The other day I was talking to a friend who is a seasoned activist for Carbon Trade Watch. They have lots of heartbreaking experiences of failures of the international community to address some of the real and very important issues that endanger humanity, so as I was describing the ambitious strategy of the worldpeace2025 campaign, which includes a signature campaign in which we hope to get as many as one billion people to sign, my friend asked a very valid question: What makes you think that armies would disarm even if you got SIX billion signatures?!
Noam Chomsky, in Understanding Power, talks about the failure of signature campaigns to effectuate change:
Well, there are plenty of groups around that are doing things I don’t think are very constructive, even though I’m often a member of them and give them support and so on. Take the nuclear freeze campaign, for example: I really thought they were going about it the wrong way. The nuclear freeze campaign was in a way one of the most successful popular organizing movements in history: they managed to get 75 percent of the American population in favor of a nuclear freeze at a time when there was no articulate public support for that position-there wasn’t a newspaper, a political figure, anybody who came out publicly for it.3 Now, in a way that’s a tremendous achievement. But frankly I didn’t think it was an achievement, I thought the disarmament movement was going to collapse-and in fact, it did collapse. And the reason it collapsed is, it wasn’t based on anything: it was based on nothing except people signing a petition.
I mean, if you sign a petition it’s kind of nice-but that’s the end of it, you just go back home and do whatever you were doing: there’s no continuity, there’s no real engagement, it’s not sustained activity that builds up a community of activism. Well, an awful lot of the political work I see in the ‘ United States is of that type.
I agree. I think my friend is right that signatures alone will not stop the governments in their addiction to war. Whatever people sign, it has to get people involved, even if it just means getting a large platform together that can move on certain tactics in order to achieve the movement’s strategic aims. Change.org has a great set f tools for this type of activism. And of course, tactics must include civil disobedience, such as war tax resistance.
The same is also true of demonstrations. Unless there are huge number of people, they can be ineffective, and sometimes even huge numbers don’t bring results. Strategies and tactics must be carefully chosen to ensure that a popular and lasting movement for peace is built.
The agreement must be designed so that it gives some teeth (nonviolently of course) to push governments to actually meet up to the agreements and through public pressure and media campaigns, to encourages holdouts hostile to the peace accord to sign. How to pay for such massive campaigns? Let’s take it out of the war budgets. When parties sign, initially a small amount of their usual defense spending is diverted to peace movements in potentially hostile countries which have not signed the peace accord, say like a .01% of what they would normally spend on their standing army. Once two nations are on board it will rise to .02%, until it reaches 100 nations and is at 1% of each nation’s initial military budget as of the signing. All will have to spend a growing percentage on funding peace campaigns in surrounding nations. The UN general assembly will authorize peace groups that can and can’t receive these funds, and must distribute them to a great variety of different groups, reaching every corner of the country, every language group, and every social group in society. Groups themselves will decide what to do with the funds. Of course, if the campaign grows big enough, this may grow to be an incredible amount of money to manage, but peace is of course the reason why the UN was created.
Of course, in each country the situation may be different, and peace campaigns may require a variety of tactics to achieve wide support or to knit a movement that can effectively slow and stop the war machine from producing weapons and filling body bags
Will it succeed? There is no way of knowing until we try, as long as we have no delusions about the difficulties which we face…. But even if it fails to gain widespread support or outreach, a failed campaign may still reap great rewards. By asking for the truly ambitious goal of complete global disarmament – the dismantling and retirement of every standing army – it may help make other important campaigns, like nuclear disarmament seem more realistic. I think it will be of great benefit even if we only succeed in raising consciousness of one simple point – That the only moral justification for having a standing army is that your neighbours do too, and so by extension, if your neighbours get rid of their armies, you can also do the same. What a relief it will be for future generations.