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Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

New Brookline Peace Group
Faces Challenges

Dennis Fox

April 11, 2002


Since September 11th, an increasing number of Brookline residents have opposed the United States' response to the attacks on New York and Washington. We've worn peace signs to the town's Cypress Field memorial ceremony, participated in Copley Square vigils against the Afghanistan war, joined Boston groups advocating justice through nonmilitary means.

As President Bush prepares to expand the war to Iraq and Colombia and half a dozen other countries, a new organization aims to establish a Brookline presence for activists opposed to our nation's misdirected policy. Brookline Peaceworks met for the first time last week when more than two dozen peace advocates assembled at the Devotion School.

The group's initial focus is organizing for two April 20th events: an anti-war protest in Washington, DC and a local rally beginning at noon at Copley, followed by a 1 PM march to the South End's Blackstone Park for an afternoon "celebration of world culture" with music, art, and educational activities.

Peaceworks is an outgrowth of United for Justice with Peace (UJP), a coalition of two dozen Boston-area organizations including American Friends Service Committee, Boston Pax Christi, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, CPPAX, New England War Tax Resistance, Jewish Women for Justice in Israel/Palestine, and the National Lawyers Guild's Boston chapter.

People who still believe America does no wrong will find much to object to in UJP's organizing principles, which seek to create a world based on social and economic justice rather than war and exploitation. In contrast, skeptics of US policy will find the familiar principles a reasonable, though perhaps imperfect, blend of differing activist goals and approaches.

Here in Brookline, Peaceworks must work simultaneously on three levels, each with its own challenges.

1. First, at the organizational level, the immediate task is to identify and coordinate town residents who already oppose US policy. Last week's meeting was a significant step in that direction, filling a gap in local organizations and enabling activists to meet one another.

In the long term, offering members support and maintaining morale are crucial. Too many activist groups flounder when a single-minded focus on the ultimate goal leads to burnout and despair. Activism is hard work. But it can also be fun.

2. Second, at the educational level, the group must communicate to other Brookline residents why those of us who see the world from a critical perspective dissent from US policy. Where differences stem from competing factual assumptions -- about the state of the world, or history, or human nature - providing accurate information to counter ideologically propagated falsehoods makes us more effective.

At the same time, though, we should willingly reassess our own assumptions. Can our proposed courses of action resolve the dangerous problems we face? Is war ever justified, or is it only the current war we oppose? Do any restrictions on civil liberties ever make sense? A healthy movement recognizes that internal debate makes it stronger.

3. Third, of course, at the crucial political level, Peaceworks members must work to oppose unjust policies. Some policy makers believe the many widespread misconceptions that have led us to where we are today. They may be persuaded by better data.

But many already know the facts. Indeed, they try to hide those facts from the public in an effort to reinforce American supremacy or corporate profit. Simply providing more information won't influence those whose political and economic interests lead them to seek power rather than justice.

Instead, we must reverse their policies, using not just rational persuasion but many forms of mass pressure. Next weekend's protests are one approach. Others range from lobbying and voting to creating alternative political parties to a variety of more militant direct actions.

Peaceworks is off to a good start. It remains to be seen how the members will mesh their differing approaches and histories, from older folks building on decades of activism in a wide range of social movements to students bringing in different styles from today's anti-war, anti-globalization, and other struggles.

My hope is that the activists who showed up last week will work through the startup process and strengthen local momentum.

Note: this version may differ from the published version.

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