I thought it would be helpful to send out a very quick and dirty summary report about the successes of our Counter Summit activities before leaving for the airport. True, we didn’t succeed in retiring NATO, but through our movement building Counter Summit and extraordinary media work, we have had quite an impact.
Our Counter Summit was remarkable, bringing together traditional peace movement activists from across the country (from as far as Alabama and California – not to mention Boston, New York and the Midwest) and from Germany, Greece, Britain, France, Sweden, Ireland, Mexico and a LOT of press. The conference – including our 28 workshops – not only helped build the movement for complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and to move the money from Pentagon spending to meeting human needs, but helped build the peace and justice movement for the longer term: deepening people’s understandings of NATO as an aggressive global military alliance focused on securing resources, and the linkages between NATO and war preparations on the one hand and their impacts on our communities on the other. It evem provided a means to help the movement prepare to address Washington’s and the Pentagon’s “Pivot toward Asia and the Pacific.” Bruce Gagnon and I had a full house for our workshop on NATO and the Asia Pacific Pivot. (Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Australia and New Zealand are NATO “partners.”
While it is tempting to provide additional details about our plenaries and workshops, including Jessie Jackson joining us unexpectedly and welcoming speeches by Chicago City Alderman Joe Moore and Roger Cole of the Irish Peace & Neutrality Alliance, or Cole Harrison’s shout out about our Budget For All referendum in Massachusetts, the fact is that with our media campaign, we had already achieved far more than we anticipated. In the days leading up to the Counter Summit we held our own in the press and airwaves, becoming part of the mainstream discourse. Here’s a partial listing of our media hits:
My Huffington Post article, reprinted and posted on 8 other media outlets; two meetings with editorial writers, one of which led Chicago’s #2 paper, the Chicago Sun Times to editorialize “ “These more thoughtful protesters…. Must be part of the conversation” and then spelled out our demands for complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, cutting the Pentagon budget to meet human needs, ending drone attacks, and legislating sane tax policies. We and activists we brought together we interviewed by all of the major television networks. Even FOX news sent a crew to the Counter Summit. Reiner Braun of the No to NATO/No to War international network (on whose International Coordinating Committee I serve) and a leader of the German peace movement had a half hour interview on Chicago’s principle Public Radio station; a USA Today article that mentioned AFSC was reprinted in 14 other media outlets. Chicago partners placed an op ed in Chicago’s #1 (conservative) paper, the Chicago Tribune. Kevin Martin of Peace Action got a letter published in the New York Times. And, and AFSC’s Director in Chicago spoke to 5 million people in the U.S. and 200 million worldwide via Al Jazeera. That’s hardly all of it, but you get the picture….
Speaking as an organizer, it needs to be said that the Counter Summit organizing was a model of collaborations, between AFSC in New England, our Chicago based staff (and a great group of volunteers from Earlham College) and program and media staff in AFSC’s national office;, with our principle Peace Action partners (who held up half the sky with us); and our 37 other co-sponsoring organizations from U.S. and international peace AND justice movements. We built relationships – the foundation of any organizing and integrated social movement – for the longer term.
For me, the emotional high point of yesterday’s largely peaceful rally and protest march was watching dozens of vets marching past our Counter Summit banner, suffering but courageous in their resolve to liberate themselves of the crimes of the Afghan and Iraq wars and to end the Afghan war. On Saturday morning, I had a brief but illuminating exchange Alejandro Villatoro, the Iraq & Afghanistan, after his moving speech at our conference. I needed his signature on a release form so that his testimony could be rebroadcast on Public Radio here in Chicago. A sincere working class young man who has survived and come through so much, he told me “this is hard.” We shouldn’t underestimate the courage of these men and women as they challenge the war system that is so deep a part of our society and culture.
What’s next? We’ll be sending out a press release with our final Counter Summit statement, a call for future directions for the peace and justice movement, tomorrow. We’ll be getting several of the plenary talks up on You Tube, and we’ll have a video of all of the plenary talks available as soon as we can produce it. We’ll be pressing for Congress to cut spending for the Afghan War and to divert a big chunk of the Pentagon’s $642 billion budget to meeting urgent human needs across the country. We need to get signatures on our referendum petition and to build links with activists in Wisconsin who have launched a similar campaign. And…we’re exploring the creation of an activists/scholars network to turn the “Pivot toward Asia and the Pacific” to a pivot toward real security for all.