Daniel May’s essay in the most recent issue of The Nation, “How to Revive the Peace Movement in the Trump Era,” has stirred up a lot of conversation on the left. In the wake of Trump’s election, May argued, “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.” Here we publish responses to May’s argument from five peace advocates.
The Peace Movement and After
Daniel May’s analysis has done us all a tremendous service. May offers fresh ideas for individuals and organizations who have struggled to keep the peace and antiwar movements relevant in an increasingly challenging political environment. He also provides an essential perspective on how activists in Movement for Black Lives, as well as those for immigrant rights and against Islamophobia, view the issues of violence at home and abroad in the context of growing corporate power. And he raises perhaps the most important question of all: Is it possible to have both an empire and a functioning democracy?
As May suggests, the crux of the problem from an organizing perspective is that the new way of war—with its reliance on drone strikes, Special Forces, and a volunteer military that many Americans have no direct connection to—makes it difficult to generate a level of activism and engagement that is up to the task of opposing a massive military machine that has immense political power in Washington and beyond. I have referred to this new way of fighting, which accelerated during the Obama years, as “politically sustainable warfare.” Our challenge is to make it politically unsustainable. This will ultimately require a change in the culture, including a reconsideration of basic assumptions about the role of the US military, police, and surveillance state.
As awful as the Trump administration’s assault on the most vulnerable in our society has been—not to mention its attack on basic decency, truth, and the foundations of our democracy—it does offer new opportunities for organizing across sectors in ways that can help groups reach beyond the single-issue silos that too often wall them off into separate struggles.
Trump’s draconian budget proposals offer one such opportunity. His $54 billion increase in Pentagon spending would come at the expense of diplomacy, environmental protection, women’s health, the arts, health-care subsidies, legal services for the poor, and other essential programs. These ill-conceived and potentially devastating priorities offer the possibility of building a budget-priorities coalition of a size and breadth that we have not seen since the movement against the war in Vietnam.
We will no doubt take some body blows at the outset of this process, but eventually we can and must build a movement that can help redefine what kind of country America should be.