Building a Better Strategy for the Peace Movement

Bergel_Peter_opinionBy Peter Bergel

I have recently become increasingly critical of the strategy and tactics that have guided the peace movement for the last decade or more. The dangers that threaten the human race have multiplied rapidly, even as our ability to address them has weakened, yet we continue to invest the bulk of our resources in approaches that are not working — exactly the error we regularly criticize the military and the government for making. It is time — past time — for a major strategic overhaul based on a broad peace vision.


In “New Strategy Needed for the Peace Movement” I offered these critiques of current peace movement strategy and its results:

1. We are still using the social change tactics that we have used for decades even though they are proving less and less effective as time goes on. We have definitely lost ground over the decades I have been active.

2. We invest a lot of resources in public education and we have been effective in that area. Yet we have not figured out how to effectively transform public support for our point of view into access to the levers of power in order to create real change.

3. When it comes to action, we are devoting almost all our movement resources to lobbying and demonstrating, even though our success levels in those areas have been minimal in recent years.

4. We are mostly an anti-war movement, not a real peace movement.

5. We don’t place enough emphasis on pointing out the flaws in war itself and the mentality that supports it. Rather, we confine ourselves largely to criticizing particular wars and addressing particular weapon systems.

6. We have been ineffective at stopping wars once their advocates have built up momentum for them. However, we can anticipate future resource wars (over oil, water, food, land, and raw materials) as a result of global warming. Now is the time to focus on those and work to head them off.

7. Most important, we do not have a shared movement-wide vision of the peaceful world we are trying to create. We have no collective answer to the question, “if peace broke out, what would it look like?”

Initial Suggestions

In “New Strategy Needed for the Peace Movement,” I made two initial suggestions:

1. Use cultural work (film, music, theater, art, etc.) and social media (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc) in a planned and targeted way to transform conventional wisdom and public judgments toward support for a more peaceful, sustainable world.

2. Use the same tools to encourage transformation of the popular perception of war from seeing it as “wicked” (terrible, but attractive) to seeing it as “vulgar” (terrible and absolutely unattractive).

Further Proposals

I now believe even more strongly that prior to discussion of broad strategy initiatives, we need to clarify where we want to be heading – that is, we need a broad, shared vision of the peaceful world we want to create. (See point 7 above.)sundance4

With that in mind, some additional proposals are:

3. Convene brainstorming sessions in a number of towns to which thoughtful people with backgrounds in social change work and other relevant expertise are invited to group themselves by sector and throw out answers to the question: “If peace broke out, what would it look like? Record all responses and use them to develop a comprehensive and unified vision of the future. Sectors would include, but not be limited to:

  • Conflict resolution at the local, regional, global levels
  • Security without war
  • Homes and dwellings
  • Energy sources and ways to share it
  • Farms and food distribution
  • Transportation & shipping
  • Environmental protection
  • Learning and teaching
  • Playing and enjoying life
  • Economics/business/merchandising
  • Medical care/wellness/healthy lifestyles
  • Government
  • Justice/crime/human rights/civil liberties

4. Create an independent think tank to digest this material and assist with the construction of the vision.

5. Organize a “Visions of Our Future” series of seminars during which knowledgeable people with relevant expertise are invited to present their own visions of how a sector of the future can function sustainably and lead discussions about them. This can be done all over the country with the intent of generating a consensus vision of where we want to go.

6. Review the visions already developed by the world community and enshrined in international law, including the U.N. and Nuremberg Charters, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Four Geneva Conventions, and a series of derivative international covenants that have evolved throughout the intervening years addressing a variety of emergent issues (e.g., nuclear non-proliferation, torture, prohibited weapons, terrorism, global warming) as well as watchdog institutions (e.g., Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, U.N. Human Rights Commission). Electing international law as a base has the advantages of (a) painstaking development by a broad multi-cultural array of scholars, attorneys and political realists, (b) endorsement by most of the 192 nations comprising humankind, (c) potential for implementation with the force of law supported by reliable evidentiary documentation, and (d) no need to sell it to a breathlessly awaiting world. These international standards are pretty much what we were all supposed to have learned in kindergarten: play fair; share with others; clean up after yourself; don’t take other peoples’ stuff and if you do, give it back; don’t hurt other people and if you do, say you’re sorry and make it up to them. (Thanks to Jack Dresser for this formulation.)

7. Focus more on motivating people than merely “educating” them.

Principles for Building a Powerful Strategy

Here are a few litmus tests against which we can measure the work we do in developing a new vision and strategy.

1. We must engage our adversaries on ground where we are strong rather than pitting our weaknesses against the strengths of our adversaries.

2. To do that we have to inventory our strengths – such as numbers, existing non-governmental work towards change, the tide of history, the self-preserving mechanisms of the planet’s ecosystem and our faith in basic human decency.

3. If a strategy depends critically on large sums of money to be effective, it will almost certainly be co-opted by our adversaries. They have a lot more money and are expert at manipulating it. Therefore we should seek strategic initiatives that do not require major funding or that can be funded by large numbers of people donating relatively small amounts.

4. We need to “think outside the box” in terms of both vision and strategy. We must free ourselves from the bonds of the status quo because we all know the status quo is not serving us well. Believing that we must continue to function within the status quo means hobbling our collective creative power.

5. Any major change will probably require a lot of time to be accomplished. This does not excuse us from beginning work on it right away. Responding from a crisis mentality has not, and will not, serve us well. Neither has devoting almost all of our energy to stopping something someone else is already doing.

Hopeful Signs

Many authors have noted that despite the grim threats confronting humanity on many fronts, there is already functioning an enormous number of small and large independent groups addressing a plethora of issues. Evidently a great many people understand that “something has to be done” regarding these threats. Pessimism is certainly warranted by the information science is serving up about the state of our world and our species, yet redemptive surprises have been experienced by almost everyone at some time or other in their lives. I think we have to take action with hope and determination and release the result. We must do our homework and hope for a redemptive surprise.

“Doing our homework” means understanding and recognizing all the great work that people like ourselves are doing all over this planet in an effort to fix something that is wrong, damaged, immoral or could be better. Then we need to fuse that understanding and recognition into a comprehensive vision that can guide our actions and reaffirm our connections with one another.Φ

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