Five Guidelines for Our Organizing
There is a very positive development happening in the anti-war movement. That is, people are actively trying to connect the war abroad with the struggles for power, resources, and freedom right here in our own neighborhoods. In the Boston area, members of United for Justice with Peace, local activists working to stop the state budget cuts, and progressive city councilors are holding informal meetings to develop strategies for how we can work together in order to mutually benefit and enlarge each other’s efforts. Neighborhood-based peace groups are forging institutional links with grassroots tenant and immigrant organizations. Our most recent major peace rally featured labor, youth, and representatives from organizations doing a range of peace and justice work.
The relationships and institutional ties that grow out of these efforts are nothing less than the beginnings of a broad-based movement for social change. These efforts are critical to our ability to end not just this war but to dismantle the institutions that give rise to wars, and that simultaneously work on multiple levels to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few.
Speaking from my experience working on the neighborhood and regional levels to connect the many different pockets of activism, I offer the following five proposals that I think could usefully guide our activism at this moment.
1. Build neighborhood based groups.
In the Boston area, United for Justice with Peace (www.justicewithpeace.org) has put considerable energy into starting and supporting neighborhood-based peace and justice groups. These groups have been critical to UJP’s growth. They are the entry point for many newly mobilized activists who might be less likely to venture into a big downtown meeting of seasoned activists. Meetings are local and include familiar faces. Events, vigils, and forums present opportunities to communicate with people you know, people you live next to, people whose kids go to school with your kids.
After 9-11, when UJP first took shape, there were maybe a dozen community based groups working in Boston-area neighborhoods. Representatives from these groups have been meeting once a month for the past year and a half. We have sponsored skills-building conferences, organized workshops, and visited each others’ meetings to share resources and organizing strategies. There are now over 50 groups — each of which is actively engaged in building their ranks, disseminating information, and forging coalitions — all on a grassroots level. Because of the war, the number of groups is increasing dramatically and the number of people in each group is doing the same. Because of the early efforts on the part of UJP to support the development of community groups, the infrastructure is in place for more and more groups to form and to have a larger network to link with. I think it is a fair guess that such work would be impossible if it were attempted by a centralized Boston-based organization.
Working on a local level, each group has the opportunity to explore relationships with other neighborhood-based organizations. A few examples: In Jamaica Plain, the peace and justice group has worked with City Life (a grassroots tenant and immigrant organization) on their fundraising/neighborhood-clean-up campaign and on their youth march against militarism. In Somerville, peace activists have set up dialogs with the immigrant community in order to better understand how the “war on terrorism” is affecting their civil liberties. In Dorchester, peace activists have initiated a survey of community agencies to find out how they are being affected by budget cuts.
Rather than recruiting people engaged in domestic struggles away from their work and into the peace movement, these peace groups have instead found ways to support those working on the domestic front. In the process, they have learned a thing or two about the challenges their neighbors face.
Not only that, they have found passionate anti-war sentiment among working people and people of color — an eye-opener for those who may have thought that the anti-war demographic is disproportionately white and privileged. Contrary to what you often hear, people fighting evictions would also like to be mobilizing to fight the war. But they can’t add that organizational work to their already over-taxed agendas. A neighborhood group that is organizing against the war and that has built a relationship with the eviction-fighters is a welcome addition to the community. It helps capture the growing anti-war energy; it provides channels for the community to express its anti-war sentiments. And it does all this by contributing to the mix of available activist outlets.
Supporting decentralized, neighborhood-based organizing helps give people a political “home,” a way for their voice to be heard, a comfortable way for them to have an impact, important lessons in organizing, and a chance to create alliances with and build understanding among diverse neighborhood-based groups