2014 Program Update

Shelagh Foreman, Program Director, delivered this 2014 Program Update at the Annual Meeting on February 8.

Click to listen to the audio, or read the transcript:


Syria

What a year!  We had one of our biggest successes in years in September when President Obama threatened military action against Syria because of the regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons, the people rose up and stopped it!

People flooded Congressional offices with calls and delegations.  When it was clear that Congress would not approve the attack, negotations suddenly broke out.  The process of dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons is now underway. 

Peace Action nationally convened a coalition which sprung into actiojn. Here in Massachusetts in the space of ten days we helped to organize two street demonstrations, a candlelight rally, and six delegations to Congressional offices. 

The lessons? 

First: When the people organize we can move the government to negotiate and prevent a war! 

And, second: the work the peace movement has been doing all these years is bearing fruit!

Iran

We had some more good news this year — about Iran.   After 35 years of estrangement between the U.S. and Iran, Secretary Kerry and President Obama negotiated an interim nuclear deal with Foreign Minister Zarif and President Rouhani. 

Obama and Kerry’s reasons for negotiating may differ from ours, but they are ready to recognize Iran, to reach an accommodation, and to relax tensions in the Middle East.  And they are on track to negotiate a permanent deal later this year. Only last week Zarif said it could be done in six months!

But President Obama faces fierce opposition in Washington – from the neocons and from the so-called Israel lobby. Peace Action here and across the country is pulling out all the stops to support the deal because it will take all our strength to give diplomacy a chance.

 In fact, 59 senators a signed onto a bill whose purpose is to scuttle the deal and change the terms of the negotiation. Two days ago, quite amazingly, that crusade to undermine the negotiations was blunted.  AIPAC acknowledged that they could not bring S.1881 to a vote. 

Five of us were in Washington DC for Peace Action’s National Organizing meeting last week and we met with 9 Congressional offices.  We met with Senator Markey, and unfortunately he is still stuck in distrust and anger at Iran’s past actions.  He has not spoken out for or against the interim deal.  On Wednesday when Wendy Sherman, the nuclear negotiator with Iran, testified in Congress, Markey skeptically asked for more frequent IAEA inspection reports.  

But now the struggle has moved to the House, at least temporarily. A sign on letter called “Give Diplomacy a Chance” is being circulated and we need calls in the next few days to your House representative. There is a flyer about that this in your packets.

The Iran deal is just one step towards peace in the Middle East. Another very promising effort is the proposed Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East, which would address both nuclear and chemical weapons.  Iran, Egypt and the UN have been pushing for it for decades.

Mass. Peace Action sent our board member Jeff Klein to Haifa, Israel in December to attend a conference on this effort.   Jeff will join Shelagh, Guntram, and Dr. Shahin Tabatabaei in a workshop later today which will address both the Iran nuclear deal and the longer range goal of the Middle East WMDFZ.

Nuclear Weapons

President Obama gave a great speech in Prague in 2009, pledging his commitment to reduce and ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons worldwide.   But we need more action to achieve those goals.

We urge the president to submit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty for ratification.  We know Senator Markey is ready to support it when he does.

President Obama’s budget calls for spending over $300 billion on so called nuclear modernization.  “Life-extension programs.  New generations of nuclear submarines, of bombers, of ICBM missiles.  For what?  These weapons can never be used. Senator Markey is our ally here.  He plans to introduce a serious nuclear disarmament bill, the SANE act, into the Senate soon.

It’s up to the peace movement to get the president to keep his promises. To get the word out widely, we gathered petitions and tabled at a dozen festivals last summer, and we organized a commemoration on Hiroshima Day in Cambridge with other groups.

We’ll do it again this year, with your help, perhaps in Boston. We’ll do more tabling, and we’ll work on campuses too.

Palestine/Israel

Israel has been illegally occupying East Jerusalem and the West Bank since 1967 and has built settlements there housing over 500,000 settlers.

Both Jews and Arabs have claims in Israel and Palestine, and we don’t pretend to have the answers that will enable those two peoples to live in peace with each other.  That is up to Israelis and Palestinians to determine.

But this year we formed a Palestine- Israel task force to help move the U.S. towards playing a constructive role on Palestine/Israel policy.

Our Palestine/Israel task force will present an introductory workshop later today.  The presenter will be Hilary Rantisi, a Palestinian who directs the Middle East Program at the Kennedy School.

Afghanistan/Pakistan

12 years after the U.S. invasion, Afghanistan is still one of the world’s poorest countries, one of the worst places in the world to be born, or to be a woman.   If the U.S. invaded Afghanistan for humanitarian reasons, then it has completely failed.

President Obama promised to end U.S. combat operations by December of this year, but he plans to keep a residual force of 10,000 or more U.S. troops behind, and apparently wants to retain 9 major U.S. bases as well. 

Yesterday Senator Merkley introduced a bill to require a vote of Congress if any U.S. troops are to remain in Afghanistan after December.  Please contact the offices of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and ask them to support S. Res. 329.

Kathy Kelly, the coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, has just returned from Kabul.   She will give her update at a workshop later today together with Rachel Williams, who will talk about Pakistan.  If you miss her workshop, Kathy will also be speaking Monday night in Cambridge and Tuesday night in Salem.

Military Budget

Military spending represents over half of the federal discretionary budget.  Our military spending is nearly half of the world’s total, even though no nation is a credible military threat to the United States. 

Our strategists think that defending our country includes defending our so-called global interests.  So the U.S. military is the world’s policeman.  We have bases in over 100 nations. 

Our military spending is incredibly wasteful.  Just take the F-35, the most expensive weapons system in history.  That plane doesn’t work, and its costs are spiraling out of control – the lifetime cost will be $1.5 trillion (with a T).  Yet the Pentagon continues to order more planes each year.

Budget for All

As you know, the Budget for All passed in 91 cities and towns across Massachusetts.  It says: stop cutting food stamps, unemployment insurance, social security and other programs people depend on.  Invest in jobs – in transportation, education, health, and green energy.  Tax those who can afford to pay – the rich and corporations.  And cut the military budget to make investments in jobs.

We had a terrific Budget for All hearing in the State House last July.  The room was packed.  There were 40 speakers from many walks of life and many parts of the state testifying on the need for a Budget for All.

But the resolution is stuck in the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs.   We continue to lobby them to give it a favorable report so that the Legislature can vote in favor of the Budget for All.

Budget for All held 10 public actions in the past year just in the Boston area, plus others across the state, and we got a fair amount of press.

In Congress, the Progressive Budget will come up in March.  Let’s push our Representatives to support it.

Budget for All is planning a major event in Boston around Tax Day. The Global Day of Action against Military Spending also falls on April 14. Please make sure your organization sends a representative to a planning meeting on February 24 in Jamaica Plain; see Paul Shannon to get involved.

Military-Industrial Complex

Massachusetts is heavily dependent on military spending – we rank 6th in the nation in military contracts.  We make fighter jet engines in Lynn, missiles in Andover, and Navy boats in Pittsfield. 

We also have a high tech military work, employing software engineers more than production workers.  MIT Lincoln Labs does major military contracting, and dozens of small and medium firms work on robotics, drones, and cyber.  

We also have 6 military bases in the state: Hanscom, Natick, Cape Cod, Devens, Barnes and Westover. 

The Governor and legislature decided to borrow $177 million to refurbish them, so that the DoD would decide to spare them in the next round of base closings. Despite our efforts and those of Jamie Eldridge and Pat Jehlen, the military bond bill passed overwhelmingly.  Clearly we have a lot of work to do.

Convergence

The issues of peace, climate, and economic and social justice are linked.  So in November we brought together 115 organizers in a convergence, to strategize towards a common agenda.   This effort needs to be expanded in alliance with leadership from racial and economic justice movements.

Teams are now working on a vision statement and on a practical agenda.  The draft agenda is on the table over there, as is a report from the November meeting.  And a continuations committee continues to meet to decide next steps for the whole effort.

Conversion

Another working group that came out of the Convergence is called MassConversion. We want to create a Just Transition – turning “old economy” plants into “new economy” enterprises, creating good jobs, changing our approach to community problems, and providing a tax base. 

One task force is building working relationships with climate activists as they address 3 coal fired plants in the state that are closing, and learn how to facilitate a successful transition process.

Another task force is working on a series of discussion forums to bring together peace, climate, and new economy activists. We hope that will lead up to creation of a Massachusetts futures commission.

Mike Prokosch, Carol Coakley, and Rosalie Anders will give a workshop later today on conversion to a peace economy.

Peace Voter

Peace Action works to bring peace issues into the electoral process, either by educating the candidates about our issues and the voters about the candidates positions, or by supporting candidates.

We expect to endorse Reps. Tierney and McGovern for re-election.

We endorsed Sen. Markey for election last year but we have been disappointed by his positions on the Middle East. We want him to play a positive role on the Iran deal.

For those of our members who are Democrats: we urge you to run for delegate at your town’s or ward’s caucus, this weekend or over the next few weeks because in the Governor’s Race there are at least 4 Democratic candidates running as progressives.

Last year we helped organize a progressive candidates’ forum in the congressional race in the 5th district.

We work with Mass Alliance, a coalition of progressive organizations that work to elect like-minded candidates in the state.

Greens, Libertarians, Socialists or independents: we urge you to bring peace issues into the political process through the party to which you belong. 

Asia/Pacific

War clouds are gathering in Asia from Korea to the South China sea.  As China rises, the US is gathering its power from Korea to Vietnam to India to maintain a military encirclement, in what is called the Asia/Pacific Pivot.

Additionally the Administration is pushing a Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade treaty that seeks to isolate China economically.  Congress is now debating a Fast Track bill which would make it hard to stop the TPP.  We strongly oppose Fast Track and are joining with MoveOn and other groups to present a forum on February 23.

We will also cosponsor an all day conference on April 19 to help the peace movement come up to speed on foreign policy and security issues in Asia/Pacific.  

Duncan McFarland and John Ratliff will present a workshop later today on the Asia/Pacific Pivot and the TPP.

Foreign Policy for All

With the turning points of Syria and Iran, there is the possibility that U.S. foreign policy is starting to enter a new era, in which the U.S. is not so quick to intervene militarily, at least not with massive conventional armies, and in which soft power and negotiations will play a larger role.  

But the U.S. elite still plans to play the predominant role across the world.  It still plans to use a combination of soft power and military power worldwide.  Madelyn Albright called the U.S. the “indispensable nation” – we call it hegemony.

Peace Action seeks to develop an alternative vision of a peaceful, democratic and just United States in a peaceful, cooperative and sustainable world – a Foreign Policy for All.

PA aims to articulate such a FP in more detail in the months to come.

We hope to hold a major event on these themes in fall 2014. 

Barney Frank, Andrew Bacevich have a lot to say on these issues and we are looking forward to hearing from them.

Conclusion

To restate, MAPA has five priorities for 2014:

  •  Make a permanent nuclear deal with Iran
  •  Continue to work for nuclear disarmament
  •  Build the movement for a Budget for All
  •  Start an economic conversion project
  •  Elaborate a Foreign Policy for All agenda