Over the past 75 years, the United States has built the greatest war-making force the world has ever known. Today, our country boasts an infrastructure of global surveillance, flying killer robots, and floating aircraft carriers, all administered from a network of more than 800 military bases in over 70 countries. In recent decades, we decided to erase from that infrastructure any semblance of democratic accountability, allowing the president to make war almost anytime, anywhere, for any reason.
This year, we put at the helm of this global killing regime a reality-TV star who has promised to “bomb the shit” out of our enemies, attack the families of terrorists, and reinstitute torture—and who, in February, proposed increasing the already bloated military budget by $54 billion. Imagine the response of this president to a significant terrorist attack, the damage to our democracy and our world that he might unleash. It helps clear the mind.
In the face of such a nightmare, how do we build the peace movement we need? This is not a new question. Over the past decade, many thoughtful and talented organizers have been working to strengthen the antiwar movement. I came to these conversations a year and a half ago, when I was asked by the Colombe Foundation to help it determine how best to support new organizing against militarism. I began speaking with various organizers and leaders, both longtime antiwar activists and young folks shaping struggles for racial justice, immigrant rights, climate justice, and corporate accountability.
Throughout those conversations, there was consensus that the contemporary peace movement was not nearly powerful enough to mount a serious challenge to the forces of American empire and militarism. As the challenges facing that movement came into focus for me, so did their scale. It is hard to imagine a more difficult target, from an organizing perspective, than military policy. The US empire today leaves a great deal of ruin in its wake, but its cost is only vaguely felt by most Americans, while its gargantuan profits are pocketed by a few and its most recognized organization—the military itself—is widely celebrated as the most trusted public institution.
In the wake of the election, as the need for a constituency to challenge American militarism grows in urgency, how might such challenges be met? Doing so will require reimagining the constituency, strategy, and purpose of the movement itself. It is not at all clear that a “peace movement” or even an “antiwar movement,” as those have generally been conceived, will suffice. Rather, we need a movement that can speak to the anger that so many Americans feel toward the corporate powers that dominate our politics. Such a movement would expose how militarism is not immune to that influence but is particularly beholden to it. Can such a movement be organized?
Why We Need a Peace Movement—and Why We Don’t Have One
While most progressives would concede that the antiwar movement isn’t the power it once was, antiwar sentiment remains among the most potent forces in our politics. It was pivotal to Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and his two terms in office brought major victories for those who have spent decades organizing for a demilitarized foreign policy—most notably the nuclear deal with Iran and the establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.