The following is a statement made by Michael McPhearson, former UFPJ Coordinator and the Executive Director of Veterans for Peace.
January 22, 2015
I have been asked to make comments about deepening anti-racism work in the peace movement. Perhaps another way to understand this is how to support a movement for racial justice, and specifically Black liberation, that we understand invigorates and moves us towards a stronger peace movement.
In Veterans For Peace we ask members to use Peace at Home Peace Abroad not as a new initiative but as a lens for organizing and a narrative about war and peace, violence and non-violence. It is a tool to pull out of our organizing toolbox as a way to talk about how war impacts communities here at home, and how injustices here are connected to wars abroad. We understand that we cannot ask people to act on issues of war abroad when facing extreme challenges here at home. The Peace at Home Peace Abroad lens addresses issues across the spectrum of peace and justice struggles. It is a framework to build a broad movement based on the understanding that we must have both peace at home and peace abroad to truly have peace.
Please consider three points to remember that are foundational to broad inclusive movement building:
- There is no one answer or a silver bullet to building solidarity.
- Organizing is always about relationships and relevance (Are we connecting and presenting issues and struggles in a way that makes them relevant to people’s lives?)
- Do we understand and believe that the struggle(s) is directly tied to our own struggle and inextricably bound together? If not, we do not understand and feel the human connectedness of our struggles, we cannot be effective allies and the people most impacted by the issue will smell opportunism and insincerity.
Over my years in the peace and anti-war movement, I have seen organizers bemoan our lack of ethnic, color and youth diversity. One factor I have tried to help people see is that activists of color, especially long-standing leaders, are very much aware of how war impacts local communities. However, they have real-time, in your face struggles to fight. This means that showing up for anti-war/peace activities means doing double duty. They have little motivation to join anti-war efforts unless doing so will positively impact their home front work. They have no guarantee or reason to believe it will. They have seen little evidence that peace activists will meaningfully support their struggle. This makes it questionable as to whether activists in the overwhelmingly White peace movement understand how or are willing to be the kind of allies needed. This applies to movement work as well as intentional personal transformation in terms of changing their own social behavior and dealing with their own privilege to help teardown White supremacy to re-arrange the social and economic order. It does not make strategic sense to put energy in a place that will make no difference in the eat or don’t eat, have a home or be homeless, New Jim Crow incarceration environment, job or no job and life or death struggle people of color face in the U.S.
Take for example the July 4th, 2014 weekend in Chicago during which there were 82 shootings, 14 of them fatal. How many happened in the Black community I don’t know. I do know that when people in Chicago woke up Monday morning July 7th, no matter their color, they were not thinking about Israel’s bombing of Gaza over that weekend, or the conflict in Syria. And while many people in Chicago care about the Palestinians and Syrians caught in the middle of those conflicts, most are naturally much more concerned with their own personal safety and the lack of peace in their neighborhoods and streets.
So peace allies must make peace relevant, and show up in a supportive and real way that clearly demonstrates a domestic stake in struggles here at home, whatever that struggle may be.
One aspect of that is the militarization of the police, and how it relates to U.S. foreign policy. The recent and ongoing events in Ferguson, MO and around the country illustrate this well. We as peace activists have a real stake in that: it brings the tools of war into our daily domestic lives, invites excessive use of force and impacts all who face conflicts with police. During the past decade as peace activists we have faced police time and time again. But as an overwhelming White movement, the reaction by police has been very different to our protest. Further, the feared played upon to call for more money for more law enforcement and more equipment to solve economic and social problems is the same fear elevated to the international stage that calls for more Pentagon spending on soldiers and weapons to solve global challenges.
However, we as peace activists must understand that the central question is not militarization of the police. That is an outcome. Racism is fundamental to how the West wages war today through dehumanization. The foundation for that dehumanization abroad is dehumanization of brown and black people here at home, via domestic policy and socialization. This is different than simply confronting police misconduct and militarization. Confronting White supremacy gets at the root of why the misconduct and militarization is acceptable. Confronting home grown racism (and Islamophobia as another example), undermines the dehumanization that provides justification for the collateral damage of drone strikes, so-called precision bombing, torture and indefinite detention.
To take an understanding of Peace at Home Peace Abroad a step further, we must also remember the role of patriarchy in war, as it’s central to our global social and economic relationships. It doesn’t take much to see the definitive connection between how women and children are impacted here at home and abroad, especially by war.
I have touched on just a few of the wide range of issues directly related to Peace at Home, Peace Abroad. To build the broad progressive people’s movement we need to achieve peace and justice in this world, we will need to engage people in other movements. It is not our place to take lead, rather to engage with empathy and solidarity, understanding that there will not be peace abroad if we do not work for peace at home.