Demanding a just peace in Ukraine and the abolition of all war
Sakura Saunders and Rachel Small are long-time organizers with experience in a range of movements. Both are active with World Beyond War, a decentralized global network with the goal not just of opposing the war of the day but of abolishing the institution of war. Scott Neigh interviews them about the organization’s work globally and in Canada, about their war abolitionist politics, and about what their members and supporters have been doing to demand peace in Ukraine.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has horrified people around the world and has, quite rightly, been widely condemned. But in the inevitably polarized and propaganda-laden wartime media environment, it has been remarkably difficult to go beyond that. Far too often, the justified revulsion at the invasion and the admirable compassion for its victims displayed by so many people are being used by Western states and elites to justify actions that risk further escalation. There is little space to ask what Western governments, corporations, and elites have done to contribute to this crisis; little space to talk about the need for de-escalation and about what a just and peaceful resolution might look like; and little space to go from there to larger questions about what it might look like to abolish war, militarism, and empire, and to move towards – as the name of the organization that is the focus of today’s episode suggests – a world beyond war.
Founded in 2014 out of conversations among long-time anti-war organizers in the United States and globally, the organization currently has 22 chapters in a dozen countries, with hundreds of affiliate organizations as well as many thousands of individual members and supporters across more than 190 countries. It really started to grow in the Canadian context after it held its annual global conference in Toronto a few years ago. Saunders, based in Mi’kmaw territory in Halifax, is a board member of World Beyond War. Small lives in Toronto, in the Dish with One Spoon territory, and is the Canada organizer for World Beyond War.
Globally, the organization operates as a decentralized network with a focus on building power at the local level, though with three overarching priorities. One of these priorities is a commitment to political education related to war and militarism. This includes the organization’s resource-rich website, as well as all kinds of events and activities, including book clubs, teach-ins, webinars, and even multi-week courses. With the knowledge and skills thus gained, they actively encourage people to get active around issues of war and militarism in whatever ways and with whatever focus fits their local situation. As well, the organization has a global campaign working with communities impacted by militarism for the closure of particularly US military bases, which can be found in so many countries around the world. And they work to defund war – that is, to shift spending by governments away from weapons and other aspects of militarism.
In Canada, along with its education work and support for autonomous local action by chapters and individuals, World Beyond War is very involved in working with other local and national organizations on a couple of campaigns. One is the opposition to the proposals by the federal government to spend billions and billions of dollars purchasing new fighter jets and new naval frigates for the Canadian military. Another works against Canada’s role as an arms exporter – particularly the sale of billions of dollars worth of light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, given their ultimate use in the devastating Saudi-led war on Yemen. They have also been involved in solidarity with Indigenous peoples like the Wet’suwet’en in opposition to ongoing violent colonization by the Canadian state, in opposition to Canada’s membership in NATO, and in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
As for the current war in Ukraine, there have been dozens of anti-war actions organized across Canada since the invasion, some involving World Beyond War chapters and members. The organization unequivocally opposes the Russian invasion. They also oppose NATO expansion, and seek to understand how the government of Canada and others in the West have been complicit in escalating the crisis. Small said, “If the last, I don’t know, 60 [or] 70 years of history demonstrates anything, it’s that literally the last thing that’s likely to minimize suffering and bloodshed is military action by NATO.”
Small is very aware of the way that the desire to help people who are facing invasion can be used to draw people at a distance from the conflict into supporting actions that will ultimately do more harm. She said, “When people are really seeing the devastating impacts of war on the ground and wanting to respond in solidarity and with compassion, it’s very easy to fall into imperialist tropes or to really want to simplify the situation. But I think this is really such a critical time for the anti-war movement to continue to oppose imperialism, and to challenge that propaganda that’s trying to legitimize it.”
For Saunders, the key point is evaluating any potential intervention, into this war or any war, “in terms of escalation or de-escalation.” Once we do that, “it becomes more clear how we should engage. And we need to engage – we need to actively engage. Because, of course, we need to force Russia into, you know, stopping. But how can we do that in ways that are simultaneously de-escalating the conflict?” World Beyond War is calling for a diplomatic solution. They oppose supplying arms to either side and they are against the use of sanctions that would predictably cause harm to ordinary people, though they support highly targeted sanctions against powerful individuals. As well, they are calling for support for refugees from this conflict and from all other wars around the world.
Small continued, “We can show solidarity with people suffering from this war in Ukraine without also being nationalist … We don’t have to rely on holding, expressing our solidarity with, the flag of a state, of any state. It shouldn’t be the Ukrainian flag, it shouldn’t be the Canadian flag. But how do we do this work in a way that’s based on real internationalism, on real global solidarity?”
In addition, they encourage everyone horrified by events in Ukraine to make the connections to the broader institutions of war, militarism, and empire, and to work for their abolition. Small said, “We definitely welcome everyone to join us in the struggle for abolition, whether this is something you’ve been thinking about and organizing around for a long time, or whether this is something that’s coming up for you just now. So that’s the struggle against all wars, all militarism, the whole military industrial complex. And right now is such a key moment, of course, to be standing in solidarity with all of the people in Ukraine who are facing imperialist invasion and enormous violence. But next week, we’ll continue to be organizing alongside Palestinians, Yemenis, Tigrayans, Afghans – alongside everyone facing war and military and violence. And to hold that broader context in their mind, to hold in solidarity everyone who’s facing war right now, I think is is a really important re-framing for people to do right now.”
Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out our website here. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to join our weekly email update list.
Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.
Theme music: “It Is the Hour (Get Up)” by Snowflake, via CCMixter