Director’s reflection: How to build peace
This spring, as we sat down with our 2013-2014 community organizing interns to talk about their experience with us, we realized that somehow none of them had led chants into a bullhorn, none of them had held banners while we marched, none of them had managed sign-in at a rally. We were shocked when we realized we hadn’t held a major march or rally since our rapid response in September which was part of the successful national push-back against US war on Syria.
This summer has looked far different! Starting with a Global Day Against Military Spending action, we’ve mobilized in April rain, May sun, June heat, July 4th weekend traffic, and late July wildfire smoke for actions calling to “End the Spiral of Violence: End these Endless Wars” with a focus on opposing increased US military presence in Iraq, extending our occupation of Afghanistan into 2016, and US-funded military attacks on Gaza.
Repeatedly as we get ready to mobilize, I look for the writings of thought-leaders and opinion-makers on what to call for instead of the latest proposal to bomb. This is especially necessary because the pro-war extremists have been pretty consistent about adding a humanitarian talking point to their list of reasons war is the answer, and that talking point is effective.
People across the political spectrum respond to the “we need to bomb to protect vulnerable people” talking point, because people across the political spectrum are genuinely compassionate for members of our human family. Unfortunately, that compassion can be used to manipulate support for policies that do not benefit civilians and people in need but instead just drive fear and war.
I’ve begun to be able to see patterns in the writings of smart folks like Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies and Sarah Van Gelding of YES magazine. So I want to share with you some gleanings:
What to do instead of bomb, deploy drones, invade, send arms, send troops, or otherwise intervene militarily:
Help people get their basic needs met. Drop food, provide housing, move them out of harm’s way. Don’t mix humanitarian aid with military operations. It makes humanitarian efforts seem aligned with military goals, and that demolishes trust and puts humanitarian workers at risk. Will this require additional funding of non-military humanitarian structures and groups? That’s not a bad thing at all.
Talk to everyone. Negotiations must include all parties; that’s the most likely way to end a conflict. A group that is excluded has no reason to abide by agreements. De-escalate, and de-polarize. Bombing does the opposite.
Support international structures for conflict resolution and for accountability, such as the UN, weapons conventions, and the International Criminal Court. Yes, this means our country too needs to abide by international law. Yes, this means we have to walk our talk all the time. That’s not a bad thing either.
Don’t bomb. Bombing always puts civilians in danger and inevitably kills innocents. Women and children feel the brunt of the fall-out. It nearly always recruits more opponents, hardens the commitment of true believers, and escalates the conflict. Bombing doesn’t prevent humanitarian crises; bombing creates and exacerbates humanitarian crises!
Advanced version: Prioritize meeting the needs of vulnerable peoples before there is a hint of an argument to do so through bombing.Pro-actively reduce desperation and the organizing tactics of pro-war extremists in any country find less fertile ground. We can make choices to address the drivers of future–and current–desperation. The UN’s Millennium Development Goals, for example, lay out eight key accomplishments to reduce desperation and create the pre-conditions for peac
- eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- achieve universal primary education
- promote gender equality and empower women
- reduce child mortality
- improve maternal health
- combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
- ensure environmental sustainability
- global partnership for development
I am repeatedly drawn to Gandhi’s quote about the power of creativity in the name of nonviolence and justice: “We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more un-dreampt-of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence.”
First we have to assert that it’s possible to respond to a crisis with tools other than violence. Let’s trumpet what’s possible, to teach ourselves and others how we can practically build peace.