The Defunding of the Peace Movement

Last December I wrote an optimistic cover story for The Nation predicting
that “peace advocates will likely have the best funded anti-war message in
” during the coming election year, as “tens of millions of dollars
will be raised for voter education and registration and get-out-the-vote
campaigns through the 527 committees which disseminate election messages
independent of partisan candidates.”

A new network, it was believed, would take the linked messages of the Iraq
War and economic recession to millions of voters beyond the previous reach
of the peace movement. A total of $12 million already had been expended on
independent campaigns in Republican districts in late summer 2007, and much
greater cumulative funding was expected, from groups ranging from
MoveOn, SEIU, members of the Democracy Alliance and wealthy Democratic
donors who already had maxed out in candidate contributions.

It was downhill from that point, for reasons that may never be explained.

For one thing, there was resentment that the $12 million might have been
wasted in top-down campaigns that failed to break the Republican support for
Bush’s war. Then in early September 2007, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
and coalition coordinator Tom Matzzie were meeting with Democratic donors in
New York City when a new setback occurred. The MoveOn ad attacking Gen.
David Petraeus
caused a severe Republican backlash, making already-nervous
Democrats even more nervous at the association. Matzzie faded from view.
Nevertheless, plans moved forward for an independent campaign on the “Iraq
recession,” but then there came a “complete drop-off of funding for anti-war
organizing,” in the words of Jeff Blum, director of US Action.

“I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to watch each day go by with
opportunities missed … just because we lack the resources to do what we know
needs to be done,” says [United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ)] director Leslie Cagan. “If we, UFPJ, had
$100,000, a mere fraction of that $100 million, we could put organizers in
key states around the country and give them the tools to work with for
several months.” Blum adds, “We need an earned media effort that helps us
reframe the war in a cross-cutting way that moves a substantial number of
Americans to take the view that the war is wrong and connect it to a
solution, namely, to safely, quickly and completely end the war, starting
January 21, 2009.” Blum believes an anti-war media message would be most
effective around the upcoming presidential debates.

Ironically, the biggest single factor in the collapse of the massively
funded peace project might have been the rising and unexpected primary
campaign of Barack Obama, himself an anti-war candidate. Not only did
unprecedented contributions flow online to Obama but the senator also
strongly disavowed the use of 527 committees (which are named after a
section of the federal tax code covering independent contributions). In
practical terms, this meant that big donors would not feel as “rewarded” for
independent expenditures as they would for direct contributions to the
presidential campaign and other party committees.

Furthermore, according to a usually reliable Washington insider, Democratic
leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid lost some enthusiasm for highlighting
the Iraq issue because it exposed the Democratic Congress’s failure to
defund and end the war.

As things stand today, if the projected millions are to be spent on an
anti-Iraq, anti-McCain message, it will have to come through the Obama
campaign or not at all.

But as Obama becomes more hawkish on Afghanistan, the anti-war movement and
Democrats face a splintering process between those who want to militarily
defeat the Taliban (the Vote Vets PAC, Tom Matzzie, Rand Beers and his
“liberal” National Security Network etc.) and nearly all the mainstream
peace groups who believe that Afghanistan and Pakistan are deepening
quagmires. Obama’s endorsement of a NATO role for Georgia will divide or
alienate the rank-and-file even further.

Obama’s solid peace position now seems to be against the war in Iraq or
military escalation to Iran, which sets him apart from McCain. But Obama is
sinking dangerously into orthodox paradigms on the war on terrorism, the new
cold war and even the war on drugs in places like Colombia. His “cast of
300″ foreign policy advisers, while emphasizing “soft power” approaches more
than militarism, “fall well within centrist Democratic foreign policy
thinking.” Such “thinking” is often more about political positioning than
substance, devoted to propping up the reputational interests of the United
States as a superpower. It effectively dilutes Obama as a peace candidate
while committing him to the path of “marching toward hell,” the title of a
recent book by Michael Scheuer, who tracked Osama bin Laden for the CIA.

An independent 527 campaign could clearly make the case that McCain
represents those who originally manipulated Americans into the Iraq War, as
well as those fomenting Georgia’s current conflict with the Russians. Randy
Scheunemann, former leader of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq,
former director of the Project for the New American Century and recent paid
lobbyist for the government of Georgia, is now McCain’s senior foreign
policy adviser. McCain and the neoconservatives’ vision seems to be “There
will be blood.” They are reigniting the Cold War and rolling it into their
“war on terrorism” as one seamless effort to scare America into voting for
McCain. With that agenda, say goodbye to healthcare and the independent
judiciary, for starters.

Obama will not deliver such a message, even if he believes it. But 527
committees and the blogosphere could be sharply questioning McCain’s
ability to keep us out of unnecessary, avoidable and costly wars, a perfect
response to those who say Obama lacks experience.

Apparently such a well-funded message is not to be, and the election could
hang in the balance, once again contrasting hope against fear.

MoveOn is so far alone among peace groups in having the ability to raise $1
or $2 million dollars in the coming months. SEIU’s plans for anti-war
funding are currently unknown or nonexistent. The Obama finance committee is
under more pressure, literally, to pay Hillary Clinton’s debt to Mark Penn
than to fund any messages on war, recession and global warming.

However, having already built campaigns in many congressional districts
against Iraq War funding, the everyday anti-war movement is planning a huge One Million Doors for Peace campaign, to culminate September
20. A diverse coalition, including UFPJ, Peace Action, US Action, Peace
Voters, Pax Christi and others, is planning to contact a million voters at
their doors with a peace petition as the presidential campaign and numerous
congressional races intensify. Those contacts will be followed up through
Election Day, with the names of voters available through the Catalyst voter
file. Alongside the organizing for September 20, there will be multiple
opportunities for face-to-face as well as Internet messages against McCain’s
toxic vision of permanent war and crony capitalism.

One of the key “million doors” organizers, Tom Swan, thinks “we can
literally knock on millions of doors on September 20 and get hundreds of
thousands of petition signers from all 50 states. We have proven we can
mobilize, now it is having these people talking with fellow voters. They can
download turf and enter signers from the Web or join local events. The
social networking tools can really help mobilize here. Since we are sending
a petition to Congress to end the war on a faster timeline than any campaign
is talking about, the groups can participate. We are keeping it “issue” and
not “candidate.” The mainstream media and political class have tried to bury
the issue. But if we organize this right and play the earned media well, we
move it front and center.

Tom Hayden is the author of The Other Side (1966, with Staughton Lynd), The
Love of Possession Is a Disease With Them (1972), Ending the War in Iraq (2007)
and Writings for a Democratic Society: The Tom Hayden Reader (2008).

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