Since I have been participating in the Black Lives Matter movement and in support of justice for Michael Brown Jr. and his family I have received constant criticism for being a leading for in advocating peace groups and specifically Veterans For Peace (VFP) be a strong ally in domestic struggles for justice. For one I believe the saying No Justice No Peace is more than a slogan. I think it is actually true and that to work for peace, you must also work for and be in support of justice. But there is much more to why VFP and peace groups in general should be in support of and work with domestic struggles as part of our work to turn U.S. foreign policy from endless war to waging peace. Below is part of a response I wrote to a series of criticisms that I think will help explain what I see as important to the growth and vibrancy of VFP and the peace movement as a whole.
To understand our organizing lens for engagement in Ferguson, please read VFP statement explaining Peace at Home Peace Abroad (PAH PA). It explains VFP’s core interest in pursuing work like our efforts in Ferguson. Briefly, VFP has three main organizational interests:
· We cannot ask people to be concerned and take action about issues of war and peace that impact communities thousands of miles away while ignoring the challenges facing communities here in the U.S. This has been a long-standing critique of the peace movement. Do we only care about people abroad and not at home? Peace at Home, Peace Abroad asks us to stand in solidarity with people on the domestic issues that they care most about (and that relate directly to peace and justice here at home). PAH PA gives us a narrative that will help people see the connection between domestic and foreign policy, and how war and militarism negatively impacts both. PAH PA is not a new initiative. It is an organizing strategy directly connected with our larger mission of ending war. Additionally, veterans are disproportionately impacted by the lack of resources in communities. Veterans are more likely to be homeless, we face higher unemployment rates, over 700,000 of us are incarcerated and it is estimated that 22 of us die by suicide a day. All of this is a direct outcome of war continuing to disrupt and destroy lives here at home.
· VFP has in interest in demilitarizing the police. Tools of war should not be used on civilian populations. In Ferguson we saw in full bloom the connection between violence and police militarization here in the United States and U.S. wars abroad.
· Police misconduct has a direct and disproportionate impact on veterans. Although the government has failed entirely to keep statistics on police shootings, simply search the words “veteran shot by police” on the Internet, and you will see the truth unfold about the vulnerability of our population to police misconduct, with countless tragic examples.
With these organizational interests in mind, I hope you can see how PAH PA will ultimately strengthen and grow VFP.
I hope that by providing this information I can help resolve your concerns.
Using PAH PA as an organizing lens does not change the focus of VFP. Instead, it provides us with new ways to talk about war and develop closer and new relationships with allies to help advance our mission to abolish war. It is one more tool in our toolbox. I can recount numerous examples of VFP members and staff engaging with vets – especially younger ones – who previously did not know about our work and who’s first exposure to our commitment to peace impacts them directly and immediately. These are future allies and members. When I explain PAH PA to people who are working on issues other than war and peace, they understand, nodding their heads in agreement. It creates opportunities for more dialogue.
The vast majority of our work continues to be resisting war and militarism. Visit our website and look at the work that has come out of the national office and from around the country. Ending war is clearly our number one priority. As just one example of national’s aggressive efforts to address our issues, since I arrived back at VFP in October 2013, the organization has sent out twenty-one position statements about issues of U.S. war and peace, compared to a combined thirteen over the three years since I left my prior tour in March 2010. However, to end war we need allies. The peace community cannot do it alone.
VFP should not (and does not) lead the charge of fighting racism, sexism, climate change, housing, immigration, etc. Yet, we as veterans working for peace must understand the importance of combating racism and other forms of bias to stand in solidarity with oppressed and exploited people.
The creation of the “other” is central to war making. To persuade and motivate soldiers to kill, the enemy must be demonized and made less than human. Racism has been a primary tool for this demonization in western war making. The racism cultivated here at home lays the foundation for killing and maiming brown, yellow and black bodies abroad. We as veterans know this because we went through trainings designed to brainwash us to kill or to take action in support of killing.
A specific criticism of PAH PA. “Alienating a large portion of the U.S. population. You will have a great deal of difficulty trying to educate the alienated.”
An organization that claims to work for peace, justice and positive change must sometimes walk the road less traveled and speak unpopular ideas and words, or it has no morale compass. It will wander in the morass of public opinion. When I joined VFP in late 2002, VFP was speaking out against U.S. foreign policy in an environment where to do so alienated most of the country. At the time, people who spoke out against the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq where challenging the myth of “United We Stand” in the post-September 11 environment. We were called communists, terrorists, traitors, and many other names.
Yet, we did not let this stop us from taking the principled stand of being against war and in particular U.S. wars of expansion and aggression. In fact, we created political space for others, like Military Families Speak Out and Iraq Veterans Against the War, to speak out. Over time, the peace movement changed public opinion that was starkly alienated against us, into agreement with us. Why? Because we were right. And we are right today to stand in solidarity with people across the United States who find themselves under attack, harassed, racially profiled and executed by police.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. found himself alienated for taking a principled and just stance against the war in Vietnam and uncovering the connections between war and its detrimental moral and economic impact on communities here at home. I see no reason to think being counted with King as a bad place to stand.
A specific criticism of PAH PA. “It has always been my belief that VFP’s philosophy is all about not taking sides, and certainly not supporting groups that use violence and an “us” versus “them” mentality to achieve their goals. If this frame of mind is allowed to persist, I believe it very unlikely that VFP will be effective in achieving its stated goals in the future. But beyond this issue, the Ferguson controversy is simply not within the scope of VFP’s mission. By taking sides I believe the Board is badly damaging VFP’s credibility, which is after all where VFP members hang their hats when they address issues of war and peace.”
The frame you provided of taking sides very much troubles me. Where does a person stand when searching for a just peace, or peace with justice? I use the slogan “no justice no peace” because I sincerely believe there must be justice to have peace; they are inherently intertwined and, thus, inseparable.
But what does taking sides mean? What are the sides? Police versus the people? White vs. Black? Either we are on the side of justice, or we are not. If we are not on the side of justice, then we are not on the side of peace. We cannot stand against the oppressed in an effort to influence the hearts and minds of those who oppress. Our peaceful practice and willingness to recognize our opposition’s humanity is how we strive to reach those who oppress. But our credibility lies in standing against injustice.
VFP does not work with groups who promote violence and we do not support acts of property damage. But we must not draw bright lines to separate us from those reacting to state violence and injustice. Quoting Dr. King, “I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.”
And Victor Hugo, “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty is not he who commits the sin, but. the one who causes the darkness. “
Should VFP be part of the unhearing America King speaks of, or by refusing to help carry the light of change, contribute to the darkness referred to by Hugo?
Considering the well-orchestrated defamation of Michael Brown as a person, I understand people’s skepticism concerning how and why Michael Brown was killed. I know many believe Darren Wilson was within his rights to shoot unarmed Michael Brown. But skepticism and dismissal of a movement – the outcry of people calling for no more killings of unarmed Black people or unarmed people in general – is unfortunate. As one VFP member told me, “I’m not sure what happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, but I know the issue is much bigger than that.”
Ferguson has sparked a national movement for justice, and justice is the precondition to peace. There are millions of people in motion and in conversation about race and violence. This is fertile ground for VFP to share our vision of a just and peaceful world. Because the movement was sparked in the Saint Louis Region, VFP has been part of building this movement. We are leading the peace movement in uncovering the connections between wars abroad and the war at home. We are calling for global peace, in our communities and around the world. This is a right and just endeavor. If working with local communities to establish peace and justice around the world was not the original vision for VFP, it may be time for a new vision. The Times They are a-Changin’.
Just a few of my thoughts.
More on Peace at Home Peace Abroad: There has been quite a bit written about Peace at Home Peace Abroad also known as PAH PA. Here are links to 2014 VFP National Convention videos related to PAH PA: Michael McPhearson, Margaret Stevens, PAH PA plenary.