Americans who want to demilitarize foreign policy and denuclearize the US force structure should consider a strategy featuring two tactics that helped spur positive changes in foreign policy in the latter years of the 20th century.
First there was the Teach-in pioneered by activists in the 1960s to educate the public and media about reasons to oppose the Viet Nam war, including the lack of congressional authorization.
Secondly there was Direct Democracy used by the Nuclear Freeze movement that kicked off in the 1980s. This led to city and state electorates to adopt resolutions in support of the Freeze. These resolutions were framed as Ballot Initiatives, a form of direct democracy where petition drives organized in the grassroots are used to reform municipal and state policies. In Texas and other states activists commonly use petition drives to propose municipal laws that advance political reform. These are called Local Ballot Initiatives. When making a new law, this reform tool is known as “citizen lawmaking”. However, ballot initiatives can also be used to advance a cause by letting voters express an opinion on a state or federal policy, which is how the Nuclear Freeze activists used it 40 years ago.
These two tactics, teach-ins and direct democracy, laid down a popular groundwork for congressional approval of a series of treaties that made dramatic reductions in the US and Soviet/Russian nuclear arsenals.
The Foreign Policy Alliance thinks these success stories dealing with federal and local polices show a path forward for Americans who want to see the US adopt a prudent, unprovocative, and restrained foreign policy.
In the 21st century this localist approach can be combined with home based “teach-ins” (AKA: “political house parties”). Today we can use YouTube as a visual aid within our homes so hosts do not need to be university scholars, journalists, or long time activists.
Since only a few people would be invited to take part in each teach-in session, because only a few can comfortably cluster around a computer screen, some hosts may decide to do multiple teach-ins. All people who attend a teach-in will be asked to host their own. In this way exponential growth may be realized. We may discover we could recruit hundreds of supporters in fairly short order.
What You Can Do
The Foreign Policy Alliance can provide a format for home-based teach-ins (created for the pre-Covid era but adaptable to pandemic times) and guidance for the petition process to have propositions placed on city ballots for voter approval. People who take up this tactic can plan to have their city, or a city close to home, vote on a resolution to do the following:
- Inform their local congressional delegation of a city electorate’s desire for a restrained, diplomacy-based foreign policy. To this end, the FPA resolution can be used. See below (“Petition Template”) for an example of a city resolution one could offer. Or a resolution can be modeled on one of the 50 or so posted on the Back From The Brink website (preventnuclearwar.org). Use one or more of those to write your own resolution.
(Several nationally known scholars have expressed interest in this option including Daniel Ellsberg, Walter Block, Eric Walberg, Michael Klare, Jason Sorens, Peter Kuznick, Jeremy Kuzmarov, and Juan Cole.)
Any bill proposed by a congress-member in response to a resolution adopted locally will lead to the usual back and forth when Democrats and Republicans square off over policy. Proposed changes will be proposed by friends and foes. What matters is getting the conversation started.
Another option is to ask or petition city elected officials to let voters vote to adopt separate ordinances or charter amendments with the following goals:
- Adopt an ordinance or charter amendment that commits your city to join Mayors for Peace (www.mayorsforpeace.org)
- Adopt an ordinance or charter amendment that commits your municipality to “citizen diplomacy” by becoming a Sister City to a city in China, Russia, or Iran (sistercities.org).
- Create a committee on their city council that will be charged to draft resolutions for council to consider that speak to established federal policies, or are relevant to on-going debates on capital hill, especially policies dealing with military matters.
For more details on steps to take, including guidance on state laws regarding local ballot initiatves, send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org or Phone: 832-495-4372
Here are some additional reasons why cities should take a stand on this issue:
- Cities and counties have been hurt financially by the pandemic, because of drops in sales tax revenue while expenses have increased (for medical care not covered by insurance, rent relief, and more). Spending billions of dollars on unneeded and dangerous cold-war weapons is not a wise use of our tax money, when it could be better spent by returning it to cities and relying more on diplomacy.
- The more nuclear weapons we have, the greater the chance of accidents. There have already been accidents involving nuclear weapons, right here in the US, and we are very lucky that none of the weapons detonated. But we might not be so lucky next time.
- Thirdly, and most critically, a large portion of Russia’s 6,000 nuclear weapons are targeted on US cities, as US nukes target Russian cities. Official US doctrine still incorporates a “first strike option” from cold war days. Thus, because the US is putting nuclear capable missiles in Poland and Romania it gives Russia only 6 to 8 minutes to decide if their computers, which can erroneously show incoming US missiles (as has happened), are correctly showing a “decapitation” first strike is underway. This could result in a massive retaliatory strike before US missiles detonate, wiping out dozens of US cities including Washington. This is how America’s nuclear weapons program, ironically, poses a threat to the U.S.
Complete reform will not arrive in one single bill, we should realize; it will likely occur in increments over several years. In fact, the military-industrial complex is not going away. Its lobbyists, who possibly number in the thousands (Boeing alone has a hundred), will surely work to reverse reforms embraced in current or past sessions and fight all new proposals. Our work will never be done. We must face that reality as long as billions of dollars in industry profits hang in the balance.
TO THE MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF ___________________
We, the undersigned hereto, who are qualified voters of the city of ________________, request that the following resolution be placed on the ________________ city ballot for voter approval:
The American government should reject the role of policeman of the world, rein in executive military action, recognize that war powers reside solely in the legislative branch, cease military and covert intervention in the affairs of foreign countries, reduce the nuclear arsenal, and use military force only when absolutely necessary to protect U.S. sovereignty and vital interests narrowly defined.
Furthermore, we call for:
1. A substantial reduction in the more than 700 U.S. military installations around the world;
2. Curtailing the bloated military budget, allowing resources to be redirected towards cutting the deficit, cutting taxes, investing in America, or any other use as Americans see fit;
3. Implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;
4. Emphasizing diplomacy, law, and cooperation in international relations and dispute resolution;
5. Upholding civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution;
6. The mayor of ___________________ to send copies of this resolution to the President of the United States, the two (insert state) senators, and all members of Congress whose districts overlap portions of the city of (insert city).
For more information, see foreignpolicyalliance.org
More information about ballot measures:
1. What activists can learn from the Nuclear Freeze Movement, a short article by Professor Lawrence Wittner, author of Toward Nuclear Abolition, A key quote: “the Freeze was endorsed by 275 city governments, 12 state legislatures, and the voters of nine out of ten states where it was placed on the ballot in the fall of 1982.” You Tube posts several videos featuring Prof. Wittner. The US has 20,000 municipalities (5,400 have charters) so there are many opportunities to rebuild the Nuclear Freeze movement.)
2. Local Ballot Initiatives: How citizens change laws with clipboards, conversations, and campaigns — To get the broad picture on municipal ballot measures one should look at LOCAL BALLOT INITIATIVES, the 30 page booklet that explains the city initiative process reflecting research that looked at all 50 states. The primer can be downloaded from the website of the Lucy Burns Institute which is based in Wisconsin …. Download the Primer on Local Ballot Initiatives
Scroll down to pages 11 and 12.
That organization is also the home of Ballotpedia that posts information on the rules for all 50 states.
Specifically, see Ballotpedia’s page on Laws governing local ballot measures
Another source for information on local initiatives is Ballot Access News published by Richard Winger.
Daniel Ellsberg endorsement …“Sounds GREAT! Not only promising, but essential! Yes, do sign me on, enthusiastically! (The model of the Freeze referenda is why I can call it promising–when nothing else is!)” — Daniel Ellsberg (January 2021)
(Overcoming tribalism … Some Pentagon reformers who embrace this strategy will probably realize they can use teach-ins and direct democracy to overcome the divisions that keep Americans from finding common ground on numerous issues besides foreign policy that plague our country. That would be a good thing.)