Working towards peace and sustainability

Fatigue Settling In? Discover/Co-Create Sustainable Activism

It’s been two months now—since the inauguration, that is—but really it’s been nearly two years—since the June 2015 candidacy announcement—that Donald J. Trump has occupied a huge amount of our attention.

Many of us have been deeply distressed throughout this entire period over the perils of our country adopting the profoundly misguided agenda he ran on. Equally disturbing was the prospect of ensconcing in positions of significant power people who so thoroughly embrace the interests of the top 1 percent, and have no qualms walking all over the rest of us and the only livable planet we have, to enrich themselves.

When we woke up on November 9, it was to the notion that we would need to ramp up “resistance” and do all we could to challenge the tremendously misguided directions Trump and Company would be aiming to take this country. The message sank in, for some of us immediately, for others, over a matter of weeks.

Ultimately, concern was so great that all across the nation millions join the Women’s March or other, similar demonstrations. Even in CoMo, where demonstrations are considered large if 100 people turn out, more than 3,600 marched in a Jan. 21 Solidarity March, a sister march to the DC Women’s March, co-sponsored by Peaceworks and 23 other groups.

A small portion of the crowd gathered at Courthouse Square for the Solidarity March on Jan. 21, 2017.

Over the next few weeks numerous additional demonstrations, town hall meetings and other gatherings drew from dozens to hundreds of participants. Many were engaged in activism for the first time ever. Others, who’d put their activism on the shelf years ago, returned to the picket lines. And many, who were currently engaged, elected to redouble their efforts in this critical period. All this is truly heartening.

Of course, while we all recognize the imperative of not allowing Trump’s presidency to be normalized, we can only operate in crisis mode for a limited period of time. While each person’s ability to devote their time and talents to activism varies significantly, most of us can push the boundaries of what’s workable for a while, but ultimately, if we’re to stay active, we need to find a level of engagement that can work on an ongoing basis; in two words, “sustainable activism.”

Given the urgency of many of the issues we face today, we in no way wish to discourage folks getting as involved as you feel works for you. But it’s also important for everyone to recognize that there is no shame in not going to every demo, or every meeting. In fact, attending to one’s own personal balance is key to avoiding burnout, which, of course, leads to dropping out of the struggle entirely.

Here are a few Suggestions for Making Activism Sustainable

1)  Engage Consistently:  Doing something every day is good, even if it’s just spending 5-10 minutes making key phone calls. If you can’t do this daily, keep at it, doing what you can as many days each week as you can.

2)  Choose Your Tasks:  Spend some time evaluating what’s the best use of your activist energies. Perhaps you have a particular skill or talent you can contribute. If nothing immediately stands out, consider what you enjoy doing that can carry over into the activist realm (e.g. making phone calls, doing door-knocking, petitioning, letter-writing, doing issue research, fundraising, building websites, demonstrating, etc.). You will do more if you’re doing things you like. Of course, you can, and probably should, mix it up and do at least some of a variety of things.

3)  Choose Your Battles:  There are so many critical issues that need to be addressed that none of us can do significant work on all of them. You likely agree with many progressive issue stands, but perhaps some issue(s) really move you viscerally in ways that others don’t. Whether it’s climate change, war and peace, healthcare, economic, racial, gender or other categories of justice, reproductive rights, civil liberties, the death penalty or what have you, you will likely be more effective if you hone in on one or a handful of key concerns and concentrate your efforts, while remaining supportive of other efforts. It is also really important to take the time to become knowledgeable about the primary issues you decide to focus on.

Of course, aside from considering what you’re most passionate about, it’s also important to consider what is timely. For example, when Trump instituted the Muslim Travel Ban, Peaceworks dropped some other work to focus attention there. And if the bombs and bullets start flying next week in some unexpected hotspot, we may need to refocus there.

4)  Choose Your Organizations:  While a few of us operate best as lone-wolf  activists, most of us find synergy comes through working with a group, and there are many wonderful progressive groups that would love to have your active participation. Some things you might consider in picking which groups to work with include: Are the issues they’re focused on among the ones that I’m most drawn to? Is the group positive, supportive and welcoming? Are the tactics and strategies they embrace ones I feel comfortable with? Does it seem like I can contribute significantly to their efforts?

5)  Get to Know Your Fellow Activists—Build Community: The work of social change is, in some real ways, also a process of creating structures that align our means with our ends. By this we mean that within our organizations we build structures that reflect the sort of world we seek to co-create; one that involves a paradigm shift. Hopefully we build bonds of friendship and mutual support as we create organizational structures that are cooperative, rather than competitive, inclusive and inviting of participation and embracing of diversity.

6)  Recognize that You Are Not Alone—Reach Out, Seek and Give Support: When we look at the crazy world we’ve inherited and we think of what we’re leaving to our collective progeny it can feel completely overwhelming. We can’t afford, however, to crawl under the nearest rock and pretend all is OK. Rather, we need to give and receive mutual support; we need to find hope in the vision, courage and persistence of our comrades in struggle. And we need to share our positive, hopeful visions of another world that is possible with others.

7)  Recognize that There is Not One Right Way:  There are many approaches to social change activism. The left has a well-deserved reputation for setting up circular firing squads; wasting more effort fighting those who should be allies over differences in tactics, strategies, etc. Our efforts will be much more effective if we focus on making our own projects as successful as we can, while appreciating and supporting those who are going about things differently.

The list above, like everything else we create, is a work in progress. As we move forward through uncharted waters we will likely learn many lessons. Your comments and feedback are most welcome.

These times are unprecedented and call for us to rise to the challenge. Many have been working to do this and we applaud all of you. Peaceworks, of course, would love to collaborate with as many of you reading this as possible. We also recognize that we are one of a number of good and worthwhile area organizations and we support your decisions to work with others as well, or instead.

We have a big tent approach and aim to collaborate with as many of those other groups as we can. There is strength in numbers. But all the various groups are ultimately made up of individuals—the people who are the backbone of our movements—that’s why you are the most essential ingredient in our resistance work, as well as our long-haul efforts to create a peaceful, just and sustainable future. And that’s why we see it as essential to make our activism sustainable.

Stay hopeful. Stay strong. Stay involved. Stay loving and kind. Know, if you are active, you are needed, appreciated and you are making a difference.

Nuclear News? What is the Take-Home Lesson?

There’s a news story you may have heard, but likely didn’t, as it’s not been very widely reported. Like many stories, it has various lessons to offer. In fact this story is kind of a Rorschach Test, as it is likely to yield very different messages, depending upon one’s headset.

It’s a story about the Russians, but, no, it isn’t about hacking the election, or connections to the Trump regime. Rather, this is a nuclear weapons story that was featured recently in PopularMechanics. The first sentence tells much of the story, “The Pentagon has confirmed that a new Russian nuclear delivery drone is real. The undersea drone, which carries an enormous nuclear warhead to destroy coastal cities and military bases, was tested late last month.”

The story goes on to detail how “Status-6,” the name of the new system, “is designed to attack enemy coastal cities, ports, shipyards, and naval bases. Once Status-6 arrives at its destination it detonates the bomb, causing an enormous amount of damage through blast and heat.” And it goes on to report “Reports from Russia indicate the bomb could be armed with a "salted bomb", or one that ‘salts the Earth’ with the dangerous isotope Cobalt-60. Such a bomb could spread such high levels of radioactivity it would prevent anyone from using the attack zone for approximately 100 years.”

How does one react to a story that warns that the Russians might send nuclear-armed, drone mini-subs into U.S. waters and blow Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC and dozens of other cities off the map?

Likely, many will react in fear, which is a reasonable response to an existential threat. But, in addition, many would add an element of anger and a dose of hostility to, and condemnation of, a nation deemed an “enemy.”

This is certainly not new. In 1963 Bob Dylan wrote the song “With God on Our Side” that contains the verse:

“I've learned to hate the Russians
All through my whole life
If another war comes
It's them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side”

While a lot has happened over the past half century, it seems that rulers still need enemies and so does the Military Industrial Complex, so we are still encouraged to see the “Ruskies” as boogey men.

So, yes, the notion of drones delivering massive thermonuclear bombs destroying American cities is a horrible thing to contemplate; one that many might, without thinking too hard, see as demonstrating the inherent barbarian nature of our supposed adversaries. And, yes, the thought of deploying weapons that target cities and threaten to kill millions, is unsettling, at best, and an outrage beyond comprehension if one isn’t totally numbed.

Our Nation’s Responsibility?

But, wait a minute, targeting cities for annihilation? This is exactly what the U.S. has done for decades with its enormous nuclear arsenal. The so-called “Balance of Terror” in a system of “Mutually Assured Destruction,” has always been about as immoral as one can imagine; threatening to annihilate hundreds of millions in the blink of an eye. Further, our government has repeatedly refused to repudiate first use of nuclear weapons and has resisted treaty obligations to eliminate nuclear arsenals.

And, don’t forget that the United States is the only nation that has ever used nukes. In 1945 the U.S. military incinerated two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands, using primitive, first-generation nuclear weapons (Today’s thermonuclear bombs are several orders of magnitude more destructive). So, how does the United States claim the mantle of morality in this nuclear business?

Not only is righteous indignation misdirected if directed solely at the Russians, it also misses several key aspects of our unfolding nuclear nightmare:

Why did the Russians decide to build drone subs to deliver these Doomsday devices? Well Popular Mechanics has an answer to this, “Russia is thought to have conceived of Status-6 as a response to America's missile defense system.” That’s right, it’s our government’s own actions—its unwillingness to negotiate an arms control agreement that would ban destabilizing “Star Wars”-type systems that led the Russians to pursue this new mode of delivering massive death and destruction.

Ever since the 1980s the United States has been taking actions that destabilize the “Balance of Terror.” And, under President George W. Bush, our government withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, over Russia’s loud protestations. More recently, under President Obama, the U.S. initiated a one-trillion dollar program of “modernization,” which includes the development of more accurate delivery systems that provide the capability for launching a decapitating first strike.

The U.S. has not only pushed the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, putting NATO troops right on Russia’s borders, it has also been aggressively building so-called “missile defense” facilities in both Poland and Romania. Our government claims these installations are directed at Iranian missiles, but this strains credulity.

As the Reuters news agency reported in May of 2016, “Russia is incensed at such of show of force by its Cold War rival in formerly communist-ruled eastern Europe. Moscow says the U.S.-led alliance is trying to encircle it close to the strategically important Black Sea, home to a Russian naval fleet and where NATO is also considering increasing patrols. ‘It is part of the military and political containment of Russia,’ Andrey Kelin, a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official, said on Thursday, the Interfax news agency reported.”

A Way Forward?

As long as the United States insists on maintaining a nuclear arsenal in perpetuity, we will not be free of the threat of nuclear annihilation. The United States and all nuclear weapons states (NWS) are obligated, under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty to eliminate these arsenals.

According to the Arms Control Association, “Article VI commits the NWS to ‘pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.’” No one really believes that 49 years represents action at an “early date,” but, more on point, U. S. strategic doctrine calls for maintaining and “upgrading,” not eliminating, its arsenal and its dominant nuclear posture.

Those of us who lived through the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis or the intense nuclear saber-rattling of the first term of the Reagan administration know what it’s like to feel viscerally the threat of nuclear annihilation. Younger readers likely view this threat in more abstract terms.

Either way, however, we are almost all living with some level of denial. It is high time that we recognized that we are not invulnerable. In fact, unless nuclear abolition is pursued and achieved, we are virtually guaranteed that at some point—be it by malfunction, miscalculation, misperception, mental illness, irrational, ideologically-driven responses to crises, etc.—that the world, or at least the human race and most of the other species we share the Earth with, will be lost to nuclear war.

There is some hopeful news, however. A United Nations conference that begins later this month will be focusing on drafting a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, along the lines of conventions banning chemical weapons or landmines. While this, alone, won’t eliminate the nuclear threat, it holds the potential for generating new momentum to drive forward the movement for nuclear abolition.

We, here at Peaceworks, find the current situation absolutely unacceptable and thus we are redoubling our efforts to make sure that the issue of nuclear weapons is addressed. To us, the take-home lesson is that our government urgently needs to work for mutual, verifiable, phased reductions of all nuclear arsenals on the road to nuclear abolition. We invite you to join us in making sure that nuclear disarmament is out, front and center, as an urgent concern. The alternative is too ghastly to accept.

Military Spending—Underlying Realities

Most readers have likely heard that President Donald Trump is claiming that the U.S. military is “depleted” and is calling for a major boost in the Pentagon budget. In his February 28 address to Congress he promised to send “the Congress a budget that rebuilds the military . . .” He’s also indicated that he plans to pay for the increase by cutting domestic spending, although it is not yet clear where he would find the additional $54 billion he’s planning to spend, this year alone.

While there has been some pushback and some questioning whether the increase is needed, few sources we’ve seen have focused in on or deconstructed the depletion narrative, which seems to be wholly invented by Trump to justify doling out our tax dollars to leading firms in the Military Industrial Complex. More importantly, from our perspective, there has been little serious analysis of the assumptions behind the U.S. spending as much as we already do on the military.

As the mainstream media rarely lets this cat out of the bag, perhaps you’ve not heard that the U.S. spends more than the next seven countries with super-sized military budgets, combined. And you might not realize that most of those seven are U.S. allies or countries with which our government has friendly relations. You might have also missed the fact that so-called “rogue states,” like Iran and North Korea are way down the list with miniscule military spending compared with any of these big spenders.

All this begs the question, “Why”? Given that the U.S. has generally friendly relations with our neighbors to the north and south, and that we have rather large oceans on our east and west, why are we spending so much? The countries and sub-national groups the U.S. military has been sent to fight in recent years are third tier powers, at best. The reality is, despite the constant attempts to instill fear, the U.S. faces no serious and credible military threat.

Indeed, with just 4.5 percent of the world’s population, why is our government, without serious enemies, responsible for more than one-third of the world’s military spending? How can they justify spending as much as they do already, let alone spending hundreds of billions more over the next decade?

Learning from our History

Well, words have power and perhaps a key to unlocking this mystery is to consider that those in government and most of the mainstream media refer to military spending as the “Defense Budget,” when, in fact, it has very little to do with defending our nation. What was once called the “War Department” was, in classic Orwellian Doublespeak, renamed the “Department of Defense” after World War II, at a time when global hegemony was thoroughly embraced by the corporate elites, and the United States dramatically increased its frequency of interventions, and took them global.

In previous eras the U.S. mainly invaded countries and conducted covert ops in Latin America. After WWII, with older empires crumbling, the whole world became their playground. The U.S. military was globally dominant. It occupied Western Europe and faced off against the Soviet bloc there as well as in Korea/Northeast Asia. It toppled governments and propped up military juntas and autocratic regimes in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, etc.

In the ensuing decades, under the guise of “fighting Communism” the U.S. military and the intelligence complex were responsible for the deaths of many millions of innocent people, including approximately four million in Vietnam/Indochina alone. It seems the nation’s foreign and military policies were, despite President Eisenhower’s warnings, captured by the Military Industrial Complex.

So, when the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact evaporated in the late 1980s, there was only a scant “Peace Dividend.” Military spending remained off the charts, compared with any other nation. Under Bush Sr. and Clinton, the U.S. military continued to be based and to operate as the dominant power on virtually every continent, every ocean, in the skies above and even in outer space.

The military is big on naming things, be it operations, strategies, etc. The term they embraced for their strategic posture was “Full Spectrum Dominance.” This is essentially the notion that whatever theater of operations they might be involved—from local skirmish to global war—anywhere in the world, they seek to have the edge over any and all adversaries, real or potential.
Some proponents of massive military spending point to the fact that the U.S. has a huge economy and thus can afford to spend a lot. What they don't address is that the U.S. not only spend far more in total than any other nation, but also spends a much larger percentage of out GDP than most affluent countries. Those wasting less on wars and militarism have, in general, healthier economies than ours.

The Threat Today?

The horrible crimes of 9/11 were a godsend to military contractors, as they were used to justify the Afghan War, the Iraq War and ultimately operations in dozens of countries around the world. In reality, a handful of extremists in caves in Afghanistan, or some of their minions bearing only box-cutters as weapons don’t constitute a serious military threat. But invading, bombing, occupying, incarcerating and more succeeded in manufacturing far more “enemies” than there were back in 2001. And this has been used, over and over again, to instill fear in our people and to gin-up support for more militarism and more military spending.

Donald Trump is a master of fear mongering. He has managed to convince many people that we face a huge crime epidemic, even though crime rates have been declining for several decades. He’s convinced some that undocumented people are likely criminals, even though statistics show they commit fewer crimes per capita than citizens. Likewise, his rhetoric has reinforced the false sense that some Americans have, that we face a huge threat from “radical Islamic terrorists.”

It is just this sort of fear mongering that leads people to support squandering billions upon billions on weapons we don’t need; weapons that will not make us any safer; weapons that are redundant and have a huge opportunity cost.

Might we not do well to consider the notion attributed to Mark Twain that “If your only tool is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail?” Shouldn’t we be looking to diversify our tool box?

An Alternative Course?

We invite you to join us in a little “thinking outside the box.” What if, instead of major increases in military spending, our government was to pursue significant cuts the Pentagon’s bloated budget and redirect the funds into efforts that would actually enhance our security. After seven decades of being on a permanent wartime footing, this is, indeed, a radical notion, but one we’d do well to seriously entertain.

Instead of more weapons, we could invest in sustainable development around the world addressing some of the root causes of conflict. The USA could lead the way in moving the world toward a secure, peaceful, just and sustainable future. We could invest in efficiency and clean energy to address the climate crisis, which threatens everyone’s future. We could make investments at home, in our people and our infrastructure, making our economy stronger and more resilient. The only losers in this process would be those who today profit handsomely from selling us the means of death and destruction and those who profit politically from the marketing of fear.

This transition should not be unilateral. Our government could engage the nations of the world to push for international agreements for mutual, verifiable cuts in armaments and military spending, done incrementally over the coming decade. We could announce a new foreign policy based upon cooperation and collaboration to address the very real problems humanity faces in the Twenty-first Century. The United States could challenge the nations of the world not to a new arms race, but rather to a race to creating just, sustainable societies.

Instead of being an object of resentment and ridicule, as it is today, the USA could truly serve as a beacon of hope, a force for good in the world. We are not so na├»ve as to believe that such a transformation—needed as it is—is imminent, but it must be our aspiration. And we must communicate such a vision to elected officials and candidates for office who hope to win the support of progressive, caring citizens. We must also remind those who supposedly represent us that military spending creates fewer jobs per dollar spent than almost any other spending category.

The need for a clear notion of where we are and where we need to be headed has been recognized for millennia. As it says in the Biblical Book of Proverbs, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” It’s up to us to articulate a clear vision, to amplify it and to insist that, as far off is its full implementation might seem, that we be moving in that direction. Your participation in this process is essential.

A Permanent War Economy is not a healthy economy. We need to take this message to our elected officials.

Congress Needs to Hear from Us on the Climate--Letters Ready to Go.

As you surely know, Donald Trump has appointed a collection of climate change deniers and dismissers to key positions in his administration. And, sadly, the Senate has confirmed them. Most egregious, perhaps, is Scott Pruitt, who, as Oklahoma Attorney General has sued the EPA 14 times, and now is the EPA Administrator. We are very concerned that the Trump-Pruitt Agenda will entail scrapping both the EPA Clean Power Plan (which Pruitt sued to stop) and the Paris Climate Accord (which Trump pledged to withdraw the U.S. from). It is now up to us to try our best to convince Congress to protect the very modest climate gains made during the eight years Obama was in office.

WRITING CONGRESS:  What we’ve been told is that it is much more effective to send a letter than to just make a comment on-line. Moreover, letters sent to district offices, rather than those in DC, are actually processed faster and seen sooner than those sent to Washington.

In order to facilitate getting lots of letters sent in we have created model letters and posted these in PDF format. To access them, just CLICK HERE.

There are three ways you can make use of these. The easiest is to print them out. Sign them. Print your name and your address below, and send them off. If you would like to personalize them, you can copy the text of the letters, paste it into a Word document, and then edit this to reflect your concerns. Or you can just use the addresses, start from scratch and write your own letter.

Whichever way works best for you, please take action. The simple print, sign and mail approach will take less than 10 minutes. Please note that it is important to thank Sen. Claire McCaskill for her votes against Pruitt and Tillerson, and to encourage her to become a climate action leader. It is also important to include your address, first of all, so they know you’re their constituent and also so they can write back.

Finally, there are two letters to the Senators—McCaskill and Blunt—and it’s important to send both of these. Following this, there are three letters to members of the House—either Hartzler, Luetkemeyer or Graves—and you should only send one of these. If you’re not sure who your rep is, you can CLICK HERE to find out. Just go to this page and the Rep Finder is on the upper right of the page.