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Building a Better Strategy for the Peace Movement

Today a new article entitled, "Building a Better Strategy for the Peace Movement" has beeen posted at the PeaceWorking Blog. Addition, a summary of comments made by others during two of dialogs have been posted on a separate page on the blog.
M19, 2006
M19, 2006
M19, 2007
M19, 2007
M15, 2008
M15, 2008
Many activists realize the limits of current strategies, so I thought this might be a good place to continue the above mentioned discussion. There are many good ideas here, many places for others to add their creative energies.
Here is the original blog by Peter Bergel..

By Peter Bergel

Since I wrote "The Peace Movement Needs a New Strategy" in June, I have participated in two dialogues on this topic. One was a brief exchange between members of the Afghanistan Action Network of national Peace Action; the other was a longer and deeper exchange among members of the Oregon Progressive Network. Guided by these exchanges, this article proposes some next steps, not only for the "peace movement," but the entire progressive movement. After all, a true vision of "peace" would incorporate most, if not all, of what most progressives have been working toward.

I have also excerpted what I consider the relevant material from both exchanges and have posted that as a page at the upper right corner of this blog.

Where We Started

In "The Peace Movement Needs a New Strategy" I offered these critiques of current peace movement strategy and its results:

1. We are still using the social change tactics that we have used for decades even though they are proving less and less effective as time goes on. We have definitely lost ground over the decades I have been active.

2. We invest a lot of resources in public education and we have been effective in that area. Yet we have not figured out how to effectively transform public support for our point of view into access to the levers of power in order to create real change.

3. When it comes to action, we are devoting almost all our movement resources to lobbying and demonstrating, even though our success levels in those areas have been minimal in recent years.

4. We are mostly an anti-war movement, not a real peace movement.

5. We don't place enough emphasis on pointing out the flaws in war itself and the mentality that supports it. Rather, we confine ourselves largely to criticizing particular wars and addressing particular weapon systems.

6. We have been ineffective at stopping wars once their advocates have built up momentum for them. However, we can anticipate future resource wars (over oil, water, food, land, and raw materials) as a result of global warming. Now is the time to focus on those and work to head them off. 7. Most important, we do not have a shared movement-wide vision of the peaceful world we are trying to create. We have no collective answer to the question, "if peace broke out, what would it look like?"

Two Initial Suggestions

In "The Peace Movement Needs a New Strategy," I made two initial suggestions:

1. Use cultural work (film, music, theater, art, etc.) and social media (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc) in a planned and targeted way to transform conventional wisdom and public judgments toward support for a more peaceful, sustainable world.

2. Use the same tools to encourage transformation of the popular perception of war from seeing it as "wicked" (terrible, but attractive) to seeing it as "vulgar" (terrible and absolutely unattractive).

Further Proposals

After participating in the dialogues mentioned, I now believe that prior to discussion of broad strategy initiatives, we need to clarify where we want to be heading - that is, we need a broad, shared vision of the peaceful world we want to create. (See point 7 above.)

With that in mind, some additional proposals are:

3. Convene brainstorming sessions in a number of towns to which thoughtful people with backgrounds in social change work and other relevant expertise are invited to group themselves by sector and throw out answers to the question: "If peace broke out, what would it look like?" Record all responses and use them to develop a comprehensive and unified vision of the future. Sectors would include, but not be limited to: Conflict resolution ? local, regional, global Defense Housing Energy production and distribution Food production and distribution Transportation & shipping Environmental protection Education Recreation Economics/business/merchandising Medical care/wellness Government Justice/crime/human rights/civil liberties.

4. Create an independent think tank to digest this material and assist with the construction of the vision.

5. Organize a "Visions of Our Future" series of seminars during which knowledgeable people with relevant expertise are invited to present their own visions of how a sector of the future can function sustainably and lead discussions about them. This can be done all over the country with the intent of generating a consensus vision of where we want to go.

6. Review the visions already developed by the world community and enshrined in international law, including the UN and Nuremberg Charters, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Four Geneva Conventions, and a series of derivative international covenants that have evolved throughout the intervening years addressing a variety of emergent issues (e.g., nuclear non-proliferation, torture, prohibited weapons, terrorism, global warming) as well as watchdog institutions (e.g., Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UN Human Rights Commission). Electing international law as a base has the advantages of (1) painstaking development by a broad multi-cultural array of scholars, attorneys and political realists, (2) endorsement by most of the 192 nations comprising humankind, (3) potential for implementation with the force of law supported by reliable evidentiary documentation, and (4) no need to sell it to a breathlessly awaiting world. These international standards are pretty much what we were all supposed to have learned in kindergarten: play fair; share with others; clean up after yourself; don't take other peoples' stuff and if you do, give it back; don't hurt other people and if you do, say you're sorry and make it up to them. (Thanks to Jack Dresser for this formulation.)

7. Focus more on motivating people than merely "educating" them.

Principles for Building a Powerful Strategy

Here are a few litmus tests against which we can measure the work we do in developing a new vision and strategy.

1. We must engage our adversaries on ground where we are strong rather than pitting our weaknesses against the strengths of our adversaries.

2. To do that we have to inventory our strengths - such as numbers, existing non-governmental work towards change, the tide of history, the self-preserving mechanisms of the planet's ecosystem and our faith in basic human decency.

3. If a strategy depends critically on large sums of money to be effective, it will almost certainly be co-opted by our adversaries. They have a lot more money and are expert at manipulating it. Therefore we should seek strategic initiatives that do not require major funding or that can be funded by large numbers of people donating relatively small amounts.

4. We need to "think outside the box" in terms of both vision and strategy. We must free ourselves from the bonds of the status quo because we all know the status quo is not serving us well. Believing that we must continue to function within the status quo means hobbling our collective creative power.

5. Any major change will probably require a lot of time to be accomplished. This does not excuse us from beginning work on it right away. Responding from a crisis mentality has not, and will not, serve us well. Neither has devoting almost all of our energy to stopping something someone else is already doing.

Hopeful Signs

Many authors have noted that despite the grim threats confronting humanity on many fronts, there is already functioning an enormous number of small and large independent groups addressing a plethora of issues. Evidently a great many people understand that "something has to be done" regarding these threats. Pessimism is certainly warranted by the information science is serving up about the state of our world and our species, yet redemptive surprises have been experienced by almost everyone at some time or other in their lives. I think we have to take action with hope and determination and leave the rest in the Creator's hands. We must do our homework and hope for a redemptive surprise.

"Doing our homework" is understanding and recognizing all the great work that people like ourselves are doing all over this planet in an effort to fix something that is wrong, damaged, immoral or could be better. And then we need to take that understanding and recognition and fuse it into a comprehensive vision that can guide our actions and reaffirm our connections with one another.

Phil Carver, a former OPW Board Chair, and Carol Reece, a current OPW Board member, are organizing a walk up the coast between Sept. 20 and Oct. 24 to publicize the high-water dangers posed by unchecked global warming. Click here for more information about the walk. Visit the Itinerary page on this blog to see the latest schedule information.

It's time for the peace movement to evaluate its strategy.

We were successful in changing the public's view of the war in Iraq, yet even though we won that struggle long ago, U.S. troops are still in Iraq and U.S. bases are likely to remain there, whatever Pres. Obama pledges today. I have long felt that the peace movement never had a good strategy for denying the government the personnel and funds it needs to fight these wars, which it does whether it has public support or not. That is, we have not figured out how to transform public support for our point of view into access to the levers of power. We need to think that one through a lot better this time around. Just lobbying Congress is not adequate, as we have found again and again. We lose two (or more) struggles for every one we win.

A related concern: after decades of peace work, it seems to me that whenever we mobilize against a particular war we always start out behind the curve. The opposition already has its ducks in a row (or nearly so) and we never catch up. Eventually ? many years later ? the war winds down and we take credit, but by then huge losses of life and treasure have been suffered and the war mentality has been yet more deeply entrenched into the public's worldview. We call ourselves the peace movement, but really we are mostly an anti-war movement. And we learn once again that when the war is over, so is the movement. This time around I think we need to give far more emphasis to what's wrong with the whole war mentality. That should be integrated into every message we give.

If it makes our initial sell more difficult to fence-sitting Congress people, so be it. We need to change conventional wisdom not just about Afghanistan, but about war as a means of conflict resolution and way to support our country. We have to confess to ourselves as peace makers that the tactics we've been using all my life are just not working today. We want to change public policy, of course, but we need to expand our mission far beyond winning votes in Congress (something we hardly ever do on really important issues anyway). For example: we never stopped an Iraq supplemental, never got the overall military budget reduced (even though we've stopped a weapon system here and there), and never got Congress to see that our main national security threats are not amenable to military solutions.

Wars of the Future on the Horizon
There are a bunch of resource wars (oil, water, food, land, raw materials) starting to take shape in our future as a result of global warming. NOW is the time to head those off ? not when they're staring us in the face. I think it is critical that we adopt this element into our out-of-Afghanistan efforts. General Patraeus' and John Nagl's 80/20 concept intrigues me because it would seem to provide a good platform from which to build out the message that war in general ? not just this one ? is not an adequate response to problems like those that took us to Afghanistan or Iraq.

Of course, legislative strategy is only one of our tools. Others typically include demonstrations, public education, media work, civil resistance actions These are all good, and surely a mix of tactical approaches is the only thing that has ever been successful for us.

Let's take public education first. Last time (with Iraq) we did a great job of public education and relatively quickly found that the payoff was that polls reported our point of view ascending and soon achieving a majority, depending on how the questions were asked. At the same time, though we found relatively few joining our protests, civil resistance actions and lobbying efforts. Apparently we touched people's minds, but not their hearts. They agreed with us, but didn't care all that much.

We therefore need tactical approaches that direct themselves toward people's hearts. This suggests cultural work (film, music, theater, art, etc.) and social media (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc). These tools have so far not been incorporated into our strategic vision much. I am not saying no peace movement folks are using them. I am saying we don't have a coordinated strategy for using them.

Reaching the Hearts of the Public What if the public was watching a sitcom every week about a group of social change activists ? a show that was bringing up crucial issues in an amusing and engaging way (as The Simpsons has been known to do and the Smothers Brothers sometimes did too)? What if TV and movies featured some peace-oriented heroes (the MacGyver series of the 80s and 90s ? which ran 7 seasons ? is a good model)? What if top musicians were "layin' it between the lines" as a Peter, Paul and Mary song of the sixties said and many songs of the period did? What if there were a rebirth of easy-to-learn-and-sing movement songs that could bind people together? What if pro-peace and sustainability themes were finding their way into high quality theater scripts? What if peace art was hip and profitable?

The peace movement could be devoting movement resources to making all this happen. In the 60s all these tactics took on lives of their own. If we were successful, we would be changing not only people's intellectual opinions about war, but also their "gut feelings" about the value of peaceful approaches, the importance of hope and the efficacy of what is often cynically dismissed as "mere" idealism today. This cultural work could go a long way toward competing with the fear and violence-based entertainment messages that currently permeate our society.

Another possible area for development is suggested by this Oscar Wilde quote: "As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascinations. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular." How can we use cultural work to encourage that transformation from wicked to vulgar in the popular perception of war?

And when it comes to the social media, they are reaching into people's lives in an incredible way. There are 200 MILLION Facebook users! Twitter is one of the fastest growing phenoms on the Web and the fastest growing segment of Twitter users is over 35! Yet we peace folk have relatively few users and the WeFollow site shows only about 100 Twitter users who have tagged themselves with the word "peace." More important, we have no organized strategy for using these tools.

Avoid the Military's Mistake Why are we devoting almost all our movement resources to lobbying and demonstrating when our success levels are so meager in those areas? We criticize government for devoting almost all its security resources to a mostly counterproductive military, yet we are doing the same. We rarely win an important lobbying victory and our demonstrations are not drawing those whom we think are our supporters in anything like the numbers we need to be effective. I'm not suggesting that these tactics be abandoned, but I AM suggesting that we need some new tactics ? tactics that get to people where they live and are fun enough to attract people for their own sakes.

Your comments are welcome.

Peter Bergel is the Executive Director of Oregon PeaceWorks

homepage: homepage: http://oregonpeaceworks.org/wordpress/


Justice Before Peace 24.Aug.2009 14:30

Wrench Monkey

Bush was for peace and he said it many times. Likewise, Obama is also for peace as long as it is on U.S. imperial terms. What we need is to be for justice before peace. Ask the Palestinians or the Lebanese or the Iraqis if they want peace before justice.

"Take a minute and think of the mess the peace movement has created. First, the very name reflects the movement's shallowness. What good is a hypocritical, utterly out-of-touch and ineffective "peace movement," when beyond question ordinary people on this earth want justice before they want peace? The U.S. government and its ultra-close ally Israel actually want more unjust colonial wars and covert action to strengthen their own already unjust influence over a major part of the globe, in this case the Middle East. Peace above all is for those who support the status quo, but if you're in that category you're in a small minority. So let's banish the peace movement and get a global justice movement going. Peace may be all right long-term, but if you're one of the angry billions on this earth constantly surrounded by a stench of injustice that smothers all hope, chances are that, in your mind, peace should follow justice, not precede it. Chances are, in fact, that you have no favorable thoughts of any type about U.S. peaceniks."
(from:  http://www.counterpunch.org/christison08272007.html)

The first step to take is to undue the change/hope hypnosis of those under the sway of Obama, who is, as Matt Taibbi said so well, "the same old deal dressed up in black skin and a natty suit." The second step is to create the fear of the people that European policy-makers have. Peace is last on the agenda.

Hmmm 26.Aug.2009 09:00

Jason

Honestly, the peace movement is pathetic. So full of conditioned attitudes, opinions and thinking. If people want change, they gotta break free of that stuff and get more real.