Diane Nash, George W. Bush, Selma and Our Understanding of Nonviolence

March 11, 2015

–Kevin Martin, Executive Director

In case you missed it, civil rights heroine Diane Nash, one of the relatively few women in leadership positions in the civil rights movement in the ’50s and ’60s (she was a key aide to Martin Luther King, Jr. and a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC) boycotted the 50th anniversary commemorative march in Selma, Alabama last weekend, not wanting to march with George W. Bush. (She was at the event, but her conscience wouldn’t let her be seen marching with Bush).

Nash said, “”I think the Selma Movement was about nonviolence and peace and democracy and George Bush stands for just the opposite—for violence and war and stolen elections,” also noting that his administration conducted torture. “George Bush’s presence is an insult to me and to people who really do believe in nonviolence,” Nash continued, voicing concern that the nonviolent legacy of the Selma Movement would now be “confused.”

I love the following part of Nash’s interview the most:

“Back in the 1960’s we did not know if nonviolence would work,” Nash told NewsOne. “Now we know that it does.” Nash said that she thought the Selma March anniversary “should have been a celebration of nonviolence,” which she added, was “definitely one of the most significant social inventions of the 20th century.”

A longtime respected colleague of mine voiced some mixed emotions about Ms. Nash’s position, stating he understood her but also that we need to welcome former adversaries when they join us.

I agree, and that certainly is in the spirit of nonviolence, if the former adversary is in fact transforming into an ally and “joining” us. If I thought that were true in George W. Bush’s case, I’d welcome him to the side of peace, social and economic justice, civil rights and nonviolence, though I’d be highly skeptical and would demand some accountability or at least repentance from him for his egregious actions as president. I see no evidence Bush is anywhere close to such a transformation.

What Bush’s appearance at the Selma commemoration does show is hard-earned mainstream respect for the courageous civil rights heroines and heroes and the social progress they sweated, bled and died for. But that has nothing to do with war criminals like Bush. Sister Nash was right, but that’s not really the point. From her comments I think it’s pretty clear that on a gut level her conscience just wouldn’t let her be at the same event as Bush, so it was much more a personal than political statement.

And of course Barack Obama, aka President DroneStrike, is no advocate of nonviolence, Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding. We need to push him not just to conclude a peace deal with Iran, but also to end drone strikes and give up the madness of a new war in Iraq and Syria.

Thanks to Common Dreams and NewsOne for their reporting on Diane Nash’s powerful statement of conscience.


Two Peace Movement Book Events Next Week in DC with Authors Michael Heaney and Vincent Intondi

February 27, 2015

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Our good friends at Busboys and Poets are hosting two very interesting book events in Washington, DC next week, well worth your time if you are free Monday and/or Tuesday evenings.

Our good friends at Busboys and Poets are hosting two very interesting book events in Washington, DC next week, well worth your time if you are free Monday and/or Tuesday evenings.

Event #1: Monday, March 2, 6:30-8:00 pm at the 14th and V Sts, NW Busboys and Poets, sponsored by Teaching for Change

Author Michael Heaney, assistant professor at the University of Michigan, will speak about his book (written with Fabio Rojas) Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11.  Michael, Fabio and their assistants did a phenomenal job interviewing anti-war activists and attendees at all the major antiwar rallies of the 2000s, and their findings are very compelling. Click here for more information.

Event #2: Tuesday, March 3,  6:30 pm at the Busboys and Poets Brookland location, 625 Monroe St, NE, Washington, DC 20017, sponsored by Politics and Prose

Vincent Intondi, professor at Montgomery College and American University’s Nuclear Studies Institute, will speak on his book African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism and the Black Freedom Movement. Vincent’s book is groundbreaking in raising up a forgotten history of people of color movements against nuclear weapons, in the context of broader liberation and justice struggles. Click here for more information.


Please Join a Dozen Organizations in Telling Congress to Reject Endless War

February 19, 2015

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The U.S. Congress is considering another “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” — a broad approval for more war.

Click here to oppose any new AUMF.

This is the last thing we need. These wars are not making us safer but generating enemies. They are not surgical operations, but mass killings, as well as assaults on the natural environment and the public budget — not to mention excuses for curtailing civil liberties.

Please click here to sign the following statement for delivery to the media and Congress:

We oppose any new authorization for the use of military force and call for the immediate repeal of the authorizations passed by Congress in 2001 and 2002.

This petition will be a powerful tool as it is being jointly promoted by Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Iraq Veterans Against the War, KnowDrones.com, Military Families Speak Out, Peace Action, Peace Action Montgomery, RootsAction.org, United National Antiwar Coalition, Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones, U.S. Labor Against the War, and World Beyond War.

After signing the petition, please forward this message to your friends. You can also share it from the webpage after taking the action yourself.

Humbly for Peace,

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

 


Peace Action’s Paul Kawika Martin on MSNBC.com — Is there an alternative to war with ISIS?

February 17, 2015

By Paul Kawika Martin

The world has been pouring fuel on the Middle East inferno, yet expect something other than a larger blaze. On Tuesday, President Obama submitted language to Congress for an Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS. More gas on the fire.

For six months now, Congress has ignored its constitutional duty to declare war by letting the Obama administration continue its military campaign against ISIS using the thinnest legal thread of past AUMFs over a dozen years old. It’s about time that Congress fully debate the U.S. war being waged in the Middle East.

At the end of the debate, I hope Congress comes to the same conclusion the president has proclaimed but refuses to act on: there is no military solution to ISIS. With that finding, Congress should oppose any new AUMF, repeal both outdated AUMFs and support political solutions and other actions to weaken ISIS.

“We need to prevent extremism in the first place by supporting education, religious tolerance, poverty alleviation, civil liberties and freedom.”

If Congress fails to see that the current military strategy is not degrading ISIS and feels it must pass a military authorization, then I encourage them to push for tighter restrictions in an AUMF than what President Obama proposed. Limitations could include a one-year sunset clause; geographic limitations; definitively no combat troops on the ground; repealing both former AUMFs, not just one; restricting combatants to ISIS; and robust reporting requirements including civilian deaths.The president’s proposed AUMF does one good thing: it repeals the outdated and ill-advised Iraq AUMF. It fails, however, to repeal the 2001 AUMF, which has been used as a blanket “war on terrorism.” Unfortunately, it uses the legally ambiguous language of no “enduring offensive ground operations” rather than expressly forbidding combat troops which is supported by a majority of Americans.

As it stands, it doesn’t seem that the current military strategy is working against ISIS. According to government reports, ISIS recruitment continues to keep pace or possibly outpace those killed in battle with foreign fighters coming in from 40 to 50 countries. ISIS continues to control the same amount of territory. And extremism continues to grow in Central Asia, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. There are alternative solutions.

RELATED: Majority wants Congress to back Obama’s AUMF against ISIS

Reducing civilian deaths, casualties and the destruction of civilian infrastructure while increasing humanitarian aid and refugee support will decrease the recruiting of financial support and foreign fighters for ISIS.

Decrease its income by cracking down on oil sales and working with local communities to stop allowing its use of pipelines. Lower profits from illegal antiquities sales and the sex trade with more policing. Freeze ISIS assets and those connected to them. Diminish military resources by starving the regions of weapons and making travel more difficult for foreign fighters.

“In the end, preventing extremism is only way to keep groups like ISIS from forming in the first place.”

Support political solutions to the Syrian civil war and Iraqi ethnic tensions, two of the structural root causes of ISIS.Looking long term, we need to prevent extremism in the first place with international support for education, religious tolerance, poverty alleviation and civil liberties and freedom.

The above alternatives come at a much lower cost than the over $300,000 an hour for a total of nearly $2 billion the U.S. taxpayer has already paid for our lackluster military strategy. Add the long term costs of veterans care, interest on debt and opportunity costs and alternatives look like a bargain.

Also, these alternatives are far less likely to cause blowback or bad unintended consequences. One must ponder that the Iraq war created al Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor to ISIS, and they are now using arms and training provided by the U.S. and its allies. Similarly, the U.S. armed and funded the Afghan mujahideen to stop Soviet expansion not knowing that these rebels would one day become al Qaeda.

RELATED VIDEO: Is war against ISIS the answer?

Congress is likely to hold hearings regarding the AUMF over the next several weeks. This provides time for constituents to contact their senators and representative and voice their view. In 2013, when President Obama asked for an AUMF to bomb Syria, the war-weary public responded by contacting Congress ten-to-one against. Congress felt the pressure and an AUMF didn’t even get a vote.

While the president wants to continue a failed, expensive military strategy against ISIS, Congress can now debate and direct the White House to take alternative actions more likely to produce results. If Congress decides to follow the Obama administration, then a narrower AUMF is warranted. In the end, preventing extremism is only way to keep groups like ISIS from forming in the first place. It’s time to stop fanning the flames.

Paul Kawika Martin is the policy and political director for Peace Action, the United States’ largest grassroots peace organization and can be contacted on Twitter @PaulKawika.


Take Action to Stop Endless War

February 11, 2015

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After six months of Congress and the Administration ignoring their constitutional duty, today President Obama sent language to Capitol Hill to authorize war for the next three years (an Authorization for the Use of Military Force or AUMF) against ISIS.  During the last six months of this military strategy, many argue little progress against ISIS has been made.

Take a quick moment and write Congress demanding a vote against an ISIS AUMF and to support political and other alternative solutions rather than war. 

It’s about time that Congress fully debated the U.S. war being waged in the Middle East.  We agree with past statements of the president that there is no military solution and we oppose any AUMF.  That said, if one passes it should be much narrower than what President Obama proposes and include limitations such as:

*A one-year sunset clause
*Geographic limitations
*Definitively no combat troops on the ground
*Repealing both former AUMFs not just one
*Robust reporting requirements including civilian deaths

Act now by sending a brief letter to Congress asking for a full debate on war in the Middle East, and to oppose a new AUMF and support long-term solutions.

The president’s proposed AUMF does one good thing: it repeals the outdated and ill-advised Iraq AUMF.  It fails, however, to repeal the 2001 AUMF which has been used as a blanket “war on terrorism.”  Additionally, it uses the legally ambiguous language of no “enduring offensive ground operations.”  It’s not clear that this actually excludes combat troops.

As it stands, it doesn’t seem that the current military strategy is working.  Instead the international community should:

*Reduce civilian deaths, casualties and the destruction of civilian infrastructure that tends to recruit financial support and foreign fighters for ISIS.
*Weaken ISIS by reducing its income (oil, antiquities, sex trade), freezing assets, reducing military resources (weapons, training and foreign fighters).
*Support political solutions to the Syrian civil war and Iraqi ethnic tensions.
*Increase humanitarian aid and refugee support.
*Support actions that will help prevent extremism in the first place: education, religious tolerance, poverty alleviation and justice.

Congress has not voted on a war authorization regarding terrorism since 2001.  It’s time for a full debate in Congress on ISIS.  Make sure your voice is heard now.

 

Humbly for Peace,

 

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. – Today’s presidential proposal of the use of force (AUMF) against ISIS won’t work.  Write Congress now to oppose war and support activities that create a long-lasting peace.


Let’s Give Diplomacy a Chance in Ukraine

February 8, 2015

I don’t pretend to be an expert on Ukraine, or Ukrainian-Russian social, historical and economic ties. I do recall after the break-up of the Soviet Union there was consternation in Ukraine, a country about the size and population of France in what Ukrainians consider to be the heart of Europe (it’s not “Eastern Europe,” that’s the westernmost part of Russia), that all anyone seemed to care about was the disposition of Soviet nuclear weapons there. Ukraine wisely gave up the nukes, returning them to Russia, but I recall a justifiably angry quote by a Ukrainian that the attitude of most of the world was “Give us your nukes and go to hell.” And of course Ukrainians still deal with the awful legacy of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster nearly 30 years ago.

As the current situation in Ukraine devolves into an increasingly horrible war, we see an urgent diplomatic initiative led by Germany and France contrasted by contradictory “tough talk” by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and some in Congress advocating increased U.S. weapons sales to Ukraine while admitting there is no military solution.

So let’s just skip the field day for the weapons dealers and focus on diplomacy.

Here is a radio interview I did yesterday on the status of diplomacy and pressure for increased U.S. weapons sales to Ukraine on KPFA Pacifica radio. One part they didn’t use was my question about how anyone can justify the loss of life in this increasingly horrible war when the likely outcome is known now — some sort of de facto autonomous region for the Russian population of Eastern Ukraine, with assurances to Russia by the U.S., NATO, European Union and Ukraine that the country will not become the eastern-most outpost of U.S./Western European military/strategic/political economic neo-imperialism — whether it becomes a reality in a week, a month, or a year from now. How is this situation worth anyone dying over? (Host David Rosenberg replied that could be said of most wars, I wish they had aired that part of our exchange!)

And here is a letter to the editor I sent to the New York Times last week, unpublished.

February 3, 2015

To the editor:

Sending U.S. weaponry to Ukraine as the conflict there escalates is a horrible idea (“U.S. considers supplying arms to Ukraine forces, officials say,” February 1) unless the objective is to increase overall death and destruction there. Any moves that inflame the situation in Ukraine should be avoided. Apart from the situation in Ukraine itself, U.S. and NATO triumphalist policies since the end of the Cold War have needlessly and unwisely isolated Russia, at a time when the U.S. and Russia need better relations, not worse, for cooperation on a host of issues including nuclear weapons reductions, bringing peace, stability and security to the broader Middle East region and addressing violent extremism and global climate change.

U.S. arms transfers into regions of conflict are short-sighted and have a spectacularly bad record of blowback and unintended consequences against our country and our allies (in Iraq and Afghanistan, to note only two bitter and current examples). It’s hard to recall many instances where such transfers brought about peace and stability instead of worsening armed conflict. Let’s give renewed diplomacy involving the various actors in the region a chance instead.

Sincerely,

Kevin Martin

Executive Director

Peace Action

I’d be interested to know what readers of this blog think we, as U.S. peace activists, should advocate regarding Ukraine and specifically U.S. government policies toward the conflict.


More Cowbell? Yeah! More Economic Sanctions on Iran? Nah!

January 30, 2015

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After weeks of rumors, Iran sanctions legislation has materialized in Congress. The philosophy behind the bill is reminiscent of a certain iconic Saturday Night Live sketch.

As you may remember, in the sketch a stern Christopher Walken plays the music producer that eggs on Will Ferrell as the over-exuberant cowbell player. In the studio, Walken declares “I’ve got a fever and the only prescription is … More Cowbell!”. In take after take, the cowbell grows louder and louder. The band members are scratching their heads.

For Congressional Iran hawks the only prescription for fevered relations with Iran is “More Sanctions”. As the clang of “more sanctions” emanates from D.C. and is heard in capitols from London to Berlin, our allies are scratching their heads.

U.S. diplomats have spent long hours in negotiations that are as complex technically as they are politically. They are in a far better position than electeds on Capitol Hill to know whether Congressional action weakens their hand.

Comments from some Senators have displayed a lack of knowledge about how negotiations have already made the world safer. Iran has stopped enriching uranium to the more problematic 20% level, capped overall uranium enrichment, and took steps to neutralize its stocks of 20% enriched uranium.

As importantly, U.S. negotiators got Iran to agree to intrusive inspections – in some cases daily inspections – at nuclear facilities. If Iran wanted to use their programs to build a weapon — a decision that the intelligence community says they have not yet made – it’s stringent inspections, verification, and intelligence that can to prevent that. Congress has crucial role to play in oversight and compliance with any deal and they need turn their focus to that role.

Despite progress, ten hawkish Democratic Senators broke with the President and pledged support for a triggered sanctions bill if there’s no framework deal by March. That’s a slap in the face of U.S. allies after British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the E.U. all spoke against Congressional meddling.

Our allies know that Iranians will be unlikely to make compromises with a negotiating party from a house divided. Why should Iranian pragmatists like President Rouhani drain political capital by making controversial concessions when it looks like Congress could undermine the administration’s promises?

The credo of more-cowbell diplomacy is this: Since sanctions brought Iran to the table more sanctions will result in a stronger deal. It’s the kind of logic that makes sense if you don’t think about it too deeply. Simply upping pressure will not cause a proud nation of 77 million people to knuckle under. Endless sanctions didn’t bring Cuba democracy or eject Saddam Hussein from power.

These Senators are half-right. Years of sanctions against Iran play a role in Iran’s motivation. But during the 2005 to 2013 period of ratcheting up sanctions Iran’s nuclear technology program sped up. Overreliance on sanctions is as responsible for Iran’s nuclear advances as it is for “bringing Iran to the table.”

If a return to a sanctions-first derails negotiations gone will be the daily inspections and rollbacks in enrichment and other nuclear technologies. Iran would then be likely to retaliate by ramping up their programs.

Both of the main Congressional interventions into negotiations are dangerous. The sanctions bill by Senators Kirk and Menendez could cause Iran to walk away from the table. If all the parties stay at the table and finish a deal, the “up-or-down vote” approach championed by Senator Bob Corker could amount to a hyper-politicized veto of a deal. Congress would be vetoing almost the entire international community. Then what? Senator Elizabeth Warren was right when she said this week, “undermining negotiations risks escalation and the possibility of war”.

A solution to the nuclear issue could address a major piece of the Middle East puzzle. As with Nixon’s opening to China, détente around the nuclear issue wouldn’t solve all tensions with Iran. But as China and Russia’s constructive role in current Iran diplomacy proves, smart diplomacy can reap dividends on issues of converging interest — even in the tensest relationships. In just one example, Iran could play a role in addressing the conflict engulfing Syria.

Congress shouldn’t let sanctions monomania blind them to a historic opportunity in the toughest of neighborhoods. If Iran hawks don’t hold their fire and let U.S. negotiators do their jobs, the only thing drowning out the cowbell will be the all-too-familiar drums of war.


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