Listen up Super Committee: Get their attention on FB & Twitter!

August 31, 2011


Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas are getting to work. The Co-chairs of the “Super Committee” charged with coming up with the next round of Federal cuts are picking their staff and preparing for the full committee of 12 to begin their deliberations on September 23.

Send a strong message to the co-chairs now: Save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, cut the Pentagon budget.

The Super Committee, composed of members of both chambers and both parties, has been granted extraordinary new powers to cut over $1 trillion from federal spending over the next 10 years. It’s unprecedented.

Put the Super Committee co-chairs on notice: we are ready to mobilize and organize to put the Pentagon budget on the chopping block to save community services.

Before the members of the Super Committee were finalized, the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that if mandatory cuts in the Pentagon budget were triggered, it would have catastrophic impact on national defense.

Peace Action says, “Hogwash!” We can and must cut the Pentagon budget, which has doubled over the last 10 years, to provide the jobs and services we need in our communities. Check out our “myth-buster” literature.

In Congress, you have to “follow the money” to figure out how a member may vote. Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas gets his campaign contributions from banks, investment firms and insurance companies. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington gets hers from Boeing, Emily’s List and MoveOn. Some members of the Super Committee do keep one ear to the ground.

We’ve got a fight ahead to make our voices heard.

By ending the wars on the agreed upon timetables, $200 Billion could be saved over 10 years, 1/6 of the Super Committee’s goal.

Essay on Pacifism in NY Times

August 29, 2011
Peace Action is not an explicitly pacifist organization as some colleagues are, on the other hand I don’t believe we’ve ever supported any US war or use of force in our 54 year history, and our efforts are to dismantle the war machine and make war obsolete.


Give Pacifism a Chance

Published: August 27, 2011

Louisa Thomas is the author of “Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family — A Test of Will and Faith in World War I.”

Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Two London children display a peace banner in Regent’s Park in 1898.

Bob Adelman/Magnum Photos

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.

DURING World War I, a conscientious objector named Evan Thomas faced a court-martial for refusing an order to eat during a hunger strike. The prosecutor’s real attack, though, was on Thomas’s refusal to serve in the Army.

“The very foundation of every civilized government from the first beginning of history down to the present time has been based absolutely upon force of arms,” the prosecutor argued. “Gentlemen, if we don’t punish these cowards who appear in this land like the sore spots on our bodies to the fullest limit of the law, this government cannot survive.” Then he asked for Thomas to be given the death penalty.

Such a scene would seem preposterous today, and not only because it is hard to imagine such a prosecutor. It is also hard now to picture a man like Thomas, who was my great-great-uncle: an Ohio-born Princeton graduate, a son of a middle-class minister — and a strict pacifist.

Pacifism is a curiosity. Even those few who call themselves pacifists are usually quick to qualify the word; they’re “realistic” or “pragmatic” pacifists. Rarely does anyone question the tragic view of human nature: man is aggressive, violence is a fact and some wars are necessary. It is tempting to say this is knowledge learned of experience. Fascism, communism, nuclear bombs, genocide and terrorism seem to confirm the futility of strict nonviolence. As President Obama said while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, recognition of the moral and practical necessity of force “is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.”

A recognition of history, however, also compels us to remember that many Americans — as disparate as Andrew Carnegie and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — have held another view. These pacifists (an imperfect, but useful, term) rejected organized violence on principle. They had different and contradictory motives and tactics, but their repudiation of war challenged the idea that man’s imperfections, and reason’s limits, made war acceptable. They were often naïve — but so were leaders who pursued policies that made armed conflict more likely, or who assumed that violence could be governed by good intentions and expertise.

Few people today openly espouse pacifist beliefs, even as the impact of 20th-century pacifism — from the United Nations to the Civil Rights Act — is everywhere apparent. In part that’s because some of the movement’s goals have come to pass: war is now usually less lethal and involves only professional soldiers, who take pains to minimize civilian casualties. Meanwhile, pacifists’ emphasis on the moral issues surrounding violence could be turned against them, especially during humanitarian crises or acts of foreign belligerence. War, in other words, has become harder to object to. But that doesn’t mean it’s not objectionable, or that pacifists don’t have a point.

BOTH pacific and martial currents run through American culture, and pacifism has struggled as much with its own principles as it has with the nation’s abiding militaristic streak. Seventeenth-century Anabaptists believed that nonresistance was purifying in a corrupted world. Colonial Quakers thought their refusal to fight would serve as a witness to God’s kingdom of peace and the sacred quality of individual life.

Early pacifists — long before they called themselves “pacifists,” a 20th-century word — were sectarian, but the winners of the Revolution also dreamed of lasting peace. Most were suspicious of standing armies and concentrated power, and they respected not only equality before the law but also the unruly demands of the individual conscience.

In the 19th century, faith in the rational, moral improvement of mankind, along with a revival of religious enthusiasm, spurred the peace movement. After the unpopular War of 1812, nonsectarian peace movements sprang up across the North, mostly appealing to well-educated white Protestants.

As the threat of war with the South grew, though, peace advocates struggled to define the limits of their stand. Were defensive wars permissible? Was peace that allowed terrible injustice worth keeping? And here the movement splintered. “O, yes — war is better than slavery,” wrote Angelina Grimké Weld, a political activist and strident peace advocate. The movement could not easily overcome the conflict between justice and peace — not then, and not a century later. Slavery had been abolished, but some 620,000 men in uniform had died.

The end of the war and the years of peace that followed, however, allowed many to put off the question. Late-19th-century Americans placed their faith in the progress of history. After the carnage of the Civil War and, in Europe, the Napoleonic wars, many believed that humanity had learned its lesson, and that world peace was a real possibility. Peace societies flourished. Activists formed international networks. A Swiss businessman established the Red Cross in 1863. At peace conferences at The Hague in 1899 and 1907, delegations established rules for neutrals and treatment of prisoners of war, and even an international arbitration court, in the hope of restraining warfare. (The most urgent reforms, like arms limitations and enforcement mechanisms — anything that might really limit state power — were off the table, but the conferences seemed a start.)

Money fueled the hope. In 1896 the inventor of dynamite died and left a will establishing the Nobel prizes, including one for peace. In 1910 Carnegie gave $10 million to found the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Business pacifism” became a first principle of the Gilded Age. “Dead men buy no clothes,” said one industrialist in 1907.

But the difficulties of reconciling pacifist ideals with the reality of global politics remained. When world war came, most of the peace advocates in Europe and, eventually, the United States joined the fight, not because they were rejecting their own beliefs but because they were told repeatedly that it would be a war to end war. Only a tiny minority, including Evan Thomas (whose lifetime prison sentence was reduced to 25 years before he was released on a technicality), refused to fight.

Many would come to regret their support. Some retreated into isolationism. But others redoubled their efforts. International peace movements revived. Governments tried outlawing war (the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact is still on the books). Students held antiwar protests and signed pledges to refuse to fight. Peace advocates and statesmen wrestled to build the League of Nations. Time magazine chose Mohandas K. Gandhi man of the year in 1931. For a brief moment, pacifism seemed to be a driving force in international politics.

It wasn’t to last. And while some peace activists quickly recognized the danger of fascism, others wanted to wish the threat away. Isolationists and pacifists formed awkward alliances, until even the most ardent of them admitted that war had become unavoidable. In the United States, for the most part only absolute pacifists resisted the war after Pearl Harbor. In the eyes of most Americans, including erstwhile pacifists, the war seemed to disprove for good the belief that all violence was bad. There was, it appeared, such a thing as not only a just war but a “good” war.

But the good war was also a total war. The Nazis were defeated and the concentration camps liberated, but mankind had also figured out how to destroy itself. Aerial bombing killed indiscriminately and atomic bombs incinerated two cities.

One result was a contradictory postwar world. On one hand, global peace seemed all the more pressing. Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who took the United States to war, recognized the need for permanent peace from the start: one of his 1941 Four Freedoms was that from fear, which meant, he said, “a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.”

The international community built on that dream, trying to redistribute power so that no nation would attack any other. Statesmen established the United Nations in 1945 and worked out strict international laws, greater democratic freedoms and social justice, and enforcement mechanisms for collective security.

Still, the hope was damaged. Visions of permanent conflict, not harmony, prevailed. The peace movement itself spent the early cold war years in the wilderness. The global spread of the bomb would help revive it, but in some important ways it became more strategic than pacifist in its principles. Nuclear deterrence and test bans drew some of the broadest support, appealing to mothers who worried about nuclear contamination in milk rather than nuclear weapons outright. The coalitions were fractured as different groups had their own aims and ambitions, some narrowly antiwar, others for broader social justice. They did not easily coexist. Pacifists were often a minority, and absolute pacifists fewer still.

Indeed, the 20th century not only shattered the hopes of turn-of-the-century pacifists, but its carnage seemed to disprove the possibility of abolishing war. American peace movements could not stop war in Korea, nor keep the nation out of Vietnam. That war, of course, would spur the largest network of antiwar movements in American history. But it succeeded in part by riding a countercultural tide — and, already weakened by internal tensions, it was subsequently hammered in the post-60s backlash. Chastened, many antiwar activists kept their attention on nuclear weapons.

Pacifists had their real success when they focused on organized violence at home — and nowhere more so than in the civil rights movement. Inspired by Tolstoy and Gandhi, pacifists like Dr. King, James Farmer and Bayard Rustin demonstrated the power of nonviolent protest in forcing social and political change, developing techniques still used today in groups as diverse as the National Organization for Women and the Tea Party.

Nonviolent movements continue abroad, most recently in parts of the Middle East. It is not just idealism that drives them to reject force; they also know it works. A study conducted by Erica Chenoweth of Wesleyan University and Maria J. Stephan of American University found that of hundreds of insurgencies from 1900 to 2006, more than 50 percent of nonviolent campaigns worked, while only about 25 percent of violent ones did.

FOR the most part, though, nonviolence and pacifism in the United States are today discredited as utopian, hippieish or narrowly religious, more anti-American than anti-war. There are still people who say that force only destroys, that its consequences are uncontrollable, that it is unethical — but those critiques trouble us on the margins, or in books or movies. There are still a few antiwar groups (not all of them pacifist) — the War Resisters League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Albert Einstein Institution — but hardly any serious public figures take the stage to defend their views.

Some of what the American peace movement fought for has come to pass: there is no draft, there are no special taxes raised to pay for war, the threat of nuclear Armageddon has receded and the country plays a leading, if controversial, role in multilateral institutions. Rooting out terrorists and intervening in civil conflicts, soldiers often do more police work than conventional combat.

The results have been mixed, though, and in some ways at odds with pacifism’s longer-term goals. Most people don’t want to think of war, and thanks to the lack of a draft, most don’t have to. Huge worldwide protests against sending soldiers into Iraq in 2003 were a sideshow for many people. Significant antiwar sentiment over the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has mostly challenged the time, the place, the conduct and the costs of deployment, not the use of force itself. Those who are on active duty — less than one percent of the population — and their families bear most of the burdens.

Such complacency has allowed for the possibility of unending war. Because of the nature of intelligence gathering and weapons technology like drones, the government can use deadly force without popular support or approval. The president has claimed — and we have given him — extraordinary powers.

We should respect the sacrifices of soldiers and the complexity of governing in a dangerous world. But war has a way of coming home, eroding our democratic culture as well as our safety. American pacifists of the past knew that, and we need people like them today: people who don’t believe war is inevitable, who will challenge what we assume and accept, and who will work to end it.

Fight for The Dream

August 19, 2011
Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool, during...

Image via Wikipedia

By Judith Le Blanc, Peace Action Field Director

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of “The Dream” at the March on Washington in 1963. He said, ” I have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream.”

The American Dream has been defined for generations as the right to a decent life, job and home. The great poet Langston Hughes asked and described.”What happens to a dream deferred?” which it has for way too many, too long. Sign the Contract to Rebuild the Dream.

No matter how you define it, a dream will never become reality unless we fight for it.

So many inequalities in our society. The gap between the rich and the poor is graphically explained in the PBS documentary Land of the Free Home of the Poor. Yet the Pentagon gets 58% of yearly discretionary spending while housing and healthcare get 5%, education gets 4% and transpiration 2%. Now that’s an inequality not often challenged.

You can challenge those spending priorities by signing onto the Contract to Rebuild the Dream.

In July, over 25,000 people got together in living rooms and backyards to discuss what it will take to make the dream of a better life possible in these dire times. That’s how the Contract was created, people identified 10 ways to deal with our economic nightmare out of 40 suggestions in over 1,500 gatherings.

Peace Action is working with our allies in labor and the economic and racial justice movements to  organize grassroots coalition events in communities and bird-dogging of Congress people across the country. Join us to fight for The Dream!

Sign the Contract, “Cause only dreams come to sleepers.” as the rapper Chamillionaire says.


End U.S. Military Hostilities in Libya

August 18, 2011

Peace Action joins Peace Organizations Call for Ceasefire in Libya, De-funding of U.S. Military or Intelligence Operations

Washington DC – Libyan rebels recently overtook the coastal oil refinery in Zawiyah, reportedly with assistance from NATO bombers. As U.S. surveillance drones continue to fly over Libya, a number of major national and international organizations and activists are calling for a ceasefire in U.S. military action in Libya, as well as calling on Congress to de-fund U.S. military aggression in the country. As fighting inches closer to the stronghold of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in densely-populated Tripoli, the groups are calling for a new form of engagement to save civilian lives, focusing on non-military and diplomatic solutions to the tension. In a written statement signed by 16 leading organizations and activists, the coalition says that U.S. hostilities for the purpose of regime change are not aiding Libyans, stating, “The U.S. policy of regime change first, peace later is prolonging the hostilities and adding to civilian casualties.”

“The best way in the short term to save civilian lives and in the longer term to achieve the stability in which the Libyan people can develop democratic institutions,” says the statement, “is to promote an internationally-led ceasefire and negotiations between the warring parties, provide generous humanitarian assistance, and maintain a strict arms embargo. To encourage this, we urge Congress to bar funding for any military or intelligence operations against Libya.”

With Ghaddafi having vowed to “fight to the death,” the groups believe that taking the frontlines of the Libyan rebellion to Tripoli would only increase the bloodshed in the country. They are calling for non-military forms of engagement between the U.S. and Libya.

“People are suffering in Libya due to U.S. military actions as we drop bombs that cost our nation millions per blast. Meanwhile the economy is imploding here at home, leading to the American people suffering,” said Emira Woods, Co-Director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. “It’s time to bring those war dollars home and end U.S. military aggression in Libya.”

The organizations and individuals include Africa Action, Africa Faith and Justice Network, the American Friends Service Committee, Caleb Rossiter of the Institute for Policy Studies, CODEPINK, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Foreign Policy in Focus, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Friends of the Congo, Global Exchange, Horace Campbell of Syracuse University, the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns, the New International Program of the Institute for Policy Studies, Pax Christi of Metro New York, Peace Action, and the U.S. Peace Council.

Taking Back the Budget Debate – Sept. 20 in Silver Spring, MD

August 18, 2011


Taking Back the Budget Debate
Sept. 20, 2011, 7:30 p.m.
Silver Spring Civic Center

One Veterans’ Place (Fenton & Ellsworth)


We need you to help fix the PRIORITIES CRISIS in Washington and Annapolis! Plan to come to a Town Hall meeting and help organize for real, progressive solutions. Speakers include Rep. Donna Edwards, State Senator Roger Manno, and others. Be there!

Our Money . . . Our Voices . . . Our Budget Priorities

Sponsored by the MD Coalition Fund Our Communities, Bring the War Dollars Home

Peace Action on C-SPAN

August 17, 2011

Thanks to the hard work of national Peace Action board member (and University of Hawai’i Human Rights Law Center founder) Joshua Cooper, Peace Action got some serious airtime (an hour and a quarter) on C-SPAN. Joshua has organized Human Rights on the Hill conferences in DC for law students and the public for a decade now, and he and I were filmed at this year’s event at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke Law School.

Bringing the message back from Japan

August 16, 2011

By Alicia Godsberg, Executive Director Peace Action NYS

(Note: Alicia represented Peace Action at the Gensuikin Conference in Hiroshima/Nagasaki,August 3-9,
and also made a trip to view the U.S. bases in Okinawa and meet with peace activists.)

The rest of the trip in Japan was so packed and busy, I barely had time to sleep let alone write, so this blog is coming to you from Brooklyn – tired, but grateful for what I’ve seen and learned.

My last post was about Hiroshima, but I left out something very important – on our way to the
opening ceremony for the Gensuikin conference we passed several groups of high school students who
were out collecting signatures for a petition against the use of nuclear weapons.

My translator Yasu told me that although school is out for the summer, students in Hiroshima have to attend peace education on August 6, the anniversary of the atomic bombing of their city. The importance of peace education is something the Japanese delegation brings up every year in the United Nations during the meetings of the General Assembly’s First Committee (the disarmament committee), and it is something we in Peace Action NYS have talked about.

At our regional retreat last month in New Hampshire, we also discussed the importance of peace education for young people, and I think this is an extremely important issue. I was lucky to have spoken to some high school students in Brooklyn in May about
the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and have been invited back by their teacher for next year – I think I will talk about peace with the students next time.

In Nagasaki the workshop on nuclear energy that I participated in was even larger than in Hiroshima, and at both places there were excellent discussions with the audience about the safety and future of nuclear power in the world and in the United States. Fukushima is still creating environmental and humanitarian disasters in Japan, and the audience was interested to learn about the anti-nuclear
power movement in New York and the greater U.S. Again, recent U.S. sub-critical nuclear experiments were discussed, as was the need for the swift entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The commemoration of the atomic bombing in Nagasaki on August 9 we attended was smaller than the one in Hiroshima, but that was because several were taking place throughout the city instead of one big ceremony. Ours was at the hypocenter, above which the atomic bomb detonated 66 years earlier, and again it was a powerful and emotional moment. In Hiroshima people talked of it being the first city where an atomic bomb was exploded and that was unbelievably sad; in Nagasaki people spoke of the necessity for it to be the last place an atomic bomb is ever used, which in some ways was even more powerful of a message. The atomic bomb museum there did not spare you from personal and gruesome stories of radiation effects on people, which only reinforced the idea that such a horrible event can never be allowed to happen again.

The trip took an entirely different turn when we flew south to the island of Okinawa, home of many U.S. military bases and a culture that is distinct from that of mainland Japan. At this point I was the only foreign guest with the conference, and I was asked last minute to speak a few times about the U.S. military presence there. I was able to travel throughout the island and meet local peace activists engaged in 24/7 sit-ins to prevent the U.S. from building new heliports in the northern forests and who were protesting the noise pollution from existing U.S. bases that are located on top of civilian neighborhoods.

I promised the activists there that I would take their message back to the peace activists in the U.S. – that the U.S. is seen more like an occupier than an ally in Okinawa and the people of Okinawa do not want any U.S. military bases on their island, let alone any expansion of them. In my brief speech to a rally outside Futenma Air Base, near where a Marine helicopter crashed 7 years ago into
the local university, I said our peace movements need to work together, with the Okinawan peace activists continuing to protest so that our military and government can no longer use the excuse that the people of Japan want our military there to protect them, and our peace movement in the U.S. will use the budget crisis at home to try and prevent the continuing spread of U.S. military bases
abroad (as well as at home).

I think the thing that will stick with me the most from the first part of the trip is the human face of the very abstract idea of the effects of nuclear weapons, and how this has to inspire all of us to keep going with our anti-nuclear weapon work despite the heavy challenges it faces.

From Okinawa, I think I will be left with the sour taste of seeing with my own eyes how the U.S. has basically taken over that beautiful island without regard for the people or environment there, and the awful feeling that left in me as an American who loves all the amazing things about my country, but knows we are falling short of our own ideals in so many places.

A big thank you to everyone at the Peace Action national office for allowing me to have this incredible experience, and to everyone in New York who kept things going in the NYC office while I was away.


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