There are a million and one things that people can do to try to end the U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and to prevent new ones in Iran and elsewhere, as well as to close U.S. military bases in dozens of other nations around the world. Certain people are skilled at or interested in particular approaches, and nobody should be discouraged from contributing to the effort in their preferred ways. Far too often proposals to work for peace are needlessly framed as attacks on all strategies except one. But where new energy can be created or existing resources redirected, it is important that they go where most likely to succeed.
In my analysis, we should be focusing on three things, which for purposes of brevity and alliteration I will call: Communications, Congress, and Counter recruitment / resistance. Communications encompasses all public discussion of the wars and impacts all other approaches, including targets I consider far less likely to be influenced by us than Congress, such as the president, generals, the heads of weapons companies, the heads of media companies, the people of Afghanistan, your racist neighbor, etc. If our communications strategy can change the behavior of any of these targets, terrific! We should be prepared to take advantage of such opportunities should they arise. But the first place we are likely to be able to leverage successful communications will be the House of Representatives. Counter-recruitment / resistance is another area that overlaps with communications but involves much else as well, and it is a strategy that we continue to underestimate.
Our task is to communicate that:
--the wars are ongoing and will not end without our efforts,
--the wars must be ended,
--the peace movement has had many successes already and should by no means give in to frustration,
--the wars can be ended if a small fraction of the majority that wants them ended makes an effort,
--we have to choose between warfare and healthcare / other social goods,
--minimizing U.S. casualties will not satisfy the demands of the U.S. public,
--neither maximizing nor minimizing foreign casualties will satisfy the demands of the U.S. public,
--there is a personal cost to those who support wars and war crimes,
--Congress members will face opposition through negative communications, disruption of their lives, and electoral challenges if they fund wars.
We don't have to communicate all of that in one interview on cable television, or violate any other laws of physics, but we DO have to communicate ALL of that. And getting our spokespeople on TV has to be part of how it is done. But primarily we need to create our own media and work with decent independent media outlets. Online media has developed to the point where it can influence broadcast and print media. And yet we are still quite capable of creating powerful online media. We cannot overlook the need to work with communities that lack internet access, or the need to use the internet to generate offline activities. But it is very hard to overestimate the importance to our efforts of the internet, and working to get more people access to it might be one of the most helpful efforts we can make.
We stopped Bush-Cheney from invading Iran. They intended to do so, and we prevented it -- largely by exposing the grounds for invading Iraq to be lies. There was no press conference at the White House to announce this failure of theirs and success of ours, but that should have no impact on our claiming a victory and making it known to those who require encouragement and optimism. On the other hand, we have allowed the wars to be spread to Pakistan with barely a peep of recognition, and by proxy to Gaza with only a weak and muddled response. And the push to attack Iran directly or by proxy remains.
We dominated the news and the elections in the United States and shifted power in the House, Senate, and White House to a different political party. And we ended up with a House, Senate, and White House that all favor continuing or expanding wars. But we compelled President Bush to agree to withdrawal from Iraqi localities by the end of last month, complete withdrawal from the nation by the end of 2011, and a treaty that the Iraqi people have the right to reject by the end of this month in a vote that would move the complete withdrawal date to one year from now. I still question the wisdom of our having silently accepted a treaty making three years of war without the consent of the U.S. Senate, but a better way to reject the treaty is now upon us. Our focus for the next month should be on insisting that the Iraqi people are permitted to vote the treaty up or down in a verifiable election (which, of course, means that they will vote it down if those voting bear any similarity to those who have been polled). Everyone who has expressed concern for the voting rights of Iranians should be required to do the same for Iraqis.
The other advantage of our having shifted the partisan balance in our government, even without fundamentally altering our government's approach to war, is that we no longer have to do so. We can now move on to replacing pro-war Democrats with pro-peace Democrats (or Independents, Greens, Republicans, Libertarians, etc.) The claim that we should keep quiet about peace in order to elect Democrats who will then (contradictorily) give us peace can no longer be made and can no longer get in the way. And the advantage of having elected a president of a different party, without having fundamentally changed anything, is that the claim that a new president will give us peace can now be replaced by consideration of whether we should look to presidents at all, or Congress instead, to do such things.
We kept the occupation of Iraq smaller than it would have been and prevented other invasions through the success of counter-recruitment efforts and resistance within the U.S. military. Bush-Cheney having pushed the military to the breaking point is not a story of their incompetence or love for war and empire. It is a story of our efforts pushing back against theirs. The United States will always push the military to the breaking point until we succeed in countering the current militaristic agenda, but our job (one of them) is to make what is available to be pushed smaller.
We need to discuss our successes because nobody else will, and because 70 percent of Americans basically agree with us and do nothing about it, largely because many people do not believe they have the power to change anything. We have been building organizations and websites and Email lists for these past several years, and we have been achieving some successes and coming very close to more. Yet, a common response to "Will you gather signatures on this petition for peace?" is "We've tried that before and it didn't end the war." But it did expose the war lies. It did force Alberto Gonzales out. It did come within 7 votes just last month of -- at least temporarily -- stopping the war funding. And while doing all of these things, the same old tired tools can also build larger organizations, and have been doing so. I'm sure people told abolitionists not to print another newspaper because they'd printed one before and slavery was still around. Yet abolitionism was advancing despite not a single slave yet being freed. And we are advancing, but it is crucial to know where. We must absolutely put our signatures and our time and our money into those organizations that oppose war regardless of political party, and NOT into those organizations that claim to oppose war only when it allows criticism of a particular political party. (Here's a list of which is which: http://afterdowningstreet.org/32heroes The list cannot possibly be complete, of course, and I apologize for whomever I have left off the list of heroes, but the major organizations are all here, listed as either heroes or frauds.)
Just as we should continue to push the corporate media while focusing on building our own, we should continue to push the pseudo-peace organizations to do better, but we should focus on building those organizations that have consistently taken a principled stand and pushed with skill and intelligence (even if not with success) for peace.
"Healthcare Not Warfare" should be our cry (following the example of Progressive Democrats of America), along with "Housing Not Warfare," "Jobs Not Warfare," "Schools Not Warfare," etc. We have to force recognition of the financial choice before us. In that choice we find a solution to the healthcare debate that is almost too easy to be believed, but deadly real. And we find a solution to the misconception that war does not impact the "Homeland." This is a discussion that should discuss the current wars as part of an expansion of military bases around the world, bases that make us less safe but cost us over $100 billion every year. The discussion should include the non-war military budget and the trade-offs involved. We should work harder to build alliances with people and groups focused on advocating for all the things we cannot pay for because we pay for weapons and wars.
But our communications strategy should be dominated by our true central reason for opposing wars, not any secondary reason that we imagine will move someone else. If wars are made cheaper and more efficient we will still oppose them, and that is a real possibility. If American casualties are reduced, we will still oppose wars, and that is the case at the moment. If smart decisions in military terms replace comical blunders, we will oppose wars all the more, and that may be happening. Fundamentally, we oppose wars because they kill people and they are part of hostile occupations that make people around the world hate and resent our nation. When a group like Brave New Films documents the impact of our war on the people of Afghanistan, we should promote those films as far as we are able. When an election leads to the corporate media humanizing the people of Iran, we should highlight that and ask why, if we do not want them killed by riot police, we should want them killed by bombs.
There is enormous potential, but uncertain, value in seeking to end and discourage wars by holding war criminals accountable for their crimes. Those working to end torture are right to emphasize that we tortured in order to generate false justifications for war, even after the war had begun. Those working to end war should emphasize that we tortured people in order to support the lies that at least one of the wars, and arguably all of them, is based on. Every war crime for which we are able to hold anyone accountable by exposing their crimes, unelecting them, impeaching them, finding them liable in civil suits, and prosecuting them at home or abroad, should be discussed as part of the ongoing wars. Congress members should understand that we consider their funding of wars to constitute a war crime. And they should understand that we require them to place peace before party.
One useful tool for mass communications is mass rallies. As argued below, our targets should be Congress members. National mass actions should be focused on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Local actions should target local Congress members. There was an action earlier this year on Capitol Hill aimed at cleaning up the local power plant and raising the demand for action on the climate. While that struggle is far from over, the march and protest suggested a useful approach. A large number of people, including young people, were organized to march and to risk arrest. But people were invited to march without risking arrest, thus boosting the crowd size and reducing the chances of anyone being arrested. This action was held on a weekday with Congress in session, and marched adjacent to the House office buildings. An action like this one on the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, on Wednesday, October 7th, strikes me as the most obvious way to send a powerful message of opposition to wars. Combined, of course, with lobby meetings and in-district actions. And backed by lots of money and staff time.
Where do we get lots of money and staff time? That's where we'll need to be very good communicators. But there are wealthy people tired of funding politicians and ready to fund citizens, not to mention people with money who have watched Republicans prosecute and imprison top Democratic donors like Paul Minor and then watched the Democrats not lift a finger in their defense. There are no limits on contributions to peace and justice groups, and almost no limits on what we could accomplish if funded. More importantly, there are ways to influence Congress that do not require putting anyone on a bus and can be done largely by volunteers -- yes, in their pajamas in the basement eating Cheetos. Read on.