Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Long Peace Movement: The Silence of MoveOn

The Long Peace Movement: The Silence of MoveOn


by Tom Hayden [first in a series]


The - May 26, 2009


The most powerful grassroots organization of the peace

movement, MoveOn, remains silent as the American wars

in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan simmer or escalate.


When he met with Obama in February, Jason Ruben,

executive director of MoveOn, told the president it was

"the moment to go big," then indicated that MoveOn

would not oppose the $94 billion war supplemental

request, nor the 21,000 additional troops to

Afghanistan, nor the increased civilian casualties from

the mounting number of Predator attacks.


What was MoveOn's explanation for abandoning the peace

movement in a meeting with a president the peace

movement was key to electing? According to Ruben and

MoveOn, it was the preference of its millions of

members, as ascertained by house meetings and polls.


The evidence, however, is otherwise. Last December 17,

48.3 percent of MoveOn members listed "end the war in

Iraq" as a 2009 goal, after healthcare (64.9 percent),

economic recovery and job creation (62.1 percent) and

building a green economy/stopping climate change (49.6

percent--only 1.5 percent above Iraq.) This was at a

moment when most Americans believed the Iraq War was

ending. Afghanistan and Pakistan were not listed among

top goals which members could vote on.


Then on May 22 MoveOn surveyed its members once again,

listing ten possible campaigns for the organization.

"Keep up the pressure to the end the war in Iraq" was

listed ninth among the options.


Again, Afghanistan and Pakistan were not on the MoveOn

list of options.


Nor was Guantnamo nor the administration's torture

policies. ("Investigate the Bush Administration" was

the first option.)


MoveOn is supposed to be an Internet version of

participatory democracy, but the organization's

decision-making structure apparently assures that the

membership is voiceless on the question of these long wars.


What if they included an option like "demanding a

diplomatic settlement and opposing a quagmire in

Afghanistan and Pakistan"? Or "shifting from a priority

on military spending to civilian spending on food,

medicine and schools?"


This is no small matter. MoveOn has collected a

privately held list of 5 million names, most of them

strong peace advocates. The organization's membership

contributed an unprecedented $180 million for the

federal election cycle in 2004-2006. Those resources,

now squelched or sequestered, mean that the most vital

organization in the American peace movement is missing in action.


What to do? There is no point raving and ranting

against MoveOn. The only path is in organizing a

dialogue with the membership, over the Internet, and

having faith that their voices will turn the

organization to oppose these escalating occupations.

The same approach is necessary towards other vital

organs of the peace movement including rank-and-file

Democrat activists and the post-election Obama

organization (Organizing for America) through a

persistent, bottom-up campaign to renew the peace

movement as a powerful force in civil society.


This is not a simple matter of an organizational

oligarchy manipulating its membership, although the

avoidance by MoveOn's leadership is a troubling sign.

There is genuine confusion over Afghanistan and

Pakistan among the rank and file. The economic crisis

has averted attention away from the battlefront. Many

who voted for Obama understandably will give him the

benefit of the doubt, for now.


Silence sends a message. The de facto MoveOn support

for the $94 billion war supplemental reverberates up

the ladder of power. Feeling no pressure, Congressional

leadership has abdicated its critical oversight

function over the expanding wars, not even allowing

members to vote for a December report on possible exit

strategies. In the end, a gutsy sixty voted against HR

2346 on May 14, but many defected to vote for the war

spending, including Neil Abercrombie, Jerry Nadler,

David Obey, Xavier Becerra, Lois Capps, Maurice

Hinchey, Jesse Jackson, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Patrick

Kennedy, Charles Rangel, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Loretta

Sanchez, Rosa De Lauro, Bennie Thompson, Jerry

McNerney, Robert Wexler and Henry Waxman. (Bill

Delahunt, Linda Sanchez and Pete Stark were not recorded.)


If there were significant pressures from networks like

MoveOn in their Congressional districts, the opposition

vote might have approached 85.


Appropriations chair David Obey in essence granted

Obama a one-year pass to show results in Afghanistan.

If the war appears to be a quagmire by then, he

claimed, the Democrats will become more critical.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered the same message;

according to the Washington Examiner, May 6: "There

won't be any more war supplementals, so my message to

my members is, this is it." Pelosi's words were

carefully parsed, saying that the White House would not

be allowed another supplemental form of appropriation,

which is different from an actual pledge to oppose war funding.


This one-year pass means that the grassroots peace

movement has a few months to light a fire and reawaken

pressure from below on the Congress and president. In

the meantime, here are some predictions for the coming year:


* Iraq: Will Obama keep his pledge to withdraw combat

forces from Iraq on a sixteen-month timetable, and all

forces by 2011? At this point, the pace is slowing, and

the deadline being somewhat extended, under pressure

from US commanders on the ground. Sunnis are

threatening to resume their insurgency if the al-Maliki

regime fails to incorporate them into the political and

security structures. The president insists however,

that he is only making adjustments to a timetable that

is on track. Prognosis: Precarious.


* Afghanistan: Will the Obama troop escalation deepen

the quagmire or become a successful surge against the

Taliban by next year? Another 21,000 troops and

advisers are on their way to the battlefield. Civilian

casualties are mounting, causing the besieged Karzai

government to complain. Preventive detention of Afghans

will only expand. US deaths, now over 600, are sure to

increase this summer. Taliban may hold out and redeploy

in order to stretch US forces thin. Prognosis:

Escalation into quagmire.


* Pakistan: US policies have driven Al Qaeda from

Afghanistan into Pakistan's tribal areas, where the

United States is attacking with Predators and turning

Pakistan's US-funded armed forces towards

counterinsurgency. Public opinion is being inflamed

against the US intervention. Prognosis: An expanding

American war in Pakistan with greater threats to

American security.


* Iran: With or without US complicity, Israel may

attack Iran early next year, with unforeseeable

consequences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Prognosis: Crisis

will intensify.


* Global: The United States will fail to attract more

combat troops to fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan from

Europe or elsewhere, causing pressure to increase for a

non-military negotiated solution. Prognosis: Obama

still popular, US still isolated.


* Budget priorities: Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan

will deeply threaten the administration's ability to

succeed on the domestic front with stimulus spending,

healthcare, education and alternative energy.

Prognosis: false hope for "guns and butter" all over




Tom Hayden is the author of The Other Side (1966, with

Staughton Lynd), The Love of Possession Is a Disease

With Them (1972), Ending the War in Iraq (2007) and

Writings for a Democratic Society: The Tom Hayden

Reader (2008).


Senator Tom Hayden, the Nation Institute's Carey

McWilliams Fellow, has played an active role in

American politics and history for over three decades,

beginning with the student, civil rights and antiwar

movements of the 1960s.


Hayden was elected to the California State Legislature

in 1982, where he served for ten years in the Assembly

before being elected to the State Senate in 1992, where

he served eight years.


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