Some 300 peace activists, students and others came together at MIT November 8 for “Foreign Policy for All: Re-Thinking U.S. Foreign Policy for the 21st Century”, a one-day conference organized by Massachusetts Peace Action and several cosponsoring groups. Attendees debated the fundamental issues of U.S. foreign policy and considered a policy framework developed by a working group. Foreign Policy for All was our second annual thematic conference, following up on the successful Autumn Convergence of 2013.
Foreign Policy for All Quick Links
Prof. Jonathan King welcomed the participants to MIT on behalf of the Technology and Culture Forum. Cole Harrison, MAPA’s executive director, outlined the main points of the Foreign Policy for All, which consist of an analysis of the problem, five basic values, 13 policy proposals, and an outline of the necessary political strategy. (Also see Foreign Policy for All at a Glance.)
MIT Institute Prof. Noam Chomsky pointed out that throughout U.S. history, elites have cultivated fear of “them” – outsiders who are allegedly threatening us – when the reality was often that U.S. power was decimating their societies. In the 19th century, fear of Indians, slave rebellions, and Chinese immigrants covered up destruction of Indian nations, brutal repression of African-American slaves, and exploitation of cheap immigrant labor. In recent decades, U.S. elites have whipped up scares about Grenada, Nicaragua and Iraq, even as American power dominates the world and has bases in over 100 foreign countries.
Author and activist Bill Fletcher, Jr. spoke in favor of the Foreign Policy for All framework , but also called for a paradigm shift in the peace movement’s and left’s view of international solidarity. In the initial post-WWII decades, progressives consistently opposed U.S. foreign policy as it attempted to suppress liberation movements against Western colonialism. But Fletcher pointed out that not all social movements are progressive, as we have recently seen in Venezuela and Thailand. We must uphold human rights and non-intervention, and we must be willing to push for reforms in the U.S. state’s foreign policy.
Middle East analyst Phyllis Bennis argued that a fundamental problem in U.S. foreign policy is that it is functioning as an empire in an age when empires are no longer sustainable. Though much of the opposition to U.S. manipulation in the Middle East is led by Islamists, we cannot choose the leadership of the forces that are opposing U.S. hegemony.
Journalist and author Stephen Kinzer agreed that the U.S. cannot dictate the solutions to conflicts currently raging in the Middle East and that local forces are better suited to do that. “The U.S. needs to learn to compromise,” he commented.
You can view videos of the talks by Harrrison, Chomsky, Fletcher, Bennis and Kinzer. (Cambridge residents can view Chomsky and Fletcher on CCTV through November).
Participants joined 15 workshops covering topics ranging from nuclear disarmament, international law, and 21st century warfare, to climate change, the struggle against inequality, budgets, and the media. Other workshops looked at food, campus and high school peace organizing, peacebuilding, and current events in the Middle East, Asia/Pacific, and Eastern Europe. Several of the workshop groups intend to continue working; see several presentations and resources used in the workshops. Nearly 1/3 of conference attendees were students, including organized groups from Northeastern University, UMass Lowell, and Bowdoin.
Peace Action’s national field director Judith LeBlanc wrapped up the day by calling on us to talk about the Foreign Policy for All in community, church, and labor groups, and redouble our efforts to develop a critical voice on foreign policy.
Massachusetts Peace Action is asking its members and allies to discuss the Foreign Policy for All this winter. Local discussion meetings are scheduled in several locations; see the calendar on the back page for details. The feedback we received at the conference, at the local meetings, and via the online response form will be collated by the working group and used to write an improved draft. On February 7, the Foreign Policy for All will be debated by our membership at our annual meeting and possibly adopted as an organizational framework.