Discussing the future of peace. US groups share goals, but offer no blueprint for action
Cambridge, Mass. — Reports of the near demise of the American peace movement are greatly exaggerated, if the views and observations of the participants in the second annual Boston Roundtable are to be believed. The roundtable, held last week at Harvard Divinity School, was jointly sponsored by The Nation Institute (affiliated with The Nation magazine) and the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think tank located in Washington. The meeting's purpose was to assemble all shades of peace activists -- from academics to people from a variety of grass-roots organizations -- for some cross-fertilization of ideas concerning the future of the peace movement in this country.
That process went well, judging from the lively exchanges at many of the sessions. But the overshadowing question, given the peace movement's organizational diversity and penchant for lofty rhetoric, was whether any concrete strategy would emerge from the five-day gathering. The best answer, perhaps, is a tentative yes. Tentative, because while some goals were spelled out, steps toward their attainment generally were not.
Among the goals agreed upon by participants were:
Zeroing in on the federal budget process as a rallying point for a broader coalition for peace. The argument here is that the Pentagon's massive outlays sap funds from social, economic, and educational programs that benefit a wide spectrum of Americans. By means of this argument, said Darryl Rogers of Citizens Against Nuclear War, blacks and Hispanics can be made to see that the peace issue is their issue -- something ``that addresses their needs.'' The same tactic can work with unemployed and precariou sly employed blue-collar workers, noted some of the other roundtable participants.
Reclaiming American values and symbols that many of the peace activists here saw as unfairly monopolized by their right-wing opponents. ``We've been timid for too long about our own patriotism,'' said Jerry Hartz, a lobbyist and organizer with Citizens for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) ``I don't know of anything more American than fighting for peace,'' chimed in Judy Pratt from New Mexico, who last year ran on the Democratic ticket for the US Senate seat held by Republican Pete V. Domen ici. Key to this effort will be a more sophisticated use of the mass media, participants agreed.
Taking advantage of the short-term opportunities offered by current events. For example, the Soviet Union's declaration of a five-month moratorium on nuclear testing (begun Aug. 6), and the coming Reagan-Gorbachev summit. ``We're in a situation today where one side has a unilateral moratorium on testing,'' said Hamilton Fish III, publisher of The Nation and co-convenor of the roundtable. In his view, the news media has accepted the administration's view that it's ``all a Soviet trick'' and has thu s effectively snuffed out discussion of what the US response should be. ``We think that with the return of Congress in September we can get congressional leaders to arrive at a favorable response,'' continued Mr. Fish. ``Also, we want to see if public opinion can be molded to stimulate Congress to take action.''
In addition to the more-or-less specific items like the three above, participants spent a great deal of time debating how to build a ``peace culture,'' or a ``peace and justice culture,'' a refinement that was impelled by a general feeling here that questions of war and peace have to be made inseparable from the issues of social and economic equality. The peace-culture concept could be a way of clarifying ``what it is we're working for, not just against,'' explained Patricia Mische, co-founder of Globa l Education Associates in East Orange, N.J., and a peace activist for some 20 years. The peace movement needs ``a vision,'' she said, voicing a word frequently heard during the gathering.
But Ms. Mische quickly made it clear that she was not talking abstractions. ``For at least the last 10 years I've been concerned that the peace movement has to look at the genuine security concerns of many Americans,'' she said. In a world where conflict seems to be heightening, not lessening, the need is to work out alternatives to military confrontation, in her view. The movement has to be clear that ``by `peace,' we don't mean a utopian world without war,'' she added.
The peace movement in this country is not declining, asserted Fish, but ``experiencing tremendous growth.'' He attributed the growth largely to the nuclear-freeze campaign of recent years, which brought into the movement a wider spectrum of middle-class Americans -- the kinds of people, he said, who will be difficult targets for the ``classic Red-baiting'' of the movement's opponents. Lending some figures to this assertion, Mr. Hartz noted that his organization, SANE, has grown from 15,000 members in th e late '70s to about 110,000 today.
And you will probably see much more peace activism in the months and years ahead, says Marcus Raskin, director of the Institute for Policy Studies and the roundtable's other co-convenor with Fish. But this activism will be different from the protests and demonstrations of the past, he added: ``There'll be a much more full panoply of ideas behind them,'' thanks, he said, to gatherings like this one in Cambridge.