People-Power Strategy to End War and Build a Better World

Excerpted from the book, Army of None : Strategies to Counter Military Recruitment, End War and Build a Better World. A new book by Courage to Resist organizer David Solnit and Gulf War objector and community organizer Aimee Allison from Seven Stories Press (July 2007), paperback, 120 pages. Available from Courage to Resist.

"It dawned on me after the election that people are tired of unfocused protests and calls to action with no strategy or concrete goals to work for."
—Mike Kress, an Air Force veteran and conscientious objector who now works with the Spokane Peace and Justice Action League.

    The world seems to be waiting for those of us in the United States—and millions of us here are ready—to finally stand up to the Bush administration and the bipartisan policies of empire.  How will we actually stop the war and occupation?

 

In 2003 we tried to stop the invasion of Iraq, and in 2004 we tried to oust the invader. Both times, incredible groundswells of grassroots activism from nearly every sector of society hit the streets and doorsteps of the United States. We won important, though less visible, victories but failed on both counts. One reason it's been so hard to mobilize people after the invasion is that there is no clear logic as to where our efforts are headed. What will another march or even nonviolent direct action add up to? How will we actually stop the war and occupation? We have exhausted the established channels of change. Political pressure, lobbying, and elections have not worked. It's time for a different approach.

    The antiwar movement needs a new strategy to stop the war and occupation of Iraq.
   
The solution is written in the mountain-road blockades and mass mobilizations in Bolivia that have driven out transnational corporations like Bechtel and Suez and even the country’s president in 2003. It is written in the farm-worker-led Taco Bell boycott victory of 2005, and the immigration-rights boycotts, walkouts, and mobilizations. It's in our rewritten history. It's called people power.

    People power is an assertion of real democracy. It asserts the democratic will of communities and movements to change the things that matter when the established so-called democratic channels turn out be little more than public relations for elite rule. Every successful movement in the United States, from the workers’ and civil rights movement to victories in anticorporate campaigns today, and every dictator toppled in recent history, have relied on people-power methods. The term was popularized by the 1986 Philippine uprising against the U.S.-backed dictator Ferdinand Marcos, in which military resistance and mass mobilizations were central to ousting him.

     A people-power analysis understands that power is not something that those in power hold but is a fragile relationship between those in power and the rest of us. Our compliance forms the pillars on which their power depends. When we withhold our cooperation and organize determined movements to intervene, we can assert our power and force changes—or remove those who refuse to make them.

    If we adopt a people-power strategic framework, identify the pillars that support the war, and choose thoughtful campaigns with creative tactics to remove them, then we will have a viable movement. People who do counterrecruitment organizing witness concrete victories everyday on a one-on-one level, and can see its potential to end the war and even stop the next one by cutting off the supply of soldiers. It is one key part of a bigger strategy.  Doing this important work, while sharing the same overarching goal with other types of equally important justice work, will allow for all our efforts to cumulate into something very powerful. In this way, we may retain a sustaining sense of purpose as we achieve specific victories and milestones.  In all of our steps we may engage in a long-term struggle for a fundamental revision of the United States foreign and domestic policies, for real democracy and against empire. Do we have the guts and imagination?

We are throwing a lot of words around here, so let's define the terms:

 Strategic Framework:  a basic concept or plan for achieving longer-term goals.
 Campaign:  a series of activities to achieve specific goals; these can be both short-range and 

 long-range.
 Tactics:  a specific action intending to get a particular result, often as part of a campaign.

    In the lead up to the 2003 United States invasion of Iraq, as the world protested and pressured the U.S. Government to stop, some parts of the antiwar movements began to turn toward a people-power approach. In Ireland a campaign of protest and direct action at Shannon Air Force Base successfully stopped it from being used as a major refueling stop for U.S. troop and supply flights on their way to Iraq. In Britain dockworkers refused to load supplies for the U.S. war. In Italy activists blocked trains moving supplies for the war. In Turkey mass protest forced the government to refuse to let the nation be used as a staging base for the invasion, which U.S. war planners had taken for granted.

    In San Francisco, the Bay Area Direct Action to Stop the War called for a next-day shutdown of the city's financial district if the United States invaded Iraq. The well-publicized goals of the shutdown said in part, "We will impose real economic, social and political costs and stop business as usual until the war stops with the express intention of deterring a war in Iraq and future wars." A diverse San Francisco Bay Area antiwar movement united around this common framework. On March 19, 2003, the United States began its invasion.  The next day the San Francisco Chronicle quoted San Francisco police officer Drew Cohen as saying, "They succeeded this morning—they shut the city down. They're highly organized but they are totally spontaneous. The protesters are always one step ahead of us. " It worked because everyone understood and was operating within a common-strategy framework that made sense and had logic to it.

A Common-Strategy Framework
    A common strategy framework is a shared sense of purpose that allows everyone to work together while doing what they can individually, complementary of one anothers' efforts.

    It's clear that we are not all going to agree on any one (or two or three) campaigns, but it is possible for us to consciously adopt and promote a people power strategy that makes our various efforts complementary and cumulative. I think of it as a massive umbrella under which we can—whether we are a national organization, a local group or a decentralized network—make our efforts add up.

Here are a few key elements that made the short-term people power actions in San Francisco at the start of the Iraq war successful:

    •      Clear What-and-Why Logic:  Shut down the Financial District in order to impose a cost on 

           war.

    •      Broadly Publicized: Repeated lead-up actions and press conferences, street art, tens of thousands of fliers, a widely utilized Web site and broad community mobilizing made sure a huge portion of the Bay Area knew what was planned and why.

    •      Mass Training and Mass Organization:  A few thousand people received civil-disobedience trainings at schools, churches, and rallies, and well over a thousand people were directly involved in the organizing via affinity groups, working groups, and public meetings.

    •      Decentralization: Many allied groups who had minimal contact with the initiating organization understood and supported the strategy, and participated in the action without  coming to an organizing meeting or bothering to identify as part of the organizing nucleus, "Direct Action to Stop the War."

  What if we, locally, nationally, or internationally, had agreed on a long-term people-power strategy before the war started in Iraq? What if we were not just trying to have our voices heard in order to influence those in power, but were actually asserting our own power and withdrawing the pillars of support for war and empire-building policies. What if we do it now?

Pillars of War

    A group of people in a college campus classroom are participating in a “people-power strategy to end the war” workshop. They are asked to “think of what are the pillars of support that the U.S. war in Iraq depend on—which, if you removed them, the war and occupation could not continue?” “Troops,” someone shouts out. That person is asked to step forward and become that pillar by holding up part of a mattress with the words war and occupation of Iraq taped to it. Another person says,  “Corporations, like Halliburton.” That person becomes the second pillar holding up the war and occupation mattress.  “Media—that persuades people to support the war and misinforms them.” The person steps forward, and the mattress has three pillars.
The workshop facilitator asks, “What are some ways we can weaken or remove these pillars of support—let’s start with troops? “ “Counterrecruiting, so they can’t get enough soldiers.” “Supporting soldiers who refuse,” someone else offers.  “Resisting a military draft that they might turn to if we are successful at counterrecruiting.”
“If we do all these things, will that weaken or remove the pillar of troops?”  People agree that it could, and so that pillar is removed and the mattress lurches, held up by just two pillars. The same exercise is done with the “corporate “ and “media” pillars.  The mattress collapses.

    What are the key pillars of support—the sources of power without which the war and occupation could not continue? Three key pillars are soldiers, corporations, and media disinformation. While they are not the exclusive list of pillars people might identify, here's an explanation of why they are key and what effective campaign/s might look like.
   
Pillar of War: Troops

The United States government can't fight war or maintain an occupation without enough troops—or without obedient troops. Nor can it begin new wars.
This pillar could be weakened if we:

—Counterrecruit to reduce the military's ability to recruit young people

    As you have been learning about in this book, students and community members across the United States have taken spirited action and waged legal and political challenges that have driven military-recruiters from their campuses and communities. Massive countereducation of students and youth, mounting protest and direct action at recruiting centers, and increasing resistance in the army reserves have contributed (along with the losing war in Iraq) to low military recruitment.

—Develop campaigns that support troops and National Guard (or private or government employees) who refuse deployment or orders, in compliance with international law

    GI resistance within the military, together with mass desertion and draft resistance, is widely credited with being a key element in forcing the United States out of Vietnam. David Zeiger, director of the recent Vietnam GI resistance movement film, Sir, No Sir!, and active organizer in the antiwar GI coffeehouse related solidarity efforts, describes the movement:

    Like the Vietnam War itself, the GI Antiwar Movement started small and within a few years had exploded into a force that altered history. And like the times from which it grew, the movement involved organized actions and spontaneous resistance, political groups and cultural upheaval. Between 1966 and 1975, groups of soldiers—some small and some numbering in the thousands—emerged to challenge the war and racism in the military. Group action and individual defiance, from the 500,000 GIs who deserted over the course of the war to the untold numbers who wore peace signs, defied military discipline and avoided combat, created a “Fuck the Army” counter-culture that threatened the entire military culture of the time and changed the course of the war.

     Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq, asserted the power of GI Resistance to stop the war and occupation in Iraq and the importance of civilian support to enable this, at his speech to the August 12, 2006 annual Veterans for Peace gathering in Seattle:

     I speak with you about a radical idea…The idea is this: that to stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers can choose to stop fighting it…Those wearing the uniform must know beyond any shadow of a doubt that by refusing immoral and illegal orders they will be supported by the people not with mere words but by action…To support the troops who resist, you must make your voices heard. If they see thousands supporting me, they will know. I have seen this support with my own eyes…For me it was a leap of faith. For other soldiers, they do not have that luxury. They must know it and you must show it to them. Convince them that no matter how long they sit in prison, no matter how long this country takes to right itself, their families will have a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs, opportunities and education.

    For refusing to deploy to the illegal war in Iraq and for engaging in free speech, Lt. Watada already faces a maximum of eight years in jail for a series of charges, including: missing movement, contempt toward officials (saying Bush lied about the war), conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman (speaking out against illegal war).  To counter this kind of crackdown, we can, as Lt Watada explains, build support “not with mere words but by action” in our communities and in antiwar  and counterrecruitment movements that will help to take a stand or refuse deployment.

—Resist the draft and draft registration by supporting young men who refuse to register for the selective service and preparing for mass resistance to a possible draft

    If our counterrecruitment efforts successfully cut into the military’s recruitment numbers, it could mean the government will have to bring back a standard military draft, "national service," or a special medical-worker draft, all of which may open a space for massive public resistance.

    According to 1980 draft registration resister and current antidraft organizer Ed Hasbrouck, massive draft registration non-cooperation may have been key in preventing a draft over the last the 25 years. He said the last General Accounting Office audit of the Selective Service found that they did not have current information on the whereabouts of as many as 75 percent of potential draftees.

    We can begin educating medical professionals, who may be the most likely to be drafted, and young draft-age and younger men about the possibility of a draft and how to resist it. Instead of waiting until draft induction begins, peace-and-justice groups and individuals can begin now to help make a draft unworkable later. Young men can refuse to register, refuse to tell the selective service their whereabouts when they move, and urge their parents or those at the registration address (if you did register) not to accept or sign for an induction or other Selective Service notice, or give out any information about current whereabouts. People who did register can actively publicize their commitment to refuse a military draft.

     Together counterrecruitment, GI resistance and draft registration resistance can cut off the supply of troops and help to stop wars for empire. However, to be effective we also have to be prepared for U.S. military innovations that circumvent the need for conventional military troops.

These innovations include:

Privatization of the military—mercenary and private corporations getting paid for traditional military roles.

Increased mechanization of war, or air wars and bombing campaigns that involve fewer troops and reduce U.S. military deaths, though often resulting in more civilian deaths among the targeted country or area.

Recruitment, training. funding, arming, and directing of proxy armies, guerrillas, terrorist groups and death squads to do U.S. bidding without involving large numbers of U.S. troops—examples include the anti-Soviet guerrilla Army in Afghanistan in the late 1970s and 1980s, and the “Contra” Army against Nicaragua in the 1980s.  Use of clandestine or CIA operations to disrupt, repress or destroy governments, movements, organizations, and individuals the United States government objects to.

    We can prepare for these other forms of war and intervention that do not rely on large numbers of troops by breaking out of the limitations of single issue organizing.  If we educate ourselves, our groups, our communities, the public and our movements about the history of United States interventions and war, we will see why it is important not to organize simply against a particular war, like Iraq, or a particular component of militarism, like recruitment. We can’t afford to create new organizations or movements every time the government finds new ways to assert its policies of war for empire.

    Many groups and movements develop an understanding of underlying systemic problems and include them in their goals and mission statements, so it is not a stretch when the U.S. government wages war on another country or resorts to forms of intervention that do not depend on troops. For example the GI Resister support group Courage to Resist, instead of just opposing the Iraq war and occupation, has adopted a mission statement that includes opposition to “war and occupation and the policies of empire.”

Pillar of War: Corporate Profiteers

    Another of the most obvious pillars of war are the corporations that play an essential role in the Iraqi occupation, and in the motives behind it.  Corporations are essential to continuing the war and occupation in Iraq.  Forcing them to withdraw their participation would shut down essential components of and motives for the war and occupation—while opening up tremendous opportunities to Iraqis to define and create their own economic future.

    There are four main types of corporate involvement in the war and occupation:

    •  "Reconstruction" contractors, like Parsons, with $5.3 billion in reconstruction contracts that include $243 million for the construction of 150 health-care centers.  More than two years into the work and $186 million spent, just six centers have been built, only two of which are treating patients.

    • Privatizers, the corporations that are working toward privatizing Iraq's economy, such as Chevron Texaco, which is poised to reap trillions of dollars off of Iraq's oil sector.

•  Weapons and military supply manufacturers, like Lockheed- Martin, that have seen their stock value and profits skyrocket since the “War on Terror” began.

•  Mercenary "private security" corporations that provide logistics and services, like CACI International, which provides interrogators, including those involved in Abu Ghraib torture.
Campaigns targeting corporate profiteers are gaining momentum.  The Bay Area’s Direct Action to Stop the War targeted the San Francisco-based Bechtel Corporation in 2003-2004 after the company received an early Iraq reconstruction contract. Protestors emphasized that not only did the company receive its contract without competition, but that it ultimately received nearly $3 billion for work that absolutely could and should have been done by Iraqis themselves, and with far better results. Bechtel’s inability to restore water, electricity or sewage to even pre-war levels significantly contributed to anger—and likely violent resistance to—the occupation and the soldiers enforcing it.  Hundreds of protestors repeatedly blockaded the entrances to Bechtel’s headquarters while delivering scathing critiques of the company’s performance in Iraq.  Unable to endure the constant attention, Bechtel executives decided not to bid on any new work in Iraq after their initial two contracts.

    In Houston, Texas, activists organized a grassroots campaign to raise awareness about Halliburton’s complicity in the occupation of Iraq, which included two large scale nonviolent direct actions at the company’s 2004 and 2005 shareholder meetings.

Houston Global Awareness, the lead organizing group, said in its call to action, "Halliburton is essential to continuing the war and occupation in Iraq and forcing them to withdraw their participation would shut down essential parts and motives for the war and occupation. Not only are their operations in Iraq depriving the children and people of Iraq of any sort of future, but also the billions upon billions in no-bid contracts heaped upon them by George Bush and Dick Cheney results in the further weakening of social services here at home." These protests increased the chorus of resistance to Halliburton’s obscene profits and poor performance in Iraq.  The company is now being investigated under dozens of charges by government agencies and, most significantly, has lost its largest U.S. government contract in 2006 for logistical support for U.S. troops.  The contract is now being competitively bid.

    The power of corporate profiteers can be weakened through aggressive and innovative anti-corporate campaigns. These campaigns create an economic, political and social cost to war profiteering, until they are forced to pull out.

Corporate Media

    Corporate media's steady stream of lies, distortions, and repetition of the United States government "war on terror" rhetoric was essential in propagating the pretense for the invasion of Iraq and is key to maintaining some level of public support for the war and occupation.  If people were given the right information, they would be more likely, and better equipped, to resist.  Independent Iraq and Middle East journalist Dahr Jamailexplains that creating reliable independent media and optimizing access to it, “will be a better path to ending the occupation than continuing to react to the disinformation and the lies put out by the corporate media and the Bush administration.”

    We can weaken this pillar by creating and supporting independent media and running media accountability campaigns to educate the public to become critical of media bias, and to curb some of the most outrageous lies and distortions. Additionally, independent media advocacy campaigns could set goals of switching over large numbers of people from watching/listening/reading corporate media to watching/listening/reading more alternative media. Groups can pressure local radio and television to carry syndicated independent media programs like Democracy Now! and Free Speech Radio News. Imagine if switching to independent media sources had been a key component of all the antiwar organizing over the last few years.

    For example, a local group could pick one local TV station and monitor the experts and opinions about the Iraq war over one month. They could very publicly demand, in a country split on the issue, that the station have balanced war coverage with equal numbers of pro- and anti- war experts and opinions. This could include public education, letter-writing and phone-call campaigns, meetings with producers, petitions calling for balanced coverage, and pledges to switch to independent media if the station does not meet the demand for balanced war coverage.
   
  Successful alternative media campaigns act to give people all the information they need to understand their world, and decide for themselves how to participate in it.

Achieving Fundamental Change

    To stop the next war—be it in Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, or elsewhere—and to counter the domestic impact of the policies of empire (of which the Iraq war and occupation are symptoms), it is essential that we think and frame our campaigns and education within its systemic context. In this way our efforts to stop the Iraq war will be complementary and cumulative rather than competitive and fractured, and will build momentum towards stopping other wars and injustices without having to start new movements each time.

    Importantly, we must articulate positive, directly democratic, socially just, ecological alternatives. When we oppose oil companies like Chevron Texaco, we must simultaneously advocate alternative fuel/transportation systems and democratic non-corporate institutions to take their place.  When we call for soldiers to refuse deployment, we must build supportive communities for them to join instead.  When we expose the lies of corporate media, we must provide alternative sources.  This "saying yes as loudly as we say no" will help the movement we are building to continue on long after we have stopped the occupation of Iraq.

    A final key ingredient for a successful strategy is our ability to frame our own struggles, or tell our own story. If we are acting defensively within the framework of the United States government and their "war on terror" story, we will always be on the defensive. If we allow them to define reality, we will always lose. If we limit ourselves to defensively arguing that there are no nuclear weapons in Iraq, for example, without challenging the legitimacy and cost of the U.S. being an empire, then we are operating in a  reality defined by those in power. We have to be able to understand, fight and win the "battle of the story."

     The courage of young people in the military, on the campuses and in the streets are showing us how to assert our people power. It’s clear that more and more folks in the U.S. and around the world have the courage to resist. Can we can find what lies in the root of the word courage—le Coeur, or heart—to assert our power as communities, as movements and as people to reverse the policies of empire and build a better world?  

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