Just a little note to everyone that I’ve blogged a couple of posts over on Nonviolence.org. They’re both based on “peace mom” Cindy Sheeran’s “resignation” from the peace movement yesterday.
It’s all a bit strange to see this from a long-time peace activist perspective. The movement that Sheehan’s talking about and now critiquing is not movement I’ve worked with for the last fifteen-plus years. The organizations I’ve known have all been housed in crumbling buildings, with too-old carpets and furniture lifted as often as not from going out of business sales. Money’s tight and careers potentially sacrificed to help build a world of sharing, caring and understanding.
The movement Sheehan talks about is fueled by millions of dollars of Democratic Party-related money, with campaigns designed to mesh well with Party goals via the so-called “527 groups”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/527_group and other indirect mechanisms. Big Media likes to crown these organizations as _the_ antiwar movement, but as Sheehan and Amy Goodman discuss in today’s “Democracy Now interview”:http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07%2F05%2F30%2F1343232, corporate media will end up with much of the tens of millions of dollars candidates are now raising. Sheehan makes an impassioned plea for people to support those grassroots campaigns that aren’t supported by the “peace movement” but this reinforces the notion that its the moneyed interests that make up the movement. I’m sure she knows better but it’s hard to work for so long and to make so many sacrifices and still be so casually dismissed – not just me but thousands of committed activists I’ve known over the years.
There are a few peace organizations in that happy medium between toadying and poverty (nice carpets, souls still intact) but it mystifies me why there isn’t a broader base of support for grassroots activism. I myself decided to leave professional peace work almost a decade ago after the my Nonviolence.org project raised such pitiful sums. At some point I decided to stop whining about this phenomenon and just look for better-paying employment elsewhere but it still fascinates me from a sociological perspective.
There's some interesting follow-up on the Cindy Sheehan "resignation" (see yesterday's post). One fellow I corresponded with years ago gave a donation then sent an email urging us not to fall into despair. It's hard.
Go beyond Democratic Party fronts like MoveOne and you'll find the most of the peace movement is a ridiculously shoestring operation. Nonviolence.org's four month "ChipIn" fundraising campaign raised $50 per month but the sacrifice isn't just short-term--just try applying for a mainstream job with a resume chock full of social change work!
Michael Westmoreland-White over on the Levellers blog talks about "keeping going through the despair":http://levellers.wordpress.com/2007/05/30/needed-for-long-haul-peacemaking-a-spirituality-of-nonviolence/:
bq. This is a cautionary tale for the rest of us, including myself. Outrage, righteous indignation, anger, public grief, are all valid reactions to war and human rights abuses, but they will get us only so far. They may strain marriages and family life. They may lead to speech and action that is not in the spirit of nonviolence and active peacemaking. And, since imperialist militarism is a system (biblically speaking, a Power), it will resist change for the good. Work for justice and peace over the long haul requires spiritual discipline, requires deep roots in a spirituality of nonviolence, including cultivating the virtue of patience.
Michael's answer is specifically Christian but I think his advice to step back and attend to the roots of our activism is wise despite one's motivations.
Sheehan's retirement didn't stop her from "talking with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now this morning":http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/05/30/1343232. She talks about cash-starved peace activists and contrasts them with the tens of millions presidential candidates are raising, most of which will go to big media TV networks for ads. Sheehan says we need more than just an antiwar movement:
bq. Like, ending the Vietnam War was major, but people left the movement. It was an antiwar movement. They didn’t stay committed to true and lasting peace. And that’s what we really have to do.
More Cindy Sheehan reading across the blogosphere available via "Google":http://blogsearch.google.com/blogsearch?hl=en&q=cindy+sheehan&btnG=Search+Blogs and "Technorati":http://technorati.com/tag/cindy+sheehan.
And for those looking for a little good news check out the brand new site for the "Global Network for Nonviolence":http://gn-nonviolence.org/. I designed it for them as part of my "freelance design work":http://www.martinkelley.com but it's been a joy and a lot of fun to be working more closely with a good group of international activists again. Their "nonviolence links":http://gn-nonviolence.org/links.php page includes sites for some really committed grassroots peacemakers. This long-term peace work may not give us headlines in the New York Times but it's touched millions over the years. If humanity is ever going to grow into the kind of culture of peace Sheehan dreams of then we'll need a lot more wonderful projects like these.
Poor Cindy Sheehan, the famous anti-war mom who camped outside Bush's Crawford Texas home following the death of her son in Iraq. News comes today that she's all but "resigned from the protest movement":http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070529/ap_on_re_us/cindy_sheehan. She posted the following "on her Daily Kos blog":http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/5/28/12530/1525
bq. The first conclusion is that I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. Of course, I was slandered and libeled by the right as a "tool" of the Democratic Party... However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the "left" started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of "right or left", but "right and wrong."
The sad truth is that she was used. Much of the power and money in the anti-war movement comes from Democratic Party connections. Her tragic story, soccer mom looks and articulate idealism made her a natural poster girl for an anti-Bush movement that has never really been as anti-war as it's claimed.
Congressional Democrats had all the information they needed in 2002 to expose President Bush's outlandish claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But they "authorized his war of aggression anyway":http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_Resolution. More recently, Americans gave them a landslide vote of confidence in last November's elections but still they step back from insisting on an Iraq pull-out. The Nonviolence.org archives are full of denunciations of President Clinton's repeated missile attacks on places like the Sudan and Afghanistan; before reinventing himself as a earth-toned eco candidate, Al Gore positioned himself as the pro-war hawk of the Democratic Party.
Anti-war activists need to build alliances and real change will need to involve insiders of both major American political parties. But as long as the movement is fueled with political money it will be beholden to those interests and will ultimately defer to back-room Capital Hill deal-making.
I feel for Cindy. She's been on a publicity roller coaster these past few years. I hope she finds the rest she needs to re-ground herself. Defeating war is the work of a lifetime and it's the work of a movement. Sheehan's witness has touched people she'll never meet. It's made a difference. She's a woman of remarkable courage who's pointing out the puppet strings she's cutting as she steps off the stage. Hats off to you Cindy.
Nonviolence.org's fundraising campaign ends in a few hours. In four months we've raised $150 which doesn't even cover that period's server costs. This project celebrates its twelfth year this fall and accurately "exposed the weapons of mass destruction hoaxes":http://www.nonviolence.org/weapons_of_mass_destruction/ in real time as they were being thrust on a gullible Congress. Cindy signed off:
bq. Good-bye America ...you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can't make you be that country unless you want it. It's up to you now.
Sometimes I really have to unite with that sentiment.
The U.S. election campaign has many ironies, none perhaps as strange as the fights over the candidates' war records. The current President George W. Bush got out of active duty in Vietnam by using the influence of his politically powerful family. While soldiers killed and died on the Mekong Delta, he goofed off on an Alabama airfield. Most of the central figures of his Administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney also avoided fighting in Vietnam.
Not that I can blame them exactly. If you don't believe in fighting, then why not use any influence and loophole you can? It's more courageous to stand up publicly and stand in solidarity with those conscientious objectors who don't share your political connections. But if you're both antiwar and a coward, hey, loopholes are great. Bush was one less American teenager shooting up Vietnam villages and for that we commend him.
Ah, but of course George W. Bush doesn't claim to be either antiwar or a coward. Two and a half decades later, he snookered American into a war on false pretences. Nowadays he uses every photo-op he can to look strong and patriotic. Like most scions of aristocratic dynasties throughout history, he displays the worst kind of policial cowardice: he is a leader who believes only in sending other people's kids to war.
Contrast this with his Democratic Party rival John Kerry. He was also the son of a politically-connected family. He could have pulled some strings and ended up in Alabama. But he chose to fight in Vietnam. He was wounded in battle, received metals and came back a certified war hero. Have fought he saw both the eternal horrors of war and the particular horrors of the Vietnam War. It was only after he came back that he used his political connections. He used them to puncture the myths of the Vietnam War and in so doing became a prominent antiwar activist.
Not that his antiwar activities make him a pacifist, then or now. As President I'm sure he'd turn to military solutions that we here at Nonviolence.org would condemn. But we be assured that when he orders a war, he'd be thinking of the kids that America would be sending out to die and he'd be thinking of the foreign victims whose lives would inevitably be taken in conflict.
Despite the stark contrast of these Presidential biographies, the peculiar logic of American politics is painting the military dodger as a hero and the certified war hero as a coward. The latter campaign is being led by a shadowy group called the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Today's Guardian has an excellent article on the "Texas Republicans funding the Swift Boat controversy":http://www.guardian.co.uk/uselections2004/story/0,13918,1288272,00.html. The New York Times also delves the "outright fabrications of the Swift Boat TV ads":http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/20/politics/campaign/20swift.html?ex=1094018686&ei=1&en=691b4b0e81b8387f. A lot of Bush's buddies and long-time Republican Party apparatchiks are behind this and its lies are transparent and easy to uncover. It's a good primer on dirty politics 2004 style.
One of the big questions about this election is whether the American voters will believe more in image or substance. It goes beyond politics, really, to culture and to a consumerism that promises that with the right clothes and affected attitude, you can simply buy yourself a new identity. President Bush put on a flight jacket and landed a jet on an aircraft carrier a mile off the California beach. He was the very picture of a war hero and strong patriot. Is a photo all it takes anymore?