This article is the second part of a two-part series on the politics of solidarity and the opportunity for building a new antiwar movement for global racial justice. You can find the first part here.
Last week, NPQ published a piece that I wrote about the racial politics of solidarity with Ukraine—and what US civil society’s outpouring of support reveals about structural racism in our news media and the nonprofit sector. That article was concerned with responses in the broader civil sector, which includes a multitude of groups and organizations—everything from neighborhood associations and local organizing campaigns to national advocacy groups and foundations with large endowments and international reach. What prompted the piece was the following question: Why were nonprofits that had never released a solidarity statement about global conflict suddenly interested in this war? Civil society responses were especially striking to me because the US has been continuously at war with multiple countries, overtly and covertly, for the past two decades, and commentators have often attributed public inaction to compassion fatigue.
As last week’s article pointed out, the US war machine’s long history has provided other authoritarian leaders like Putin with the rhetorical (but not moral) standing to justify their own wars of aggression. This kind of just war rhetoric is one major reason why a stance of principled solidarity is so important. If Americans want to see an end to endless wars, we must oppose the dangerous myth of American exceptionalism and be prepared to demonstrate our solidarity with all war-impacted people—not only symbolically, but materially through concrete political and economic action.
Why now? As Nicolas Haeringer writes in Waging Nonviolence, the unprecedented popular support for Ukraine also opens up new possibilities for global antiwar solidarity—particularly because these mobilizations weren’t driven by existing movements.
Grassroots organizations are already doing the hard work of national and transnational antiwar organizing and can guide the larger sector to turn this moment into an intersectional movement. Amid criticisms of a historically white antiwar movement, Black and Brown activists have mobilized within some organizations by drawing connections between wars abroad and “the war at home,” even as many of their peers continue to have work to do to become more fully antiracist. Other antiwar organizations are increasingly directed or led by people of color. They include organizations like the War Resisters League, which celebrates its centennial next year, and Dissenters, a twenty-first century movement against militarism and imperialism led by youth of color. Others, like the Not in Our Name and United for Peace and Justice coalitions, were formed by antiwar activists in response to the US bombing of Afghanistan and the invasion and occupation of Iraq after 9/11. And a sizeable number of veterans have voiced their opposition to these US wars, forming groups like About Face (formerly known as Iraq Veterans Against the War) and Veterans For Peace.
The leaders and staff of nonprofit organizations and foundations have much to learn from antiwar and abolitionist antiviolence movements’ analyses of state racism, global capitalism, and imperialism, as well as their strategies for dismantling these systems. To move beyond a symbolic commitment to racial justice, the sector must also enact that commitment with political and economic action at scale. As I wrote last week, the sector must understand that “Supporting a new and effective American antiwar movement necessarily means supporting abolitionist racial justice efforts here and abroad.”
To put it another way: If recent shows of solidarity with Ukraine provide the impetus for a new American antiwar movement, this emerging movement must be actively antiracist and centered in global racial justice—that is, racial justice for communities of color impacted by settler colonialism, state violence, and militarism in the US and around the world—because our struggles are intertwined. In the US, this means following the leadership of Black and Brown abolitionists and Indigenous dissidents. It also means taking seriously the complex histories and politics of the world beyond this country’s borders, which can include organizational learning that analyzes nonprofit work in the context of global systems of power, connecting with antiwar efforts outside the US, listening to activists on the ground, and sharing decision-making power with local staff, among other things.
Another important material outcome of antiwar organizing: Dismantling the US military-industrial complex will free up trillions of dollars—President Biden requested $813 billion for next year’s defense budget alone—that can be reinvested into communities of color impacted by state violence and militarization. This includes public goods (that is, we won’t have to ask how we’re going to pay for green energy infrastructure and public transit) and social programs (education, food, healthcare, housing, workforce development, and more) that will benefit everyone, but especially communities of color targeted by state disinvestment and policing. And as part of a larger process to reimagine what “public safety” and “security” mean, these “non-reformist reforms”—a term coined by the French economic philosopher and socialist André Gorz, and expanded by the prison abolitionist and scholar, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and other Black abolitionists—may augur possibilities for more radical social and economic change to deliver justice to Black and Brown communities in the US, such as reparations for slavery and colonialism, and land return.
Will the sector take this opportunity to pursue global racial justice by building an emerging antiwar movement? Will it follow the lead of organizations already doing this work? Here are a few things nonprofits and philanthropy for progressive social change can do to support organizing against war and militarism:
Draw out the connections between US military imperialism and Russian imperialism: All too often, Americans’ rush to condemn Russia—specifically, Putin and the Kremlin—leads the US anti-imperialist left into a spiral of “whataboutism” that excuses state violence outside the US. This is a simplistic and blinkered approach because, as Volodymyr Artiukh writes, “Russia has mimicked the coercive infrastructure of America’s imperialism without preserving its hegemonic core,” and as a result, “US-plaining” is not enough. Whether it is the US war on Iraq, Russia’s war on Ukraine, or China’s Uyghur internment camps, state violence is state violence and must be condemned everywhere.
Make explicit the relationship and between US police violence and US militarism abroad: For example, campaigns like Stop Urban Shield in the Bay Area have done this by exposing how a global weapons expo brings together law enforcement agencies and first responders from all over the world to share military tactics, technologies, and trainings to repress and criminalize communities of color. Organizations like Oakland’s Black-led, multiracial, and intergenerational Anti-Police Terror Project are reimagining what public safety means as they continue to support communities of color facing police terror. Immigrant justice organizations and networks like Mijente and Detention Watch Network have made these connections by linking imperialism, capitalism, and global militarism to the militarization of US immigration policy, and by highlighting the nexus between tech companies and government agencies’ surveillance and punishment of immigrants of color.
Highlight dissent: For example, when talking about the war on Ukraine, don’t just issue a blanket statement of solidarity; support democratic pluralism by engaging with political dissent. In addition to condemning Russian aggression, highlight Ukrainians who are resisting nonviolently, antiwar protesters in Russia, and Russian soldiers who have deserted their posts. Apply this same critical lens to engage with dissenters in ongoing armed conflicts around the world, whether Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Israel and Palestine, Iraq, the Korean peninsula, Mexico, Myanmar, Somalia, Syria, the US-backed Saudi war on Yemen—unfortunately, the list goes on and on.
Divest from war: Direct organizing against war and militarism isn’t on the radar of most philanthropic organizations—perhaps this is due to extent to which war making has been normalized in American social and economic life. (Consider the persistence of war as a metaphor for addressing social problems: Over the past sixty years, the US has announced a “War on Poverty,” a “War on Drugs,” and a “War on Crime.”) Also, the sheer enormity of this global problem tends to lead to fatalism and inaction. Whatever the reason, the result is the same: The US war machine is subsidized and overfunded while antiwar organizing is underresourced.
What can be done? First, the sector must make a concerted effort to divest from weapons manufacturers, military contractors, and war-profiteering corporations. Nonprofit staff and leaders can also review where their retirement accounts are invested and push for ethical investing, particularly when such investments align with an organization’s stated mission around racial and economic justice. Similarly, foundations can assess whether their investments are subsidizing militarization at home and wars abroad.
Fund and support organizing: A new and effective antiwar movement for global racial justice will need funding and other resources to organize at all scales—locally, nationally, and transnationally. Given critiques of the sector’s political logic and limits, grassroots organizations will need to evaluate whether the pursuit of philanthropic funding is consistent with their mission and vision. At the same time, foundations must examine their theories of change and underlying ideological assumptions to ensure they are prepared to provide financial support without political constraints. This means being open to experimentation and providing funding not only for projects, but for operations and ideas to sustain the movement. Some immediate and concrete ways to support the movement include funding legal defense for conscientious objectors, including war tax resisters, and creating and contributing to bail funds for antiwar protesters.
Resource and cultivate the leadership of people of color impacted by war and militarization: The practice of progressive philanthropy continues to evolve, but more work must be done to distribute capital and decentralize power if we are to realize a democratic and just world. Nonprofits can support their workers’ activism with volunteer time that can be used to support antiwar work. As more Black, Indigenous, and other people of color emerge as donors and leaders in philanthropy, they can partner with grassroots organizations to center the needs of people impacted by US wars and global militarism and to set a new racial justice agenda for antiwar organizing in the US and abroad.
Let’s Talk About Ukraine, a guide from Dissenters, “a new, national anti-militarist youth organization fighting to divest from war & policing and invest in life-giving institutions,” on how to talk about the war as US-based anti-imperialists in solidarity with everyday people and liberatory movements everywhere
Statement: Solidarity with All Those Nonviolently Resisting the War in Ukraine, from the War Resisters League, and their Stop the War on Ukraine resource page
Why It’s Hard for Most People in the US to Talk About War, by Shiyam Galyon, communications strategist and former staff at the War Resisters League for Truthout
We Must Turn Solidarity with Ukraine into the New Normal for All Refugees, by Nicolas Haeringer for Waging Nonviolence
We Need a New Antiwar Movement, by Nan Levinson for The Nation
Groups and organizations to follow:
- About Face: Veterans Against the War (f/k/a, Iraq Veterans Against the War)
- Black Alliance for Peace
- Grassroots Global Justice and their DemilitaRISE working group
- National Priorities Project, for a guide to the federal budget and military spending tracking
- Resist, a foundation with a history of supporting people’s movements for justice and liberation for over six decades
- National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee
- War Resisters League
- Win Without War
- World Can’t Wait