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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 9/17/10

The Peace Movement is Alive and Well -- and growing!

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Abby Phillip's article Anti-War Groups Battle for Survival posted on Common Dreams and Politico repeats the refrain that the national anti-war movement is no longer vibrant or passionate about ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The article paraphrases Cindy Sheehan stating that the peace movement is over. And while United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) may not have the staff it once had, I know there are many hard-working activists who would take issue with the statement from the article that the "anti-war coalition has practically dissolved."

As the Executive Director of New Jersey Peace Action, a member organization of United for Peace and Justice, I noticed a temporary drop-off in activity when UFPJ lost its paid staff, but now it's as if UFPJ never skipped a beat. Blast e-mails are sent out once or twice a week, calling on individual members and organizations to take action around the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nuclear disarmament and military spending.

Michael McPhearson, co-convener of UFPJ stated, "There is a greater anti-war sentiment today than there was a few years ago. There might be less money available than before, but the numbers of people holding regular vigils and believing that the war in Afghanistan is a bad idea continues to grow. Movements didn't always have the benefit of paid staff. When that happens volunteers step up, just as they are today. The core of the peace movement will continue to work every day for peace no matter what."

It is pretty much par for the course that the mainstream media act like there's no anti-war movement. This is something many long-time activists have learned to live with over the years. But when our colleagues seeking change are quoted as saying there is no movement out there, what chance do we have? Perhaps the blame lies with the media who find may find it easier to write an article about the decline in the peace movement than to write an article that describes the peace movement's strengths, as well as its weaknesses. So let me try to do that here.

The most recent poll from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Democracy Corps and Campaign for America's Future reveals that nearly half (47 percent) point to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the primary reasons for the increased deficit. It would be hard to imagine a number that high without the steady, daily educational work of the anti-war movement.

According to a CBS News article published on August 20, 2010, a majority of Americans see no end in sight in Afghanistan, and nearly six in 10 oppose the nine-year-old war as President Barack Obama sends tens of thousands more troops to the fight, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

The article continues, "with just over 10 weeks before nationwide elections that could define the remainder of Obama's first term, only 38 percent say they support his expanded war effort in Afghanistan - a drop from 46 percent in March. Just 19 percent expect the situation to improve during the next year, while 29 percent think it will get worse. Some 49 percent think it will remain the same."

Why such a change in public opinion? It is likely not the mainstream media or the actions of the U.S. Congress. Here is a concrete example of why I say that.

During Senator Obama's campaign for president, he spoke repeatedly of his intention to refocus U.S. attention on the war in Afghanistan. Members of many national and local anti-war organizations realized that they had a lot of work to do to educate the public on why what had once been billed "the good war" was really the longest and most costly war. Prominent among those groups were Peace Action, UFPJ, CODEPINK and September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.

September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows produced a primer titled "Afghanistan: Ending a Failed Military Strategy." UFPJ established a Working Group on Afghanistan, dedicated to ending the war. CODEPINK dedicated a lot of its time to D.C. and grassroots lobbying in an effort to end the war.

Peace Action helped convene a working group of nearly 100, which included members of national organizations, Congress, and others who wanted to influence Congress, the Administration or both to end the war in Afghanistan and utilize diplomacy instead of military might to resolve problems there.

For months, all these groups wrote, posted and distributed fact sheets, primers, reports, letters to the editor and more in an effort to influence the debate on whether or not the U.S. should send more troops to Afghanistan. I'm not exaggerating when I say that endless efforts to share our research and analysis with the media were continually rebuffed. The media showed virtually no interest in our position until the day before President Obama announced his decision to send 32,000 more troops to Afghanistan. On that day and the day of the president's heralded announcement, we were inundated with calls and interviews, but on the very next day, the interest waned once again. Clearly the peace movement was alive and well, but we were rendered invisible. While we have not succeeded in cutting off funding for the war, peace movement efforts have significantly increased Congressional opposition to continuing the war, when there were almost no members of Congress on our side in Jan 2009, right after Obama was inaugurated.

And with the 10th anniversary of 9/11/01 and the 10/7/01 invasion of Afghanistan coming up in 2011, these efforts will continue and increase in intensity.

The media aren't the only reason we don't see the good work of the anti-war movement.

Kevin Martin, Executive Director of Peace Action, founded in 1957 and the nation's largest grassroots nuclear disarmament organization wrote, "There is no question the economy is hurting everybody, including non-profits and peace groups but I see resilience among our activists and members and in the leadership of colleague organizations. I think we have been doing some of our best program and organizing work in years, especially around the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference at the United Nations in May, ratification of the New START Treaty; slowly but surely helping turn public, congressional and media opinion our way on Afghanistan, and the very promising initial steps to build new alliances to move the money from the war machine to jobs and human needs. A lot of that resilience and strength comes from persistence at the grassroots level."

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Madelyn Hoffman is the Executive Director of NJ Peace Action, based in Bloomfield, New Jersey. She has held that position since August 2000. Madelyn Hoffman traveled to Afghanistan with Global Exchange in June 2005 and has given dozens of (more...)
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