The North American Peace Movement at an Inflection Point

The North American peace movement is contesting ongoing US wars in Ukraine and Palestine and preparations for war with China. Out of the fog of these wars, a clear anti-imperialist focus is emerging. Giving peace a chance has never been more plainly understood as opposition to what Martin Luther King, Jr., referred to as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world: my own government.”

Palestinian, Muslim and Arab, and anti-Zionist Jewish groups have been in the forefront of the anti-imperialist peace movement. With strong youth components, they are not confused by either relying on sell-out liberal Democrats (e.g., anti-Iraq War) or by utopian calls for leaderless organizations without concrete demands (e.g., Occupy). Nor have been distracted by individualistic expressions of anger by trashing small businesses or in adventuristic confrontations with the police.

The Palestinian resistance has radicalized millions worldwide. The popular demand for a permanent ceasefire in Palestine is leading to a still larger project to cease the US-led imperialist order.

The overall consciousness of the resurgent peace movement reflects the normalization of anti-imperialism as a leading current; antiwar sentiment is becoming explicitly anti-imperialist.

Evolving understanding of the Ukraine conflict

The peace movement recognizes that, although Hamas’s action of October 7 came as a surprise, it did not simply erupt out of the blue. The uprising had a 75-year gestation starting with the Nakba of 1948 and the establishment of the settler colonialist State of Israel.

Initially, there was less clarity regarding the events in Ukraine of February 24, 2022. With research and reflection, most of the movement came to understand the conflict did not begin that day. The supposedly “unprovoked” Russian intervention in Ukraine was sparked by NATO moving closer and closer to the Russian border, the 2014 Maidan coup, the sabotage of the Minsk agreements, etc.

A consensus is maturing in the antiwar movement that Ukraine is a proxy war by the US and its NATO allies to weaken Russia. Even key corporate press and government officials now recognize the conflict as a “full proxy war” by the US designed to use the Ukrainian people to mortally disable Russia.

Likewise, opinions are coalescing around recognizing that there is just one superpower with hundreds of foreign military bases, possession of the world’s reserve currency, and control of the SWIFT worldwide payment and transaction system. Simply reducing the conflict to one of contesting capitalists obscures the context of empire.

The antiwar movement may differ on whether to call February 24 an invasion, an incursion, or a special military operation to protect ethnic Russian regions of Ukraine under attack. But unity has been forged that the solution to the conflict is a negotiated settlement and that the US/NATO project of “winning” the war is a threat to world peace. The outlier is the Ukraine Solidarity Network (USN).

Still using the language of anti-imperialism, USN’s  left-leaning intellectuals and activists are opposed to a negotiated peace but champion a “victory” backed by the US and NATO. Further, they uphold the “right” of the US to fund what they personalize as a war against Putin. Their statement on the second anniversary of the war accuses Washington of having a “double standard” for supporting imperialism in Palestine but being on the side of justice in Ukraine. Other peace activists see USN’s opposition to the US involvement in Palestine, but not to its complicity in Ukraine, as a double standard.

The USN’s call for a Ukraine victory is consonant with the Democratic Party’s. In contrast, for example, the United National Antiwar Coalition’s (UNAC) position on Ukraine is: “No to NATO’s proxy war and Biden’s $80 billion military aid to Ukraine! No to Ukraine’s joining NATO!” Similarly, the Peace in Ukraine Coalition demands: “”STOP the weapons! START the talks!”

The emerging anti-imperialist peace movement sees the nature of US imperialism as systematic and not elective. The US empire is fundamentally imperialist; it is not a matter of choice.

First major antiwar conference since the Covid pandemic

In the first major antiwar conference since the Covid pandemic, UNAC brought together 400 activists in Saint Paul, MN, on April 5-7, under the banner of “decolonization and the fight against imperialism.”

Among the some fifty groups participating were the Alliance for Global Justice, American Muslims for Palestine, Black Alliance for Peace, CodePink, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, US Palestinian Community Network, and Workers World Party. Local organizations included Students for Justice in Palestine, Twin Cities Students for a Democratic Society, and the venerable Women Against Military Madness, who have been protesting weekly in the streets since 1982.

The immediacy of militant organizing was reported by Danaka Katovich of CodePink, Cody Urban of the Resist US Wars, Wyatt Miller of the Minneapolis Antiwar Committee, and a number of other youthful leaders.

Palestinian liberation against colonialism was a major focal point of the conference. Mnar Adley, editor of MintPress News, movingly described her experience of living under Israeli suppression. Today, she explained, “the Intifada has been globalized,” adding that the Palestinian resistance and the movement in its support have exposed the Democrats as the “bloodthirsty war-hungry party that it is.”

With the US presidential election imminent, conference participants had no illusions that either corporate party stands for peace. The initiative to cast ballots in the Democratic primary for “uncommitted” (to signify opposition to Biden’s complicity in the war on Gaza and to demand a ceasefire) received considerable support. Spontaneous chants of “shame” erupted throughout the conference whenever the Democrats’ conduct was raised.

K.J. Noh of Pivot for Peace warned about US preparations for war against China. Michael Wong of Veterans for Peace described the world struggle as not one of democracy versus authoritarianism but of national liberation versus imperialism.

Ambassadors Lautaro Sandino from Nicaragua, whose government is taking Germany to the World Court for facilitating Israel’s genocide, and Dr. Sidi M. Omar of the Polisario Front of Western Sahara addressed the conference. International solidarity was affirmed in workshops on Zones of Peace in Our Americas, opposition of coercive economic measures, and NO to NATO.

Combating repression against the movement was highlighted by Efia Nwangaza’s presentation on the campaign to “Stop Kop Cities” and Dr. Aisha Fields’ on resisting the attacks on the African People’s Socialist Party. Mel Underbakke addressed FBI frame ups of Muslims, and FBI whistleblower Colleen Rowley briefed the conference on the mobilization for Julian Assange. Lessons were also drawn by speakers from the successful defenses of the Antiwar 23 and the freeing of Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab.

Tasks ahead

Janine Solanki with the Mobilization Against War and Occupation in Vancouver spoke about the “unfolding antiwar and pro-Palestine movement that has a potential to go beyond the Vietnam antiwar movement.” She advised that what has been a mass spontaneous movement now needs to progress into a more coordinated and structured form. “We have humanity on our side…our role is to really organize these forces.”

Black Agenda Report (BAR) executive editor Margaret Kimberley concluded the conference with the mandate to stop the wars at home and abroad. The current context is a neoliberal economic regime failing to meet basic domestic needs and a global pax Americana becoming increasingly contested. In reference to the workshop on climate change, she observed, “we are in a battle for survival; that’s not hyperbole.”

In short, the conference was indicative of the larger movement that is melding youthful demographics – buoyed by the mass protests against the war on Palestine – with the mature understanding of the gravity of the tasks ahead. Kimberly closed with the guidance to “engage in principled struggle with our comrades; if you’re not struggling with someone you’re not doing enough work.”

Prospects for the anti-imperialist movement

Will the Democratic Party’s formula of “Trump trumps everything” quash the antiwar initiative? Back in 2015, the late BAR editor Glen Ford presciently wrote: “The Democrats hope the Black Lives Matter movement, like the Occupy Wall Street movement, will disappear amid the hype of the coming election season.” What will happen to the 2024 antiwar protest movement when another US presidential election looms five months from now?

Resisting being absorbed into what Ford called the Democratic election blitz to bury the movement will be the People’s Conference for Palestine, May 24-26, in Detroit, which will bring together anti-imperialist groups including the Palestine Youth Movement, National Students for Justice in Palestine, Al-Awda, and Healthcare Workers for Palestine. The ANSWER Coalition, associated with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, is a leading element. ANSWER and some of these other groups had also been instrumental in building major pro-Palestine demonstrations in Washington DC, the biggest ever in the US.

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the largest progressive Jewish anti-Zionist organization in the world, is among the faith-based groups that have carved out a new and implicitly anti-imperialist identity for their followers. Surely JVP, along with other Jewish activist organizations, like IfNotNow and International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, will continue to militantly protest US support for Israel’s apartheid system in unity with Palestinian and other activist groups.

Come this summer, CodePink, Bayan, and others will be confronting the largest joint war exercises in the world with Cancel RIMPAC. Protests are also scheduled for NATO’s 75th anniversary summit, July 6-7, in Washington DC; the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, July 15-18; and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, August 19-22.

Roger D. Harris is with the human rights group Task Force on the Americas and the anti-war group US Peace Council. Read other articles by Roger D..