“Does everyone know the R.E.M. song ‘It’s the End of the World As We Know It’?” asked University of St. Thomas Justice and Peace Studies professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, who recently challenged Norm Coleman and Al Franken for a seat in the U.S. Senate. “Well,” he said, “we are experiencing it right now, and the question is: can we come out okay on the other side?”
Nelson-Pallmeyer posed this question to about 40 peace activists gathered at the Minnesota Peace Project’s kickoff meeting Saturday, April 18 at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Continuing in his speech, Nelson-Pallmeyer asserted, “The world has to end as we know it, and the United States needs to fundamentally reassess its policies.”
The Minnesota Peace Project, a newly formed coalition of peace activists, hopes to generate change in the federal government’s foreign policies by lobbying legislators. Roxanne Abbas, the district organizer responsible for contact with Senator Amy Klobuchar, explained, “We hope that our relationships and the information and the perspectives we provide them will have an influence on their thinking and their voting on issues of foreign policy.”
The group is calling their platform a “Peace Agenda.” Some of the items on the agenda concern the Cluster Bomb Treaty, the missile defense system, Guantanamo Bay, the Israel-Palestine conflict, withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The document was drafted by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer and stemmed from a speech he wrote in December of 2008. Abbas explained that the idea for the group had arisen around that time, and she said, “When I got a hold of a digital copy [of Nelson-Pallmeyer’s speech] and read it, I said, ‘That’s our platform; that’s our agenda!’”
One issue that Nelson-Pallmeyer focused on in his speech at the April 18 kickoff meeting is the agenda’s proposal to “cut global military spending by 50% and redirect these funds to address climate change and global poverty.”
Nelson-Pallmeyer stressed the importance of this goal, especially in the face of the current economic crisis. “We’re living in an empire in serious, rapid decline,” he said. “The United States has no economic capacity to maintain its military presence as it is now. There should be a mass movement to demand lessened military spending.”
This issue of militarism and our country’s reliance on force, Nelson-Pallmeyer emphasized, lies at the heart of the Minnesota Peace Project’s concerns. According to the Peace Agenda, the group hopes to garner support for a “cabinet-level Department of Peace to teach and implement effective mediation and conflict resolution skills that build peace and prevent violence and armed conflict.”
“If we are able to change politics as usual,” said Nelson-Pallmeyer, “I really think there is a body politic out there ready to be galvanized for a more hopeful vision.”
Divided into congressional districts, members of the MPP will focus on pitching the group’s agenda to their respective members of Congress. “There’s a team in each congressional district and most have had at least one meeting maybe more with a Congress person or a staff person where they delivered a copy of the Peace Agenda and invited them to our kickoff meeting,” Abbas said.
So far, there have only been a few responses from legislators. Alison Harris, Congressman Keith Ellison’s aide, was present at the meeting to read a letter of congratulations from Ellison and answer any questions in Ellison’s stead. A letter of congratulations was also sent to the group by Congressman Tim Walz and read aloud by a member of the group. Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s Chief of Staff Zach Rodvold specifically addressed several items on the Peace Agenda in a speech he prepared in accordance with McCollum’s stances on each issue.
The problems of “politics as usual,” however, did seem to be stirring up some frustration within the group. Many members pelted Alison Harris and Zach Rodvold with questions concerning how best to get through to their Congress members. They told Harris and Rodvold that if they could only get straight answers from Congress members concerning their stances on each of the items on the Peace Agenda, the letters and phone calls directed at their offices would greatly decrease. Both Harris and Rodvold stressed that they, their offices, and their representatives would continue do their best to address the group’s questions as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
Roxanne Abbas explained that during the morning portion of the meeting, the members split into their congressional groups and, through role-playing, practiced bringing the issues on the Peace Agenda to their Congress member.
“There was tremendous energy in the group,” she said, “and a lot of ideas were generated—not all pointing in the same direction, but that’s probably true of all fledgling organizations.”
One thing the fledgling group hopes to work on is bolstering its membership, both in terms of number and variety. Many of the members at the kickoff meeting were in their fifties or older, and Abbas joked that “there was probably more gray hair in that group than any other color.”
Abbas hopes to one day partner with other peace organizations, and possibly youth peace organizations. “We want people to know that this isn’t a senior citizens’ group exclusively,” she said, laughing.
Ellen Frazel (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a student at Macalester College.
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