Peace Workers Must Commit to the Long Haul

December 8, 2010

by Peter Bergel

Former U.S. Poet Laureate William Stafford wrote in his journal on March 20, 1990, “Artists and peace workers are in it for the long haul and not to be judged by immediate results. Redemption comes with care.” Seeing the results of last month’s election, it would be easy to get discouraged. That’s why Stafford’s words are important. It reminds us that to deserve the name “peace worker,” we must take a long view, dedicating ourselves to a lifelong challenge.

Window of Opportunity

In the meantime, though, the good news is that the election results can be viewed as being much more positive than the media – and most of us – have been spinning them. Consider this: the Progressive Caucus in the House – the largest caucus among the Democrats – lost only 3 members, while the conservative Blue Dogs lost more than half their number. Thus, while the Democrats lost “control” of the House, their collective presence in the House actually became more progressive. The Blue Dogs had prevented the Democrats from pursuing a progressive agenda anyway. Now that most of them have lost to real Republicans, a window for progressives has opened because the balance has shifted toward the progressive end of the spectrum.

At the same time, Obama’s bipartisan Deficit Commission has proposed to reduce Social Security benefits, raise taxes and deeply cut federal spending while millions of Americans are hurting badly. Many Republicans are ideologically inclined to pursue this plan, while others will perceive the political disaster it represents and shy away from it. The result is likely to be congressional stalemate for the next couple of years.

What a great opportunity for us peace workers!

We can seize it by dedicating ourselves to basic organizing for the next couple of years, working to build a consensus behind the peace vision Oregon PeaceWorks (OPW) has been developing. We must avoid the temptation to expend all our energy in the day-to-day struggles, of which there will be many, and instead keep focused on our main opportunity – to redefine the American Dream in time for the 2012 elections.

Glimpsing the Vision

Here are some important parts of the vision as I see it:

  • Redefine national security to focus on environmental and financial threats instead of on oil wars.
  • Strip corporations of their status as “persons,” which was accorded to them not by the Constitution, public vote or congressional action, but by misguided Supreme Court decisions.
  • Craft world energy, transportation and food policies to reduce the CO2 content of the atmosphere below 350 ppm – the global warming disaster threshold.
  • Halt population growth and bring the number of humans within the carrying capacity of the Earth.
  • Return industry and business to their role as servants of the people, not the other way around.
  • Dedicate ourselves to achieving the vision articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the founding document of the United Nations – which has been ratified by 191 countries, perhaps the crowning achievement of the 20th century.

You may say, as John Lennon put it, that I’m a dreamer. However, not only am I not the only one, but I think that if we all get behind a vision this powerful, we will be the majority.

Instead of contenting ourselves with what some politician tells us is “achievable,” we must articulate what we really want and then insist upon it. The dangers that confront us at this point in our history are simply too threatening to accept anything less.

OPW has been conducting peace visioning brainstorming sessions in a number of Oregon cities and towns. These grassroots meetings have elicited many more specific ideas in addition to those above. To see them all, please visit http://bit.ly/9gPUH2.

Next Steps

With the help of a team of volunteers around the country, during the next months OPW will begin the process of articulating a draft vision which we will then “shop around” to many groups who are also trying to build a better world. We will be looking for “buy in,” which will mean:

  1. The group will use the vision as the goal of its strategic planning as it formulates the work it will do on the issues it addresses.
  2. The group will hold up the vision whenever it does anything public.

A small group of individuals around the country has already signed up to participate in this task. You can help them by joining the Google Group “Peace Visioning Think Tank” at http://bit.ly/coXaZT.

During the month of October, OPW sponsored the MyPeace Project in Salem, Oregon, which created a city-wide buzz around the idea of peace visioning. Different activities – including lectures, kite building, art exhibits, a solar and greenhouse tour, free hugs, performance art, meditation, nonviolence training and much more – were offered throughout the month. Many people who participated had never even asked themselves what the world they want to live in would be like. It was an empowering experience. The next step is to empower people everywhere to articulate their dreams and then translate those dreams into reality.

Where You Come In

OPW’s Peace Visioning strategy is similar to the process the right wing put in motion in the 1970s. They invested heavily in think tank projects that did long range planning to move public policy in the direction dictated by their values. It paid off for them and it can do the same for us. We invite you to join us in trying something different.

We have made a great start on this peace visioning work with our peace visioning brainstorms and the MyPeace Project. Both are projects in the spirit of William Stafford – they have their eyes on the long haul. To complete this work, we will need the help and support of people like you. We welcome you to involve yourself in the work and we invite you to donate to Oregon PeaceWorks.

You are probably also working on your holiday shopping list about now. As you do, please keep Oregon PeaceWorks’ online Peace Shop in mind for peace merchandise that will delight some of those you’re shopping for. You’ll find a selection of beautiful peace flags, T-shirts, jewelry, photographs, bumper stickers, buttons, and more at http://www.oregonpeaceworks.org/zencart/.

We at Oregon PeaceWorks wish you very happy holidays. At the same time, we ask for your help in reinventing the American Dream. Φ

Peter Bergel is Executive Director of Oregon PeaceWorks. You can reach him at pbergel@igc.org or visit OPW’s website at www.oregonpeaceworks.org.

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