Cease-fire protest

Hundreds of demonstrators demand an immediate cease-fire in Gaza outside the U.S. Capitol on March 7, 2024.

(Photo: Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images)

An Urgent Call to Congress: Cease-Fire Now and Avoid a Wider War

In a grassroots effort, about 450 individuals from 50 organizations are participating in lobby visits with over 100 congressional offices, at an opportune time as policies on the conflict are in flux.

Since the horrific attack by Hamas last October 7 and the astonishingly destructive Israeli response in Gaza, concerned individuals and organizations worldwide have mobilized to demand an end to the carnage, a potential genocide which is still accelerating rapidly.

In this regard, Peace Action, a 67-year-old grassroots peace, disarmament, and social justice organization that promotes diplomacy over militarism, was hardly unique in issuing calls for restraint. Its grassroots network of local groups around the country sprang into action, organizing protests and vigils, public meetings, educational webinars, coalition gatherings, and lobby meetings with congressional offices demanding a cease-fire, halting U.S. weapons transfers to Israel, surging humanitarian relief to Gaza, and averting a wider regional war.

Around the end of the year, Peace Action’s national staff saw a need for coordinating grassroots advocacy and launched an effort to get state level coalitions to advocate a cease-fire, diplomacy, and an end to blank check support for Israel. To our surprise, we got a quick response from local organizers in 18 states, who built ad hoc coalitions to lobby their U.S. senators.

“I knew that Congress needed to hear as many of these voices as possible, so when the opportunity arose to help organize a nationwide grassroots effort to lobby Congress, I signed up right away.”

“There are many national and local organizations who have advocated peace between Israel and Palestine for decades, including us,” said Peace Action’s Executive Director Jon Rainwater. “Local coalitions were built or strengthened after October 7, but there seemed to be a gap in national coordination of grassroots advocacy toward Congress, one of the toughest aspects of this work. We were pleased to see we could contribute to bringing groups and individuals together to address this need.”

The effort has since broadened into the Cease-Fire Now Grassroots Network, currently holding virtual and in-person Advocacy Days to give voice to the general public support in the U.S. for a cease-fire. About 450 individuals from 50 organizations and 40 states are participating in lobby visits with over 100 congressional offices, at an opportune time as congressional and executive branch policies on the conflict are in flux. In the next few weeks, Congress may take votes on whether to fund military aid to Israel and/or to halt, condition, or restrict U.S. weapons transfers, and hopefully to restore funding to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, to help avert famine in Gaza.

Participating groups include the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, Arab American Civic Council, and Progressive Democrats of America. In addition to the lobby visits this month, the American Friends Service Committee is organizing local Tax Day actions with the call No Tax Dollars for War Crimes.

Among the many organizations in the nascent grassroots network, Doctors Against Genocide stands out as a new, unique actor, as the group only formed last fall.

One of the first lobby meetings in the ongoing Advocacy Days was with the office of U.S. Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.), a progressive targeted for defeat by conservatives and the “pro-Israel” group AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). Peace Action is also part of the recently launched Reject AIPAC coalition to expose and oppose its malign influence on U.S. politics, particularly in this year’s elections.

As expected, the meeting went well, as Rep. Lee is a strong advocate of a cease-fire and humanitarian assistance to Gaza, but advocates were somewhat surprised to hear of flak she has gotten in her district for her pro-peace positions, and discussed ways to bring constituencies together to help overcome divisiveness.

David Gibson, staff coordinator for Peace, Justice, Sustainability Now, who organized the meeting with Pennsylvania activists, observed, “Meeting with policymakers like Rep. Summer Lee who are actively engaged in community dialogue is essential to a well functioning democracy. We need congresspeople like her in office regardless of your political outlook. When you hear that democracy is on the ballot, it's not a joke.”

Myriam Sabbaghi, National Organizing Director for the National Iranian American Council, described her organization’s participation, “As an organization representing Iranian Americans, we know that so long as this conflict goes on there is a major risk of spillover to regional war that could entangle the U.S., Iran, and Israel in a brutal conflict. Already, the U.S. has bombed groups backed by Iran in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, and Israel’s bombing of the Iranian consulate in Damascus has once again dramatically escalated tensions. Some of our members lived through war and many have friends and family who would be impacted if a full-blown war breaks out. We all have a duty to stand up and demand a cease-fire now, and we are proud to join with so many great organizations especially during our Cease-Fire Advocacy Days in echoing this call.”

Sara Avery, a volunteer organizer with the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s Colorado Advocacy Team, aptly voiced her motivation for participating in the Advocacy Days thusly: “Maybe more than any recent conflict, everyone I know is beside themselves about the horror in Gaza and the imminent danger of a wider war. I knew that Congress needed to hear as many of these voices as possible, so when the opportunity arose to help organize a nationwide grassroots effort to lobby Congress, I signed up right away. In this horrible time, being part of this grassroots network is what keeps me moving forward toward peaceful and just solutions.”

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