Is There a Peace Movement in the US?

Fabio Rojas and Michael Heaney wrote a book, “Party in the Streets: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11“, which explains why there is no peace/antiwar movement in the US right now. During the George W. Bush years, the peace movement was strong where protest rallies attracted hundreds of thousands of people. Today, it’s a struggle to get anyone to come out to the streets in protest against US wars.

In an interview with Jacobin, authors Rojas and Heaney give plenty of reasons why the peace movement doesn’t exist anymore. Sure, there are peace organizations and organizers still doing things but they are virtually unknown. I highly recommend for everyone to read the interview-article but I will summarize its points:

  • When the peace movement was larger and strong, it overlapped with the Democratic Party. This means when Democrats begins to win positions in government, there is less motivation to protest. The prime example of this is when President Obama won, everyone went home.
  • The peace movement relied on Democratic ‘activists’ for everything, from participation to sponsoring antiwar legislation.
  • American society has become more polarized. Unlike previous peace movements, like in the 1930s, both sides of the political spectrum (conservatives and liberals alike) worked together to protest wars. Today, partisanship is a major hinderance to creating a vibrant movement against war. Most of today’s ‘organizing’ involves which political party a person is allied with.
  • US wars are fought a different way due to protests. After Obama, who did not end the wars but actually expanded them, wars do not involved a large boot-print of soldiers fighting. It now involved drones, airstrikes, training local security forces, mercenaries and private contractors. It’s more difficult because less soldiers are dying, which are the only link to wars for the American public.
  • Political parties often do not support antiwar legislation because it is seen as being unpatriotic.
  • The majority of the Democratic Party leadership is hawkish and supports war.
  • Both parties are interventionist parties.

Although I do agree with everything stated by Rojas and Heaney, there is a significant missing element. Context plays an important role in understanding why the US peace movement is struggling but also denial is a significant part.

No peace/antiwar movement has ever ended a war. I know what you’re thinking… what about the peace/antiwar movement during the Vietnam War? This is a classic example of American-centric thinking. We did everything. We deserve credit. We, we, we. What about the North Vietnamese who were actually fighting against US imperialism, don’t they get any credit for ending the war? Sure, the peace movement contributed in many ways but in no way did it end the war. Vietnam waged on for ten years (or longer to some accounts). And today, the wars around the world beginning with Afghanistan is still ongoing 17 years after it began! Even during the Bush years when the peace movement was stronger than it is today the wars never ended and actually escalated with the Iraq Surge and then the Afghanistan Surge.

As I write this it has been 11 years since the Great Recession of 2008 began. We still haven’t recovered to pre-2008 levels of the US economy. That means people are poorer, inequality is worse, and nothing has improved for the basic standard of living for the average American.

If Americans have less money, less resources, and their only hope is looking towards the 2020 or 2024 presidential elections, then why do anything? The majority of the American people don’t have a vision for the future and believe all their problems will be fixed with the election of one person, the president. Remember, getting people to vote is not organizing; it’s avoiding the problem entirely and placing the burden on the same system that got us in this mess in the first place.

Through our public education system, which teaches is a form of bourgeois ideology, we compartmentalize the political system separate from the economic system. This sets us on the incorrect path in analyzing the issues in our society. One hundred years ago, we had the study of political-economy, not the separate categories of politics and economics we have today.

My main argument is that our economic system has everything to do with our political system; which means that the wars the US is waging across the world is in total connection to the economy. We, on the left, call this system capitalism.

Capitalism is based on competition. Is war not the ultimate competition?

-Will Griffin

The peace movement today, made up of small organizations who continue the fight against US wars, does not address the economic system which drives the political wars in the first place. The peace movement can not just demand an end to the wars without acknowledging the premise of these wars: the drive for profit and capital accumulation.

When the peace movement only demands an end to the wars with an expectation that everyone join them, without acknowledging the current economic conditions within the US, then it is doomed to fail. People in the US are poor and struggling to make ends meet, and the peace movement wants them to travel all the way to Washington D.C. to march for hours holding a sign with no promise of any return? No way.

The American people want a better life: healthcare, secured jobs, education, and a hopeful future for their children. These issues are ultimately tied to the wars abroad. Capitalism has always failed the working class (proletariat) while benefiting the ruling class (bourgeoisie). There was no time when capitalism benefitted everyone in society. It depends on exploitation, competition, and war.

The peace movement has also become elitist. The organizers leading the peace movement today believe they truly know what’s better for poor people in the US. These ‘leaders’ expect people to follow them, but no one is following them. Why? because they do not bother to ask what people want or how to help them. This major contradiction is avoided and rarely does anyone or any organization bother to discuss how to deal with it.

The peace organizations that exist, many of which have a board of directors or some sort of central committee, are not bothering themselves with what everyday Americans want or need. If they did, things would most likely be different. Rather, the people who guide the peace organizations believe they know what’s best for all Americans and, without engaging the masses, continue to organize for ‘peace’ on their behalf and then later wonder why people aren’t joining their campaigns organizations.

The masses, the working class, should be the drivers of their own destiny. They sure as hell don’t need another elitist or minority group directing them in how to live their lives. The current peace organizations should be engaging with the masses as much as possible. Both the organizations and the masses can contribute to each other with the end result becoming something more powerful than either of them standing alone. This is a contradiction that can only be solved one way.

I propose a solution to this contradiction. It’s called Mass Work. What is it? Mass Work is any sort of political work that engages the masses. The important aspect is to engage with the masses. Organizers and leaders must always include the masses in any work they do. If not, how are they any different from the bourgeois politicians we have today in government?

This methodology is the only way of solving the contradiction between a petty-bourgeois peace organizations and the unorganized masses in the US. The masses have wonderful ideas and know what they want most but are in need of direction and unity. The peace organizations, with all the experience they have gained in the past 17+ years of continued war, can help gather the ideas of the masses and organize them into a powerful campaign and movement to build a real threat to the current power structures. The longer we avoid having deep discussions in how to organize, strategize, and use the correct tactics… the longer we won’t have peace, at home or aboard.

I am open to any ideas to help build a strong, vibrant peace and antiwar movement. This is just an idea from my perspective and experiences of organizing from the past 7 years in various issues. Either way, we must begin to have serious discussions on how to move forward with intent for real change. We must connect-the-dots between our economy, our political and social systems. We must experiment, try news things, evaluate and repeat. We are on the clock and time is running out. It’s now or never.