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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/3/10

The Peace Movement's Progress

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Why would this result have been any better than what we got?

Well, for one thing, it would have informed people that there was a war and that the war was being funded. My local right-wing Democrat voted No on the Rule and Yes on McGovern's amendment, but he voted No on the Rule because of all sorts of other nonsense added into it. The local media reported on his objection to the budgetary procedures involved and never reported in any way that there had been any vote in Congress related to the war. As far as my neighbors know, the wars fund themselves.

Secondly, it would have identified who was pro-war and who was anti-war by their votes. Local activists in my town spent months demanding that our representative take a position on the war. He has yet to do so, and if he can avoid it he never will. We can't hold people accountable unless we know what they've done. Right now some congress members are claiming they opposed the war by voting against the Rule while others are claiming they opposed the war by voting for it.

Thirdly, forcing the Democratic leadership to line up with the Republican caucus and against most of the Democrats on war votes would be educational for people who are unaware that their chief opponent when lobbying their local Democrat for peace and justice is the leadership of his or her party.

Fourth, the demand to stop funding the war comes from people. It's a demand we take to Congress, not one we pick up from Congress and try to explain to others. We can form huge coalitions with economic justice groups around the demand to shift our spending from wars to jobs and housing. We can't organize two kids and a dog from outside the peace movement to join a coalition for an unspecified non-binding exit timetable or a new National Intelligence Estimate. That doesn't mean these are counterproductive demands. I would certainly support them on any day of the year other than the day Congress is voting to fund the wars. The problem is when one useful campaign unnecessarily interferes with another.

Fifth, if we think of Congress as sending messages to the president who will make all the decisions as "the decider," I would rather have two events and send two messages. And the strongest message I can imagine is this: "A growing number of House members have committed to voting against any more war funding, no matter how much lipstick is applied to it, and this group includes the majority of your party's caucus, and people are organizing to keep these members in office and vote the others out". Other, weaker messages could still be sent, and sent more strongly, on another day.

Sixth, if we think of Congress as potentially resembling the creature defined in Article I of the U.S. Constitution, as capable of actual action, not just rhetoric, then our goal becomes building toward the day on which the House actually refuses any more funding for a war it opposes. In order to think this way, we have to stop thinking exclusively in terms of passing bills that then must pass the Senate and the President. We have to also be able to think in terms of blocking the passage of bills. For this we only need the House. We can focus our attention on the House and stop petitioning the Senate and the President. This gives us a lot more resources. Plus, we don't have to antagonize president worshippers. Instead we can focus our demands on House members. And we can insist on other forms of action from Congress as well, such as oversight of wars involving subpoenas and their enforcement and the threat of high level impeachments. The strongest message a Congress can send to a president is, with all due respect to many of my friends, not "We wish you would end the war some day," but "We will expose any war crimes, and we hold the power of the purse."

Seventh, while our ideal must be ending the current wars in whatever combination of approaches is most likely to succeed the fastest, we should also take an interest in ending wars in a manner that helps prevent the next ones from beginning immediately. This means focusing on the funding, and moving from the defunding of wars to the defunding of the military and the empire of foreign bases, shrinking the machine that creates the wars. And it means taking the power to initiate or escalate or indefinitely continue wars away from presidents.

The peace movement in the US, organizationally, and much to its disadvantage, has its headquarters in Washington, D.C. We are, consequently, often instructed in the need to relate to congress members on their terms, using their language, etc. One good friend of mine is quite energized with the need to instruct us that the recent vote on a Rule did not technically fund the war escalation, even while readily admitting that the only way to stop that particular bill that day (at least momentarily) was to vote No on the Rule. But there is also a value to forcing congress members to speak our language. It is not, after all, our job to represent them. Peace activists in Maine made themselves so clear to Rep. Chellie Pingree that she was compelled to vote against the Rule and understood immediately that its being merely a Rule vote would constitute no excuse whatsoever. Peace activists in some parts of Tennessee and Pennsylvania (who may have a harder base to work with) did not do as well, as illustrated by this passage from the Hill describing the July 1, 2010, vote on the Rule:

"Party leaders were forced to hold open the vote for several minutes, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) could be seen huddling with Reps. Steve Cohen (Tenn.) and Paul Kanjorski (Penn.), the last Democratic holdouts. Both cast 'yes' votes to push the motion over the top. When it was clear the measure had passed, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) switched her vote from 'yes' to 'no.' The final total was 215-210, with 8 lawmakers not voting. Cohen told The Hill earlier in the week that he was disinclined to support a war funding bill after bowing to pressure from party leaders who needed him to switch his vote from 'no' to 'yes' a year ago."

Almost no one in Maine, including the leading activists had any idea what a self-executing Rule is. But Congresswoman Pingree had a good idea what was expected of her. We have to take our message to Congress, not the reverse. Our message, the one that comes from our people, the one that builds coalitions with our allies in the broader justice movement is: Stop the funding!

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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