At a time when there’s a troubling gap between how the politicians in Washington vote and how the folks back home want the US to (re)engage with the rest of the world, the Ploughshares Fund – now the largest grantmaking foundation in the US focused exclusively on peace and security issues, celebrating its 25th Anniversary, with grants totaling over $50 million – has devised a creative way of bringing those issues home to people who care, and introducing a new generation to the importance of simply the most critical issues in life: war and peace. On Saturday, the Fund kicked off its Peace Primary, highlighting the work of extraordinary grassroots groups and activists.
I was honored when the organizers asked me to serve as a judge to help select the finalists for this initiative. (And I enjoyed being called part of an “all-star panel,” as my basketball-crazed family has always thought all-star status is reserved for the likes of Shaq, Kobe, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, etc. Other judges include: writer, commentator and religious scholar Reza Aslan; Ploughshares Fund Executive Director Naila Bolus; the Reverend Dr. Joan Brown Campbell of the Chautauqua Institute; Bonnie Jenkins, program officer at the Ford Foundation; former Congressman Paul (Pete) McCloskey; The Nation‘s peace and disarmament correspondent, author Jonathan Schell; and actor Martin Sheen.)
I’ve cared deeply about issues of peace and security – as a journalist who lived in and wrote about Russia during the Gorbachev years and, of course, as Editor of The Nation – a magazine that has been at the forefront, for decades, of finding non-military solutions to problems of our country and world. From our special issue in 1998 on the abolition of nuclear weapons to the fact that we may be the only magazine in the US (or in the world?!) with a peace and disarmament correspondent, the inimitable Jonathan Schell. The Nation has always been engaged with these issues, and in times of crisis, the enduring concerns of this magazine and progressives take on new relevance.
I spent hours poring over the material of about 25 or so groups. In a rigorous process, the judges – with the help of Ploughshares – made some hard decisions and selected 12 extraordinary finalists. People can now vote for the group or groups that they feel best articulate their own peace agenda. Each vote costs just $1 which goes exclusively to the selected group. (Ploughshare always gives 100 percent of public contributions to its grantees–it never takes a cut for administrative overhead or fundraising – which is another unique aspect of its operation.)
The primary runs through October 31 when the group with the most votes will receive an additional $100,000 prize to promote its vision of peace in 2008. The hope we all share is that the Peace Primary will highlight the important work that both Ploughshares and these groups are doing, and also help provide resources to activists who will help shape the debate in 2008.
“By inviting our selection panel to submit groups in addition to the ones Ploughshares came up with we really broadened the scope beyond nuclear non-proliferation, or Iraq,” said Deborah Bain, Director of Communications at Ploughshares. “It’s a different group from past Ploughshares’ grantees, and includes organizations working on Darfur and torture, for example.” The twelve finalists include:
* American Friends Service Committee with Iraqis, military families, veterans, and peace supporters in the US to highlight the human and economic costs of war.
*Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation seeks to eliminate nuclear weapons, halt the spread of all weapons of mass destruction, stop the deployment of a national missile defense system, and redirect national security spending to better address the genuine threats facing the United States
* Citizens For Global Solutions works to achieve a future in which countries cooperate to abolish war, protect our rights and freedoms and solve the problems facing humanity that no country can solve alone
* Faithful Security is a multi-faith coalition dedicated to harnessing the moral willpower of America’s religious communities toward a world without nuclear weapons
* Genocide Intervention Network holds political leaders accountable for their promises – to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, and also raises funds for peacekeeping efforts
* Global Green USA, the US affiliate of Green Cross International which was founded by Gorbachev in 1993, reconnects humanity to the environment, peace and security by working to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, stem climate change, and provide clean, safe drinking water for the 2.4 billion people who currently lack access to it
* National Religious Campaign Against Torture is a national, multi-faith organization dedicated to stopping US sponsored torture, without exception
* Peace Action & Peace Action West with 100,000 members and chapters in nearly 30 states, is the largest grassroots peace organization and is making its voice heard at the polls in opposition to the occupation of Iraq and any wars of aggression against Iran, North Korea, Syria or any other country
* Refugees International has nearly 30 years of experience and is leading the call to increase aid to displaced Iraqis and assist countries in the region that are overwhelmed by the refugee influx
* True Majority is committed to bringing the troops home, supporting Iraqis in repairing their country, and shifting our nation’s wealth from defense contractors and the Pentagon to addressing needs like healthcare, reducing the national debt, and rebuilding schools
* Union of Concerned Scientists is educating 2008 candidates about the need to reduce the risks posed by nuclear weapons, stop global warming, and ensure the integrity of government science
* Women’s Action For New Directions empowers women to take political action and change our national priorities toward peace and real security, away from militarism and violence.
Since Saturday’s launch the web traffic is high and the groups are working hard to steer their members and (friends) to the Peace Primary. In addition to raising resources for these 12 organizations, Ploughshare is working behind-the-scenes to help some of the groups build capacity to reach new supporters and raise their profiles. For example, the Fund offered every organization a Get Out The Vote toolkit outlining 20 ways to promote the Peace Primary.
Bain hopes that in addition to engaging a new generation of supporters, there will also be “cross-fertilization” between the groups. A group like the Genocide Intervention Network, for example, is young, dynamic, and web savvy while Refugee International is an experienced organization with a devoted membership that is looking to expand its online presence. There are plenty of opportunities for like-minded groups like these to cooperate with one another.
These are perilous times which demand a new and enduring vision of peace and human security. If we have learned anything in these last years, it is that overwhelming military might is ill-suited to dealing with the central challenges of our century: the spread of weapons of mass destruction, stateless terrorists with global reach, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), climate change, genocidal conflict and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality.
The Peace Primary can play a powerful role – educating people about vital issues ranging from development of nuclear weapons to policies on arms sales and human rights. It can help people realize the power we have when we act collectively, and ensure that politicians and leaders here and around the world have to answer to an informed and organized electorate on matters of war and peace.
It is time to lead by example, not by force. The Peace Primary – with its commitment to restoring human security and peace in our times – is something I’m proud to be a part of, and in sync with the work and values of The Nation. It is worth supporting and celebrating. Spread the word.