10 Things You Can Do to Prevent War

1. Educate yourself on the issues.

To stop terror and avoid war, we must first understand what causes it, and what approaches have, and haven't, been successful in the past. So far, America's "War On Terrorism" seems to be focused exclusively on the movement that has apparently spawned the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks: radical, violent fringe conservative Sunni Muslims, from an area that stretches geographically from Northwest Africa to Southeast Asia. It can only help if we learn more about the history, culture, religions and economies of those parts of the world; the West's historic and current religious, military, political and economic relationships with them and with Islam; and how those conditions, from colonialism through global economic changes and geopolitical rivalies, have contributed to poverty, desperation, hatred and, at times, religious fanaticism today. Part of how we've gotten here is the West's tendency to impose our own cultures, values and expectations on these regions without taking the time to understand where the people we're dealing with are coming from. People interested in stopping terror and avoiding war cannot afford to repeat that mistake.

2. Develop a closer, more respectful relationship to Muslims and the Islamic world.

As the world shrinks, this is actually something we should be doing with all cultures and religions, but for the purposes of our current War on Terrorism, it is particularly important that, much as Christianity and Judaism have learned to live in greater harmony after two millenia of tension, Western cultures and religions must find and develop our common interests with the Islamic world. Just as with any minority or "other," the more we each work with and understand people of the Islamic faith, the less they will seem strange and threatening and the more we will recognize each other as individuals and as human beings.

3. Communicate!

Don't be afraid to speak out, and to listen: talk with your neighbors, your friends, relatives, co-workers, classmates. Learn from the people you disagree with, but don't shy away from voicing your opinions in places where they're unpopular. Call in to radio and television talk shows. Write letters to the editor and opinion articles for your local community newspapers. Visit their editorial boards.

4. Take your case to the community.

Set up community forums, teach-ins and panels, to educate the public, to air out differing opinions and to force politicians to go on the record with their beliefs. Table at community events. Write and circulate flyers, with information on the issue, lobbying and contact information, publicizing events or putting out powerful graphic images. Circulate petitions that you can then use both to notify people of future events (and to recruit volunteers to help organize them!) and to lobby elected officials or other prominent community figures. Take out ads in your local newspapers. Make your advocacy visible, so people will think -- even if local media is hostile -- that your cause is popular and widespread. Set up and publicize your own web site or list-serve.

5. Raise money for the Third World.

Rather than collecting money for survivors' families or to rebuild the World Trade Center, send it where it's more desperately needed: to the countries whose crushing poverty helps spawn terrorism. A more economically just world will be one with less terror. Donate your own money, or organize events where your whole community can pitch in and help: benefits, readings, raffles, auctions, walk-a-thons and so forth. Consider working jointly with a local mosque or Third World community center.

6. Publicize and oppose racial profiling, the curbing of civil liberties and the backlash against immigrants.

This is both a local and a national issue, involving everything from new INS and Justice Department programs and regulations to local police behavior and cases of isolated bigotry. While this is in many ways a separate issue, bear in mind that it's easier for our government to pursue an irresponsible or counter-productive military-oriented solution if more of the public hates and fears people who look like the enemy. When civil liberties are taken away in an emergency, they're rarely restored afterwards; and when a precedent is set whereby constitutional rights can be denied to any one group, you could be next.

7. Lobby for Congress and the White House to pursue policies that minimize civilian deaths; rethink our national defense and foreign policy priorities; and change global economic institutions and trade agreements so that they create less, not more, poverty and death.

Send a letter (preferably handwritten) or card, make a phone call (faxes and emails are less effective, but better than nothing), go to the forums of public officials, visit their offices. Much of our ability to minimize future terrorist activity depends not just on better security at home, but policies abroad that work consistently to promote the ideals of freedom and democracy America stands for. Powerful special interests often keep the White House and Congress from doing the right thing; it's up to us, the public, to require that when they act in our name, they treat others the way we would want to be treated. We, the public, are the people whose lives are on the line in this conflict; we have a right to demand that the people acting for us make our safety a priority, and not put us in further jeopardy by making matters worse.

8. Participate in or create visible public events for the same goals.

It's not enough to send a letter. To create the public momentum to convince an elected official to do something s/he might think isn't in his personal best interest, s/he has to think it's the right thing to do and that a lot of people agree with them. Attend or organize vigils, rallies, marches, parades, art festivals, music events, nonviolent direct actions or civil disobedience. Be creative, have fun, be visible, get the word out.

9. Work the media, or be the media.

Send out press releases, talk with reporters and editors, make sure when you're doing public events that local media outlets know about it, and offer something they'll want to cover. Train yourself to give interviews and be articulate. Start your own newsletter or radio or cable access TV show, or contribute to others. Support independent media that's willing to provide critical information and alternative viewpoints not as easily available in big mainstream outlets.

10. Reclaim patriotism!

We all want the most effective possible course for stopping terrorism. Disagreeing with our government's proposed strategies isn't treason -- it's the highest form of citizenship in a participatory democracy. We're becoming activists on this issue because we love our country, as well as our community and the world. Don't let anybody claim that you're "blaming America" or "betraying the President." We're proud to live in a country where we have the right, and the obligation, to speak out when our government is wrong. We're speaking out because we care. Unthinking obedience is the point at which our democracy has broken down.

Geov Parrish is a political columnist for WorkingforChange.com and a longtime peace activist.

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