As outrage about the war in Iraq continues to grow, the base of support for ending the war becomes more and more broad. Each group has its own way of approaching the issue and its organizational strengths, but we are much stronger if we can collaborate and coordinate our activities. Last weekend, Cara and I attended a peace forum sponsored by Resolution Peace that brought together over 100 people to strategize and brainstorm around ending the war. The attendees represented Democratic clubs, peace groups, faith organizations, labor groups and more.
This year poses unique challenges to the antiwar movement. Many people expected Congress to make more progress last year toward ending the war. The fact that many members of Congress refused to support strong actions to end the war, and the current narrative that the “surge” is working make it even more difficult to pass anything strong on the war. The fact that this is one of the most exciting election years we have seen in recent years provides both opportunities and challenges. The Iraq war will likely be front and center in the presidential and congressional elections. However, none of the presidential candidates has as strong a position on ending the war as we would like, and Congress will not get nearly as much done because of the impending election.
The first part of the day was focused on speakers offering their insights on effective messaging and strategy for the peace movement this year. Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice emphasized the need for the peace movement to address the impact of the war on the Iraqi people and make solidarity with Iraq a core part of our message. She also spent time noting that we need to work to diversify our groups in various ways, bringing in youth (I was praised several times for being there and not having gray hair) and communities of color.
The next speaker was renowned activist Tom Hayden. He focused a lot of time on the upcoming presidential campaign. Hayden recently endorsed the movement of people supporting Barack Obama, noting that the excitement and energy is something we as a movement need to tap into to build something longer-term and more sustainable. He advocated trying to form some kind of “progressives for Obama” faction that would work to push from within the campaign to encourage the senator to become more progressive, particularly on the war in Iraq. He also discussed the need for us to learn more about the war and military strategy so that we can offer political proposals that deal with issues such as leaving behind residual forces.
The rest of the day was spent working in small groups to brainstorm ideas to address key strategic questions for the movement to address, including how we can influence the presidential election, ways to impact upcoming votes in Congress, and ideas for broadening our base of support. Based on the ideas that came out of those discussions, we met in groups based on working on the election, direct action, or coalition building. In the election group, we discussed an inside/outside strategy where people working for campaigns would try to influence them from within, while others would be putting on pressure from the outside through activities like demonstrations and birddogging.
We laid the groundwork for some strong collaboration in the coming months, and Peace Action West will work to develop more tools and reach out to other groups to make our coordinated work to end the war as effective as possible.