Listening Process (Section 7) - How do we link peace and justice issues and build alliances?

'The World Says No to Israeli Occupation' marks the 40th year of Israel's illegal military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem

'The World Says No to Israeli Occupation' marks
the 40th year of Israel's illegal military occupation
of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip
and East Jerusalem

We asked folks about how they connect issues of foreign policy, military invasions and occupations, and global climate change: with domestic issues like healthcare, education, immigration, detention, civil liberties, policing and prisons. Some organizers talked about the economic links between the military budget and social spending cutbacks. Some talked about a culture of violence that connects war and militarism to violence inside the United States. Some described a poverty draft where social and economic conditions lead to higher levels of military recruitment and enlistment in lower-income communities, particularly among immigrants. Many interviewees suggested that connections between issues are often obvious and that the task of antiwar organizers has less to do with spelling it out and more to do with engaging organizations that may focus on other issues—like labor unions and community organizations—and providing concrete ways to add an antiwar component to their work. They see linking issues as important to the political analysis of left organizations, but stressed that left groups have to ally with broader—based and sometimes more centrist forces if we’re to build the kind of power it takes to end a war.

We need to recognize that people can contribute to the peace movement in a variety of ways. We need to open it up and re-define what peace work is. It is the people impacted telling their own stories, it is creating alternatives, it is scholarship programs, it is arts activism, after-school programs—everything that strengthens our communities is peace work too. It is not just about what we are up against; it is what we are for. What are we creating, and how do we talk about that?

With police brutality, with youth killing youth on the street—these are the same kids who are being recruited. The more we are compartmentalized and not coordinated, the more this is just a peace issue or just a “street violence in Oakland” issue or just a welfare issue. We are constantly talking about the victims of street violence and their families here in Oakland and the war veterans and military families, and how incredible it would be to show the links between their stories and connect their voices. We need to focus on solutions at home as well as the impact of the military abroad. This approach could motivate a whole new population to be aware, excited, and mobilized about the peace issue, connecting it to our lives at home.

—Maryam Roberts, Women of Color Resource Center

I’m becoming convinced that if you talk more about quality-of -life issues rather than the language of antiwar, it brings different people into the room.

—Mandy Carter, Southerners On New Ground (SONG)

The economic link is so obvious—if you are a parent in Oakland you know how lacking the public school system is. Schools are crumbling, students don’t have textbooks. That’s a message that parents would hear: Where is the money going? It is going to the war. Many communities are experiencing the domestic symptoms of the cost of war in their day-to-day lives. There’s a huge opportunity there to make these connections. When activists speak to the media and talk about the war in certain ways … if they included this kind of messaging, it would bring a whole new audience to the antiwar movement.

—Xiomara Castro, Ella Baker Center

“Money for books, not for war! U.S. out of El Salvador.” Fill in the blanks. … I don’t know; I’ve never felt very good about that approach, to be honest. It’s always had a kind of ritual quality; the assertion that you must do that is so often used as a political tool to beat others over the head with. I just haven’t seen it done well. I don’t mean you should stop doing it—the military budget and the military-industrial complex, it’s so invisible and yet so huge. I wish emphasizing budget priorities and all that was more effective; it’s been tried over and over, and people don’t actually respond in the way we think they should or will.

—Van Gosse, Historians Against the War

Soon after 9/11, we had many people in our community with family members going to war. Not just young men but young women as well—that was when the intense recruitment was escalating in high schools, and everybody was getting called at home about ROTC. So our members were coming in like, “What do I do?” And some people said, “Maybe I should,” ’cause they’re offering all this money to join. So we had to respond. We started the solidarity work team to do international solidarity against the war, but connect it to what’s happening here. There’s a recruitment office in Bushwick that’s in a busy commercial district, a good place to have a presence, so our group would go there and do counter-recruitment: “Don’t join them—join us.”

As of 9/11, we started to meet with the organizations from our Coalition Against Police Brutality and others; new coalitions were born, Third World Within in New York City and nationally Racial Justice 911. We had some real internal debates over political questions. Some people had the more pragmatist approach, saying the only way that poor working-class people are going to care about the war is if it directly affects them, but they’re not going to really care about what’s happening to other people in other places. It only has to be about directly affecting their pocket or their ’hood. And some of us were saying that building real political solidarity among poor folks here is totally possible. It just takes time. It’s not an overnight thing—we have to do that work.

—Paula X Rojas, Sista II Sista

There can be an unwillingness to find the common ground and work outward from there. This is a problem that plagues the left in general; it’s not exclusive to the antiwar movement. And this is where the right does very well: “Let’s find the point we can agree on, build our power from there, and then we can move out from there.”

—Ilyse Hogue, MoveOn

As long as we feel that the coalition or group we’re partnering with at any time meets the direction we’re trying to go in, we’re happy to work with them. You have to be careful, though; sometimes if you work with one group you risk alienating a wing of your organizational core. VFP’s membership itself is a big umbrella. One of the reasons I joined is that I could see that. We have Republicans, all the way over to communist revolutionaries. We have just-war theorists and pacifists. The process to decide what kind of political stance to take on certain things can be difficult.

—Michael McPhearson, Veterans For Peace

We sometimes collaborate too much!, especially with the surge of antiwar groupings in the last few years. I couldn’t even count the number of coalitions we participate in; we try to always be responsible partners. Sometimes coalition-building can be prioritized at the expense of base-building.

—Kevin Martin, Peace Action

We need certain organizers to take on the convening piece—bringing together different constituencies and movements around the war issue is not a one place, one time, mega-convention kind of thing. It’s ongoing bridge-building work across deep divides, particularly of race and class. We need more organizations to be the connective tissue, a kind of central nervous system—not a command and control structure—communicating and responding and sharing information among and across many communities and movements.

—Patrick Reinsborough, smartMeme Strategy & Training Project

Working with the unions—in our context ILWU, the longshore union—they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. This is their job, but at the same time they don’t like the idea of their labor being used to support wars they consider immoral. I think that national coordination could help, not only in working with that union, but more unions nationwide to begin to bring them on board and develop them as a strong political foundation. If we had the unions working with us, it’d be a done deal, the military would have no place to go.

—Wes Hamilton, Port Militarization Resistance

I think a lot of anti-globalization activists drew the wrong conclusions after 9/11 and went too far into the local. There’s been a failure to connect different issues. That’s what made the global justice movement so strong: it could tie together a range of struggles. Many activists are doing good local work, but there’s not enough effort to really link up. Even with that, it needs to be done in a concrete as opposed to abstract way, so that it doesn’t seem contrived.

Immigrant rights is an important place I’ve seen potential: the issue of detainees is key for making links. We should be drawing out the connections between the anti-immigrant wave and the “war on terror” fear-mongering, linking Latino and Arab-American struggles.

—Rami El-Amine, Coalition for Justice & Accountability

As an immigrant organization, the war has been an essential piece of our work locally. Through every campaign, we always centralize challenging the war abroad: both the military war as well as the U.S. economic agenda that is devastating to the global South (including our constituency). Even though our main issues are things like immigration repression and legalization policies, driver’s licenses, etc., the main thing that our members identify with as Muslims and South Asians living in the United States is really the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. I think the biggest turnouts we have are for our antiwar demonstrations and Palestine marches.

In all of the messaging and materials around our campaigns, we talk about how Muslims in our base are being targeted under the “global war on terror”—a concerted effort to silence dissent from U.S. Arab, Muslim, South Asian communities. We see our role as building safe, secure leadership in our community to voice political dissent both on domestic and foreign policy issues and having support to do that. We’ve had members who’ve been detained or put into deportation proceedings because of their political work.

The immigrant rights movement really frames everything, especially with the upsurge in the last two years. Immigration being a key domestic issue on the radar for the elections, with the war as the main foreign policy issue—they have everything to do with each other. Immigration policy is under the war on terror regime now: every piece of legislation uses the war on terror to stack it up with a thousand different enforcement provisions. In all of the immigration campaigns we do, we constantly expose the need to de-link the war on terror from immigration policy. We highlight why people come here in the first place, because of war and displacement, and imperialist trade policies. The immigrant rights movement and where it’s headed is one of the key racial justice struggles of our time, at the same moment as the U.S. global agenda spirals out of control.

—Monami Maulik, Desis Rising Up & Moving

Kids of all ages show how they would rather spend the Iraq war money at Portland's 'World Without War: A Day of Resistance and Hope.' March 15, 2008
Kids of all ages show how they would rather spend the Iraq war money at Portland's 'World Without War: A Day of Resistance and Hope.' March 15, 2008

How do we not allow our struggles to be thought of as single-issue? When we talk about Palestine or Iraq or New Orleans or Brooklyn, we have to understand that there’s never going to be an end to this war or colonization or incarceration without people transforming larger systems. When people get politicized around an issue or have some personal relationship to a struggle, and get involved in the movement, we have to make sure we’re not limiting those people (or turning them off). The culture of an organization or space can either be alienating or exciting.

Community organizers against police brutality can feel affinity with occupied people in Iraq if we share stories and information in a way that invites that. And when people are getting exposed to Palestine through our education and organizing, they identify the connections with their own experiences of gentrification, police brutality and displacement, and resistance to these. We need to be an incubating space for a trans-radical vision—we’ve got to help people cross borders.

—Ora Wise, Palestine/Israel Education Project

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