Building tomorrow’s peace movement

Recent conversations at The Resistance Center have left us speculating about today’s peace movement. Our conclusion? It doesn’t really exist. But it can. 

Out of touch

US involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen has persisted as long as many young people have been alive. In 2016, the battlefield death toll in Afghanistan averaged 22 Afghan soldiers a day. These numbers only increased, persuading the Afghan and American governments to keep the death toll a secret. Today, these numbers are speculated to be even higher.

Complementing the constant reality of war, the existential threat of nuclear weapons quite literally increases daily with President Trump actively building the US’s already-alarming nuclear arsenal. World leaders show us they are willing to actively disregard decades-old treaties put in place to prevent a nuclear disaster. Recent news has some experts claiming we are dealing with a nuclear threat worse than the Cold War.

This is terrifying.

In recent conversation at The Resistance Center, we asked our interns what their thoughts were on today’s peace movement in the US. This semester, our interns are students at Smith College and UMass Amherst. Their studies vary from Computer Science to Government, yet each intern shares a passion for social change. For most, today’s peace movement was difficult to conceptualize. The most striking and honest reply was a question:

“What peace movement?”  

As our conversation continued, we talked about a movement of an older generation. We envisioned protestors flooding the streets as their brothers were drafted to die in Vietnam. Young people widely recognize yesterday’s peace movement. But the remnants of the peace movement today isn’t a force that resonates with younger generations.  

As young people, we’ve never seen our loved ones drafted. Honest media coverage of conflict overseas is hard to come by. Battlefield information is literally kept secret. The reality of war isn’t so real to a generation growing up with a glorified volunteer army and hidden death tolls. It’s easy to remain out of touch when the system is designed to hide information.

Make no mistake. Young people are showing up. We are voting in record numbers and becoming more engaged in social justice issues than ever before. Awareness around racial justice, immigration rights, climate justice, and campaign finance reform has skyrocketed. So where’s our generation’s antiwar rallying cry?

Maybe young people are out of touch with the peace movement. Or perhaps the peace movement is out of touch with young people.

A different fight

Messages of “peace” and “antiwar” used by older activists are not part of the conversation in the way that they used to be. When young activists refer to global conflict today, a much broader image is painted: an opposition to white supremacy, imperialism, and capitalism (more specifically, the military industrial complex). This dissonance is a barrier for intergenerational organizing.

Daniel May’s “How to Revive the Peace Movement in the Era of Trump” in The Nation takes a closer look at this intergenerational barrier. Young activists are committed to building an intersectional movement. Organizers are looking at racial justice, migrant justice, climate justice, and wealth inequality in connection with our militarized economy. Think of the state-sponsored violence targeting Black lives, the militant border patrol and immigration enforcement, and the thousands of climate refugees fleeing war-torn, environmentally dangerous places.  

Meanwhile, older activists appear focused on a very specific antiwar agenda abroad. Not to mention, the leaders of this Vietnam-era peace movement are viewed as predominantly white men. The narrow focus and lack of diversity just isn’t going to cut it in today’s social movements. And why should it?     

Intersectional, grassroots organizing

We need a new movement. Opposing militarization in our political climate has to be an intersectional, grassroots effort focused on those threatened both at home and abroad. We cannot count on change from the top down, especially under the current administration. We must build power in our communities and elevate voices, young and old, of those most directly impacted by militarization– people of color, migrants, refugees, and veterans. Our collective voice will lead the path for change.

This sounds like a daunting task. But the work has already begun. US lawmakers are making strides to end US involvement in Yemen. 122 countries have signed on to the Nuclear Ban Treaty, as well as our own Representative Jim McGovern. Activists in our local communities are demanding an end to militarized police forces targeting people of color.

We have a long way to go before we have a cohesive movement against militarization. We must be willing to listen and learn from each other. The Resistance Center is holding space for the conversations we need to have to build this movement. Will you join us?

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