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Activism: Peace: NVCD: Discrimination

In this action, our struggle is not only against missiles and bombs, but against the system of power they defend: a system based on domination, on the belief that some people have more value than others, and therefore have the right to control others, to exploit them so that they can lead better lives than those they oppress.

We say that all people have value. No person, no group, has the right to wield power over the decisions and resources of others. The structure of our organizations and the processes we use among ourselves are our best attempt to live our belief in self-determination. Besides working against discrimination of all kinds among ourselves, we must try to understand how such discrimination supports the system which produces nuclear weapons.

For some people who come to this action, the overriding issue is the struggle to prevent nuclear destruction. For others, that struggle is not separate from the struggles against racism, sexism, classism, and the oppression of groups of people because of their sexual orientation, religion, age, physical (dis)ability, appearance, or life history. Understood this way, it is clear that nuclear weapons are already killing people, forcing them to lead lives of difficulty and struggle. Nuclear war has already begun, and it claims its victims disproportionately from native peoples, the Third World, women, and those who are economically vulnerable because of the history of oppression.

All oppressions are interlocking. We separate racism, classism, etc. in order to discuss them, not to imply that any form of oppression works in isolation. We know that to work against any one of these is not just to try to stop something negative, but to build a positive vision. Many in the movement call this larger goal feminism. Calling our process "feminist process" does not mean that women dominate or exclude men; on the contrary, it challenges all systems of domination. The term recognizes the historical importance of the feminist movement in insisting that nonviolence begins at home, in the ways we treat each other.

Confronting the issues that divide us is often painful. People may feel guilty, or hurt, or react defensively when we begin to speak of these things, as if they were being personally accused. But working through this pain together, taking responsibility for our oppressive behavior, is part of our struggle to end the nuclear arms race. Asking members of oppressed groups to be the catalyst for this change is avoiding our own responsibility for discrimination. Most of us benefit from some form of privilege due to our sex, or class, or skin color, or sexual orientation, but that privilege is limited. None of us alone has the power to end institutions of discrimination. Only when we struggle together can we hope to do so -- and when pain and hurt arise in that struggle, we can see it as a measure of the depth to which discrimination hurts us all, keeping us separated and divided in our strength.

Racism, Classism, Sexism, Heterosexism and Militarism

Part of struggling against nuclear weapons involves understanding the ways in which the oppression of particular groups of people supports militarism, makes the institutionalized system of war and violence appear "natural" and "inevitable." For instance, heterosexism, or the assumption that sexual relations are only permissible, desirable, and normal between opposite sexes, justifies a system of rigid sex roles, in which men and women are expected to behave and look in particular ways, and in which qualities attributed to women are devalued. Thus, men who are not willing to be violent are not virile -- they are threatened with the real sanctions placed on homosexuality (physical violence, housing and economic discrimination) unless they behave like "real men." The military relies upon homophobia (the fear of homosexuality) to provide it with willing enlistees, with soldiers who are trained to kill others to prove their masculinity.

Sexism, or the systematic devaluation of women, is clearly related to this. Women have traditionally opposed war because women bear the next generation and feel a responsiblity to protect it. But feminists are not content to speak only from traditional roles as mothers and nurturers. Many activists see a feminist analysis as crucial to effectively challenging militarism. The system of patriarchy, under which men benefit from the oppression of women, supports and thrives on war. In a sexist or patriarchal society, women are relegated to limited roles and valued primarily for their sexual and reproductive functions, while men are seen as the central makers of culture, the primary actors in history. Patriarchy is enforced by the language and images of our culture; by keeping women in the lowest paying and lowest status jobs, and by violence against women in the home and on the streets. Women are portrayed by the media as objects to be violated; 50% of women are battered by men in their lives, 75% are sexually assaulted.

The sexist splitting of humanity which turns women into others, lesser beings whose purpose is to serve men, is the same split which allows us to see our enemies as non-human, fair game for any means of destruction or cruelty. In war, the victors frequently rape the women of the conquered peoples. Our country's foreign policy often seems directed by teenage boys desparately trying to live up to stereotypes of male toughness, with no regard for the humanity or land of their "enemy." Men are socialized to repress emotions, to ignore their needs to nurture and cherish other people and the earth. Emotions, tender feelings, care for the living, and for those to come are not seen as appropriate concerns of public policy. This makes it possible for policymakers to conceive of nuclear war as "winnable."

Similarly, racism, or the institutionalized devaluation of darker peoples, supports both the idea and the practice of the military and the production of nuclear weapons. Racism operates as a system of divide and conquer. It helps to perpetuate a system in which some people consistently are "haves" and others are "have nots." Racism tries to make white people forget that all people need and are entitled to self-determination, good health care, and challenging work. Racism limits our horizons to what presently exists; it makes us suppose that current injustices are "natural," or it makes those injustices invisible. For example, most of the uranium used in making nuclear weapons is mined under incredibly hazardous conditions by people of color: Native Americans and black South Africans. Similarly, most radioactive and hazardous waste dumps are located on lands owned or occupied by people of color. If all those people suffering right now from exposure to nuclear materials were white, would nuclear production remain acceptable to the white-dominated power structure?

Racism also underlies the concept of "national security": that the U.S. must protect its "interests" in Third World countries through the exercise of military force and economic manipulation. In this world-view, the darker peoples of the world are incapable of managing their own affairs and do not have the right to self-determination. Their struggles to democratize their countries and become independent of U.S. military and economic institutions are portrayed as "fanatic," "terrorist," or "Communist." The greatest danger of nuclear war today lies in the likelihood of superpower intervention in Third World countries, fueled by government appeals to nationalistic and racist interests.

All forms of discrimination are interrelated with economic discrimination, or classism. Classism justifies a system in which competition is the norm, and profit is believed to be a universal motivation. Thus, poor and working class people lack access to education, leisure time and frequently basic things like food and shelter. But a classist society blames them for their poverty, or devalues their particular way of living. Classism values certain kinds of work over others, and sets up a system of unequal rewards. Our society threatens the majority of our members with economic insecurity, forcing us to accept things the way they are for fear of losing the few things we've gained through hard work. Since most poor people are women, children and people of color, classism and other forms of discrimination work together to hide the injustice of our economic system.

Poor and working class people feel the effects of the military directly, profoundly, and brutally. Vital social services have been cut to feed the Pentagon. Inflation, aggravated by the military budget, chews away at what is left after disproportionately high taxes are deducted from our pay. Poor people are prime military recruits, with historically little access to draft deferments or information about conscientious objection, forced by unemployment to think of the military as a "career opportunity." Our militarized society does not support cooperative and socially productive work, but counts on unequal competition and economic deprivation to provide workers in defense industries, miners in uranium mines, and soldiers in the armed forces.

No human being is born with discriminatory attitudes and beliefs. Physical and cultural attitudes are not the causes of oppression; these differences are used to justify oppression. Racist, classist, sexist, heterosexist, and all other forms of discriminatory attitudes are a mixture of misinformation and ignorance which have to be imposed on young people through a painful process of social conditioning. These processes are left unchallenged partially because people feel powerless to do anything about them. But the situation is not hopeless. People can grow and change. Many successful struggles have taken place against structures of exploitation and discrimination. We are not condemned to repeat the past. Discriminatory conditioning can be analyzed and unlearned.

All people come from traditions which have a history of resistance to injustice, and every person has their own individual history of resistance to discriminatory conditioning. This history needs to be recalled and celebrated, and people need to listen to and learn from other people's histories. When people act from a sense of informed pride in themselves and their own traditions, they will be more effective in all struggles for justice and peace.

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