Finally, it is important that activists not acquire the habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Already the voices of negativity and alienation are out there, infecting the discourse with unwarranted cynicism and undermining any sense of achievement.
Some said the speech was a “disappointment” and “heartbreaking” before it was delivered, mistakenly claiming that Obama was only withdrawing five or ten thousand troops.
The 33,000? That would be another broken promise, would never happen. One blogger called the speech “outrageous”, while another opined that Obama would draw down troops only to escalate the wars with drones, which I believe she called the worst weapons in the history of the world. And on and on.
Friends and, may I say, comrades: do not disparage what your efforts have achieved. Do not be surprised that gains we achieve are always less than we demand. Do not forget that we are up against the institutional might of a superpower.
Instead, dwell on this simple fact: we the people pushed them back. Then study and discuss where we go from here. If you say 33,000 is not enough, remember it is ten times more than the generals wanted. Learn from our experience and set to work pushing 33,000 to 50,000 or more by the end of next year.
This de-escalation, and the further de-escalation down the road, is attributable to peace activism and public opinion. Our economic woes are a prime reason as well. But think about it, if public opinion was otherwise, was warlike, if peace groups were demonized and isolated, clearly American imperialism could soldier on, justifying terrible losses and budgetary costs as a price worth paying for empire. But public opinion has not been superheated with martial desire, though that desire is there. Instead, 85 percent of Democrats, 55 percent of Independents, and 45 percent of Republicans seem to want a more rapid withdrawal that anyone in established leadership. Despite being marginalized by interest groups and the mainstream media, democracy is coming to the USA (Thank you, Leonard Cohen.)
Social change is very slow – until it speeds up. Even revolutionaries have to fight step by step, until revolutions come by surprise. Institutions remain impermeable, until falling apart. We could be approaching such a moment, but only if we push, if we organize and prepare, if we light candles instead of cursing the darkness.
No one up there will credit the peace movement for anything, until someday in the future we learn they were scared to death of us. We alone have the power to take heart from our impact, or fall into further despair. And despair never organized anyone.
As a historian and former Freedom Rider, I suggest we all learn from the African American experience. Perhaps no people have been so cast out, so abused, so absolutely hopeless, and yet a community of resistance was formed out of sorrow which marched stage by stage towards dignity and equality.
Frederick Douglas, for one, condemned Abraham Lincoln as a hopeless sellout, a racist, but slowly the struggle proceeded until Lincoln learned from Douglas, and Douglas appreciated Lincoln, while neither believed that black people could be redeemed by politicians. It was the North Star that mattered, and the transformation of suffering into soul power, movement-building, and strategic alliances.
So I say congratulations to the crazy rainbow of peace networks out there who have fought the last two years to cut funding or force an exit strategy from Afghanistan. The quilt works. There is no single thread. The fiery women of Code Pink have been relentless on every front. Progressive Democrats of America have fostered networks on the left of the Democratic Party and linked the war to health care. Labor Against the War coordinated 700 locals. The ACLU and Human Rights Watch, while not opposing the wars directly, have fought brilliantly against secret prisons, torture and detention. United for Peace and Justice led the mass mobilizations against Iraq and continue to battle on grass roots levels. Peace Action, Win Without War, the AFSC, the Institute for Policy Studies, and recently the Afghanistan Study Group and New America Foundation have battled inside the Beltway. The National Priorities Project provides invaluable and usable information on the costs of war. Thanks to the Center for American Progress for finally coming around, and John Kerry, too.
Praise to Barbara Lee, Jim McGovern, Dennis Kucinich, and the stalwart Russ Feingold. Pacifica, Amy Goodman and The Nation editors always made sure that information remained free and circulating. WikiLeaks has blown away the walls of secrecy. Brave New Foundation has forced a rethink of Afghanistan with countless videos. Sojourners, the Tikkun community, the pastors and congregation of All Saints survived the intimidation and stood tall. The military families and Veterans for Peace lent moral credibility and urgency. Afghan women and Afghans for Peace reached out to the American people.
Even the most sectarian and difficult groups have to be credited with putting people in the streets year after year. And my favorites are the small groups who have demonstrated on their neighborhood street corners every Friday for a decade, whatever the weather, knowing the sun also rises and night is never permanent.
The Peace Exchange
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