Conference Dissects US Militarism, Abroad and at Home 

Moderator Hayat Imam and questioner Paul Shannon with speakers Jackson Lears, Phyllis Bennis, and Lindsay Koshgarian at "Facing our Challenges" conference, Dec 3, 2022. MAPA photo
Moderator Hayat Imam and questioner Paul Shannon with speakers Jackson Lears, Phyllis Bennis, and Lindsay Koshgarian at "Facing our Challenges" conference, Dec 3, 2022. MAPA photo

by Martha Karchere

Over one hundred political activists for peace and progress gathered via Zoom on December 3rd at the conference, “Facing our Challenges in Dangerous Times,” to hear how the United State’s orientation toward militarism has contributed to world peril, both helping to create the climate crisis and putting us at risk of nuclear holocaust. Organized by the Mass Progressive Action Organizing Table, a coalition of six state-wide organizations, the conference sought to explore the full ramifications of our government’s preference for military force over negotiation to solving problems abroad and at home. Political analysts, experts in different dimensions of militarism, leaders of social justice organizations and activist breakout groups contributed examples and ideas for taking steps to build out the progressive agenda to include peace and build power. 

You can watch video of the presentations here and read a detailed report on the presentations.

Phyllis Bennis, Jackson Lears and Lindsay Koshgarian explained that militarism was central to the founding of our country, instrumental in the genocide of Native Americans and to the enforcement of the slave economy.  These roots have produced domestic institutions which mirror the military preference for resolving social problems by enforcement and vertical decision making, and they undermine equality. For example, the full force of US military intervention is felt by mostly non-white populations abroad.  Para-military police departments, prisons, border control and ICE disproportionately affect non-white populations here at home. Our wars abroad result in vast migrations to the US as well as Europe and also make climate crisis negotiations much more difficult.

Bennis, Lears and Koshgarian recommended building ties with other anti-militarism campaigns, not just ideas but real relationships.The National Priorities Project wants to share the tools they have developed for understanding the costs of militarism with other movements. The Ukraine War is a distraction which should not make us waver from our overall mission. The treatment of Ukrainian refugees should be the model for how the US treats all refugees.

Jean-Luc Pierite, board president of the North American Indian Center of Boston, Mallory Hanora, executive director of Families for Justice as Healing, and Jordan Berg Powers, executive director of Mass Alliance, all leaders in communities disproportionately affected by over-policing and the bloated prison system, explained to conference attendees how they are building political power for their constituencies. There are no shortcuts, allies are critical and all agreed that it is essential to build trust, sometimes over many years, centering the needs of the people they are working for. Each, in their own way, echoed Ayanna Pressley’s words, “Those closest to the pain should be closest to the power.”

Pierite, Hanora, and Berg Powers addressed the importance of resourced communities partnering with social justice organizations.. Communication and messaging must be emotionally resonant and in the media that reach people today, not the Boston Globe.  Families for Justice as Healing wrote a prison moratorium bill which was passed within the year (though vetoed by Gov. Baker), providing a road map for other similar efforts.

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge and journalist John Nichols urged progressive solidarity in supporting political candidates, even when they don’t directly represent us. Senator Eldridge named Raise Up, a coalition of community and union groups, as a model for organizing for progressive power. He urged progressives to organize a substantial presence to engage the transition team put in place by Maura Healey and Kim Driscoll. Nichols advised us to look at the campaign of Rep.-elect Delia Ramirez of Illinois, who made peace a central issue. He also advised activists to educate House assistant speaker Katherine Clark and other political leaders about peace issues. Both men endorsed the idea of an organizing table for constitutional offices, whose power is insufficiently recognized.. Senator Eldridge gave the example of the state treasurer who could divest from fossil fuels and could make school buildings fossil fuel free.

Between breakout group recommendations and the seasoned advice of conference panelists, there is much to build on but no quick reversal from the United States’ orientation on militarism to that of meeting human needs. Suggestions ranged from immediate actions to the framing of the peace and progressive agenda. 

Youth see the connections between peace issues and other social problems more clearly than their elders and student-led forums on campuses addressing the intersectionality of the peace movement need to be encouraged and supported.  Lastly, we should not hesitate to center morality in our movement, taking our example from The Poor People’s Campaign.