April Fools — Lessons From Inside the Peace Movement
On April 1, I got a press release in my inbox that caught my attention immediately. The subject read, "Breaking News: Marine Recruiting Station Leaving Berkeley: Agreement Reached with Landlord, City, and Protesters." I instantly sent it around to staff, noting the surprising development.
In early February, the Berkeley City Council came under fire by national right-wing groups for labeling the Marine Recruiting office in downtown Berkeley "uninvited and unwelcome intruders." There was a heated face-off that got national news attention on February 12 between peace groups led by Code Pink, and pro-war group Move America Forward.
Everyone in the office got so excited about these developments that we decided to write a piece about it. Until I did a search on the closing's media coverage, to find out that the entire press release was - April Fools! - a hoax put out by Code Pink. While yes, the media pushes us to do outrageous things just to get even a glimmer of attention, this was not a useful tactic to draw people in, nor to counter militarism in our communities.
When I found that article exposing the situation, I felt duped. We spent our organizational resources for a good portion of the day thinking about what implications closing the office would have for the peace movement. It's one thing to play a joke on the media, but not such a good idea to play a joke on your fellow peace organizers and supporters.
I called up one of their national organizers and we met in person to dialogue about it. With all the wars and disagreements within the peace movement, direct conversation couldn't be more crucial to building a stronger movement. First of all, it was really important that she was available to hear my concerns. That meant a lot that she was taking me seriously. It was also important that we had an opportunity to challenge assumptions, and build bridges to form a deeper alliance.
I learned that the tactic around this particular April Fools joke was to illustrate a positive vision for the future, and then to provide some action steps about how to make that vision a reality. The challenge I experienced was that I never received the email with those next steps, so I didn't see the full picture of their strategy. There are many miscommunications in the peace movement, certain voices get highlighted, others are left out, and cultural, race and class differences hold us back from having full understanding of each other's strategies. Modeling a complete vision of the future isn't just about the results of a recruitment office closing, but also has a lot to do with the process of how we get there. By creating space to ally with organizations doing racial and economic justice work, we can only be stronger as a stand for peace.
We also tackled some questions about the direction of the peace movement in a larger sense. What if the Marine Recruiters had decided to pack up shop and move down the road? Would young low-income women and men stop enlisting if there were no office on Shattuck Avenue? Those who enlist are pushed into the recruiting centers by lack of options due to the depressed economy and over-militarized budget priorities. Our conversation began to point to what does the most effective national counter-recruitment movement look like? What does it look like to be an effective ally organization? What tactics can we take up to get there?
What tactics do we have as a peace movement? Mass marches in the streets? Nonviolent direct action? Educational campaigns? Speaking tours? Legislative pressure on representatives? All of these tactics are being knitted together to do the best we can. I think we need to push ourselves to do better.
That's part of why I'm writing this. Not to shame Code Pink, not to say that we are right, and they are wrong, but to offer a rounded perspective from inside the peace movement. I'm glad that they played this prank on all of us, because it got me thinking deeper about where we are as a peace movement and where we are going. It opened up a valuable dialogue between our organizations that I know will lead to further strength as we learn some tough lessons and move forward.
Maryam Roberts is the Peace & Solidarity Program Director at the Women of Color Resource Center in Oakland, CA, www.coloredgirls.org.