10 Ingredients for a Local Peace Economy
This following essay appears as a chapter in the upcoming book, AfterBern (O/R Books).
We have witnessed a unique moment in U.S. political history. Defying the expectations of most pundits and against all odds, a candidate who is a self-professed democratic socialist, a principled senator from the small, mostly rural state of Vermont, won the hearts and minds of millions of Americans, who rallied, campaigned, argued, protested, and voted for him. Out of the sorrow and despair that comes from living with extreme economic inequality and endless war, a powerful movement has continued to grow.
And though Bernie Sanders may not be our next president, he and the growing movement to break the power of the ruling class (the 1%) will not be stopped. The time is ripe. As Croatian activist and philosopher Srecko Horvat reminds us, “a truly revolutionary moment is like love; it is a crack in the world, in the usual running of things, in the dust that is layered all over in order to prevent anything new.”
We have come together in love and created an opening in the status quo. Still united, we are ready to leap through this crack and transform the usual way of doing things.
As Bernie would be the first to say, this movement is not just about one man or one election. He is just one in a long line of leaders, men and women, who have been and are still working for peace, equity, social justice and the regeneration of our planet. His campaign provided a moment of opportunity. Through his campaign, many realized they had more power than they thought. The pillars of his candidacy are values we need to continue building on to develop a true people’s revolution.
1. The Power of Imagination
"Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." —Albert Einstein
Imagining change is the first step to realizing change. If you can’t imagine a possibility, it will remain “unimaginable.” To imagine the world as we would like it to be is the first step to making the vision come true. When Bernie declared college tuition should be free, the idea began to seem not only reasonable, but possible. Our nation expanded the boundaries of its imagination and thereby took a big step closer to making free higher education possible. It always seems impossible until it is done.
In the same way, Bernie’s campaign helped millions of Americans imagine medical care as a basic human right, higher taxes on the 1%.
As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, our collective imagination shrinks. Those who benefit from the status quo want things to stay the same, and since they control so many major media sources, we get countless messages telling us it will never be possible to change the system that delivers economic injustice and war on a daily basis.
At the same time, the illusion that war and economic exploitation are inevitable goes hand in hand with the illusion that we are powerless. And the feeling of powerlessness at home and abroad contributes to violence and warfare by feeding our despair,a sense of hopelessness that can makes it difficult to organize a mass movement against war and for a more equitable peace economy.
But this vicious cycle can be turned around. The imagination is powerful. If, as John Lennon suggests, we imagine peace every day, war will begin to seem less and less acceptable. Reality is defined by the limits of our imagination.
We have the power right now to imagine peace, justice and equality. But with power comes responsibility.
Fannie Lou Hamer, the great civil rights leader who began her life as a sharecropper, used to tell a story about an old man who was so wise he could answer question that were almost impossible to answer. So two young men decided to trick him. They planned to bring him a bird and ask him if it was alive or dead. Being blind he could not see for himself, so they decided if he said the bird was dead, he would be wrong and if he said it was alive, they would kill the bird. But when they asked him, “This bird we hold in our hands, is it alive or dead?” he wisely answered, “It’s in your hands.”
2. The Power of Desire
“For me, imagination and desire are very close.” —Jeanette Winterson
There is a scene in Oliver Twist, after Oliver is given a meager portion of food at the orphanage, he asks for, “More, please?” Not only is his request denied, but Oliver learns that he is forbidden even to ask.
We cannot suppress our desires for equity, peace and justice or let anything get in the way of our abilities to ask for more. To inquire, demand, or want are all revolutionary acts, the first steps in social and political transformation.
Since we live in an economy that constantly creates trivial or false desires, we all have to dig a little deeper to discover what we really want. Do we want to win the lottery or do we want to sit at the table with dignity and respect, knowing that everyone will be fed and cared for? While the first wish is a long shot that, whether we win or lose, isolates us from others, the second wish, for economic justice, can be achieved, especially if we unite with others to achieve what we all want.
We have witnessed the power of people who come together with a fervent desire for what is just. Desire is contagious, as we take action, we catch the longing for a better world from each other.
3. The Power of Knowledge
"The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds." —R.D. Laing
You may have a very strong wish that every young person, regardless of family income, have access to a college education. But suppose when you call for free college tuition you are told that the government cannot afford it. With the power of knowledge you can dispute that argument. For instance, did you know that the F-35 fighter jet program was budgeted at $1.4 trillion? This is more than enough to fund free college tuition for every college-age person for 25 years.
The systemic and structural racism exposed in Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow has given the movement for black lives, which heightened from the protests these last two years, an irrefutable base to stand on. Alexander's book gave concrete form to what black Americans have known through lived experience for decades: that the war on drugs and the prison-industrial complex have been used as tools of oppression against people of color and especially black men for decades. By bringing knowledge to bear on the problem, Alexander is informing the solution and empowering the movement working to bring about positive change.
Education is vital especially what we learn outside the structures that are so often designed to serve the ruling class. If we study political theory, history, economics and literature (think of all the injustice that Dickens was exposing) we can take charge of, deepen and advance the conversation. Veterans of successful political movements are also sources of wisdom we need.
Trusting your own perceptions is often the first step toward change. As the best resource we all have is our innate ability to question and dispute authority, call out lies, gather data, express rational arguments, and above all speak out. It is the core of our work at CodePink. We find ourselves in Congress, and many other places of power—consulates and embassies, weapons makers, killer drone bases—disputing the lies that drive us to war almost every day.
4. The Power of Courage
"Knowing what must be done, does away with fear." —Rosa Parks
If you find your courage failing you, just think of the root of the word. Coeur in French means heart. Courage comes from caring, from the heart. What do you care about: the lives of your children, your family, the survival of your community, peace, justice and global equity? Thinking of this will give you courage.
To start a war might look at first glance like courage. At least it’s sold as that from entertainment to presidential speeches. But in fact, the greatest courage may come from diplomacy, from trying to forge an understanding with “the other side,” the one defined as an enemy, and by finding agreement, stopping unneeded bloodshed. (Remember that less than century ago many of the countries we are in alliance with now, Germany, Italy and Japan, were thought of as enemies.)
By the same token, to speak out against war takes courage. And to ask our nation to abide by international laws regarding attacks against civilians or torture may take even more. But you’ll find the courage to speak when you open your heart to the victims of these acts. Courage isn’t fearlessness. Medea Benjamin and I often find ourselves holding hands and shaking before the disruption of a war criminal. Yes, our act will have consequences, but the acts of those who take us to war on lies fuels our courage and the fear becomes meaningless. When is it time to risk everything in support of change?
5. The Power of Truth-telling
"...all these walls that oppression builds/Will have to go!" —Langston Hughes
And truth has a power of its own. This is something women discovered at the dawn of the second wave of the Women’s Liberation Movement as we met in small groups to reveal angers, sorrows, disappointments, fears and traumas we had been keeping secret. Some women spoke about having had abortions, others about having been raped. Others said they were unhappy or facing abuse in their marriages or at their jobs. Eventually these confessions coalesced into a clear picture of the oppression of women and into a powerful movement to fight that oppression and all oppression. Indeed, whenever any of us speak out we are tearing down the walls of oppression for all of us.
In the last decade, as our nation continues waging perpetual war, we are experiencing another kind of truth-telling, in the tradition of Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed the truth about the Vietnam war. We have whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden revealing the way we’re all being spied upon by our government, illegal torture and acts of war. As Americans it is our responsibility to tell the truth about the injustices committed within and by our political system.
6. The Power of Connecting
"You think you understand one. You think you understand two, because one and one make two. But, you must also understand 'and.'" —Sufi saying
The power to connect with each other over what we cherish and how we may have suffered is among the most powerful tools we have to organize an effective movement for change. By connecting we learn from each other and in the process enlarge the scope and effectiveness of our efforts many fold.
Because of the traditional roles we’ve learned to play, many women are very good at navigating differences and peacemaking, the skills that include caring, mutual respect, listening, a willingness to look beyond assumptions and stereotypes, a certain measure of selflessness and an ability to connect to the real person, past fame and titles. Nineteenth-century poet Emily Dickinson’s words seem relevant here, “I’m nobody! Who are you?/ Are you—Nobody too/Then there’s a pair of us.”
If we are to have peace in the world, we must all, men and women alike, learn to be relational. But in the meantime let’s promote many more women in the peacemaking process.
The power to connect is also crucial to the way we think about the social and political problems we share. Just as in any ecological community every being affects every other being, the issues we are confronting today are connected. Peace cannot be separated from justice or the economy. Just as wars are fought over resources like oil and water, the manufacturers of arms and the nuclear industry have too much influence over our government. We also need to connect the dots between well over half of our tax dollars going to war and militarism while the needs of our communities, such as healthy drinking water in Flint, Michigan go unmet.
During the protest in Ferguson, Medea and I met a mother from Texas who had also lost her son to police violence. We invited her and a dozen other mothers to Washington DC to tell their stories to Congress, the White House and the Department of Justice. Their fierce truths and unyielding force for justice startled everyone they met. But the most valuable experience was the connections they made with each other, which have nurtured the fight they now continued together.
The more we connect with each other and share our experiences and stories, the more robust our movement can grow and the more we see how everything is connected, the wider and deeper our vision will be. This also means connecting to movements globally.
7. The Power of Commitment
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves." —Rainer Maria Rilke
Revolutions do not appear out of nowhere. Though it may have seemed that the student movement that grew so rapidly in the '60s came from thin air, it was preceded by countless protests, meetings, writing, legislative efforts, acts of courage that continued throughout the '50s in protest to McCarthyism and racism. Similarly the women’s liberation movement grew out of and learned from various student, anti-nuclear and anti-Vietnam War movements and civil rights activism.
Even successful movements that appear to have arisen over night have been preceded by continued and patient efforts, efforts that include election campaigns that may have been lost in the short run but that, in the long run, seeded greater change. If you look at the progress of LGBT rights for instance you’ll find some victories and many “failures.” Yet all these efforts ultimately counted not only to widen human rights, but to enlarge our ideas about who we are.
Some issues like demanding an end to nuclear weapons can seem the monster in a nightmare who keeps coming back no matter how many times you vanquish it. Here is where real commitment comes to play. Perhaps, because it may take more than a lifetime to end the production of nuclear weapons, you will not see the change while you are still alive, but all life, the lives of our children and grandchildren are in balance.
Think of what philosopher Martin Buber said when he was asked what he would do if he knew he would die tomorrow. I would plant a tree, he replied. Too often our views are in reaction to what is happening around us. We need to be committed to the deepest values we desire for the planet and the human race and let those in politics choose to compromise.
Tim Carpenter was a deputy in the Brown for President campaign I managed 24 years ago. Like Bernie, Jerry Brown ran a campaign that represented the needs of the people against the rich and powerful. Decades later, it was Tim Carpenter who was relentless in his calls for Bernie to run, and it was at his memorial service after his long fight with cancer that Bernie agreed. It was the power of Tim's commitment to push Bernie and Bernie’s lifelong commitment to his values that created a force of trust that was potent in building power.
8. The Power of Creation
"We come from the creator with creativity. Each one of us is born with creativity." —Maya Angelou
If the first step is to imagine, the next is to create and build. And the third is to realize you can’t do it alone. And if you reach out for help, you’ll discover hidden wells of creativity all around you. Creation itself is a collaborative act, if only between your ideas and the material you are shaping, whether it is wood or words, a community or a protest march. If you have ever watched a house being built you’ve probably witnessed a collaborative effort. The architect and the carpenters and the plumbers and electrician, painters, masons and roofers, must all work together, letting each other know their requirements and limits, and accommodating their plans when necessary.
Everyone has unique gifts to contribute. If you ask participants what they can or want to give, you will be surprised by the rich possibilities. And while building anything; you are also building a network. Meeting in person always has at least more than one purpose. The first may be to reach a decision collaboratively. But the second is to build trust and community. This is what peace looks like. (The opposite of war.)
9. The Power of Change
"Forget your perfect offering./There is a crack in everything./That's how the light gets in." —Leonard Cohen
As you call for change you are changed. Nothing in this world is static. Any movement for change will change you too. But if it takes courage to challenge the status quo, the challenge can also give you courage. And since change can be frightening, we all need this courage, especially at this moment in history, when because of climate disruption, we are not only going to have to change business as usual but the ways we live. To shift from a war to a peace economy will also require a transformation not only of society but of our own lives.
Is there a way to see each crack in our worlds as letting the light in? If to stop climate change we use less oil for instance, perhaps we will also be removing the cause of endless war over that resource in the Middle East. At the same time ending our perpetual wars would release public funds to help build more egalitarian and cooperative economies in our communities.
When we look at the decades long struggle for justice for the Palestinian people, we see the way the U.S government subsidizes Israel’s occupation and effectively shields Israel from accountability for its violations of international law. A huge change we have seen in the middle of Bernie’s campaign was for the first time in recent memory, a presidential candidate talked sympathetically about the plight of Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza. It was a result of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement which was created to hold Israel to account for its apartheid system, land theft and war crimes.
Not only are boycott campaigns having an impact on public perception of Israel’s occupation profiteering, they are also having profound reputational and economic effects on companies such as Ahava, SodaStream, Airbnb, and RE/MAX. The BDS Movement is growing stronger every day, to the extent that attempts are being made to pass laws that punish those who boycott Israel. Recently New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an Executive Order that will create a blacklist of organizations that support boycott and divestment against Israel, but here again we have an opportunity to broaden support for BDS by showing this to be an attack on the First Amendment and our right to boycott.
10. The Power of Love
“Justice is what love looks like in public.” —Cornel West
“Love is an expression of power. We can use it to transform our world.” —Ericka Huggins
Everything you do is more powerful and lasting when it is motivated by love instead of hate or fear. Love grows a movement. Hate and violence do too, but not in the way you may want. Think about the effect of drone strike on those who have been wounded or lost family members. A strategy meant to instill fear also instills rage.
On the other hand the Marshall plan, American’s contribution to rebuilding Europe after World War II, was responsible for creating decades of peace between European nations.
Bernie cautioned those around not to act from personal hate. Hate injustice, war, climate change, inequality. But let that hate be transformed into a wild fire of love for others, an inspiration to create and grow peace. Trump is the poster child for hate. Let his small-minded and mean-spirited attacks be daily reminders to act from love.
Love and justice are both victims of war. We can turn that around by acting for justice with love while we build a peace economy.
Bringing It Home
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest.” —Ella Baker
Every transaction we make in our daily lives ultimately contributes toward building a peace economy or a war economy, a world of compassion, justice and well being, or a world of indifference and violence. The peace economy model encourages us to reinvest in our local communities and build relationships with the people we live near. It calls for creating cultural, social and economic models that cultivate a sense of respect and self-determination for all our communities. We cannot make these changes without the foundational building blocks of the very peace and justice we are seeking.
The peace economy already exists, it is the giving, sharing, caring, resilient relation economy without which none of us would be alive. We have to start valuing it more than the war economy. The first step is realizing the impact that our daily actions have in local and global communities and change these in a way that reinvest in the people and the earth. Take the macro problem to the micro.
And when facing intransigence, despair, cynicism or doubt, you can disarm your audience with humour. CodePink started in the summer after 9/11 after the new director of Homeland Security had instituted a self-serious method of alerts with a rainbow of colors specifying the degree of danger the USA was facing: code red for a severe level of danger, orange for high danger, yellow for elevated. Almost immediately this became the but of several jokes. At a meeting of women leaders and artists of all kinds, we added our own humor to the mix, coming up with “Code Hot Pink.” Soon this became CodePink.
Of course, we weren’t exactly joking, but hilarity and satire are weapons that oppressed and disempowered people often use to begin to level the field. CodePink has kept the spirit of irreverence alive, giving hawkish leaders a pink slip (taking off and handing over garments hidden under T-shirts to dramatize the moment), circling the White House with women wearing pink, unfurling pink banners to expose the truth during congressional hearings. This garners attention as ways to say what everyone knows but no one has the courage to speak. But it also does something at least equally important. Through laughter we bring down those who are bloated with power and lift our own spirits at the same time.
Your next revolutionary act can be divesting from the unjust, extractive war economy into building a just peace economy for all. (Find out how at CodePink.org.)
Where do you live? What are the problems you and your neighbors face? Is there too much violence in your neighborhood? If we gather together to explore solutions we become more creative and powerful. Then we can find the solutions we truly want. Instead of the militarized police force that so many of our governments offer us, we can work to get guns out of our communities, and at the same time, advocate for shifting the large portion of our federal budget devoted to war to provide better education, after school programs and jobs for our children.
Do you live in a college town? Has that college divested from investments in oil, weapons and Israel? Is it offering programs that serve your community? Is it part of the war or a peace economy?
Are there military bases or munitions factories in your community, or near your water supply? The military is one of the greatest polluters all over the world. Test your water. Find out what toxic waste dumps are in your communities, what has been dumped there, what are the effects of these chemicals on your community’s health.
Can you find locally produced or grown food near where you live? Are there empty lots that can be used to grow vegetables or as the sites for affordable housing?
Is there a way you can support locally produced goods? If you have to use a chain store, does that corporation support unions, have fair hiring practices, pay a decent wage, divest from fossil fuels, sell locally produced and organic products, donate profits back into your community? As a customer you can influence the policies of the businesses you patronize.
You have the right to demand the safe, supportive environments a peace economy can provide.
Remember, “It’s in your hands.”