Premature Peace Prize or Call to Action? Or Both? Peace Actionistas Speak Out!

October 12, 2009

President Obama’s being awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace has elicited all kinds of responses from peace activists, especially in the Peace Action family, which is great! We’ve gotten some good media coverage on this, including Political Director Paul Kawika Martin on ABC Nightly News last Friday, a quote in an Associated Press interview, and several radio interviews. Below are a few items: an op-ed by Medea Benjamin and me, a story by NBC Action News in Kansas City quoting Kris Cheatum of our affiliate there, Peace Works Kansas City, and a comment by Glen Stassen of the Peace Action Education Fund Board of Directors.

Premature Peace Prize or Call to Action?
By Kevin Martin and Medea Benjamin

Published by Common Dreams at

Medea Benjamin is Cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace ( and the human rights group Global Exchange ( <> ). She just returned from a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan.

Kevin Martin is Executive Director of Peace Action, the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with 100,000 members nationwide. He has been a peace and justice activist for 25 years.

As we demonstrated at the White House last Monday calling for an end to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, we could hardly have imagined President Barack Obama would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize four days later.

While the award came as a surprise, it is somewhat understandable. We have met and conversed with peace activists from around the world over the last year, and we’ve observed a palpable, nearly desperate, universal hunger (obviously shared by the Nobel Committee) for a more peaceful, less militaristic U.S. foreign policy.

Reaction to the announcement has been predictably mixed. A better question than “Does Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?” might be “will the American people insist he pursue peaceful policies so he really earns the Peace Prize?” Or even better, “Are we prepared to be a truly peaceful country?” Because despite the welcome change in tone, and in some policies, from Bush to Obama, the United States remains, by far, the most militaristic country on the planet.

The U.S. annually spends over $700 billion on war and weaponry, nearly as much on the military as the rest of the world’s countries combined. The U.S. maintains over 800 foreign military bases. The purpose of most of these bases is to project our power in order to maintain our unsustainable addiction to fossil fuels. Our top industrial export to the rest of the world is weaponry.

Despite President Obama’s inspiring rhetoric about seeking a nuclear weapons-free world, the U.S. still maintains over 10,000 nuclear weapons, many still inexplicably poised on hair-trigger alert to launch on a few minutes’ notice. Our seemingly endless occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, blank-check support for Israel even as it continues to oppress the Palestinian people, and support for despotic, autocratic, human rights-abusing regimes in the Middle East (such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) are the chief recruiting arguments for violent extremist groups. These policies, among others, are undemocratic, short-sighted and inimical to the security interests of Americans.

We agree with President Obama that the Peace Prize is a “call to action.” Here’s a to-do list, for him and for all of us:

Afghanistan: ¬Declare any further escalation of U.S. troops, currently under consideration by the Administration, off the table; convene and vigorously support peace talks aimed at political reconciliation, enhanced security, support for women’s rights, and economic development. Provide Congress and the American public an exit plan to remove U.S. and NATO troops and private military contractors from Afghanistan.

Iraq: Bring private military contractors and all U.S. troops, not just combat troops, home by August 2010. Commit to a serious investment in rebuilding Iraq’s economy, and take care of our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Close all U.S. military bases.

Iran: Continue the current promising negotiations with Iran and foreswear any possibility of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Israel-Palestine: Insist that Israel end the economic strangulation of Gaza, stop all settlement construction and house demolitions in the West Bank, end the evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, and work tirelessly for a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Don’t cave in to Israeli intransigence-we could, after all, refuse to pay for this anymore.

Nuclear disarmament: Back up the strong rhetoric by initiating negotiations for the global elimination of nuclear weapons at or before next May’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. The incremental nuclear weapons reductions and strengthened non-proliferation measures President Obama has announced are good, but they do not go far enough; the scourge of nuclear weapons must be wiped from the face of the Earth, and Obama should have the courage of his convictions and go all-out on this issue.

Military spending: drastically reduce Pentagon spending in order to invest in weapons industry worker re-training and human and environmental needs, both here and around the world.

This is a list worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and also of a country seeking peace, prosperity and harmony with the rest of the world.


NBC Action News in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It was a historical day in Washington as President Barack Obama, just nine months in office, wins the Nobel Prize. But what do people in the metro think of his award?

As a life long anti-nuclear weapons activist, Kris Cheatum is elated with Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize and his call to curb weapons of mass destruction.

“It has to happen. We are not safe with them, the world is not safe,” Cheatum said.

Cheatum has been with Kansas City’s PeaceWorks since the early 80’s. Friday’s peace prize announcement caught many people by surprise including the winner.

“I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel committee,” Obama said.

Given the president’s short time in office, questions about the timing of the award have surfaced abroad and here at home.

Do You Think President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Was Deserved?

Yes (32.8%)
No (67.2%)
“It’s always good when the world recognizes America for seeking peace rather than seeking conflict,” Johnson County Rep. Party Chairman Ronnie Metsker said.

Still, Metsker and many others would like to see results of the president’s proposals.

“I think it would be an excellent thing to win the peace prize after you have accomplished something,” Metsker added.

For Cheatum, Friday’s announcement is a true sign of hope.

“My husband and I worked our whole lives on this project to eliminate nuclear weapons and now we have a president who also wants to abolish them.”

From our perspective in Peace Action, I think the focus needs to be
to reinforce our own message: Real Security through International
Cooperation, Human Rights (and freedom from weapons of mass destruction).

This is the message we worked through all levels of our organization
for a two-year period, and decided it would be what we intended to
unify our organization and its message around.

What I’ve heard is that the Nobel Awards Committee focused on
basically our message in awarding the prize. They credited Obama’s
shift of US policy from unilateralism to international cooperation,
and away from violating human rights in torture. Is that right? Can
our statement make that clear, if it is true?

Can we say something good about Obama’s work for international
cooperation in talking with Iran, North Korea, and Israel and
Palestine, and nuclear reductions with the Soviet Union, and call for
steps toward nuclear abolition?

I’d like to see us use this to emphasize our own message.

If we put our emotional energy into becoming judges on whether Obama
deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, we lose our message. We become
endangered with judgmentalism and stuff like that that I don’t want to
describe here.

We do press for getting out of Afghanistan. That’s right. It’s the
first article on my own website (an incisive article by David
Cortright)– My ex-marine
peacemaker group member, Jake Diliberto, is going all over spreading
the message to rethink Afghanistan. I think that’s crucial. But I
don’t encourage us to put all our energy into that. Are we just anti
war, or are we Peace Action?

Glen Stassen, member of the Peace Action Education Fund Board of Directors and a Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California

Obama doesn’t deserve Peace Prize yet, says leading U.S. group

October 9, 2009

Peace Action says Obama does not deserve Nobel Peace Prize yet

Washington, D.C. – Reacting to today’s announcement of President Obama
as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Peace Action’s Executive
Director Kevin Martin challenged the Obama Administration to live up to
the honor.

“It is ironic that this award comes on the same day that the Wall Street
Journal is reporting that the administration is considering sending as
many as 60,000 more troops to Afghanistan. President Obama needs to
prove that he really is a force for peace. He can do that by refusing to
put more troops in Afghanistan, and instead committing to a non-military
solution that doesn’t destabilize a nuclear-armed Pakistan like a surge

Martin added that the president is moving in the right direction on
nuclear disarmament but hasn’t done nearly enough yet to warrant a Nobel
Prize. He said there is a hunger for a new, less militaristic US foreign
policy around the world, but again, Obama’s modest changes in certain
policies in the first 9 months on the job don’t warrant a Peace Prize.
“If you did deserve it, you would stop the surge,” Martin challenged the

The comments come on the heels of a trip to Afghanistan by Peace
Action’s Political Director Paul Kawika Martin (no relation to Kevin
Martin). On the trip, he saw the effects of the war firsthand, with
visits with every stratum of society. He learned that the war is
undermining any future peace in the region. Air strikes terrorize
civilians, detention paralyzes society and the Afghan economy has been
decimated, with at least 40% unemployment.

Peace Action is the nation’s largest grassroots peace network, with a
membership of over 100,000, and chapters and affiliates in 30 states.
For more than 50 years, Peace Action has been a leader in the struggle
for a safer world with fewer nuclear weapons. Peace Action has achieved
victories in successful campaigns to ban landmines, end nuclear weapons
testing, cut funding for Star Wars and new nuclear weapons and stop arms
transfers to nations that abuse human rights.

For booking information or telephone interviews with either Kevin
Martin, Executive Director, or Paul Kawika Martin, Political Director,
please contact Ron Zucker, Associate Director of Campaigns for Kelley
Campaigns, at (301) 887-1060 x112, or via email at

News Release: Non-Violent Peace Demonstrators Brutalized by Secret Service at White House Today

October 5, 2009


Contact: Kevin Martin, 301-537-8244 (mobile)

Paul Kawika Martin, 951-217-7285 (mobile)




Activists had sought a meeting with the Obama Administration to urge an end to the war in Afghanistan


Washington, D.C. – Twenty-three non-violent peace activists calling for an end to the US war in Afghanistan were violently pushed and dragged away from a White House gate by Secret Service officers this afternoon. The activists, participating in a larger demonstration of over 300 people organized by the National Campaign for Non-Violent Resistance, had sent a letter to President Obama last month requesting a meeting today to discuss their opposition to the war.

After a non-violent “die-in” at the White House gate, the peace activists waited for over three hours while various police departments, including the Washington, DC Metro Police, Park Police and Secret Service, gave conflicting stories about whether the activists would be arrested or not, the group’s request to meet with someone from the Administration having been summarily rebuffed by White House guards.

Suddenly, with no warning and with dozens of other police officers watching, a group of about a dozen Secret Service officers swooped in to push and drag the protesters, who included a number of retirees, away from the White House gate and outside a police perimeter that had been established in the normally public area in front of the White House.

“I wonder how the officers who brought a grandmother to tears with their completely unnecessary, harsh use of force will explain how their day went when they go home to their families at the end of their shift,” asked Kevin Martin, Executive Director of Peace Action. Martin was shoved hard in the back by two Secret Service officers, causing him to fall into National Campaign for Non-Violent Resistance Co-convener Joy First, a grandmother from Wisconsin. First was roughed up by several officers and was still in tears twenty minutes after the incident.

“Clearly, the Obama Administration, which has increased the violence in Afghanistan with its escalation of troops earlier this year, would rather have Secret Service thugs rough up peace activists than to engage in a dialogue with us about Afghanistan,” said Martin. Paul Kawika Martin (no relation), Peace Action’s Policy Director, had just returned from a citizens’ peacemaker delegation to Afghanistan organized by the peace group Code Pink. “But we will not be deterred, and the American people have turned decidedly against this war. We call on Obama to meet with us to discuss Afghanistan and apologize for the brutality of the White House police force, and to begin bringing US troops home so the people of Afghanistan can resolve their country’s problems.”

Peace Action is the country’s largest peace and disarmament group with over 100,000 members nationwide.

The National Campaign for Non-Violent Resistance has worked for peace in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002.


Paul Kawika Martin’s second report from Afghanistan

October 2, 2009

On our first full day out into Kabul, I saw an old woman being dragged across the street by two men.  One of our delegates said she thought she saw the men kick the clearly resisting woman.

This happened only a few blocks away from our meeting with Women for Women International, where they said if they would have seen the altercation they would have intervened.  They claim to have educated 20,000 women since 2002 in vocational and civic training.  They choose women who have been affected by conflict and have hit bottom.  As the woman program director explained, women have rights in Islam and some Mullahs need to be taught.  That is why she travels the country to train the Mullahs. There is a big difference between the cities and the rural parts of the country on a number of issues including women’s rights.

Blue Scarf Day was a day where 13,000 Afghan woman stood for peace on International Womens Day.

"Blue Scarf Day" was a day where 13,000 Afghan woman stood for peace on International Women's Day.

As the woman program director explained, women have rights in Islam and some Mullah’s need to be taught. That is why she travels the country to train the Mullah’s.

At the meeting (at almost all our meetings) we are offered black or green tea and candies.  Labor is cheap and many NGOs and the upper middle class have paid drivers, guards, cooks and house cleaners.

Some in our delegation got to talk with girls being trained to make jam and said that many of them wanted an end to war and for foreign troops to leave.

Next, we met with Dr. Sardar Wali of the Welfare Association for the Development of Afghanistan (WADAN).  He headed their Drug Demand Reduction program.  He said that about two million of the 30 or so million Afghans are addicted to hashish, heroin, opium, pharmaceuticals or alcohol.  He claims that his programs have a 65% success rate.  The gynecologist in our group points out that would be extremely high.  He also asserted that 25% of police have tested positive for drugs.

Afghans get addicted just like Americans, but there were a few surprises.  Mothers give opium to their babies to put them asleep, which allow the women to get more work done.  Some Afghans go to Iran[,] or employers in Afghanistan give drugs to employees and tell them it will help them work.  Then, when they get addicted the employers take advantage of them.

The men get treated in centers that we may consider prison-like with their all-cement construction and small rooms.  Many shave their heads to help deal with the withdrawals and heat.  Women are treated in the home.  The facility was clean, their treatment is free and addiction is treated as a sickness not a crime — something many in the states could learn from.

For lunch, we had our first of many meals that would include rice, bread, kabob (beef, chicken and lamb), french fries and a plate of fresh veggies that we didn’t touch for fear of getting sick.  We spoke with two men from the Institute for War & Peace Reporting.  They argued that America had messed Afghanistan up and needed to train more Afghan troops, stop bombing and arresting innocent people and negotiate with Taliban.

He echoed what many will tell me later: President Karzai is weak and historically controlled by the U.S., and the elections were a fraud.  Under the Bush Administration, they said the American Ambassador pulled Karzai’s strings and now the United States Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, is acting as a king and dictates orders.  Additionally, he claimed that six ministries “belong” to the U.S.  Others have said that the more powerful countries in the coalition all have someone in a ministry that they have chosen as their area of influence.  Finger-pointing at Pakistan is another theme that emerged.  He thought that Pakistan is not serious about getting rid of Al-Qaeda.

Our last meeting before our dinner reception with Afghan elites was with the director of an NGO for war-affected children.  57% of the Afghanistan population is below 17 years old.  In the capital city of Kabul alone there are an estimated 60-70,000 street-working children.  Street children work in the street for their own or their family’s sustenance.  They collect firewood or other fuel, beg, sell candy and magazines, etc.  According to the NGO, life of children has become worse since the U.S. invasion.  They get kidnapped, suffer drug abuse and sexual abuse.  The director thought that a majority of Afghans don’t support foreign forces, but they do think if they leave it may cause another civil war.

The displaced children who live near Nooria

The displaced children who live near Nooria

They collect firewood or other fuel, beg, sell candy and magazines, etc. According to the NGO, life of children has become worse since the U.S. invasion. They get kidnapped, suffer drug abuse and sexual abuse. The director thought that a majority of Afghans don’t support foreign forces, but they do think if they leave it may cause another civil war.

After a rest at our hotel, that is guarded with machineguns, we traveled to about 15 minutes away from the Taliban-controlled Wardock province to the house of a friend of one of our delegates.  They organized a dinner reception with several Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Business Leaders and one of President Karzai’s brothers.  I’ll tell you more about this fascinating evening in my next blog.

Please note that for security reasons, I will not discuss where we are staying or our itinerary, and may leave out or change the names of people we meet.

To take action on Afghanistan, please visit Peace for Afghanistan. If you would like more updates in real time, please add me as a friend on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

PA West’s Rebecca Griffin in the San Jose Mercury News on Iran

October 2, 2009

Peace Action would encourage our supporters to read Peace Action West’s Rebecca Griffin’s latest OpEd in the San Jose Mercury News. The piece titled “Sanctions on Iran would backfire” can be found here. Check out Rebecca’s other work at Peace Action West here.

Since Iran’s disputed presidential election, much of Congress has been driven by a desire to get tough on Iran. The Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, which lead sponsor Rep. Howard Berman, D-Van Nuys, has called a “sword of Damocles over the Iranians,” would punish companies that sell gas to Iran. In the midst of heightened rhetoric, it has gained more than 300 House co-sponsors and 75 in the Senate.

Although Iran’s secret nuclear site raises real concerns, administration officials have acknowledged that the bottom line of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate remains the same: Iran is years away from the ability to produce a nuclear weapon.

Afghanistan House Party–Takoma Park Style

October 1, 2009

I recently participated in my first Afghanistan House Party in Takoma Park, Maryland. Our group of 12 or so people screened the films Rethink Afghanistan and followed it up with a lengthy and intense debate about the films’ content, Obama and his admistration’s approach to this war, and possible mobilizations in response.
First of all, I was not surprised to see that the films’ content was largely appreciated–and unknown prior to the screening. This fact affirmed what I’ve long suspected–in the circles I run in, the people protesting and obstructing the Afghanistan War are a minority.

For the most part, people at our party seemed to tacitly approve of the Obama approach to Afghanistan: increased troops, escalation of violence, the continued replacement of local warlords in “democratic elections” and the furtherance of violence against men, women, children, civilians, “terrorists,” and anyone else who happens to live in or near a strategic point of violence near the Afghan/Pakistani border.

After the films, many expressed confusion as well as a bit of dissonance between what they felt to be true (Obama has to be better than Bush; the war has lessened the Taliban’s oppression of women; Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan-in 01 or any other time–justifies American military presence and violence in the US then and now) and what the films revealed to be a very different reality. The war has not brought significant freedoms to average Afghanis–women or otherwise. It has further undermined the development and rebuilding of a country that has been crippled by 30 years of nearly-continuous conflict–of which the US often seems to be a big partner.

Thus, a large portion of our conversation centered around issues of “soft power” vs. “hard power” or economic development (with strings, of course!) and American military engagement were pitted against one another (can you guess which President is thought to champion which?). However, there were some (myself the loudest) who argued that this is an unfair and unrealistic frame. These powers are not opposed; rather, they are symbiotic. Where one fails, the other accomplishes the goals..and vice versa. Regardless, a free, democratic, healthy Afghan or Pakistani homeland remains a dream.

Finally, we dwelled on what to do now. Given the average response to the films, I personally believe that the focus must, must, must include more educational outreach, such as these parties, film festivals, panels, and everyday conversations.

The oft-repeated myth that our country is “more liberal” than some make it out to be is hardly grounded in reality or good data. It’s a feeling repeated by people who often listen and hear from only people like them. We have no idea whether people are more or less liberal than a general consensus might argue–but we do know that too many so-called peace activities are excusing the use of drones, the indiscriminate detention and deaths of hundreds of thousands, the displacement of millions of refugees–all because it’s no longer Bush’s battle.
It’s the same game, folks. Some new players–a lot of the old still around–and we can’t afford to act like we won already. Who will come out on top is yet to be determined. But there’s nothing like good ol’ fashioned truth-telling to threaten the status quo.

A good first step is Rethinking Afghanistan. I’d encourage more to host their own parties soon.

This blog was written by Peace Action Montgomery member Nik Sushka in response to a local Takoma Park event. The opinions stated here do not necessarily reflect those of Peace Action or Peace Action Montgomery.

ACORN Versus Serious Criminals: Defund Lockheed

October 1, 2009

Check out this great article by former ACORN communications coordinator David Swanson.

This is context.

This is context.

Among recipients of government money already convicted of serious misconduct, ACORN (had it been so convicted) wouldn’t make it onto the list of the top 100. In fact, ACORN could receive 100 times the funding it does and still not make it onto the list.


Also, check out his latest book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town:


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