Working towards peace and sustainability

What Matters?

What a wild rollercoaster ride this year has been. And it seems there is more uncertainty today than ever before. We really don’t know what comes next. Meanwhile we are searching for how best to respond to what we face daily.

The year began with the combination of a presidential impeachment and the threat of war with Iran. Then an intense, albeit brief, presidential primary season commanded most of the public’s attention. But before that was even resolved, the Coronavirus Crisis shook the country and became all-consuming. It has been something unique in the lives of virtually everyone alive today, and it’s not over yet, not by a long shot. And now, for nearly a month, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) uprising, in the wake of the brutal police murder of George Floyd, has presented itself with an intensity unseen in 50-plus years, since the uprisings of the late 1960s.

Looking ahead, there’s great uncertainty. Will the pandemic continue to grow, or will it be slowed or stopped? How far away is a vaccine? Are projections of half a million Americans dead over the next year realistic? Is this acceptable? What are the implications for the economy?
What will become of the current BLM rebellion? Will there be meaningful progress on the policing policy front? Will there be an active, focused movement taking and holding center stage, and what will this mean for those of us who favor an intersectional approach to the issues we work on?

Which way will the electoral political winds blow over the next five months? Will Trump win a second term? Will he lose the election but refuse to yield power? If Biden wins, what will that mean for the issues we’re most concerned with?

None of these questions have easy answers. But we do have some reference points to turn to in search of answers.

What Matters is All Connected

It is easy to feel overwhelmed when we simultaneously face an unprecedented public health crisis, the ongoing malignant impact of centuries of racial injustice, and the threat of neo-fascist politics destroying the limited democracy and rule of law we must struggle to maintain. And we watch all this play out against a backdrop of growing inequality, permanent war and heightened militarism, along with the existential threats posed by climate change and nuclear weapons.

All of these concerns matter. And all are connected. While some might try to reduce everything to one dimension (e.g. race, capitalism, population, unsustainability, etc.) the reality is that they all matter and share a root cause.

Much of humanity is afflicted by a profound alienation coupled with a desire to control and dominate. This applies to our interpersonal dynamics, our economic relations, or our divisive identification with a group, team, ethnicity, religion or nationality that is perceived to be in competition with the “other.”

Racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and other modes of systemic bias are all rooted in this us vs. them thinking, all of which encourages hate and/or fear, inflicts pain and is harmful to all parties, the hater, as well as the hated.

While there are many steps to be taken, many struggles to engage, the to-the-root bottom line is that we need a paradigm shift, away from “power-over,” and toward “shared-agency.” Those who are sitting on top of the power pyramid that goes with the present paradigm will attempt to do what they’ve done for centuries, divide and conquer.

It’s up to us to develop networks of solidarity and mutual support. Each of us is limited as to what we can do. And each organization only can do so much, as well. But we amplify our abilities when we recognize the connections between our struggles; recognize that each of these matter—that each are matters of life and death—and support each other as we work toward just solutions.

 Being Intersectionally Anti-Racist

Peaceworks was founded in 1982 as a Nuclear Weapons Freeze group. Over the years, we’ve primarily focused on disarmament, peace, sustainability and climate concerns. That said, we’ve long been strong supporters of social and economic justice, and allies of our fellow activists whose work focuses on these concerns.

We recognize that the power-over paradigm manifests in many forms, but is most virulent when the prism is race. Racism didn’t start with Euro-American settlement, but the combination of the genocide of indigenous people and the enslavement of African people means this nation was built on stolen land using stolen labor.

There is a strong parallel between war and racism. In both there is a dehumanizing process, whereby the “other” is regarded, and treated, as less than human. This allows anything desired by those who have power over, from murder and torture to sexual control and domination to economic exploitation.

Peaceworks recognizes the connections between struggles for human rights, for environmental sanity, for labor rights and economic justice, for gender justice and so much more. We can’t organize around all these issues, but we can be strong allies and help get the word out when our comrades are calling for support. This is the case whether we’re talking about justice for George Floyd, pressing MU not to outsource custodial and landscaping jobs, working to oppose capital punishment or fighting to maintain and expand reproductive rights, just to name a few.

Black Lives Matter

Addressing racism begins with a most basic step. We must recognize our internalized racist attitudes that are a product of the society we have been born and raised in. Then we must work to recognize the common humanity of all our fellow humans, whatever their skin color; or for that matter their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Starting by breaking out of us/them thinking is foundational.

Beyond this, we must take our healing process from the interpersonal to the realm of public policy. We are not about to lay out here a highly specific program, but we will suggest some outlines. First of all, we who are white should begin by listening to our black and brown sisters and brothers. They have the direct experience and can inform the understandings of members of the white community.

It seems to us that these are some things that need to be addressed:

*  Ending mass incarceration. We need to end the drug war and start treating addiction as a health, not a criminal, matter. We also need to end the disenfranchisement of those who’ve been incarcerated.

*  Policing needs thorough rethinking. There have been numerous proposals from banning choke holds to abolishing or defunding police forces. We don’t have a detailed program to offer up, but recognize the need to move quickly, but thoughtfully, to reinvent public safety, using more social workers and unarmed personnel who are adept at non-violent conflict resolution. Demilitarizing police departments and abandoning the use of chemical weapons, including tear gas, are essential. Training and retraining as well as removing officers with a history of abusive behavior is also necessary.

*  Education is essential. Right now, those from poorer neighborhoods go to seriously underfunded schools, while affluent communities have far more to spend per pupil. This is backwards, and in need of serious reform. Likewise, public higher education should be available to all without tuition to enable all who wish to pursue education to do so.

*  Housing, healthcare and nutrition are human rights. We need to adequately fund programs that meet the unmet basic needs of all, including, but not limited to, people of color.

*  Reparations must be explored. We need to acknowledge the profound harm caused by centuries of racist exploitation and seek out ways to invest in developing strong, socially connected and economically vibrant communities with adequate infrastructure and investment in people as well as place.

There’s a bumper sticker that bears the message “If you want peace, work for justice,” with the quote attributed to Pope Paul VI. There’s a chant we hear in the streets these days, “No justice, no peace.” They are two sides of the same coin. We at Peaceworks sincerely want peace and justice and we are ready to work for both. We hope you are too.