Read MoveOn.org’s response to this article here. An earlier version of this article mischaracterized a February 2009 conversation between President Barack Obama and Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org. According to MoveOn, Ruben did not say that the organization would drop opposition to funding the war in Afghanistan, to sending additional troops or to attacks on civilians.
The most powerful grassroots organization of the peace movement, MoveOn, remains silent as the American wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan simmer or escalate.
Last December 17, 48.3 percent of MoveOn members listed “end the war in Iraq” as a 2009 goal, after healthcare (64.9 percent), economic recovery and job creation (62.1 percent) and building a green economy/stopping climate change (49.6 percent–only 1.5 percent above Iraq.) This was at a moment when most Americans believed the Iraq War was ending. Afghanistan and Pakistan were not listed among top goals which members could vote on.
Then on May 22 MoveOn surveyed its members once again, listing ten possible campaigns for the organization. “Keep up the pressure to the end the war in Iraq” was listed ninth among the options.
Afghanistan and Pakistan were not on the MoveOn list of options.
Nor was Guantánamo nor the administration’s torture policies. (“Investigate the Bush Administration” was the first option.)
MoveOn is supposed to be an Internet version of participatory democracy, but the organization’s decision-making structure apparently assures that the membership is voiceless on the question of these long wars.
What if they included an option like “demanding a diplomatic settlement and opposing a quagmire in Afghanistan and Pakistan”? Or “shifting from a priority on military spending to civilian spending on food, medicine and schools?”
This is no small matter. MoveOn has collected a privately held list of 5 million names, most of them strong peace advocates. The organization’s membership contributed an unprecedented $180 million for the federal election cycle in 2004-2006. Those resources, now squelched or sequestered, mean that the most vital organization in the American peace movement is missing in action.
What to do? There is no point raving and ranting against MoveOn. The only path is in organizing a dialogue with the membership, over the Internet, and having faith that their voices will turn the organization to oppose these escalating occupations. The same approach is necessary towards other vital organs of the peace movement including rank-and-file Democrat activists and the post-election Obama organization (Organizing for America) through a persistent, bottom-up campaign to renew the peace movement as a powerful force in civil society.
This is not a simple matter of an organizational oligarchy manipulating its membership, although the avoidance by MoveOn’s leadership is a troubling sign. There is genuine confusion over Afghanistan and Pakistan among the rank and file. The economic crisis has averted attention away from the battlefront. Many who voted for Obama understandably will give him the benefit of the doubt, for now.
Silence sends a message. The de facto MoveOn support for the $94 billion war supplemental reverberates up the ladder of power. Feeling no pressure, Congressional leadership has abdicated its critical oversight function over the expanding wars, not even allowing members to vote for a December report on possible exit strategies. In the end, a gutsy sixty voted against HR 2346 on May 14, but many defected to vote for the war spending, including Neil Abercrombie, Jerry Nadler, David Obey, Xavier Becerra, Lois Capps, Maurice Hinchey, Jesse Jackson, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Patrick Kennedy, Charles Rangel, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Loretta Sanchez, Rosa De Lauro, Bennie Thompson, Jerry McNerney, Robert Wexler and Henry Waxman. (Bill Delahunt, Linda Sanchez and Pete Stark were not recorded.)