Next steps for the antiwar coalition

Rabbi Arthur Waskow 02/2003

Having created a planetary peace demonstration, the first in world history, we need to examine what to do next, not only to prevent an Iraq war or to stop it if it starts, but to build a planetary community that will make such a war unnecessary and undoable.

That means a planetary community in which very few people wish to be terrorists or to give them the support they need to survive as organized groups; in which no governments or other organizations possess weapons of mass destruction; in which the earth's need for healing and for time to rest is honored, as are the human needs for dignity, a decent livelihood, healing, worthy work and calm repose, and power to share in making public decisions; in which our social addiction to oil and its dangers to the life of Planet Earth are transcended.

To grow from the seeds of planetary change a flourishing planet, we need to analyze strategically how to move forward from this amazing show of strength, building a broader and deeper base.

Looking at what we face, and who we are and can be:

What we face:

The Bush people are off the charts. They're not Nixon or Reagan. They really want world empire, they understand they have to shatter the Bill of Rights and deeply weaken labor unions to get there, they really want a plutocracy at home, their "faith-based initiatives" are the first wedge toward destroying the progressive political machine of social workers that the New Deal created and substitute a new right-wing political machine of churches on the public payroll.

They want it all and if they get reelected in 2004 they are likely to get it. It will take at least a generation under a de facto junta, and a lot of incredible suffering, both of the public & the activists, to bring down such an array.

So I think they MUST be stopped in 2004. We have to build the strongest progressive coalition possible, keep doing progressive organizing on issues during the primary & general election campaigns, turn out the biggest possible vote for the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party and for all but reactionary Democrats running for Congress in 2004.

That means asking ourselves what constituencies are crucial to a progressive shift, and choosing issues that attract rather than alienating them.

There are three areas where people are beginning to connect the dots between the Iraq war and the loss of other things they value:

    1. Oil, the environment, the political arrogance of Big Oil (which funds both the Bushies and Al Qaeda).

    2. Disappearance of money for health, education, social-service, and related public civilian services, collapse of city and state budgets as well as Federal budgets, the gigantic transfer of money to the super-rich through tax policy and corporate piracy.

    So far, the public has begun to see the connection with the war as Bush's using war to distract attention from the "bad economy." That is true; it is ALSO true that the war becomes a tool by which to impoverish public services, just as the tax law does.

    3. Shattering the Bill of Rights and attacking labor-union power. It is important to show BOTH labor & the middle class that BOTH these patterns are ways of breaking opposition to the govt, the corporations, the war, the plutocracy.

We should be building on these nascent connections.

United for Peace & Justice PLUS the organizations in 'Win Without War' — National Council of Churches, NAACP, Sierra Club, Sojourners — PLUS other related churches, environmental organizations, the anti-war labor unions, PLUS American Civil Liberties Union — put forward (either with formal organizational approval or with informal but real networking support) a People's Agenda demanding —

    1) No war; repeal the authorization resolution. If war begins, not only civil disobedience but appeals from religious bodies for soldiers to examine & act on their consciences; select for boycott one or two companies that have most complicity; run peace candidates in Democratic & Republican primaries; etc.

    2) Shift $100 billion from the US military budget to health care and education.

    3) Make oil the servant, not the boss, of our civilization: subsidize urgent development of renewable energy and conservation, subsidize transformation of whole US car fleet to hybrids now & hydrogen 12 years from now [that brings in, instead of alienating, the Detroit labor folks]; phase in 'carbon-emissions' tax on cars and furnaces, etc.

    4) Repeal the US tax cuts for the superwealthy.

    5) Subject global companies to stringent revelation & regulation of prices, environmental impact, executive salaries, pension systems, etc. Make WTO, IMB, and WB decisions transparent, accountable, within a pro-labor & pro-earth framework.

    6) Repeal the PATRIOT Act and restore civil liberties / human rights to immigrants; and maybe, responding to a rising but much lower level of public awareness,

    7) Campaign for a world decision to eliminate (with verification) ALL national stocks of weapons of mass destruction.

What might be the political vehicles for this People's Agenda?

    1. Refocus the Cities for Peace campaign into Cities for a People's Agenda; get city councils to adopt this platform **and then get them to sponsor town meetings etc on it.** (In some places, e.g. Philadelphia, the City Council resolutions "failed" while winning because they passed too quickly, without public discussion.) Get mayors & governors to lobby Congress (they're desperate for money, partly because the Federal tax system affects state tax laws too).

    2. In regard to the international/ transnational aspects of this platform, draw on the same transnational network that created World Antiwar Day to create world-wide Stop the War/ Stop Big Oil Day.

    3. Conceivably, support for one or a few Democratic candidates in the primaries. Depending on our own constituencies and personal views, some of us might choose Dean; some, Sharpton; some, Kucinich. Is there a way to do this without attacking each other? Would it be better for us as a coalition to keep pursuing all presidential candidates with the People's Agenda, and leave decisions about supporting specific candidates to specific groups that might well take different tacks?

L' Shalom, Arthur

Rabbi Arthur Waskow
(The views on electoral politics in this letter are my own personal views, not those of The Shalom Center