Thinking Movement, Working Demonstration. (Letter from Ground Zero)

By Schell, Jonathan | The Nation, June 23, 2003 | Go to article overview

Thinking Movement, Working Demonstration. (Letter from Ground Zero)


Schell, Jonathan, The Nation


In the months before the American-Anglo invasion of Iraq, the peace movement was out on the streets demonstrating. Since the fall of the Iraqi regime, it has been less in evidence. But the silence does not mean inactivity. The movement is thinking. What are its responsibilities toward occupied Iraq and its people? What are the occupation's implications for the Middle East? For the world? What should the United Nations do now? What should the target of protest be? What are the connections between war abroad and the attack on civil liberties and social justice at home? What vision of a better world can the movement offer? And then there is the inescapable corresponding question: What should be done? How big should the movement's tent be? Should the global justice and the global peace movements merge? What should the role of the environmental movement be? To what extent should the US movement join the global movement and to what extent preserve a separate identity? What is its role in the 2004 election?

These questions and others are being asked at hundreds of meetings and in an infinity of conversations, memos and e-mails. For example, on April 26 US Labor Against the War passed a resolution stating, "American working families face a domestic crisis. This crisis has been intensified by the Bush administration's foreign and domestic policies of military intervention abroad and neglect at home that benefit corporations and the wealthy at the expense of working families." In Jakarta in May, representatives of major peace and justice groups around the world met and endorsed a document called the "Jakarta Peace Consensus." The Green Party is broadening its agenda to include issues of peace and justice. At the University of California, Irvine, the Citizen Peacebuilding Program held a meeting of West Coast peace groups to take stock and plan for the future. In Washington, several conferences have jostled for attention: one held by Tikkun Community, an offshoot of Tikkun magazine, and one called Take Back America, organized by the Campaign for America's Future. The broadest of the US umbrella groups, United for Peace and Justice, is convening a meeting in Chicago to make its plans.

Anybody with ten minutes of experience in politics will recognize that a process of reflection and planning of this breadth is similar to what must occur when people are founding a political party--that is, a collection of people prepared not just to protest an existing order but to change it and to take responsibility for the results. For a peace and justice party, the concentration on "economics" would be replaced by a concentration on justice (the economy must serve society, rather than the other way around), and the concentration on "security" would be replaced by a concentration on peace (that is, security would be sought through peace, not war). Yet such words as "movement" and "party" are themselves under re-examination. A richer understanding of activism and the way it can change the world is developing. "History," Rebecca Solnit comments in her essay "Acts of Hope" in Orion magazine, "is shaped by the groundswells and common dreams that single acts and moments only represent." And the same may be true of movements and parties.

But, of course, there is no Peace and Justice Party, not globally and not locally, nor is there likely to be one anytime soon, and so the question of what to do concretely in the near future remains in the foreground. One date that fairly leaps off the calendar is August 30, 2004, when the Republican Party will begin its convention in New York City, just a few miles from the World Trade Center crater. The time and place were chosen by the GOP for their rich symbolism. The peace and justice movement is likely to show up en masse to do the same. A confrontation of epic proportions may be in the making. Medea Benjamin, a founding director of the global justice organization Global Exchange, foresees "a day of action against the empire. …

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