defense Appropriations bill (H.R. 2219) that does just that.”

3. Tell us how your House call went using this form:


Updates: Gaza Flotilla, Windows and Mirrors on Afghanistan War, Workers Held Hostage to Military Spending, Peace Action on C-SPAN

July 1, 2011

Busy, busy time these days for Peace Action and our colleagues, here are a few updates of interest.

Our brave sisters and brothers on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla have faced threats to their lives and  suspected sabotage of their boats (carrying only letters of support and solidarity to the people of Gaza) and are now being held up by the Greek government. Reuters has a recent report on Greece’s interception of the U.S. boat The Audacity of Hope, and stay up to date on developments at http://www.freegaza.org/

Our friends at the American Friends Service Committee have a terrific exhibit on the cost of the war to Afghan civilians called Windows and Mirrors, just opened in Chicago. Read more about it from a New York Times report.

Our colleagues at Labor Against War are a stalwart ally in working to end the wars and Move the Money from war and militarism to human needs, job creation and environmental protection. If you know of people who think military production jobs are a sure thing in this economy, tell them to check out this article by Jeff Klein, a former machinist at the GE plant in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Last but not least, Peace Action national board member Joshua Cooper and I will be on C-SPAN (we were taped earlier today, we don’t know yet when the program will air but when we find out we’ll let you know, or you can check on their website).

The event was the Tenth Annual University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law International Human & Peoples’ Rights Law Program – Human Rights on the Hill – in collaboration with the Hawaii Institute for Human Rights and the Four Freedoms Forum.

Joshua, a professor at the University of Hawai’i, puts together this terrific, wide ranging program every year here in Washington at the University of the District of Columbia Law School. I think I’ve spoken at 7 or 8 of the 10 events, always a lot of fun with interesting students and attendees asking good questions. Hopefully (if we looked and sounded good!) it will also be good publicity for Peace Action this year.

Peace and Independence (from militarism of course!),

Kevin Martin

Executive Director


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