We are fewer than twenty years into the new millennium—and the United States has been at war nearly all of them. The war that began in October 2001 in Afghanistan is still going on. The United States invaded Iraq in 2003. When U.S. troops were finally withdrawn—and not completely withdrawn—in 2011, that country was less stable than it was at the beginning. The threat that U.S. troops will be redeployed to Iraq remains serious. Meanwhile, the U.S. is involved in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen and is threatening Iran and Venezuela. Most concerning is the Trump administration’s threats against the nuclear-armed People’s Democratic Republic of Korea—raising the spectre of “fire and fury such as the world has never seen,” and making this threat between the seventy-second anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Support for foreign war among working people and young people in the United States is possibly the lowest in the entire history of this Republic. It has become clear that eight years of death in Iraq and over sixteen years of death in Afghanistan has accomplished nothing positive for the security of the United States, let alone for the people in those devastated countries. Donald John Trump had to speak out against the lies of the Bush administration which led to the Iraq war, even as he was running one of the most racist and reactionary presidential campaigns in recent memory. The American working people know that they are being called on to send their sons and daughters to be killed or maimed for nothing. They are being put through such an experience that suicides among returning veterans far outnumber combat deaths.
Popular opposition to the continuing wars and interventions is at an even higher level than it was during the Vietnam War of a half century ago. But for over ten years, there has been very little visible protest. Mass action on the scale of the demonstrations in New York and Washington in the early years of the Iraq war is clearly needed.
The women’s marches—which mobilized thousands of men as well as women—of January 21, 2017, and January 20, 2018, combined with the nearly spontaneous outpourings of support for the rights of immigrants and refugees, have shown the potential for mass action in the United States at the present time. This president has a remarkable knack for making people angry, and it has led to an increase in visible protest, from vigils of a few dozen outside Congress members’ offices to the three million who marched and rallied in the streets of U.S. cities on January 21, 2017, dwarfing the attendance at Trump’s inauguration as the forty-fifth president, just the day before.
On October 25, 2017, the AFL-CIO at its convention overwhelmingly adopted “Resolution 50: War Is Not the Answer,” calling on the president and Congress to “seek peace and reconciliation wherever possible” and to “bring the war dollars home.” This important document, adopted by an organization of more than twelve million, is a clear indication that there is strong potential for mass action for peace, which could mobilize the ranks of labor.
Discussion about concrete organizing of a mass action for peace began shortly before the Christmas holidays in 2017, initiated by Linda Thompson of Metrowest Boston Peace Action. She drafted a resolution based on the AFL-CIO’s “War Is Not the Answer,” and her group proposed to the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) that it move the resolution at a Conference Against U.S. Foreign Bases (No Bases Conference), to be held in Baltimore, Maryland, January 12–14, 2018. That conference was initiated by the U.S. Peace Council but was supported by a very broad coalition that included UNAC and many local Peace Action groups and was endorsed by the Labor Fightback Network as well.
In fact, the No Bases Conference organizing committee agreed to propose the resolution, with its own modifications, to the conference. On Sunday, January 14, it was agreed to, though to be sure, the conference had not allocated sufficient time for discussion of action resolutions, and many participants either had left already or had to leave before the discussion was over. The Resolution on a National Day of Action against U.S. Wars at Home and Abroad in Spring 2018 was passed with little opposition. It was a promising beginning, focused around five principled, united-front demands:
“• Ending all U.S. wars, bombings and drone attacks, and other forms of U.S. aggression including economic sanctions and weapons sales;
“• Closing of all U.S. bases on foreign soil;
“• Bringing all U.S. troops home;
“• Using the funds of the massive military budget for human needs and protection of the environment;
“• Dismantling all nuclear weapons.”
Concrete implementation of the resolution has proved to be more difficult. The resolution coming out of the No Bases Conference did not specify a date. There is already a full calendar of demonstrations, picket lines, vigils, and other “days of action,” including the Working People’s Day of Action, sponsored by the AFL-CIO on February 24; Earth Day on April 22; the Poor People’s Campaign, beginning on May 13 and continuing into June; May Day, and many other activities related to healthcare, immigration, a $15 minimum wage, and many different aspects of the environment, especially the extraction and transport of fossil fuels.
A few days after the No Bases Conference, a conference call meeting settled on the April 14–15 weekend. However, that weekend already has actions planned for it across the country, including actions organized by immigrants’ rights activists. As of February 19, fewer than eight weeks before the Day of Action is supposed to take place, the Spring Actions 2018 website lists only three cities, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, MN, and Oakland, CA. A planning meeting took place in New York City on February 22.
Even though the Resolution adopted by the No Bases Conference lists five demands related clearly to war and weapons, the Spring Actions 2018 website lists many other demands, many of which are being addressed by other actions and coalitions during the spring period. It is our view that the broadest unity in action can best be forged by focusing on the five demands of the No Bases Conference listed above.
It is clear that the Spring Actions of April 14–15 will not be mass actions on the scale of the women’s marches of January 2017 and 2018. However, if mass actions of hundreds of thousands for peace are to be organized in the future, antiwar activists must put their energy into making this year’s Spring Actions as successful as possible. They must also bring together a unified, authoritative coalition, bringing together UNAC, United for Peace and Justice, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), U.S. Labor Against the War, and other coalitions.
It needs to include organized labor, faith communities, and the millions of people who have a deep desire for peace but who have never before marched or picketed for it. This process will continue long after April 15, 2018, and it has already started. Peace activists need to have a clear idea that mass action, which mobilizes the social forces that have the power to end the current wars and prevent future wars, is the winning strategy.