In these times, working for peace may seem like a dead end. But it’s a mistake to conceive of peace issues as separate from everything else that people are fighting for right now. Peace as a concept, as a story we enact about how we want to live in the world with each other, should be a core part of the vision we want to build, now and in the future.
Resisting the Trump regime must be about more than holding the line, or defeating certain egregious policies or actions. We need to think in terms of overarching change to what this world could be. Because the crises that we are facing — like xenophobia and attacks on immigrants, Islamophobia and threats to refugees and Muslims, sexism and homophobia and dangers to women and LGBTQ (especially transgender) people — did not originate solely in this administration, and will not go away even if Democrats regain power. Treating each crisis we face, each particular group under attack, as a single issue will undermine our ability to face systemic challenges. An over-compartmentalized resistance will not be effective.
Peace activism is a very workable frame with which to understand this, given how clearly foreign policy has domestic impact. How many refugees seek sanctuary here as a direct result of the destruction and destabilization that US wars and operations have sowed, from Iraq to Syria to Somalia? How many undocumented immigrants flee the poverty and violence that US policy, from regime change in Honduras to neoliberal trade deals with Mexico, has wrought? Foreign policy doesn’t operate in a vacuum that ends at US borders — it returns. The tens of billions of dollars in additional military spending that Trump promises will strip public sector and social support programs, and people in the US will feel that strain, just as people further away feel the impact of our engorged military power.
The military is not strictly a force based in foreign action, in any case — the trickle-down of military equipment to domestic police has frequently turned law enforcement into something resembling an occupying force, armed to the teeth, terrorizing civilians — witness incidents of police brutality against people of color, or police repression of protests, or the vicious crackdowns against water protectors in Standing Rock and elsewhere. These are easily peace issues. Our militarism and violence was never restricted to foreign entanglements.
The story of US exceptionalism and the imposition of our imperialist, capitalist agenda is enacted on both ends, at home and further away. The same story that keeps US bombs falling in the Middle East, that keeps us allied with Saudi Arabia and Israel, that keeps our civil liberties dwindling at home, also keeps us bent on destroying the environment for profit and discounting the lives of marginalized people.
The climate justice movement has begun to speak more about environmental sacrifice zones, places written off so that corporations can continue unrestricted pillaging in the name of economic growth. The prioritization of profit and corporate power also maintains sacrifice people. The story we tell about the “inevitable” and “natural” march of Western capitalism and US “indispensable” power fundamentally creates a justification for devaluing people and countries, just as it does for destroying the planet.
Resistance under the Trump regime should reckon with these imperative questions: whose lives are worth saving, when the stakes are highest? For whom do we want to build a better, more peaceful world? And in times of crisis, as well as in the day-to-day–who will we allow to be sacrificed? Peace activism understands the deep danger and immorality of sacrificing faraway countries and demonizing their people, and we have to keep in mind the same vicious story being played out on many levels at home, and how that connects not just to foreign policy but to the overall goal of a peaceful world.
Finally, as the roots of the issues we face did not come from nowhere, it would be unwise to focus on only small actions or settle for a return to the Obama-era status quo. If there’s any issue for which it’s extremely clear that the world was not headed for peace and justice under Democrats either, peace activism exemplifies that. Tipping the power back to the Democrats may for some of us take the edge off of the current feeling of crisis, but it will genuinely solve no peace issues. Regime change, war, brinkmanship with Russia, not to mention mass deportations, erosion of civil liberties, climate destruction, racist violence, and any number of oppressions, would continue with Democrats as well. We won’t legislate our way — at least certainly not all the way — to peace. We need to change the story we tell about each other and the world, and to protect and defend one another in whatever ways we can.
The world will not get more peaceful under Trump, but as we try to build a resistance, we can still struggle to dismantle the dehumanizing ideological beliefs that have manufactured and justified war, oppression, and/or violence under every administration, so we can tell a different story, and refuse to fall for the lack of progress when anyone, Democrats or Republicans alike, sells it to us.