Peace Victories in 2015 Must Be Defended in 2016

JohnRatliff.Smiling.1002015 ends and 2016 begins on a note of cautious hope. After the New York U.N. Conference on Syria, chaired by Secretary John Kerry, the U.S. and Russia mounted a visible concerted push encouraging each country’s allies (many of whom have objections) to implement the measures outlined in the joint resolution framing a diplomatic outline of cease-fire and negotiation under UN auspices of an agreement to resolve the Syrian civil war.  The war has cost over 250,000 lives and made many millions of Syrians desperate refugees in their own country, neighboring lands, and in Europe and abroad. 

Even as diplomats took these small steps toward peace in Syria, a Russian ship, loaded with 9 tons of enriched uranium, departed Iran, leaving the Islamic Republic with less enriched material than would be required to produce one nuclear weapon. This concrete step, part of an exchange of Russian nuclear fuel for enriched uranium, was another huge benchmark toward implementation of the Iran nuclear framework through which Russia, Iran, the United States, and other countries had achieved a reduction in the tensions which many felt made war with Iran almost inevitable.

Neither of these actions occurred in a vacuum. We in the peace movement have played our important role. From the beginning, we opposed our government’s effort to impose military solutions in Syria and defended victories at the negotiation table.  With massive anti-war turn-out by the American people in 2013, we helped block an earlier effort to bomb the Syrian government and forced a turn instead to diplomacy which successfully removed a huge stockpile of chemical weapons from the theater.  With people power last summer, we defended the Iran nuclear deal against a massively funded effort to undermine and overturn it, which threatened to leave no other options but war.  Efforts to undermine the deal continue, but are weakened with each step forward.  

We cautiously hailed the COP-21 conference in Paris this month as a  very important first step to prevent or at least limit devastating climate change. Officials representing most of the nations in the world agreed to common targets and to specific (voluntary) steps each would take to reduce its carbon footprint.  The voluntary commitments were far too small to meet the target, but the agreement included periodic check-ins, monitoring, and modification.

It was the people of the world, led by young climate activists, indigenous people, and scientists, who should get the credit for the important victories they won in Paris and also for President Obama’s decision to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and Arctic drilling in 2015.

RaiseUp Massachusetts took a step to challenge inequality, by successfully completing the petition part of a campaign toward a Fair-share constitutional amendment.

Massachusetts Peace Action played a role in all these victories.  Our conferences on A Foreign Policy for All and Building Sustainable Security educated our supporters and allies on the need for a foreign policy placing the peoples’ interest for survival ahead of the needs of corporate power brokers, and we advocated for a unity of movements to fight for the future. We put advocacy into action by organizing peace movement participation in the campaign for climate justice and in the movements for racial and economic justice.

2015 also ended with a new federal budget agreement which avoided a government shutdown and removed many of the worst provisions which right-wing legislators had attempted to impose. But it was a budget which increased a military budget already larger than that of the next 9 countries together, and committed us to the first year of a trillion dollar refurbishing of our nuclear arsenal which literally threatens the existence of the entire human race. 

As the military forces of the world’s two largest nuclear powers fly within hundreds of feet from one another, committed to opposing sides in a dangerous civil war, and confront one another across borders thousands of miles long, the US needs to get back to seriously work for the abolition of nuclear weapons before some one uses one of them again.  Massachusetts Peace Action has been able to raise the profile of this critical issue, building the Peace and Planet Conference and Rally in April.  

In 2016, we plan to ensure that the issue of peace is important in the debates among the presidential candidates as 2016 contests offer opportunities for meaningful discussion on these critical issues.

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