The Peace Movements Challenges in the Midterm Elections

July 8, 2006

Report to the National Committee of the Communist Party June 24, 2006

A change in the composition of the congress will make it more possible to end the occupation in Iraq. Thats the political reality.

Today I will not discuss the next national initiatives of the peace movement, nor assess the tremendous 350,000-person national demonstration on April 29, 2006 organized to mobilize the majority peace sentiments toward the 2006 midterm elections. I also will not get into the details of the upcoming national peace conferences or the work to organize joint actions between the peace and immigrants rights movements.

I will discuss two points we, the Party and Left, need to address in the next months: 1) the need for an active, vibrant peace movement in the lead up to Election Day, and 2) Party District and Club initiatives to strengthen the impact of the peace movement in defeating the right in November.

We need tactics that enable the peace movement to play its role as a mobilization of the peace majority. The overall framework for peace movement organizing must be to move the broadest cross section into practical involvement in both political and ideological struggle.

After the past few weeks, the peace movement has a running start. We have political momentum to encourage both new and incumbent candidates to speak out against the war and challenge the rightwing Republicans.

The media spin has been that the Democrats are split on the war. The real story is that 85% of the Democrats in Congress voted for withdrawal and are in step with the majority public opinion. Eight months ago, two Democratic senators were for withdrawal; two months ago it was four. This past week 39 Democrats in the Senate voted for withdrawal and the need for non-military support for the reconstruction of Iraq.

The shifts among the Democrats matched the growth in the mass opposition to the war. Meanwhile, the Republicans are united around a policy totally at odds with the American people.

The mass opposition to the war is reflected dramatically in the labor movement. On April 29 over 15,000 union members marched. It was the result of months of organizing in workplaces and articles in the local union press. The largest hospital workers union in New York City set up peace captains in over 60 work sites to prepare for the mobilization. They also collected over 600 signatures in support of a city council resolution calling for the troops to come home.

How many workers do you need to speak to collect those signatures, over how many lunch breaks? Its an incredible organizing effort! It is a political exercise in making the links between peace abroad and justice at home. These very same unions were also in the midst of mobilizing for the immigrant rights actions on April 10 and May 1.

The debate in the Congress and the shift among the Democrats is breathtaking. The peace movement is a movement that must make the links between the war policies and the domestic.

The peace movement is making progress in turning the politics of protest into a real political shift for ending the occupation.

The rightwing Republican critique of the Democrats wanting to cut and run is premised on the idea that the only answer is military victory. Former diplomats, intelligence officers and generals agree that there is no possible military victory. The only way out is a political settlement.

If the US prepares to leave and sets a deadline, it opens possibilities for the Iraqi government to involve the UN and Arab league to help Iraq regain its sovereignty and national security, and begin to rebuild.

This week, the Iraqi national security advisor wrote in the Washington Post that the US troop presence galvanizes the support for the insurgency. He also said that the withdrawal of troops is a prerequisite for legitimizing Iraq’s government in the eyes of its people; that Iraqis now see foreign troops as occupiers rather than the liberators.

The Iraqi Communist Party says Iraqs national security is more than military. It is a societal issue with economic, social and political roots. They analyze the security issues within the context of worsening economic conditions. They are for broad participation in the decision making process and mass mobilizing for the formation of the national unity government.

They also emphasize the critical nature of mobilizing mass and political struggle for labor rights and against unemployment, plant closings and privatization and corruption. They believe the growth of sectarianism and sectarian conflict presents a huge obstacle for the struggle for national sovereignty. They say the presence of foreign troops is a violation of national sovereignty and timetable for withdrawal is necessary for progress to be made in Iraq.

It is now being reported in the British press that the Iraqi government will announce a 28-point package for national reconciliation. It will offer Iraqi resistance groups inclusion in the political process and an amnesty for current prisoners if they renounce violence and lay down their arms.

The negotiations with the resistance groups have gone on for months and have included the US ambassador.

In exchange, the Iraqi government will guarantee a finite, UN-approved timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq; a halt to US operations against insurgent strongholds; an end to human rights violations, including those by coalition troops; and compensation for victims of attacks by terrorists or Iraqi and coalition forces.

We need to watch how this new initiative will play out. Its a huge development. The Bush administration knew about the negotiations while the debate raged on Capital Hill. As they Bush administration circled their wagons, calling for a military victory in Iraq, they also knew that there was a possible peace settlement.

Will Bush and the GOP take credit for brokering a peace deal and try to win the midterm elections? Is it even possible for the Republicans to use this development if it includes amnesty for all prisoners and the inclusion of resistance forces in the political process and the possible prosecution for war crimes committed during the occupation?

The challenge will be for the peace movement to underscore the need for a political resolution to the crisis while at the same time stopping the neoconservatives from sabotaging the steps that the Iraqis take in that direction.

As the Republicans make the defense of the war in Iraq the centerpiece of the midterm elections, the peace movement response must be targeted and vigorous. The highest priorities are helping elect Democratic and peace candidates, and organizing voter registration and education. The peace movement needs to empower the peace majority through electoral struggle and movement-building.

The movement-building must be done through education and ideological struggle, which distinguishes the peace movement from the Democratic Party or candidate campaigns. The movement helps to clarify the issues and influence the debate and the positions of the candidates. Linking political action with building a vibrant movement is a critical contribution of the Communists and the left.

The movement is also critical to generating excitement on the streets for defeating the right. The main obstacle to empowering the peace majority is that over 50% of the people dont vote! Mass demonstrative actions and educational work can activate the stay-at-home-vote.

The movements role is to respond to the daily stream of war mongering and new rationales for the occupation and to guard against new preemptive strikes against Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba or on the Korean peninsula.

The movements efforts in the midterm elections are geared to defeating the Republicans in November and quickly moving into action with the new Congress. No Honeymoon. We need to help develop tactics that result in a more organized, stronger, broader movement post election.

One election cycle wont end the occupation or the US foreign policy of first-strike preemptive war. The spiral of crises in Iraq, the ongoing death of US troops and Iraqis is not enough to create a political shift although it plays its role.

As a result of protests and an emphasis on Congressional pressure campaigns in the years since the Presidential election, the movement has had a big impact on the political terrain of the midterm elections. Think about it. Weve shifted the position of the Democratic Party presidential candidate on the war. Kerry now believes that his vote in support of the war was the worst vote he has cast in his Senate career.

Now is not the time to sit out the elections, its time to step up! Thats the spirit the Party must bring into the peace movement organizing.

The rightwing is known for its election-year October surprises, dirty tricks to sway public sentiment with fear. This time around Al-Zarqawis killing was the June surprise in attempt to make the Iraq War look like a success. The peace movement has to be on guard against more provocations and attempt to stir up the fear factor as the election approaches. The manipulation of the threat of terror is the centerpiece of the fear factor both internationally and domestically.

Not all of the candidates in the swing races are for troop withdrawal, they must be reminded that the majority think the war is a mistake and want congressional representation which reflects their view on the war. They need to hear at candidates nights, town hall meetings that 62 percent of people do not believe the war is worth loss of life and other costs. They need to be reminded that every major poll in the country shows majority want withdrawal, large numbers want speedy withdrawal most want total withdrawal in a year. 57 percent want reduced levels now.

The visible, vocal presence of the peace movement also bolsters the chances of peace candidates. Grassroots peace mobilization helps make their campaigns become more winnable. The most exciting example is the challenge within the Democratic Party primary to Senator Lieberman.

The peace movement needs more Congresspeople like Kerry, Feingold, Boxer, Inouye and Menendez, who are willing to stand firm and fight for a deadline for withdrawal.

Either way, the peace movement must see its main task between now and November is to shift the majority in Congress away from the Party of war. And then post election to exert the power of protest and congressional pressure campaigns to bring the troops home.

The proposals for the Partys peace movement activity are simple and practical. The proposals help to fill in the outline that Joelle gave in her report. We are active in a cross-section of peace groups and local and national coalitions. Our contribution can be great.

First, Party peace activists discuss on District and Club levels a list of peace activists to meet with to discuss our outlook and assessment of the elections and ways to move peace groups into action. We are also doing this on the national level.

Although not all of our activists openly represent the Party in coalitions, it is still important to have these discussions with other activists.

The aim of discussions is to involve peace groups and individual activists in the swing congressional districts and on candidate campaigns.

If we are not able to move people into action on a specific candidates campaign, minimally, we should help organize voter registration and education and candidates forums/nights.

The District and Club roles are important in setting priorities and figuring out tactics in each congressional district.

For example, in New York City, the citywide coalition discussed the fact that some groups might feel restricted by their tax status from doing electoral work. Those groups that want to work on Congressional or local election races in support of peace candidates will form separate committees to facilitate electoral work. One group had quite a struggle around the interpretation of their 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. But through discussion with other groups, some of the leading members initiated a peace activists letter as individuals in support of a Congressional candidate. One of our comrades is one of the signers. The aim is to mobilize people to support the congressional campaign by highlighting the strong anti war positions of the candidate.

While we fight for the peace movement to engage in the November elections as a key tactics in the struggle against the occupation, we should not at the same time write off those who are fearful about engaging in political action or who disagree with the necessity to do so.

We need to help find the ways that local peace groups can build their base and simultaneously contribute to empowering the peace sentiments in a targeted race through voter registration, candidates questionnaires, voter pledges that help peace groups to be on the streets collecting names and contact info.

Secondly, we should also be a part of the ongoing pressure on Congress through the Fall adjournment. There are plans for faith-based initiatives such as the Declaration of Peace, which emphasizes Ghandian principals of public nonviolent action. For example, on Fourth of July a march is planned in Philadelphia that culminates in a mass signing of the Declaration of Peace (a play on the Declaration of Independence). Weve got to make it clear, through participation in these types of activities that if you oppose the war then the most important thing we can do is to change the composition of Congress.

The end objectives of our involvement in peace movement activity leading up to the midterm elections is:

1) To broaden the circle of people in the peace movement who are familiar with the Communist Partys outlook on the elections and the need to defeat the ultra-right.

2) To deepen the understanding of the role of movements in political empowerment.

3) To strengthen basis for recruiting new Party members.

4) To energize the peace movement with tactics that move mass protest and majority opposition to the occupation into political action.

The Democratic Party and its candidates are only as strong politically and economically as the mass movements behind them. The greater participation of the Party and Left, the more effective the movements are, the more likely we can deliver a blow to the Right in November.

With our collective efforts in the targeted congressional races and our mobilizations in the streets and in the halls of Congress, the mid term elections can become a turning point in ending the occupation of Iraq.

Judith LeBlanc is a National Vice-Chair of the CPUSA and Chair of its Peace & Solidarity Commission.


Related Articles

For democracy. For equality. For socialism. For a sustainable future and a world that puts people before profits. Join the Communist Party USA today.

Join Now

We are a political party of the working class, for the working class, with no corporate sponsors or billionaire backers. Join the generations of workers whose generosity and solidarity sustains the fight for justice.

Donate Now

CPUSA Mailbag

If you have any questions related to CPUSA, you can ask our experts
  • QHow does the CPUSA feel about the current American foreign...
  • AThanks for a great question, Conlan.  CPUSA stands for peace and international solidarity, and has a long history of involvement...
Read More
Ask a question
See all Answer