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Voters for Peace: What Would An Effective Peace Movement Look Like?

The year is beginning with President Obama proposing more money for war and a budget freeze for most social programs. This is occurring despite the insecure and often desperate financial straits in which most Americans find themselves. The military is coming before the needs of the people.

Last year, President Obama broke all records of military funding. Not only did the DoD budget reach new heights, but so did his war-funding supplemental budgets. Now, Obama begins the year ready to break even those records. He is asking for another $30 billion war supplemental and the next military budget will be a record-breaking $708 billion.

Debate in Congress will not focus on whether this is too much money. If anything, Congress will probably make both budgets bigger. Opposition to war and militarism are views not heard in Congress. There are a few members, some from each party, who speak out against the military budget, but they are marginalized by a Congress working in lockstep with the military-industrial complex. When Eisenhower coined that phrase, his initial draft used "military-industrial-congressional complex," a phrase that seems apt for today.

While we can criticize Obama and the Democrats for their actions, and we should contact Congress and tell them we oppose this funding--call Congress at 202-224-3121 and ask for your senators and representative--it is also a time for those of us who oppose war to reflect on why the anti-war voice is so muted and on what we can do about it.

I recently wrote an article on which I would like your views; read it here. The point of the article was to begin to outline what an effective anti-war, pro-peace movement would look like. I see the peace movement as still trying to restart after the 2008 election. Many were lulled by the corporate media into believing that Obama would be a president who would reduce U.S. militarism. Some in the media described him as a peace candidate. As you can see by looking at Peace Perspectives from 2008, we at Voters for Peace repeatedly reported on Obama's pro-militarist positions; we were not fooled, but too many were.

What would an effective peace movement look like? I'd like to hear your views. Email me at: Here's an outline of my thoughts on the ingredients that a successful anti-war, pro-peace movement includes:

  • Broad based. The anti-war movement needs to be a reflection of not just the left but of Middle America and traditional conservatives who oppose war. A majority of Americans oppose war and escalation of current wars but that is not reflected in the peace movement.
  • Patriotic. The anti-war peace movement needs to bring Americans in, rather than repel them. Too often it is seen as anti-American rather than making patriotic criticism of current militarist policies. The anti-war movement needs to be a place where a retired general or admiral can speak without fear of being called a traitor by either anti-war advocates or people outside the movement.
  • Organized ongoing outreach. Key groups (military, clergy, business leaders, teachers, nurses, doctors, ...) need to be educated and organized so that there is an anti-war, pro-peace agenda in every congressional district including those currently favoring Republicans (another reason for working with anti-war conservatives). We need to keep building the anti-war, pro-peace base.
  • New tactics. The 1960s tactics of big marches and congressional demonstrations have their role but they are not sufficient. The media and government have adjusted to them. We need to use tools like voter initiatives and referenda to break through and put our issues before the voters. And, we need to learn from around the world what has worked; for example, general strikes, whether of a few hours or few days, have shown unified opposition to government policy. Also effective in other countries are efforts to shut down their nation's capitol to prevent business as usual when the government is working in the wrong direction. Voters for Peace Project Board member Cindy Sheehan is moving in this direction with Peace of the Action this spring.
  • Link war to the economy. Make war relevant to Americans' day-to-day lives by constantly linking the cost of war to their communities, incomes, and bank accounts. People need to learn that Empire is not good for the U.S. economy. With one soldier in Afghanistan costing $1 million per year it should be an obvious case to make. We need to make it, over and over.
  • Politically independent. Both parties are dominated by pro-militarist elected officials. The anti-war movement needs to be strong in criticizing candidates who call for a larger military, escalation of war, or other militarist policies. It needs to make all candidates earn the peace vote.
  • Long-term commitment. Organizing and advocacy are needed for the long haul. Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex fifty years ago and American Empire has existed since the 1890s. Militarism is deeply embedded in government and industry. We have a lot to do to change course.

The peace movement cannot continue to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. We need to look at the effectiveness of our work, question it, and improve on it. I hope you will join me in this effort.


Kevin Zeese

Executive Director
Voters for Peace

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I agree with all 7 of your points. One element which I would add and you touch on it when you say empire is not good for our economy: I think it is important to say that never ending preemptive wars around the world are not making us safer. We are creating more enemies faster than we can kill them. If there are some that think might makes right, then I would disagree. Moral might or ethical might or legal might would be acceptable perhaps. Money invested in being on the ground in other parts of the world, learning cultures, languages, customs - something like what the State Department might do seems like a preferable way to use my tax money. Preventing wars, not making others to conform to our corporate needs. Sustainable growth - growth that a country's people can choose and adjust to on their own. Peace Corp, NGO's, charities - what if we spent 7 trillion on that as our "defense" budget until 2017?

As a 60 ish American my country has almost always been #1 - the best, the richest and the most powerful militarily. - It seems natural and patriotic to believe that. Now that I have learned more about our 'empire', it seems cruel and inhuman to believe in the hype that we are always a force for good.

I take a little issue with 'patriotic' because I would rather pledge my allegiance to planet earth and all of its inhabitants than to one country. Nor do I know how America compares to other super powers, other empires? Are we on the same par, worse, less worse? I don't know. Certainly the peace movement should offer a welcome to all Americans - generals and veterans and Republican conservatives.

Personally I don't think violence is effective in resolving conflicts, though I would probably be quite violent, if necessary, to defend my own life. I wish I were a pacifist, but I doubt I am that elevated spiritually.

So 1) Our best defense is understanding/communication and 2) be kind to patriots.

Thanks for asking Kevin.

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