Why Am I A Peace Activist? Why Aren't You?
Written for the collection, "Why Peace?"
More than any other description, except for perhaps husband and father, I have been for the past six years a peace activist. Yet, I hesitate on the question of how to tell my personal story of experience with war. I recently visited Afghanistan briefly, in order to speak with people who have experienced war. I've spoken with many U.S. soldiers and non-U.S. victims of war. But I have no experience of war. Being in Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, doesn't change that; by the time a crime had been transformed into a war, the war had been moved elsewhere.
I know a Vietnam veteran who opposed that war but grew so tired of being told he wasn't qualified to do so that he joined up. When he got back, and for decades since, he's been opposing wars with the benefit of the aura of someone who knows war. I don't have that, and I certainly do not want it. I value war opposition by those who have known war, but I value other war opposition as well. And I imagine we can all spot the fatal flaw in any proposal that would have people experience wars before they could oppose them. In 2006 a congressional candidate and Iraq veteran in Ohio who was speaking on a panel with me urged military "service" on all politicians so that they could oppose militarism with greater knowledge of the military. Raise your hand if you think that would work.
So, the obvious question is probably how I became a peace activist. To my mind, however, the question has always been why anybody is not. I understand there are not a lot of job openings for professional peace activists, but there are unlimited part-time volunteer positions.
When I was a kid growing up in Northern Virginia in a family that had no one in the military and no one opposing the military, we had a guest visit. He very much wanted to see the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. So we drove him over there and showed him around. He was quite impressed. But I became physically ill. Here was a beautiful sunny town full of people enjoying life and people being trained to murder other people in large numbers. To this day I cannot imagine why I need a particular explanation for finding that unbearably revolting. I want to hear an explanation from someone who doesn't find it so.
Oh, they'll tell us, we all find war to be troubling, but being a grown up means having the stomach to do what's needed to prevent something worse.
The thing is, I never much trusted grown ups. I wasn't revolted by the idea of war for myself, while willing to let others engage in it. I refused to take it on faith that such a horror as war could be justified -- for anyone. After all, like all kids, I had been taught to work out problems with words rather than fists. I had been told that it was wrong to kill. And, like almost all people, I was viscerally inclined to resist the idea of killing anyone. If I was going to accept that in some cases it was right to kill lots and lots of people, and that it was right to always be training and building a huge war machine just in case such a situation arose, then someone was going to have to prove that claim to me.
In my experience, common wisdom was often wildly wrong. A huge industry of churches was maintained on Sundays to promote ideas that my parents took seriously, and most people took seriously, but which struck me as utter nonsense. The idea that war was peace came to seem to me so nonsensical on its face, that I'd only believe it if offered proof. Yet, all such thinking was in the back of my head. I never thought I'd work as a peace activist until the moment I found myself doing so at age 35. It took me years of traveling, studying, dropping out of architecture school, teaching English in Italy, picking up a Master's in Philosophy at the University of Virginia, and working as a reporter and a press person before I found my way.
I became an activist in my late 20s on domestic issues of criminal justice, social justice, and labor rights. I became a professional activist at age 30 when I went to work for ACORN, the association of community groups that scared so many powerful people that it was slandered in the media, defunded, and destroyed several years later, after I had moved on. I protested the first Gulf War and the build up to a 2003 war on Iraq. But I became something of a spokesperson and writer against war when I worked as press-secretary for Dennis Kucinich's presidential campaign in 2004. He made peace the number one issue in his platform. We talked about peace, trade, and healthcare -- and not much on trade or healthcare.
In 2005 I found myself working on a campaign to impeach and prosecute President George W. Bush for lying the nation into war. This meant working closely with and becoming a part of the peace movement, even while engaged in something less than peaceful: seeking to put someone on trial and imprison him. I immersed myself in online and real-world activism, organizing, educating, and protesting. I strategized, lobbied, planned, wrote, protested, went to jail, did interviews, and pressed for peace.
There are downsides and seeming hypocrisy to the peace movement. We don't always behave peacefully toward each other. We don't always share the same vision. Some groups favor peace when doing so helps a particular political party and are otherwise very accepting of war. Some honestly think particular wars are crimes but others justified. Some try to work with corrupted insiders. Some try to bring pressure from outside the halls of power. Some try, with great difficulty, to bridge some of those gaps.
But my peace movement experience overall has been incredibly positive. I've made good friends that I see a handful of times a year, on stages or in streets, and as often as not in police vans. The fulltime peace activists, most of whom have other fulltime paid employment, those who serve no particular organization, but who hold the movement together with their spirit and reliability: these are people with more great stories than any writer will ever get onto paper or computer screens. These are the people for whom, outside of my family, I am most grateful. If any of them had ever been visible in the way that military recruiters and toy soldiers are visible, perhaps I would have found my way to the peace movement sooner.
My focus or approach may evolve, but I cannot imagine ever leaving. In 2009 and 2010, I wrote two books, the second one on the question of whether any war had ever been justified. The title is a giveaway of the conclusion I reached: "War Is A Lie." And it isn't just any lie. It is the justification of the worst thing anyone has ever devised. Ending it now is no longer just a question of making the world more pleasant, but a question of survival. Weapons proliferation, blowback, economic collapse, environmental collapse, political collapse: choose your poison; war will destroy us in one or more of these manners unless we put an end to it. Why in the world would anyone not want to?
Source: David Swanson - War is a Crime
Here are some recommended links available to better inform you about careers in Peacemaking and Social Change. This is a work in progress and NNOMY will be adding new documents as they are prepared and as policies change that effect enlistment. Check back periodically.
- Making Effective Change: Social Movement Organizing and Activism - Evergreen College - Oregon - Spring 2012 . (PDF)
- TEACHING peace - A Guide for the Classroom & Everyday Life - Nuclear Age Peace Foundation - (PDF)
- Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies (PAWSS) - New Hampshire
- National Advanced Peacemaker Training Institute - Fellowship of Reconciliation (USA)
- Christian Peacemaker Teams - English | Español
- Manchester College Peace Studies Institute and Program in Conflict Resolution - Indiana
- Psychology for Peace Activists - by David Adams - Copyright 1987, 1995 - Advocate Press, New Haven CT
- Sparticus Educational | Education on the Internet - United Kingdom
- Peacekeeping - New England Nonviolence Trainers Network
- Notes On Being A Peace Monitor - Peace Resource Center of San Diego (PDF)
- Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns - War Resisters' International
- Peace, Anti-War - The Alliance for Global Justice has a long history of advocacy for just peace that is manifested in our various projects and campaigns. For instance, we actively support the peace process in Colombia, oppose US intervention in Venezuela via military and financial support for violent golpistas, emphasize the role of US Empire and militarism in climate change, and oppose the blockade of Cuba and occupation of Guantánamo. AfGJ has participated in and even co-founded some of the major anti-war coalitions and networks opposing US wars. While we don’t have an ongoing peace/anti-war committee, project or campaign, we will continue to support the movement to end wars and militarism and will periodically post relevant links, announcements and resources on this page.
- DC Trainer's Network
The DC Trainers’ Network monthly skillshare is a structured, interactive space where people can share skills and gain confidence in their training abilities and everybody is both a teacher and a learner. We strive to provide an inclusive practice space to experiment with different approaches for learning and teaching. This skillshare seeks to strengthen the DC activist community’s ability to meet the needs of progressive social movements. Organized by the Washington Peace Center.
Highlander serves Appalachia and the South with programs designed to build strong and successful social-change activism and community organizing led by the people who suffer most from the injustices of society. Highlander helps activists to become more effective community educators and organizers, informed about the important issues driving conditions in communities today. Highlander was founded in 1932 and has a long and powerful history, particularly in the labor and civil rights movements.
DART Center (Direct Action and Research Training Center)
DART’s mission is to engage congregations in a process of building congregation-based community organizations that have the power to pursue and win justice. The DART Organizers Institute is a paid, field school created to recruit and train great community organizers, as well as strengthen DART’s mission to build power and win justice.
Midwest Academy is a leading national training institute for the progressive movement. The Academy advances the movements for social change by teaching a strategic, rigorous, results-oriented approach to social action and organization building. The Academy provides training (introductory and advanced level) and consulting, equipping organizers, leaders, and their organizations to think and act strategically to win justice for all.
Training for Change
Since 1992, Training for Change has been committed to increasing capacity around the world for activist training, specializing in training for trainers. When they say activist training, they mean training that helps groups stand up more effectively for justice, peace and the environment. They deliver skills directly that people working for social change can use in their daily work. Their website also has a lot of great resources for leading your own trainings on a variety of topics.
Green Corps’ Field School for Environmental Organizing trains college graduates to run environmental campaigns, from building a core group of activists to convincing decision-makers to pass laws, change policies and create reforms to protect our environment. It is a one-year, full-time, paid program that includes intensive classroom training, hands-on field experience running urgent environmental and public health campaigns, and career placement in positions with leading environmental groups.
New Organizing Institute (NOI)
The New Organizing Institute was created by organizers who use all available new (and "seasoned") technologies to spark and coordinate activity both online and offline. By training new online organizers and technologists, our goal is to infuse this new field with talented staff, to connect and energize a new generation of progressive activists, and to solidify long-term progressive power.
Rockwood Leadership Institute
Rockwood teaches skills and tools that help grassroots and policy reform leaders overcome organizational challenges; inspire and align individuals and organizations toward producing quality outcomes; develop collaborative skills; decrease "burn-out"; and create organizations that celebrate sustainability and diversity.
This national network trains progressive activists, organizers, and candidates in communities all over the country.
Center for Progressive Leadership
The CPL provides leadership trainings for activists and potential electoral candidates and staff, and connects young people with paid internships at progressive organizations.
- Washington Peace Center - If you can't find what you're looking for, get in touch with the Peace Center and we'll help you get trained in whatever you need to know.
Where to find help for leading your own training:
Network for Good
Website that offers online nonprofit fundraising trainings and a large archive of past trainings.
The Root Activist Network of Trainers is a small collective that provides training, action planning, and support for various social justice groups and mobilizations across the world. Their website has a fantastic collection of invaluable educational materials dealing with action planning, anti-oppression, and consensus decision-making.
Organizing for Power
Lisa Fithian has been organizing for 35 years between the global justice, anti-war, student, labor, and environmental movements, and has collected all her resources and knowledge here on her website. Look here for some excellent conceptual tools to think about power, strategy, and organizing for social change and liberation.
Materials to download:
Accessible Organizing/Facilitation - Resources for accessible organizing and movement-building
Media Training - prep a group for interviews, press events and press releases
Media Workshop Handout - reviewing press tips and template for press releases
Legal Support Training - train a group on how to do legal support for direct action
Legal Support/Affinity Group Role Play - a great tool to use in a training on the importance of setting up a legal support system for direct actions
Nonviolent Direct Action Training Agenda - a 4 hour agenda that can be adjusted for your training slot
Social Media Prep for Actions - Prep work and tips for using social media to compliment and advance your actions
Social Media Resources - Websites, tools, resources, and helpful guides on social media for activists
Source: Washington Peace Center
Actions & Networks
- Black Lives Matter
- United National Antiwar Coalition
- Campaign Nonviolence . Pace e Bene
- World Beyond War
- Stop The War Coalition
- International Solidarity Movement - Nonviolence. Justice. Peace.
- On Earth Peace Intern Program
- Left Forum
- United National Antiwar Coalition Conference
- Democracy Convention 2017
- No To NATO Summit 2017
- Veterans For Peace National Convention 2017 "Education Not Militarization!"
- International Week of Action Against the Militarisation of Youth . War Resisters International
- 2018 Labor Notes Conference
- Campus Activism - Tools for Activists
- Action PA - Activism Training Materials & Resources
- Resources and Toolkit for the Palestinian Activist
- Cafe Progressive: Online Activism Tools & Community Activism Resources
- Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns - War Resisters' International
- International Center on Non-violent Conflict
Resources for Children:
- Children's Peace Education project
- Rethinking Early Childhood Education - Rethinking Schools
- The Alliance for Childhood - Eight Steps To Teach Kids Peace
- SoundOut - Student Voice in Schools
- Reach & Teach - Peace & Social Justice Learning Products
Websources for Peace Education by Teaching For Peace
- Peace Makers
- Peace Movements
- Peace Keepers
- Peace Organizations
- Peace and Education Resources
- Peace & Indigenous Peoples
- Peace and Women
- Peace and Children
Funders of Peacemaking
- The International Peacemakers Fund (IPF) - Fellowship of Reconciliation, England (FoRE)
- Abe Keller Peace Education Fund - Redman, Washington
- Blue Ribbon Campaign - Electric Frontier Foundation
- RESIST - seeks to fund organizations that are actively part of a movement for social change
Fellowship and Career Opportunities for Social Justice:
- Echoing Green
- GOOD WORKS is a national directory of social change organizations
- The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network
Organizations you should know
- Peace Magazine
- Military Families Speak Out
- Vietnam Veterans Against War
- Project YANO
- Canadian Peacebuilding Coordinating Committee
- Voices for Creative Nonviolence
- Physicians for Global Survival
- Quakers in Britain
- Peace Brigades International
- International Peace Bureau
- Peace Pledge Union
- Peace is Possible
- Amnesty International
- Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers
- Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
- M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence
- Krishnamurti Foundation of America
- Peace Action
- The Compassionate Listening Project
- Stop The War Coalition
- American Friends Service Committee
- Clean Clothes Campaign
- Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
- 50 Years is Enough
- Independent Media Centre
- Corporate Accountability International
- Institute for Global Communications
- International Rivers Network
- Jobs With Justice
- Global Goals 2030
- United for a Fair Economy
- Stop the War Machine
- Non Violent Peace Force
- Courage to Resist
- World Peace Prayer Society
- Le Mouvement De La Paix
- Sept.11 Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow
- Conscience and Peace Tax
- Peace Tax Seven
- Project Ploughshares
- Pax Service Civil International
- Friends United Meeting
- New York Quakers
- Philadelphia Quakers
- Peace Brigades International
- International Peace Bureau
- Pax Service Civil International
Source: Teaching For Peace
Articles on the web:
- The Art of Protest: From Vietnam to AIDS
- How to Make War Protest Art
- The Anti-War Movement in the United States
- Students advocate artful, peaceful alternative to war
- National Days of Student Action Against the Iraq War
- The art of making protest art