United for Peace and Justice [UFPJ] 2017 Annual Report

The struggle for peace and justice has never been easy. Knowing that United for Peace and Justice is able to build on the experience of 15 years of organizing should give us all a sense of hope and possibility, even as the world faces the new dangers brought on by the Trump presidency. With all of the many issues that need our collective attention, now is the time for even greater activism to end the endless wars, to stop potentially catastrophic new wars, and to link the work for peace to the movements for social, economic and climate justice. UFPJ is well suited to help take us into the next phases of this work and meet today’s challenges. – Leslie Cagan, UFPJ Co-founder and first National Coordinator

Undeniably, 2017 saw a dramatic rise in threats to world peace and security. Our President tweeted nuclear threats to North Korea while refusing to certify the Iran Nuclear Deal—widely recognized as “the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime.” Congress approved a $700 billion military budget that exceeded the Pentagon’s request—yet could not find funds for human and environmental needs. And the number of refugees from war, violence, and climate change grew, while heartless politicians proposed building walls.

UFPJ began the year with an inspiring four days of resistance in Washington DC, January 19-22, where UFPJ National Co-Convener, Jackie Cabasso, spoke at an Antiwar/Antinuke rally and Matt De Vlieger, UFPJ’s Communications Coordinator, addressed the Occupy Inauguration rally. We marched with Disrupt J20 and met many of the different contingents at McPherson Square Park for a Festival of Resistance. To top it all off, many UFPJ member organizations joined the historic Women’s March on Washington, the largest march ever seen in DC, with millions more in the streets in sister marches throughout the U.S. and the world. This totally nonviolent march of extraordinary diversity clearly expressed that love not hate will make America great. UFPJ distributed thousands of “Stop Endless War” and “Fund Human Needs, Not War” signs and stickers to those marching in opposition to Trump’s destructive agenda. 

Confronting Islamophobia

Early in the year, in response to the President’s efforts to enact his “Muslim Ban,” UFPJ organized a new working group on “Confronting Islamophobia.” Leaders of the working group hosted a national briefing call for activists and promoted local #NoMuslimBan protests in communities across the U.S., to let Trump know that he does not speak for us when he targets refugees and immigrants.

Endless Wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East

UFPJ has organized dissent to wars waged by the U.S. under three successive administrations, from Bush to Obama to Trump. From Shock-and-Awe, to the Tuesday Presidential Kill List authorizing illegal drone attacks, to unhinged nuclear threats against North Korea, UFPJ has stood against policies that inflict suffering overseas and impoverish our communities at home. This year we marked the very sad anniversary of 16 years of war in Afghanistan, which has become the forgotten war, even though it is currently our largest foreign military engagement, with more than 16,000 troops and tens of thousands of U.S. defense contractors on the ground.

While continuing pressure to bring the troops home from Afghanistan, UFPJ stepped up efforts to prevent U.S. attacks on Syria. Through petitions to Congress to block war funding and by organizing “rapid response actions” to protest military action, we called on our member organizations to protest, lobby, and educate the public about the folly of wider war in the Middle East and the need for diplomacy that includes all the relevant players in the region.

In what may be Trump’s “most reckless decision yet” UFPJ witnessed the president’s “de-certification” of the Iran Nuclear Deal threatening to undo what has been heralded as a great diplomatic success and the most robust nuclear verification program ever instituted. This rash act, undermining the international agreement and the entire diplomatic process that produced it, ultimately increases the threat of war. As analyst Phyllis Bennis reported, “Trump scorned pleas from key U.S. allies, members of Congress from both parties, and his own top security advisers, all of whom urged him to maintain the deal….[He] abandoned any pretense of maintaining U.S. credibility as a reliable negotiating partner.” UFPJ will respond by increasing grassroots support for the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Nuclear Threats against North Korea

The urgency of finding a path to diplomacy, not war, and promoting nuclear disarmament not threats was never so dire as when Trump threatened, in August, to “rain fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea. UFPJ responded with advocacy action alerts and a series of online teach-ins. UFPJ promoted and will continue to promote the People’s Peace Treaty with North Korea, an alternative to the disastrous rhetoric emanating from the White House.

On Armistice Day, November 11, (celebrated by many as Veterans Day) scores of UFPJ member groups, led by Veterans For Peace, observed the anniversary of the end of World War I by engaging in nationally-coordinated, local actions to demand diplomacy not war with North Korea, and the abolition of nuclear weapons and war. The actions all promoted the perspective that WWI and all subsequent wars, including the endless wars of today, are fueled by a global arms industry and competing international interests seeking resources and hegemony, while the people of the U.S. resoundingly reject another war with North Korea.

In 2018, through our participation in the Korea Collaboration network, UFPJ will be calling on member groups to organize actions and educational events during the Olympic Truce period Feb. 2 – March 23, which encompasses the days of the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Actions will include teach-ins, vigils, petition gathering and building Congressional pressure in the districts and in Washington, DC.

Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons/Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN

One of the few truly inspiring events of 2017 was the adoption, on July 7, by a majority of the world’s countries of an historic treaty to prohibit the possession, development, testing, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons. While no nuclear armed or nuclear dependent states (with the exception of the Netherlands) participated in the negotiations, advocates of the treaty hope to achieve an impact similar to that of the Mine Ban Treaty – that is, to stigmatize nuclear weapons, even among possessor states that don’t join the treaty, as a step towards their eventual elimination. The treaty opened for signature on September 20. Fifty countries must sign and ratify the treaty for it to enter into force.

UFPJ and our international NGO [non-governmental organization] colleagues had an active presence at the historic United Nations proceedings. On day one, when the U.S., Russia, Britain, China, and their minions walked out of the UN, NYC War Resisters League held a vigil across the street from the UN and then marched to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations to demand total disarmament. On day three, UFPJ National Co-convener Jackie Cabasso, was among the dozen NGO representatives who addressed the conference on behalf of civil society, expressing hope that the treaty would achieve three goals:

  1. Affirm the illegality of useof nuclear weapons under existing international law;
  2. Affirm the illegality of the threat of useof nuclear weapons under the United Nations Charter and International Humanitarian Law;
  3. Recognize the prohibition treaty as a step toward comprehensive nuclear disarmament.

You can watch Jackie’s address here. 

UFPJ hosted a national briefing call on the Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty, during which Jackie and John Burroughs, Executive Director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, explained the strategy and potential impacts of the treaty. The true significance of the treaty was confirmed when the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons [ICAN].  It was the absolutely right campaign at the right moment! The Prize validated the organizing by civil society that placed humanitarian concerns above “national security” giving new momentum to disarmament movements in the nuclear-armed states. UFPJ will redouble its efforts to promote that great achievement for humanity and the planet when the most terrifying and destructive of all weapons will finally be abolished, despite the recalcitrance of the U.S. and the rest of the “nuclear club.”

Humanitarian crisis in Yemen/U.S. Arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Throughout 2017, as Saudi Arabia continued attacks on Yemen, UFPJ tracked the mounting humanitarian crisis, where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed, 19 million people are on the verge of starvation, and a raging cholera epidemic has made more than half a million people ill. The undeniable fact is that the U.S. bears major responsibility for the crisis because we continue to sell the Saudi government weapons, despite clear evidence that the weapons are causing major human rights abuses. UFPJ worked with our member organizations to pressure Congress to impose humanitarian conditions on any forthcoming arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but while we saw growing support for restrictions, they were defeated. This struggle must continue in 2018.

Environmental Justice

Opposition to climate change and the struggle for environmental justice have assumed a much larger role in UFPJ’s campaigning and advocacy, as the undeniable links between militarism and climate change are recognized. UFPJ members joined the “Peace Hub” of the April 29 People’s Climate March and responded the following month with the Peace and Planet Conference: No Nukes, No Wars, No Walls, No Warming—a vitally important initiative to link together the dangers of war, warming, nuclear weapons, and the ways in which the people of the world are divided. The conference highlighted the impact of nuclear arms on the diverse communities most directly affected by their development, testing and use, and provided opportunities for vital networking and conversation.

UFPJ’s goal is to build a global movement to abolish nuclear weapons, raise public awareness of the renewed danger that nuclear weapons could be used in warfare, and recognize that if the climate change/environmental justice movement is to garner enough power to be successful, it must make common cause with those working for a world that is more peaceful and secure.

Military Spending

UFPJ was founded, in 2003, on the premise that we must link the wars abroad with assaults on justice at home, and understand how U.S. militarism is driven by the corporate economic interests it serves. We believe the peace movement must work to defund war, divest from “the War Machine,” and mobilize locally to oppose anti-human federal war budgets. In 2017, we supported the work of member organizations to do all of the above.

UFPJ promoted GDAMS—Global Days Against Military Spending—in parallel with U.S. Tax Day, to inspire activists across the planet to recognize how badly the world is over armed and peace is underfunded. In October, Jackie Cabasso addressed UFPJ’s member organization, CODEPINK’s Divest from the War Machine Summit and reported on the grassroots efforts to inspire cities and towns across the U.S. to endorse the U.S. Conference of Mayors‘ resolutions opposing the immoral Trump War Budget. UFPJ will be working in 2018 to promote the developing Divest from the War Machine Campaign and partner more closely with Mayors for Peace.

A Shout-out to UFPJ’s Member Organizations!

US Labor Against the War [USLAW] worked tirelessly to promote the AFL-CIO’s adoption of the historic Resolution 50: War is Not the Answer at its national convention, in October. In the resolution, the AFL-CIO declared that war must be “truly the last resort in our country’s foreign relations” and that we must “seek peace and reconciliation wherever possible.” It further called upon “the president and Congress to bring the war dollars home and make our priority as a nation rebuilding this country’s crumbling infrastructure, creating millions of living wage jobs and addressing human needs such as education, health care, housing, retirement security and jobs.”

UFPJ and many of our member organizations including the U.S. Peace Council, Veterans For Peace, and CODEPINK will begin 2018 at the three-day national conference on U.S. Foreign Military Bases, January 12-14 at the University of Baltimore, Maryland. These peace, justice, anti-racism, and environmental organizations come together with the goal of raising public awareness and organizing non-violent mass resistance against U.S. foreign military bases. Their unity statement proclaims that “U.S. foreign military bases are the principal instruments of imperial global domination and environmental damage through wars of aggression and occupation, and that the closure of U.S. foreign military bases is one of the first necessary steps toward a just, peaceful and sustainable world…. In addition, these military bases are the largest users of fossil fuel in the world, heavily contributing to environmental degradation [and] support of U.S. foreign military bases drains funds that can be used to fund human needs and enable our cities and States to provide necessary services for the people.”

UFPJ Organizational News

Despite challenges, UFPJ remains a viable national network, holding weekly calls of its all-volunteer Coordinating Committee, whose members represent national and local organizations and work to maintain the UFPJ website and to communicate with member groups through briefing calls, email blasts and action alerts. For the last two and a half years, we were able to employ Matt DeVlieger as UFPJ’s part-time Communications Coordinator. Matt was instrumental in increasing UFPJ’s presence on social media and in organizing many of our actions, meetings, and events in the New York City area. In August, Matt decided it was time to move into a new job. We wish him all the best and know he will continue to be a dedicated peace and justice activist.

UFPJ was very fortunate to be able to hire George Friday, a former UFPJ National Co-Chair, as our new part-time National Organizer. Her first task was to organize and facilitate UFPJ’s 15th Anniversary meeting and she did a fantastic job! We came out with a packed work plan for the coming year, the highlights of which are described below. George is a highly skilled and experienced organizer and we are committed to keeping her on board, to help strengthen and expand our UFPJ network in the coming year.

UFPJ’s 15th Anniversary Meeting

UFPJ founders, former Co-Chairs, current Coordinating Committee members and crucial issue and movement leaders came together in St. Louis to commemorate UFPJ’s 15th anniversary and to address the immensely important work before us to dismantle the war culture in the U.S. that causes so much destruction around the world. We briefly reviewed our history, recalling that in October 2002 more than 70 peace and justice organizations gathered in Washington, DC to form a coalition to coordinate efforts to prevent U.S. war on Iraq. Looking forward, we reiterated the need to offer clear alternatives to war and to better communicate how war and militarism impact the lives of all people. We also discussed how we can better recruit, serve, and fully involve member groups.

On Friday December 1st we were joined by a panel of local activists involved in the protests around Michael Brown’s shooting in 2014, in Ferguson, MO and the community building efforts that the protests have inspired. George Paz Martin, a former UFPJ National Co-Chair opened the evening with a ceremony honoring the seven directions and those who came before us. Michael McPhearson, former UFPJ National Coordinator and current National Executive Director of Veterans For Peace, based in St. Louis, welcomed us. Then local activists, Elizabeth Vega, a community art activist; Cori Bush, U.S. Congressional candidate; and Kristine Hendrix, school board member, spoke, highlighting the need to build relationships and trust, placing racial and economic justice at the center of the struggle for true peace.

At its founding, UFPJ recognized how justice everywhere  is integral to peace, but in the current moment justice and human rights are under unprecedented attack in our own country. The militarization of communities by police departments purchasing and being given surplus military arms and military training, armed police in schools, and communities that experience police brutality on a regular basis have created a dangerously unlivable situation for too many people in communities across the country. The words of the activists from St. Louis laid the foundation for Saturday’s day of strategic thinking.

Movement Building; the New Poor People’s Campaign

The meeting participants unanimously agreed to support and participate in the new “Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival,” a grassroots movement working to affect change at the state and local levels through sustained nonviolence. We’re very excited about the potential for this campaign to bring together the broad range of constituencies we need to achieve Dr. King’s “revolution of values” and confront the intertwined evils of racism, poverty, a war economy, and ecological destruction.

Ending Endless Wars

We have our work cut out for us—including the many activities detailed in this annual report. Coming out of our 15th anniversary meeting we are highlighting four campaigns as we enter 2018:

  • The Divest From the War Machine Campaign
  • The Korea Collaboration Olympic Truce Campaign
  • The No Foreign Bases Campaign
  • The Poor People’s Campaign

Cultivating the fertile ground for peace requires preparation, strategy, and lots of hard work. UFPJ anticipates that 2018 will present opportunities to renew partnerships with many of our member organizations and to grow our network for peace and justice by allying with many new organizations across the nation.

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