2023 Year End Report: MAPA Responds to Escalating U.S. Wars

Free Palestine march, Oct 22, 2023, Newbury St., Boston. Photo: Cole Harrison/MAPA
Free Palestine march, Oct 22, 2023, Newbury St., Boston. Photo: Cole Harrison/MAPA

by Cole Harrison

MAPA had a busy year in 2023 as it worked in many directions to present a peaceful alternative to the nation’s increasingly warlike policies.

The Ukraine-Russia and Israel-Gaza wars dominated the headlines as the two U.S. proxy wars reminded everyone that the U.S. militarized political system is ready to fight and kill to preserve its power.

Ukraine/Russia War

The Russia / Ukraine conflict has slogged on tragically with few signs of a resolution, resulting in more than 500,000 casualties, including at least 10,000 civilian deaths. The US has sent over $75 billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine and authorized tens of billions more. We in MAPA, along with others in the peace movement, continue to demand a ceasefire and negotiations. But the Biden administration and Congress have pressed on, sending major weapons systems, crossing red lines, and pretending that Ukraine – even though its offensive has stalled – will somehow beat Russia. Ukrainians continue to pay the price for this US proxy war with their blood. Only recently has US aid faltered, as Republicans blocked additional weapons shipments; halting the flow of military aid is a positive development, but it has been cynically coupled with the requirement that the US effectively close the southern border to immigration.

Eighty people rallied at six Massachusetts Congressional offices January 26 to protest President Biden’s decision to send tanks into the escalating conflict.  We marked the first anniversary of the Ukraine War on Feb. 24 with a Boston rally at Downtown Crossing which drew 50 people in bitter cold.   State Rep. Mike Connolly and Rev. Vernon K. Walker addressed the group, as did representatives of eight cosponsoring groups.  The crowd marched to the JFK Federal Building where it turned in letters to staffers for Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.   We held rallies the same day in Worcester, Northampton, Springfield, Ipswich, Falmouth, and Greenfield.

The Ukraine: A Time for Peace campaign, led by Paul Shannon and Susan Mirsky and Jeanne Trubek, collected postcards to members of Congress calling for a ceasefire and peace talks.   We gathered signatures at over 20 different events, including Wake up the Earth in Jamaica Plain, Lowell Folk Festival, Lawrence Bread and Roses, and Newton Village Day, as well as at Boston College, Northeastern, and many others.   By November we had mailed in 1,988 cards.  We placed 2 op eds in Pioneer valley newspapers, organized a webinar with Women Say No the NATO, an in-person forum with Stephen Kinzer and the September 30 Global day of Action for a ceasefire in Ukraine held on Boston Common.

Trubek, Joseph Gerson, Paki Wieland, and Nick Mottern went to the June International Summit for Peace in Ukraine in Vienna, which called for worldwide actions for peace in September/October.  We rallied again in Boston on September 30 where speakers included journalist Stephen Kinzer, Rep. Erica Uyterhoeven, and Joseph Gerson among others.

The Ukraine campaign also put on a series of memorable webinars and talks, mounted an online campaign with its own social media channels, and participated in the national Peace in Ukraine coalition.

Israel/ Gaza War

Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza’s civilians after the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 quickly became the central peace issue in Massachusetts and the United States, and caused the biggest upsurge in the U.S. peace movement since the height of the Iraq war almost 20 years ago.  MAPA soon formed a Gaza Israel Peace Campaign which continues to hold weekly meetings drawing 25-35 activists from across the state, and which has subgroups in each of our state’s 9 Congressional districts focused on pressuring their member of Congress, usually in coalition with other like-minded groups.   We helped to build four large Gaza protests which drew thousands in Boston, and participated in protests nearly every day in towns and campuses large and small across the state.   Our protests have targeted the offices of every House member in the state except Rep. Ayanna Pressley who has stood firmly for a ceasefire since the start.

Our Gaza/Israel CD coordinators are Merri Ansara in CD1, Claire Schaeffer-Duffy in CD2, Pat Westwater-Jong and Glen Cote in CD3, Maryellen Kurkulos and Susan Mirsky in CD4, Noble Larson in CD5, Susan Nicholson in CD6, Jeff Klein in CD7/CD8, and Beth Verani in CD9.

The groundwork for Palestine activism was laid over years by our Palestine/Israel working group, convened by Jeff Klein, Susan Nicholson, and Abby Yanow, which has worked for many years to build the numbers of those aware of the US role in sustaining Israel’s apartheid system, through webinars, articles and lobbying.   In 2023 it waged online campaigns to protect Kenneth Roth’s fellowship appointment at Harvard, support the McCollum bill protecting Palestinian children, and call for justice for slain journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

Other Work Updates

The Raytheon Antiwar Campaign highlighted the role of the military-industrial complex in driving U.S. militarism with regular rallies throughout the year.   The US-Saudi war in Yemen, Raytheon’s role in developing nuclear weapons and missiles, and its role supplying Israel with murderous weapons for the Gaza war, were three themes the group highlighted this year.   The Demilitarize Western Massachusetts campaign focused pressure on L3Harris, a military company with a large presence in Northampton, and BDS Boston disrupted Elbit Systems, an Israeli military company with offices in Cambridge and New Hampshire.

Calling for less militarism and more social progress, we observed Tax Day in April with a Downtown Crossing rally.  The Fund Healthcare Not Warfare group held a healthcare forum in June and made presentations at the American Public Health Association national conference in Atlanta in November.  We held presentations on Protecting our Nation’s Health, Books Not Bombs, and Women’s Health Justice, and allied with the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign.  We called on Congress to vote No on the Pentagon budget, and five Massachusetts legislators (Sens. Markey and Warren and Reps. Pressley, McGovern and Auchincloss) did so.  We formalized our work on these issues by forming the Fund the People, Not the Pentagon campaign.

Led by Merri Ansara, Claire Gosselin, Mavis Anderson, and Mike McCarthy, our Cuba campaign held monthly standouts throughout the year to end the embargo with our partners in the July 26 Coalition, Boston DSA, Party for Socialism and Liberation, and others.   Copley Square, Central Square, Coolidge Corner, Somerville, Easthampton, UMass Amherst, and UMass Boston, and Berklee Performance Center were among the locations.  The team is now lobbying Congress members to sign a letter calling for an end to the SSOT or State Sponsor of Terrorism designation which Biden’s State Department has applied to Cuba.  We assisted UMass Boston as it hosted the National Network on Cuba’s annual conference in October, where our board member Calla Walsh was elected a co-chair.   Derek Sexton chairs our Latin America/ Caribbean working group which did <what?>

Our Racial Justice/ Indigenous Solidarity working group, led by Claire Gosselin, Rosemary Kean, and Craig Simpson, worked in a variety of ways to connect peace with justice issues.  We joined rallies and a hearing to rename Slave Traders’ (aka Faneuil) Hall, supported Families for Justice as Healing’s campaign to prevent the building of a new women’s prison, and turned out for the Indigenous Legislative Agenda, Indigenous People’s Day, and the Day of Mourning in Plymouth.  To challenge the poverty draft which preys on youth, we visited five Boston high schools and handed out cards with information about alternatives to joining the military.   We partnered with Rev. Kevin Peterson’s New Democracy Coalition in May to put on a public reading of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Boston City Hall Plaza, and hosted an interpretive webinar on the speech with four scholar/activists.

Led by Susan Mirsky, we continued to raise the need for nuclear disarmament throughout the year.   Our online, MIT-based Reducing the Risk of Nuclear War conference, organized by Jonathan King in January, drew 200 people with a variety of speakers and breakouts.    The Golden Rule, a historic sailboat with an anti-nuclear mission, visited New Bedford, Plymouth, and Boston in June, and a coalition convened by Kathie Malley-Morrison, Peter Metz, and Doug Stuart staged a welcoming event with speakers and music at Boston Harbor, an indoor event at Community Church of Boston, and a State House event featuring City Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune, State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, and more.

Louise Coleman, Fran Jeffries, Mirsky, Linda Davis, and Kathleen Hamill greeted the release of the Oppenheimer film in July by gathering supporters who passed out information and gathering postcards addressed to Congress at screenings across the state.

The UN’s Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear War conference in New York in late November/early December was the scene of indoor events organized by Timmon Wallis and Vicki Elson’s Warheads to Windmills project with Rep. Jim McGovern and State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, by Ira Helfand’s Back from the Brink campaign, and by Joseph Gerson’s Campaign for Peace, Disarmament, and Common Security, as well as of a 200 person street protest which visited the U.N. missions of the U.S., U.K., France, and Russia, calling on them to sign the Nuclear Ban Treaty.

MAPA filed the Commonwealth Peace and Justice Agenda for the third time in 2023, consisting this year of seven bills addressing nuclear disarmament, climate change, military spending and economic justice, and ethics. Our activists testified at hearings on all these, held online info sessions, and joined a lobby day in May for the three nuclear bills.

The Twin Threats campaign attended the March to End Fossil Fuels Sept 17 in New York.

The New England Korea Peace Campaign, chaired by Seung Hee Jeon and Keumjoo Lee, and MAPA held educational webinars throughout the year, and staged a protest in April, joined by several other groups, when right wing South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol visited Harvard Kennedy School of Government in a menacing caravan of eight black, tinted-window SUVs.

Two of our members, Vernon K. Walker and Andrew King, ran for office in Cambridge in the fall; both ran excellent campaigns, came close to victory, and gained valuable experience.

MAPA Organizational Growth

Our Annual Meeting in April was addressed by historian Gerald Horne, who urged MAPA to develop its international ties and broaden its perspective.   It designated three priority campaigns to headline MAPA’s activism in 2023-24:  Ukraine: A Time for Peace; Twin Existential Threats of nuclear war and climate change; and Fund the People, Not the Pentagon.   Gaza/Israel Peace was designated as a fourth priority campaign in October.  MAPA’s Political Strategy committee, chaired by Paul Shannon and Brian Garvey, oversees the campaigns and seeks to assist them.  We are now reviewing the work of the campaigns to date and evaluating whether to make changes in the campaign lineup for 2024; that process should conclude at our 2024 annual meeting, to be held in April.

We held MAPA summer parties in my back yard in Roslindale, Pat McSweeney’s yard in Taunton, and Susan Mirsky’s in Newton, breaking bread together, raising funds, discussing issues, and making connections.

Cambridge political humorist Jimmy Tingle was master of ceremonies at our annual dinner October 8, which featured Caribbean food, wine and beer from non nuclear weapon states, and awards to people who have made a difference for peace this year.

We held three Music for Peace classical chamber concerts directed by Carol Ou, which raised funds and brought people together for a high quality social/cultural event.  We closed out the year with a Songs to Change the World concert Dec. 16 featuring Ben Grosscup and Nina Giulianini.

We initiated the Massachusetts Progressive Action Organizing Committee, a coalition of 7 Massachusetts progressive organizations with 9 additional consulting member groups.  Its annual political strategy conference was held Dec. 2 featuring a range of state and national political leaders.

Our communications efforts broadened our reach.   We published 10 e-newsletters and two print editions, and distributed countless flyers and petitions.  Our supporters sent 15,776 online advocacy messages to Congress and other decision makers this year on 70 different topics ranging from Afghanistan to Yemen. They clicked on our emails 107,800 times and attended over 100 webinars.  Our Youtube channel recently passed 10,000 subscribers and receives 12-16,000 views per month.   We have 6,800 followers on X/Twitter, 5,400 on Facebook, and 2,889 on Instagram, as well as a Facebook discussion group with 950 members.

We mentored 13 interns this year from Northeastern, Simmons, Suffolk, and Brandeis Universities, Boston College, Stonehill College, Andover High School, and Boston Latin School.  They brought energy, skills, and new ideas to our work.

MAPA’s Board has 25 members, chaired by Jonathan King and Rosemary Kean. Our nonprofit arm, MAPA Education Fund, has another board with 6 members, chaired by Rosalie Anders. Hayat Imam is the Fundraising chair. Brian Garvey, our assistant director, and I are MAPA’s two full time staff people; Ting Huang joined as a part time communications specialist in January and Glen Cote as operations specialist in November.  Nijimbere Lahayiloyi is the office manager.

We have 1,960 members who pay dues or give financial support, and at least 160 activists who participate regularly in working groups or other meetings.

MAPA continues to grow and change as 2023 reaches its end. We are improving our work, but the challenges are coming at us hard and fast. We need your support! Join MAPA today by going to https://masspeace.us/mapa-donate, and check out the working group or campaign of your choice at https://masspeaceaction.org/our-issues/.

Cole Harrison is MAPA’s executive director.