On November 19, 300 activists, organizers, and working people gathered in New York City to listen to seven anti-war leaders speak out against US and NATO involvement in the war in Ukraine. The event hosted at the Peoples Forum was titled “The Real Path to Peace in Ukraine,” and featured philosopher Noam Chomsky, historian Vijay Prashad, People’s Forum executive directors Manolo De Los Santos and Claudia De La Cruz, Brian Becker of the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition, Eugene Puryear of Breakthrough News, former US presidential candidate for the Green Party, Jill Stein, and CODEPINK .
In Saturday’s event, speakers specifically underlined the need for negotiations to end the war in Ukraine and not escalation of violent conflict. Many pointed out that this war, like many before it, works directly against the interests of working people across the globe. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the administration of US President Joe Biden has sent over $80 billion to Ukraine in military and non-military aid.
Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, highlighted: “People who are working for things like healthcare for all in the United States, a free college education, all of those people have to recognize that as we are going to spend over $100 billion in less than a year on this war, we must make people understand that that money could be going for needs at home.”
Despite this, voters in both the Democratic and Republican parties overwhelmingly support sending weapons to Ukraine. However, a majority in the US is becoming concerned with the growing possibility of direct confrontation between two nuclear powers.
Who benefits from this war?
In the very outset of the war, the stocks of the top war manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin skyrocketed. An October 2 headline in Barron’s read, “Russia’s War on Ukraine Is Escalating. It’s Time to Buy Defense Stocks.”
“We see very clearly that the only group of people who benefit from this war—the only people who benefit from there not being peace negotiations—are the elites in Washington,” said De Los Santos. “We will not allow them to sacrifice the planet for their new war of greed!”
De La Cruz highlighted that the people of the US have a responsibility to stand against the war as it is their tax money that is funding the war. “We have a responsibility to say, shut down NATO, shut down AFRICOM, and shut down every instrument of war that [the US has] across the globe,” said De La Cruz. “Not in our name!”
The struggle for peace
While De La Cruz focused on collective responsibility in winning peace, others highlighted the enormous power that average working people have in ending the war. Stein quoted author Alice Walker when she said, “the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Eugene Puryear, who brought up the rich history of fightback against slavery, said “People power has defeated every terrible institution that you can imagine.”
ANSWER Coalition director Brian Becker touched upon the historic role of the US anti-war movement during struggles in the cases of past wars, such as Vietnam.
“Whenever people have organized and fought for and mobilized for peace, they draw the wrath of the warmakers,” Becker said. “It doesn’t matter if their slogans are soft or mild, whether they talk about negotiations or overturning capitalism, just mobilizing the people against war is a great danger to the warmakers, because if the people finally say no to war, the wars end. The ruling class can’t do the wars without the people.”
Between escalation and negotiation
The specter of nuclear war also hangs in the horizon as two nuclear superpowers inch closer and closer to direct conflict. This is especially true considering that when a missile hit Poland on November 15, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky immediately jumped to blame Russia. “Hitting NATO territory with missiles…This is a Russian missile attack on collective security! This is a really significant escalation. Action is needed,” Zelensky urged on the same day. This was a potentially catastrophic language, as Article 5 of NATO states that “an armed attack against one or more of [the members] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.” Zelensky was advocating for a war between nuclear powers. The next day the truth came out: the missile was launched by accident by Ukrainian forces.
Despite the possibility of a world-ending nuclear war, NATO and the US steadfastly refuse to move towards peace. “The central matter is the ghastly gamble,” said Chomsky. “The willingness to gamble that Russia will accept defeat and not react in the manner of the Western warrior states.”
“The international committee of the Red Cross said that there would be a catastrophic humanitarian crisis from even a limited nuclear war, whatever that is,” said Eugene Puryear. “Nuclear winter. Crops destroyed. Water poisoned…talk about sowing salt in the soil, this is a million times worse than that.”
Puryear drew attention to the often neglected consequences of the war: the calamitous impact on the Global South and among oppressed populations in the Global North. “From Sudan, to Sri Lanka, to São Paulo, to South Carolina, to the South Bronx, working class people and poor people on every corner of the globe are suffering from a massive cost of living crisis,” Puryear said, referring to the myriad crisis around the world, exacerbated by limited imports from Ukraine and sanctions on Russia.
“When do we have the right to speak?” Puryear asked. “Can the people in the Congo speak? How come no one is even talking about the Congo right now? War going on there. War has been going on for multiple decades. Maybe as many as ten million people have died. That never really makes the front page.”
Historian and Tricontinental Institute director Vijay Prashad closed out the panel with a powerful statement: “No war but class war.” Prashad also called for the abolition of NATO and the CIA. “What has the CIA done that’s ever been good?” asked Prashad.
“One of the reasons you need to build a massive peace movement, not only in the United States, but in all the Western warrior states, including Canada…it’s because you have to join the global movement. The mood is changing, friends. People are not interested in this anymore.”