Peace activist Cora Weiss delivered this speech at the 28th annual Conference for Peace sponsored by the New Jersey Coalition for Peace Action at Princeton University November 16, 2008. It appears here as part of the ongoing Moral Compass series, focused on the spoken word.
Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, there has never been a time like this.
On Day One, President Barack Obama must repeal the gag rule that prohibits US funds from supporting women and health clinics that discuss or administer abortions worldwide. Bush issued that gag order on his Day One. Obama must now expunge it.
Obama needs to shut down Guantánamo, return that piece of Cuba to the Cubans and declare that his foreign policy will be based on the force of law, not the law of force.
When Obama issues his plan for the return of all soldiers and contractors from Iraq, and a program for the reconstruction of the country, he should not send them instead to Afghanistan. He should announce a diplomatic surge.
This new era began when Barack Obama opened his campaign, quoting Dr. King, and spoke of the “fierce urgency of now.” When he became president-elect, Obama told us that “the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals, democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.”
Obama has promised to “return to an American foreign policy consistent with America’s traditional values and wants to partner with moderates within the Islamic world to counter Al Qaeda propaganda.”
Everyone here agrees that the agenda is long and difficult. Nuclear weapons, Iraq, Iran, Israel; Congo, Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, trafficking of girls and women, child soldiers, torture–and the list goes on.
As a strong believer in participatory democracy, I decided to ask people who are impacted by our foreign policy what kind of foreign policy they think we should have.
Lucy, in Nairobi, Kenya, writes: “We would like America to stop giving military support to countries in this region simply because we border Somalia. These arms find their way onto our streets and help fuel festering conflicts.”
Secondly, she said, “Now that Bush is exiting…please can the US do more in ending the war in the DRC, Congo.”
Loreta in the Philippines writes: “It was Obama’s anti-war stance that made me think he would be better than Hillary. My hope is that his foreign policy will truly use the power of nonviolence to resolve problems. Use diplomacy, and carrots and sticks (incentives and sanctions), but do not give legitimacy to war as a means of conflict resolution.
“The world favored him because of the hope he would be multi-lateralist, listen to other voices and start a new world ethic among industrialized countries. They hope for him to lead in fair trade and resist corporate interests that ruin the environment.
“The presence of the US military in Mindinao,” she concluded, “is adding to the negative views about the United States. We need humanitarian and development aid and not a US military presence.”
Then there was the woman from Queens, New York, who said, “We need to re-establish our reputation around the world. People can relate to Obama. He is someone who grew up poor and is half Kenyan. He’s an excellent communicator and will help diminish terrorism. Maybe they won’t hate us anymore.”