Working towards peace and sustainability

Lights of Hope in Our Peace Lanterns

On August 4, 2018 peace-loving mid-Missourians will gather, as they’ve done annually for the past 31 years, to share in making a statement of hope for the future. In a world of Realpolitik, perpetual wars and militarism, some might see this as a pointless gesture. Others, aware of the power of intention, see it otherwise, and thus we persist, coming together each year to renew a shared commitment.

When those who’ve not previously participated hear of a “Hiroshima-Nagasaki Memorial Peace Gathering,” they often, understandably, think that we are gathering primarily to remember those who died in the atomic bombing of these two cities in 1945.

Of course, remembering the hundreds of thousands of innocent people who lost their lives in these horrific bombings is one part of why we gather. Our primary reason for gathering, however, is looking forward, not back, and aiming to mobilize pressure in the present to co-create a future free of the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Nuclear weapons are one of two human-created, existential threats; the other being climate change. The intention of the United States and the other eight nuclear-armed nations to maintain their arsenals in perpetuity, serves to legitimate the pursuit of these hellishly destructive devices. More fingers on the button means the use of these weapons is more likely. And our own government’s commitment to a phenomenally expensive, so-called “modernization” only spurs new arms races with the Russians and the Chinese, again, making us less safe.

And, when we gather, while we address the need for mutual, verifiable, incremental and universal nuclear disarmament, we also always tie together our concerns regarding nukes with broader concerns: ending the permanent war and the power of the Military-Industrial Complex, pursuing social and economic justice and addressing the very real threats of climate change and environmental unsustainability.
Participants decorate lanterns in preparation for the lantern float.
This annual gathering is in some ways a ritual, a coming together of a community. We break bread; sharing food potluck style. We listen to music, speakers and poets. Most symbolically we decorate commemorative lanterns, and, when it gets dark we light candles in the lanterns and float them on the lake. In the Japanese tradition the candle-boats each carry the soul of someone whose life has passed.

To us, however, the lights have an additional meaning. The tiny candle flame symbolizes hope; our hope for peace and a nuclear-free future. It’s another expression of the notion, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” Each of us creates a lantern and they are sent out on the water as a group, symbolizing our shared hopes and prayers. Ultimately, our August Peace Gathering is an opportunity for the community to come together and embrace hope; hope for a future in which we finally get our priorities straight, a future that works for all of us.

We hope you will join us.  For more info, please CLICK HERE.

Serving line for the potluck.
Eating and visiting.
Peace educator and activist Bill Wickersham addresses the crowd.

Vote “No” on Prop. A

Tuesday, August 7 Missouri voters will decide whether our state will adopt an anti-labor, so-called “Right to Work” (RTW) law. Peaceworks urges our members and supporters to turn out in large numbers and vote “No” on Proposition A.

Given that Peaceworks’ primary concerns are climate change and matters of war and peace, some may wonder why we are wading in to this fray. Here are some of the reasons:

  Peaceworks is also concerned about social and economic justice. Strong unions are a bulwark against growing economic inequality. In fact, the trend towards lower real wages for workers has tracked closely with union busting and anti-union policies adopted starting during the Reagan administration. States with RTW laws consistently have lower wages and fewer workplace protections.

  Justice is an essential ingredient for peace, both on the international stage and domestically. If we hope to live in a peaceful world in the decades to come, we better get on the right side of history and start pursuing economic democracy and a participatory economy, rather than moving further along the road to oligarchy.

  The ability to organize strong unions capable of standing up to management and negotiating fair wages, benefits and rights for workers affects more than just those who are in unions. Strong labor correlates with higher wages in general and higher state minimum wages. States that have such laws also tend to have higher quality and better funded public education and more investments in infrastructure which benefit the population at large. RTW states, on the other hand, tend to adopt an agenda of cutting spending to the bone. Tax cuts for the well-heeled are paid for by cuts in programs that protect and provide for the least among us and diminish the quality of life for the population at large.

  The challenges of our time require building a broad-based alliance of all groups on the left. Peace and sustainability advocates need to ally ourselves with groups working intersectionally to advance gender justice, civil rights and liberties, and an economy that works for all of us. We must do this while challenging xenophobia and other toxic isms that divide our society with fear-based, us-and-them thinking and the scapegoating that comes with it.

A Popular Front is needed to counter the neo-fascist direction in which our society has been moving. Organized labor challenging the grip of Wall St. and transnational capital is a necessary component of this movement, and it is essential right now, with labor on the chopping block, to stand united in solidarity.

A Little Background

Right to Work laws have their roots in the late 1940s as push-back on the advances that labor had made under the Wagner Act, a key component of FDR’s New Deal. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act opened the doors for adoption of RTW on a state-by-state basis. For many years it was almost exclusively states in the former confederacy—that is the most backward states with the least organized labor force—that adopted RTW laws.

In more recent times there has been a push, largely funded by powerful rightwing figures including the Koch brothers, to enact RTW in other states, particularly in the Midwest Rustbelt where labor has lost much of its strength due to deindustrialization and out-sourcing of production. Much of the support for RTW has come from the extreme rightwing, including the Olin Foundation, and there is much crossover between RTW leadership and far-right groups like the John Birch Society.

In Missouri, where voters had turned back a RTW ballot issue in 1978, the renewed push for RTW was embraced by the GOP-controlled legislature, but blocked by Gov. Jay Nixon. When Eric Greitens took office in 2017 RTW advocates quickly passed, and the Governor signed a RTW law. Labor, however, took to the streets with a referendum petition to block the law from taking effect. Hundreds of thousands of Missourians signed the petition, and this then referred the issue to the voters.

The vote on RTW, Proposition A, was originally expected to be held in November 2018 at the time of the general election. But the legislature moved the vote to August 7, the date of the primary, which usually draws a much smaller turnout, tilted towards older and more conservative voters. This was a transparent move to put a thumb on the scale and pass RTW.  

What Can We Do?

The answer to this one is pretty simple. First of all, plan to vote “No!” on Prop. A. Then do everything you can to get friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, co-parishioners, etc. to understand what’s at stake and urge them to turn out  and vote “No!” on August 7. Note, those who will be away on election day, or who are incapacitated can vote absentee. Details HERE. Deadlines apply. Click HERE for the form to request an absentee ballot by mail.

Besides this, the No on Prop A campaign is in need of volunteers. There is both canvassing and phonebanking to be done, as well as other tasks. If you have a few hours to spare between now and August 7, the campaign would welcome your active participation. You can contact the local campaign coordinator, Joe Moore, by calling him at 732-948-5718. Learn more about the issue via the We Are Missouri website or Facebook page. For general background on the RTW issue click HERE.

P.S. We have heard some people question whether unions are really a progressive force, and wonder if they are not corrupt or at least obsolete. Our response is that the labor movement is not perfect, and we don’t always see eye-to-eye on all issues, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

If some politicians are corrupt or embrace positions we disagree with, this is not a reason to abandon the electoral system of governance and embrace a one-party state or a military dictatorship. Likewise, unions are needed, in general operate in the interests of the workers they represent, and, as democratic institutions hold the potential for reform from within. To have them stand down, as RTW would do, would only empower corporate interests at the expense of these workers and all of us. Let us instead unite to defeat RTW and also support democratic, rank-and-file movements within unions.
 Note: Peaceworks is a 501.c.3 educational non-profit. We do not endorse, support or oppose candidates for office. We are allowed to spend a limited portion of our budget on supporting or opposing legislation, including ballot issues.

30 Missouri Candidates on Energy & Climate Change

Peaceworks, with the co-sponsorship of Citizens’ Climate Lobby of Missouri, Mizzou Energy Action Coalition, and Climate Reality Project, Missouri Leadership Corps, has conducted a candidate survey, asking contenders for legislative seats on the state and federal levels where they stand on climate and energy concerns.

We were very pleased to have 30 candidates respond this year, up from just 15 two years ago. Moreover, it seems that more candidates are “getting it,” submitting answers to our questions that show they have thought seriously about the issues, and have been seeking out effective solutions to the climate crisis.

We would note that it seems the climate issue is still one that is polarized along partisan lines. Most GOP candidates are still not interested in addressing climate change. Of our 30 responses, 25 were from Democrats, two were from Libertarians, two from Greens, and only one from a Republican candidate, who, incidentally, was a Democrat until she changed parties a few months ago. Clearly, the climate movement needs to continue to reach out to more conservative voters and politicians.

We hope you will spend some time reading through the candidates’ responses. Some, at least, make really good and informative reading.

You can access our full report if you CLICK HERE.

It might, however, be easier to read through this in sections.

We suggest you start with this four-page introduction that lays out our methodology and provides the questions:  CLICK HERE.

There are then four sections of the report with candidate responses:

You’ll find the responses of seven candidates for the Missouri State House from Boone County districts:  CLICK HERE.

You’ll find the responses of 10 candidates for the Missouri State House from other parts of mid-Missouri:  CLICK HERE.

You’ll find the responses of six mid-Missouri candidates for the Missouri State Senate:  CLICK HERE.

You’ll find the responses of seven candidates running for Congress:  CLICK HERE.

We encourage you to engage candidates. This includes sharing your thoughts and feedback with those who participated in this survey, as well as letting those who chose not to participate know that climate is an issue that matters to you; one that you want them to address both in the campaign and, if elected, when in office. Thanks!

Trump, Korea, Nuclear Weapons & More

There are many pressing concerns regarding Korea and nuclear weapons that need to be addressed and contextualized. While many people have been critical of Trump’s summit meeting with Kim, few seem to have satisfying answers to the conundrum of “denuclearization.” What exactly does that mean? How would it be accomplished?

For starters, Peaceworks opposes nuclear weapons and would like to see them abolished, mutually, verifiably and universally. The question is how we get from here to there.

Please consider that our government and those of other nuclear armed states are universally opposed to nuclear proliferation—that is the spread of nukes to currently non-nuclear states—but have been consistently and steadfastly opposed to giving up their own nuclear capabilities. When the so-called “Ban Treaty,” which would outlaw all nuclear weapons came before the United Nations last summer, 123 nations supported it (out of 178), but not one of the nine nuclear-armed states got on board with a yes vote.

It is also worthy of note that the United States is legally bound by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed in 1968 and ratified in 1970. Ratified treaties are, under the U.S. Constitution, deemed “the highest law of the land,” but our government consistently ignores Article VI which reads:

“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes 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.”

The U.S., however, has not taken the Treaty seriously, except to use it to pressure non-nuclear states. In fact, through its periodic Nuclear Posture Reviews, the U.S. has made clear its intention to maintain a nuclear arsenal in perpetuity. And our government has adopted a $1.2 trillion plan to “modernize” their nuclear weapons capabilities. These actions are fueling a new arms race with Russia and China. This is very costly, dangerous and completely unnecessary.

And this “do as I say, not as I do” double standard creates an incentive for non-nuclear states to “go nuclear” and obtain a deterrent to discourage aggression along the lines we saw when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 or when the U.S. led the NATO assault on Libya in 2011. Both of these regime-change wars have devastated the countries they ostensibly were out to help and left both countries divided and embroiled in violent conflict to this day.

North Korea in Historic Context

Understanding the history of nuclear weapons, and the establishment of a world of nuclear-haves and nuclear-have-nots, partially helps to explain why North Korea sought these horribly destructive weapons, if for no other purpose than a deterrent to superpower aggression.

It also might help to recall that the Korean War—fought between 1950-53—resulted in a massive loss of life. Estimates are that as many as three million North Koreans, or 20 percent of their population, lost their lives. The U.S. engaged in a nearly unbelievable bombing campaign that included the use of more than half a million tons of bombs as well as napalm. As Air Force General Curtis LeMay, head of the strategic air command during the Korean War, put it, “We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea.”

No North Korean family was unscathed and this helps explain their animosity towards and fear of the United States. It also helps to understand why they find the huge U.S.-South Korean war games right on their doorstep as threatening; it is always possible that, under the pretense of an exercise, their adversaries could launch a surprise attack.

Trump on Korea

Donald Trump’s foreign policy in general has been erratic at best, and, in many cases very destructive. He has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran Nuclear Agreement, two important steps forward undertaken under President Obama. And, in moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, he has enflamed the Israel-Palestine conflict. He has insulted foreign leaders, including major U.S. allies, while heaping high praise on brutal despots. He’s continued and expanded existing wars and threatened new ones. And it seems like he sees one of his main jobs on the world stage as being an arms salesman, hawking the wares of the Military-Industrial Complex hither and yon.

Perhaps the most disconcerting moments of his presidency came in his war of words with North Korea in 2017. No one can forget his threat that the North Koreans “will be met with fire and the fury like the world has never seen,” or his taunting dismissal of Kim Jong Un as “little rocket man” and “a sick puppy.” He not only threatened to unleash a nuclear attack that would “totally destroy North Korea,” in an adolescent outburst he stated “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

Measured against the pushing-to-the-brink-of-nuclear-war position we were in in 2017, Trump’s current diplomacy with North Korea is a big improvement. Even if the results of their summit were more photo-op than substance, it is far better to be sitting down and talking, than it is to be threatening what should be unthinkable, the launching a nuclear war.

The Joint Statement signed at the end of the summit is quite vague. It includes a pledge that the “DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but there is no explanation as to what “complete denuclearization” means, on what timeline it would be attained, how this would be verified, etc. There is also no indication whether or not “complete denuclearization” includes the removal of nuclear-armed U.S. military forces from South Korea or the waters surrounding Korea. As such, this is pretty hollow rhetoric. But hollow rhetoric is an improvement over bellicose rhetoric.

Trump has also come in for significant criticism for “giving without getting.” It is noted that he agreed to cancel U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises with no corresponding concession by the North Koreans. In point of fact, these exercises, or war games, should never have been held in the first place. As Trump noted, they are “provocative.” Mobilizing tens of thousands of troops, on land, in the air and on the sea and staging mock invasions close to the border of another country is clearly unacceptable, and, due to the ambiguous nature of the mobilization could easily be suspected of providing cover for an actual military assault. Imagine how the U.S. would have reacted during the Cold War if Cuba and the Soviet Union held similar exercises off the coast of Florida.

What Do the Korean People Want?

While it is hard to know what the people of North Korea want, as it is not an open society, we know from multiple polls that the overwhelming majority of South Koreans want an end to the tensions, a peace treaty ending the Korean War, mutual recognition and steps toward disarmament. In fact, a recent poll found that 88.4 percent of South Koreans support the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration, which calls for peace between the two Koreas and steps toward disarmament. Their wishes seem to dovetail with those of many in the Korean diaspora, which were laid out in a pre-summit Statement of Unity by Korean Americans and Allies.

Will North Korea disarm? Time will tell. But it is, of course, not just up to the North Korean leadership. A lot depends upon how they perceive the intentions of the United States. It would clearly be more likely that they would make moves in this direction if they saw a de-escalation of tensions and moves toward making peace. On the other hand, seeing the U.S. reject other agreements, including the Iran Nuclear Agreement and the Paris Accord, does not help. If Donald Trump really wants a Nobel Peace Prize, he will clearly have to do more than just have one meeting gushing praise on an autocratic leader. Rather, the U.S. will have to do its part to create an atmosphere of mutual trust.

And liberals and those on the Left, while standing firm against Trump’s overall agenda, need to recognize that, just as a stopped clock tells the right time a couple of times a day, so, too, can some of Trump’s actions be worthy of saluting. Bernie Sanders gets this, and in a prepared statement, while noting it was “very light on substance,” he declared the Singapore meeting “a positive step in de-escalating tensions between our countries, addressing the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and moving toward a more peaceful future.”  He further stated, “Congress has a key role to play in making sure this is a meaningful process, not just a series of photo ops.” While tentative, we agree, and urge others to support steps to peace.