Working towards peace and sustainability

As the Election Approaches

As we write, the seemingly interminable 2016 campaign is headed toward its conclusion. The national election is finally less than two weeks off.

As you likely know, Peaceworks does not endorse, support or oppose candidates for office. As an educational and advocacy group we take strong stands on issues but, when it comes to candidates, we do what we can to inform our members and supporters as to where the candidates stand, without ever lending support to specific candidates.

Earlier this month we published on-line the results of a survey of candidates for Missouri legislative seats and statewide Missouri offices, focused on issues of energy and climate change. If you’ve not yet seen this report, we invite you to check it out. Just CLICK HERE.

Peaceworks does encourage active citizenship. We recognize voting as an integral part of our civic life in a self-governing republic, even given the flawed electoral system we live under. We, at Peaceworks, are deeply troubled by the role of money in politics and the disproportionate influence that a relative handful of billionaires and multi-millionaires has in our political process. We support putting limits on campaign financing, overturning not just Citizens United, but also Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 Supreme Court decision that  equated money with speech.

We are also disturbed by efforts at voter suppression and intimidation. We support efforts to make voting as easy and convenient as possible so that all those eligible to vote can do so. This includes supporting expanded voting opportunities through early voting and providing the option for mail-in voting for all who wish to vote this way. We also oppose efforts to make it harder to register by requiring documents that may be difficult for some people, particularly low-income and the elderly, to provide.

Peaceworks has also long been a supporter of other electoral reforms including the adoption of Ranked Choice Voting (aka Instant Runoff Voting). This sort of reform addresses the problems caused by our plurality (not majority) wins system, which allows candidates to win with less than majority support in races with three or more candidates.  This so-called “spoiler factor” leads to less than democratic outcomes and causes many voters to cast a strategic vote, rather than voting for the candidate who comes closest to their views. More information on this important reform is available if you CLICK HERE.

We are profoundly aware of the fact that elections have consequences. When the votes are counted and the winners announced, those people will then play a major role in governance for the next two, four or even six years. They will promulgate policy, vote on legislation, nominate and confirm (or not confirm) judicial appointments.

It will matter if the people we elect acknowledge the reality of climate change, or if they deny it. It will matter if they support economic and tax policies that benefit working people, or ones that benefit those already very wealthy. It will matter what policies they embrace on a long list of domestic and international concerns. It will matter whose finger is on the nuclear trigger.

Each of us, when we vote, plays a very modest, but still important, role in deciding who these elected officials will be. We encourage you to become well informed and make your decisions wisely, paying attention to the likely consequences of your votes.

We also urge you to recognize that, while voting is important, it is a very modest part of what active, engaged citizenship is all about. Voting usually takes place one to three times a year. If you spend 20 minutes at the polls, you spend less than an hour a year voting. This should leave room for other, more meaningful, forms of citizenship, including working with grassroots groups to promote action on issues you’re concerned about, attendance at public meetings, communicating with elected officials, communicating about the issues with fellow citizens, publicly demonstrating your concerns and lots more.

We, at Peaceworks, hope that many of you reading this will want to work with us as we address the Climate Crisis, war and peace concerns, sustainable living and lots more. We do hope that you will get out to vote on November 8, recognizing that, while this is the end of a campaign season, it is just a step on the long and winding road to creating a brighter future for all. We look forward to working with you on as we move forward.

Climate Matters—Candidates’ Stands Matter

As you may already know, Peaceworks has been working hard to bring the Climate Crisis to the foreground during the election season. While we do not endorse, support or oppose candidates for office, we do educate our members, supporters and the public at large as to where the candidates stand.

Toward this end, we sent out questionnaires to 73 candidates inquiring as to their positions on energy and climate concerns. Despite reminders, only 13 of these elected officials and aspiring elected officials took the time to fill out our survey.

This lack of willingness to go on the record regarding this existential threat reflects, it seems to us, both an ignorance of the nature of the threat and a perception that these are not issues of great concern to constituents.

We encourage you to CLICK HERE to see our questions and to learn what those who did respond have to say.

We also have provided a full list of the 73 we attempted to survey and, wherever possible, we have included a link to their websites or Facebook pages. Some have info as to their energy and climate stances posted. Most do not. Most pages do have a contact link where you can send them a message.

We encourage you to contact those who did reply, thank them for responding, and to share your thoughts on the positions they’ve taken.

We also encourage you to contact those who have not responded to express your concern for the climate and for investing in a sustainable energy future. If you let them know that this is an issue that concerns their constituents, perhaps they will come to recognize its importance.

We should also note that we did not attempt to contact candidates for local county offices, and likewise, as a local group, we did not attempt to question the presidential candidates. The stands of candidates at all levels of governance are critically important and we encourage you to explore where all candidates stand before voting.

Again, you can find the results of our survey if you CLICK HERE.

Fifteen Years at the Intersection

Wednesday, Oct. 5 marks 15 full years of weekly Rush Hour Peace Demonstrations. We, in Peaceworks, began this weekly gathering just three days after the U.S. launched the tragic, and still ongoing, war against Afghanistan, on Oct. 7, 2001.  We’ve been out at the intersection of Broadway and Providence, in Downtown Columbia, Missouri every single week since.

That war was coming was clear right from the start. On the very day of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Tuesday, Sept. 11, we knew that these horrific crimes would be used as a rationale to go to war. In fact, by noon that day we’d sent out media releases and e-mail alerts announcing a candlelight vigil for peace that evening. By 7:30 p.m. more than 300 of us gathered in MU’s Peace Park, sending out a message, “Condemn the Tragedy, Don’t Compound It.”

Over the next three weeks, we and our local allies, like peace groups all across the country, attempted to convince our fellow citizens and government that war against a nation that had not attacked our country was wrong and would only lead to far greater death, destruction and tragedy in the lives of our fellow citizens, as well as the people whose countries U.S. troops were ordered to attack. We advocated using the rule of law to bring the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice.

Little did we realize when we started gathering for peace every Wednesday that, 15 years later, we’d still be out there every week. But, as the wars continue, so must our efforts. Here are a few reflections as we mark the years passed and work to redouble our efforts for peace.

Two Important Decisions Made Early On

While there was already a weekly peace vigil held every Saturday from 10-11 a.m. in front of the Columbia Post Office, we wanted more visibility than this offered. Rather than gathering on a side street, we decided to demonstrate at one of the busiest intersections in town during the evening rush hour. This means that literally thousands of people see us each week.

We also, early on in the process, began holding, among other signs, ones that read “Honk for Peace.” This created a small, but empowering, way for those who supported our stand for peace to participate, even if they didn’t feel comfortable getting out of their cars and actually joining the demonstration. It was not only empowering to those who choose to honk, and thereby making their statement for peace, but it also signaled to others that their sentiment favoring peace was shared by many. It was not just this small group of demonstrators who thought the war should be halted. And the honking is contagious, once one person honks, others often join in.

Peace Signs and Unfortunate Half-Peace Signs

While supporters honked and flashed peace signs, there have always been people who disagreed with our position, which, of course, we expected from the start. It was easy to understand why many people, who are frightened and grieving would fall in behind those leading the government who declared the war necessary to protect our nation from the “evildoers.”

If one thinks back to that time, when so many assumptions about our nation’s invulnerability were shattered in a single morning, and then the whole country decked itself out in red, white and blue, it is easy to understand why those of us who preferred “God bless the whole world, no exceptions,” would seem a bit off script, at a time when nearly everyone else was invoking divine support for war with their frequent insistence that “God bless America.”

What was a bit harder for some to accept was the crude hostility of those who disagreed. Many just gave us a thumbs-down sign, which wasn’t terribly disconcerting. But others seemed really caught in their fear and hate. They often expressed their hostility with the display of a single, angry middle finger.

We came to refer to these as “half peace signs” and on occasion would tell those waving one finger in our direction that “it takes two fingers, brother.” Along with the rude gestures came taunts and other verbal condemnation, often impugning the masculinity of male demonstrators. And, as might be expected, some messages were racist, Islamophobic and/or homophobic. And there were the usual clich├ęs, including the sadly tired taunt to “Get a job!”

Most of us, however, have thick skins and anyway, these hostile responses diminished over time. So did the presence of counter-demonstrators.

In fact, after experiencing a peak in opposition during the buildup to—and immediately after the launch of—the 2003 U.S. war on Iraq, this leveled off and started to decline even during the first year of that war. It seems that many came to realize that the war had been sold to the American people based on a pack of lies. And, eyes were gradually opened, be it by the horror of Abu Ghraib or by the recognition that the U.S. troops being killed daily by IEDs were not being welcomed as liberators, after all.

Why We Persist

By the waning years of the Bush presidency, it finally seemed that a majority favored ending the wars. This pro-peace sentiment certainly contributed to Barack Obama’s 2008 election victory. While many viewed his election as a turning point, we were well aware that he had embraced the continuation of the use of military force around the world, but claimed to have smarter methods up his sleeve.

Our response, announced immediately after the election, was that we would “support President Obama’s policies when we could and oppose them when we must.” And we knew that when it came to war and peace, there would be a significant amount of opposing still to be done.

While we organizers understood that the change in presidents did not spell an end to the “Endless War,” many participants did not. As such, the number of folks turning out declined significantly, in spite of the Afghanistan Surge and the rapid expansion of drone warfare. Even when the U.S. and NATO attacked Libya; even when our government was threatening to bomb Syria; and even after the U.S. reengaged in Iraq, and went from completely covert to mostly overt military involvement in Syria, our Rush Hour numbers have not significantly rebounded. 

Perhaps this can be written off to “protest fatigue.” We stand out there week after week and the wars don’t stop. Some might think that we are accomplishing nothing and question why we still bother.

While we respect those who’ve decided to no longer participate, it seems that the Rush Hour Peace Demo still plays an important role, even if it is not a direct vehicle capable of ending wars, changing U.S. foreign policy or dismantling the Military Industrial Complex.

One important function of our weekly demo is to remind thousands of our fellow citizens each week that there are U.S. wars going on around the world. In an era with no draft and a downsized military, relatively few people have family members or close friends who are deployed. With relatively little media coverage, if it wasn’t for us, and our banners with messages like “Stop the Bombs” or “No U.S. War on Syria,” many would hardly ever think about the wars or their impacts on those whose countries were being bombed and torn apart in conflicts directly attributable to U.S. war-making.

Another related, but slightly different, function of the demo is to remind people that there is opposition to war, and to bolster those who oppose war by letting them know they aren’t alone in what they’re thinking and feeling. In this Orwellian era, where fear is cultivated and the state presented as a vehicle to protect security, it is important for people to at least recognize that there is not a consensus to support illegal and immoral interventions around the world.

While there aren’t a huge number of us, we represent, to the CoMo community the most consistently visible presence for peace. Nearly a whole generation of children has come of age seeing us standing on those corners, holding our signs, banners and peace flags.

In our own small way, by our presence we call out the naked emperor; we question the social and economic order dominated by militarism, imperialism and corporate power. We are dissenters to the Permanent War. And we hope that to some small extent we encourage and inspire others to be as well.

In the spirit of George Orwell, who is credited, some say falsely, with the following quote, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act,” we call out the system of lies that presents war as a source of safety and security in a dangerous world. We make it clear that U.S. wars are making more enemies than they are eliminating, and killing more innocents than “terrorists.” In fact, the wars our government makes are, in a very real sense, simply another form of terrorism.  

While we would love to no longer have a reason to spend an hour each Wednesday standing at the intersection, we feel, as long as the wars continue, that it’s up to us to publicly call for peace. And, if you share our sentiment that this is a useful, helpful thing to do, we hope you will join us when you can for whatever portion of that hour (4:30-5:30 p.m.) you can. You will be warmly welcomed and appreciated. And your actions might just help tip the balance, in the long run, toward a peaceful, just future.


On Wednesday, Oct. 5th, 25 of us gathered at the intersection to mark the completion of 15 years of a weekly presence for peace. As we move forward into our sixteenth year, we wanted to share some pictures of this demonstration (CLICK HERE to see them), and to invite your participation in the days and weeks ahead.

This reflection on the Rush Hour Peace Demonstration was composed by Peaceworks Director Mark Haim, who invites all who share our concern for peace to consider joining in making the concern visible, even if just participating occasionally.

Climate Matters

For more than a year now the national media has focused on the extraordinary 2016 presidential election. Of course, they focus largely on the “horse race” or whatever absolutely outrageous statement a candidate made today. Meanwhile, some of the most important issues, including the Climate Crisis, are only rarely covered, and then with little depth. And important down-ballot races get far less coverage, and questions regarding candidates’ positions on climate change rarely are raised.

This is our dilemma. In spite of the fact that Climate Change is an existential threat; despite the fact that it has gone from something-someday to a present reality already disrupting millions of lives; despite the fact that thousands of scientists are telling us that addressing this challenge is the most important thing our government must do over the next four years, it receives scant attention.

While Peaceworks does not endorse, support or oppose candidates, we do educate and take stands on issues. And it is imperative that the issues that matter most are brought up during the election season. And Climate Change most definitely is one of these. So, we’ve summed this up in just two words:  “Climate Matters.”

Between now and Election Day, our Climate Matters campaign will work to better inform the candidates of our concerns and get them to reveal their intentions regarding climate change. And, with the participation of our members, we will raise our concerns in a variety of venues.

The Climate Matters agenda includes:  1) Sponsorship or promotion of candidate forums that focus on energy and climate concerns, as well as general forums where the climate issue can be raised; 2) Birddogging candidates, going out to their local appearances and asking them to address the Climate Crisis; 3) Publishing information to let voters know where the candidates stand on this critical set of issues; 4) Holding Climate Change-focused informational programs and visible public events, including the Oct. 16 Walk for the Climate; 5) Encouraging folks to communicate their concerns directly to candidates, in letters to the editors and via social media. We need to make it clear that their stand on this issue matters to us as voters.

Join Us—Let Them Know Climate Matters to You.

We are seeking volunteers who will participate in building this campaign. If interested, please write to us at mail@midmopeaceworks.org or call us at 573-875-0539. We are struggling to ensure a livable world for our children and theirs. This task is urgent and there are many ways to participate. Please join us in this effort.