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Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis write: "Rather than devoting time, money and energy into electing politicians who will betray the values of peace, we should organize and energize a new peace movement that values direct action over access to power; real and lasting peace over disingenuous politicians. Instead of waiting - and waiting - for politicians to buck party and power."

A Libyan man flashes victory signs as he stands amid the rubble of a navy facility that was hit by a coalition airstrike in Tripoli, Libya, 03/22/11. (photo: Mohamed Messara/EPA)
A Libyan man flashes victory signs as he stands amid the rubble of a navy facility that was hit by a coalition airstrike in Tripoli, Libya, 03/22/11. (photo: Mohamed Messara/EPA)

Antiwar Movement Should Put Peace Over Politicians

By Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis, Reader Supported News

15 June 11


fter campaigning as the candidate of change, the man awarded a Nobel Prize for peace has given the world nothing but more war. Yet despite Barack Obama's continuation - nay, escalation - of the worst aspects of George W. Bush's foreign policy, including his very own illegal war in Libya, you'd be hard-pressed to find the large-scale protests and outrage from the liberal establishment that characterized his predecessor's reign (and only seems to pop up when a Republican's the one dropping the bombs).

That's not for a lack of things to protest. Since taking office, Obama has doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan and now looks set to break his pledge to begin a significant withdrawal in July. He has unilaterally committed the nation to an unapologetically illegal war in Libya and in two years has authorized more drone strikes in Pakistan than his predecessor authorized in two terms, with one in three of their victims reportedly civilians. In Yemen, he has targeted a US citizen for assassination and approved a cluster bomb strike that, according to Amnesty International, killed 35 innocent women and children.

But these war crimes, which ought to shock the consciences of the president's liberal supporters, haven't spurred the sort of popular protest we witnessed under Bush the Lesser. At a recent congressional hearing on the bloated war budget, a handful of CODEPINK activists were the sole dissenters. Thousands poured into the streets to cheer Osama bin Laden's death, but no Americans were in the streets decrying the drone attack that killed dozens of Pakistani civilians weeks earlier.

While die-hard grassroots peace activists continue to bravely protest US militarism, with 52 people arrested last month protesting outside a nuclear weapons factory in Kansas City - if they'd been Tea Partiers protesting Obamacare, you may have heard of them - there's no denying that the peace movement has taken a beating.

The question is, why? Part of the reason is the financial crisis. It's hard to protest war when the bank's foreclosing on your house. And it's hard to find money for a trip to Washington, DC, when, like 14 million Americans, you're unemployed.

War has also become normal - routine, boring - to many Americans, with US troops stationed for nearly ten years in Afghanistan and eight in Iraq. And after the first volley of smart bombs, wars are barely covered by the media, eclipsed by the latest scandal involving a politician's privates. Beyond apathy, many who once took to the street may now no longer see the value of protest in the face of the enormous power of the military-industrial complex.

But a recent study suggests that a major reason why the antiwar movement has withered even as the warfare state has grown is simply that the party in charge has changed.

After surveying 5,398 demonstrators between 2007 to 2009, the University of Michigan's Michael T. Heaney and Indiana University's Fabio Rojas found that prior to Obama's election, up to 54 percent of antiwar protesters were self-described Democrats. After his inauguration, that number fell to less than a quarter.

"Democratic activists left the antiwar movement as the Democratic Party achieved electoral success, if not policy success," the researchers write. That is, Democrats successfully "exploit[ed] the antiwar movement for their own electoral success," and many of their supporters took that as a victory in and of itself.

Instead of continuing the hard work of organizing and protesting unjust wars, too many people took the election of politicians with "D"s after their name as their own Mission Accomplished. Instead of continuing direct action, too many were content voting for "their" team and calling it a day, never mind the policies those they voted into office continued once in power.

It's worth recounting just how Democrats have rewarded their antiwar supporters. In 2006, riding public anger over the war in Iraq to take back control of the House for the first time in a dozen years, Democrats had a mandate for change - and then turned around and consistently funded the war they claimed to oppose. The most congressional Democrats have done is offer a resolution requesting a "plan" for ending the war in Afghanistan, all the while dutifully approving the funds to fight it.

We know how Obama has governed after likewise cynically riding antiwar sentiment into the White House.

Once casting themselves as brave opponents of the warfare state, many Democrats have rejected their rhetorical support for peace just as thoroughly as their once-upon-a-time opposition to the Patriot Act. When Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich offered a measure condemning Obama's illegal, undeclared war in Libya and demanding a withdrawal of all US forces within two weeks, he was joined by more Republicans than he was his fellow Democrats. Nancy Pelosi, channeling every right-winger during the Bush years, even claimed lawmakers who opposed the president's unilateral war policy would send the "wrong message" to the US's NATO allies. The former speaker of the House is seemingly more concerned about hurt feelings than dead civilians, taxpayer money or the Constitution.

Even the recent House vote to block the president from spending funds "in contravention of the War Powers Act" - meaning Libya - received more votes from Republicans than Democrats. Who says elections don't change anything?

Democratic voters who genuinely believe in peace should know that ending the US's addiction to war requires more than spending a few minutes in the ballot box. The only change voting has brought in recent years is the party approving the money for war and the name of the president requesting it.

If voting isn't changing things - and it's not - it's time we considered changing our tactics.

Obama, after all, whose campaign cast him as the most peaceful of the major party candidates, has committed acts of war in no less than half-a-dozen countries (that we know about): Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. Under Obama, the US aids and abets Israeli war crimes to the tune of more than $3 billion a year in military aid, all while vigorously fighting international attempts to hold accountable those responsible for the slaughter of civilians in Gaza. And Guantanamo Bay? Still open.

But Obama has done more than disappoint the antiwar movement: he's actively attacked it, using the power of the state to harass and intimidate peace activists, 23 of whom have had their homes and offices raided by the FBI. The pretense? That a group of pacifists may have provided "material support" to terrorists, a charge so slippery and ill-defined that the ACLU warns it can include a conversation on the need to embrace non-violence.

More war and the threat of prosecution to intimidate those who oppose these wars - or expose them, in the case of alleged WikiLeaks whistle-blower Bradley Manning: that's what Obama's election has wrought. Was his rise to power really such a progressive victory?

Occasional rhetorical flourishes aside, Democrats and Republicans reliably back the killing of poor people on the other side of the globe in the name of "regional stability" and perceived US national (read: corporate) interests. As they've made painstakingly clear over the years, neither is a friend of peace, especially when one of their own is making war.

If change is to come to US foreign policy, it won't be thanks to any politician, but to direct action and organizing of the sort that won African Americans and other minorities their civil rights. We already have public opinion on our side - 2/3 of Americans consistently say they want to get out of the wars. We now have to make the voice of the silent majority heard.

Rather than devoting time, money and energy into electing politicians who will betray the values of peace, we should organize and energize a new peace movement that values direct action over access to power; real and lasting peace over disingenuous politicians. Instead of waiting - and waiting - for politicians to buck party and power, we should make alliances with labor activists, environmentalists and advocates for the poor who have some pretty good ideas on protest and civil disobedience - and on what to do with the $2 billion the US government wastes every week on the Afghan war alone. If we build a strong enough movement, politicians will figure out which way the wind is blowing.

Medea Benjamin ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) is cofounder of Global Exchange ( and CODEPINK: Women for Peace ( She is the author of "Don't Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks >From the Heart."

Charles Davis has covered Congress for NPR and Pacifica stations across the country, and freelanced for the international news wire Inter Press Service, primarily covering US policy toward Latin America and the war on drugs in particular. He has also worked as a researcher for Michael Moore on his movie "Capitalism: A Love Story." your social media marketing partner


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+5 # Arika Grace-Kelly 2011-06-15 23:40
Yes! Count me in!! I can't believe there are no more comments!!
What's wrong with peace activists?
+2 # OldEnough 2011-06-16 23:52
Where are the young people?? We old-timers protested the Viet Nam War and now are the lone protesters of the Mideast Wars. In our town we have about 8-12 protesters show up twice a month in an area of 200,000 people. What the hell happened to standing up for what is right? Too busy texting, watching CSI or American Idol to speak up about these idiotic wars of aggression/oil/ MIC. What is required to wake up and get involved or is the American experiment with democracy doomed? Especially if you are unemployed or underemployed, the wars make your life worse and with less hope for the future (more guns, no butter).
+4 # genierae 2011-06-16 05:55
I think that we need to change our focus from the national scene to our own local towns and cities. Instead of a specific focus on things such as war, civil liberties, etc., we should make the common good our top priority and work locally to support all efforts that would enhance it. Progressive activists are split into a thousand different groups, all working to create a better world, but if we were to consolidate this energy and work for a new and stronger social compact, think how effective we could be. All for one, and one for all. Let's do it!
+7 # jlohman 2011-06-16 06:47
The last thing in the world the defense industry wants is "no wars," and they own the politicians through campaign bribes. Don't fight this issue on the basis of what's right, fight the money flow.

Jack Lohman
+4 # boudreaux 2011-06-16 08:19
I'm in, I think that our computers have become the way that we communicate now and we have to get off of our asses and do what is right, we know what it is and we will do it....we can't let them take over....
+5 # WatchingtheCircus 2011-06-16 09:15
Show me a politician who will stand up and demand an exit from all of our wars and I will support them. It appears that everyone is too pumped up with a false security model that no one will say that the emperor has no clothes.
0 # walther 2011-06-16 22:27
uh... Ron Paul.
+4 # mhogny jones 2011-06-16 12:33
we have been given good robot, consumer-orient ed attention spans: 5 minutes of info to 3 minutes of adds. It has destroyed the average amerikans' ability to focus and concentrate. Why pay to attention atrocity when we got a dog-and-pony show like weiner-gate to attend to!
+3 # lezab 2011-06-16 13:58
jlohman's direction makes sense! We think this could be done by demonstrating for a law forbidding profits from arms sales. Considering that people either voluntarily or by circumstance put their mental and physical health, up to and including their death, on the line when they go to war, it is ethically and morally disgusting that others only wish to profit from the same wars.
+5 # sjtravis 2011-06-16 16:58
Rep. Dennis Kucinich has run for president multiple times, to end war and develop the Department of Peace. He has always had solid proposals for resolving conflicts. Each time the people have given him between two and five percent of the vote. Now he is being gerrymandered out of his district. We could have chosen him.
+4 # Sukumar 2011-06-16 19:07
The Nobel Foundation should ask for its money back.
+1 # zman 2011-06-17 00:31
Albert Einstein said "that a solution to a problem cannot be rendered by the same mind which created the problem in the first place". He was speaking of self interest and not of common good as was earlier stated. The point is well taken that politicians are the middle men. They, as GWB pointed out, are not the deciders. Humans must understand the real metaphors in play otherwise all will be lost. There is no more time. Only the now; and that only leaves the moment to BE the action of good in each and every moment. There is no time to organize. Transformation can only take place when the crisis of energy/feeling is paramount and willing. Remember "the Love you get is equal to the Love you give". Surrendering to Grace/Peace requires NO self-interest. We must become benevolent. Focus on Kind action.
Kind action has the power built into it. It will move faster than any tornado. It will be picked up in consciousness and go viral. This is what is waiting for us. It is the essence of flocking movement (bird flock navigation). It requires no leaders and promises upliftment and oversight. Watch for syncronicity.
0 # cadan 2011-06-17 00:36
Fooled me once, shame on him, fooled me twice, shame on me."

I voted for Obama in both the primary and general election.

But if we still have troops in Afghanistan in November 2012, then why should i vote for him?

I can just as easily for the Green or Peace-And-Freed om party candidate.

And --- if Jon Huntsman is the Republican nominee, and if he promises to end the war against Afghanistan, then i just might vote for him. After all, if we're still in Afghanistan in November 2012 under Obama, then we will still be in it in 2016, so somebody like Huntsman couldn't possibly be worse.

It's your move, President Obama.
0 # genierae 2011-06-17 17:00
cadan: You're staking your whole future on Huntsman just because he might get us out of Afghanistan? What about the rest of his agenda? He approves of the Paul Ryan plan which gets rid of Medicare and gives more tax cuts to the rich, and he is pro-corporation which is bad news for us. Why is it so difficult for many progressives to think rationally about who they vote for? Obama is the best bet, he is by far the lesser of two harms, and last time I checked, we didn't live in a perfect world, so why would you abandon the man who will benefit you the most? Makes no sense.
-1 # shortonfaith 2011-06-18 00:40
over 30 years ago there was an article in the Seattle times about the difference between WY & BA in the state of WA. It stated that if a law came to the senate floor that WY didn't like they would make sure it was voted down. If BA didn't like the law it wouldn't come up for discussion, let alone a vote.

Everyone's known for years the Dem are just as hawkish as the Reps. War & exchanging money are the only things we still do in the US. Without war all these kids would come home & we'd have to put them to work building bridges & schools. Do you know how long a school can last? $20 million worth of bombs can be disposed of on the trip over to their destination.

For real change we have to vote for the guy who isn't on anybodies ticket. And, that guy doesn't want to run for office because he wants to live a while longer. Just try & get in between the bomb providers & their trillions of taxpayers dollars. You be playing the role of Slim Pickins riding one of those bombs down to its "death to a peaceful civilians" doorstep.

Large scale protest is the only way. You have to have more people than they can throw in jail. Bush threw protester in jail & Obama is more of a hawk than Bush. Who wants to step in front of the runaway train first?

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