Why grassroots reparations?

There are a number of strategic as well as ethical reasons for grassroots reparations. Overall, what it affords us is a conceptual framework and a model for action.

In terms of movement strategy, we believe that solidarity work is a necessary component of an effective and sustainable peace movement, and grassroots reparations is a kind of solidarity work—a tactical marriage of aid and truth telling. But most importantly, when we engage in the process of repair, we don’t have to ask our war victims to wait while our domestic peace movement engages in a long political struggle. We can start meeting the needs or our war victims today, while we work toward our political goals. And not only is this the right thing to do, but the alliances we build with our war victims make our movement stronger.

As a conceptual framework, grassroots reparations offer us a new way of thinking about globalization and political responsibility as they apply to the issues effecting our communities. For example, inequality, pollution, migration, and war are all urgent issues that are not being sufficiently addressed by government action, and they cannot be adequately addressed without significant structural change to our global and national governing institutions.

Yet we all pollute, we participate in economies that perpetuate inequality, we are citizens of nations that wage unjust wars and displace millions of innocent people. As much as we need to try to hold our political representatives accountable, we also need to try to live differently. We need to organize community actions to work towards changing the systems that we are all locked into, while repairing the harm they produce. We believe that articulating these struggles as grassroots reparations will bring clarity to our organizing.

But perhaps our thinking about war, more than other issues, can benefit from this framework. Not only is American war a uniquely global phenomenon, implicating us all as citizens of empire, but there is a traditional discourse for thinking and speaking about war in our culture that transfers moral responsibility from citizens to our elected representatives. This often leads to apathy, blame, and political inaction. On the contrary, grassroots reparations challenges us to interrogate the global consequences of our foreign policy, our individual contributions to our country’s ability to wage war, and our moral responsibility to end war and repair its ravages.

John Tirman, Executive Director of MIT’s Center for International Studies and author of The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars (2011), has argued that what has proven most effective in ending American wars—more than the anti-war movement, more than empathy with our war victims—is when the domestic costs of war, in terms of American lives and tax dollars, have outweighed the perceived benefits. This analysis echoes the critique of Noam Chomsky, who has argued that the mainstream opposition to our wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq has been based in self-interested thinking that regards the costs of waging these war to be too great, rather than opposing them for moral reasons.

This is a culture that we seek to change. We want to steer the anti-war sentiment in our country from self-interest to solidarity.

Part of the problem we face is that our news media has covered our foreign wars in ways that often omit or misrepresent the experiences of our war victims. If public empathy has been lacking, it may well be because Americans are unaware of the extent to which our military actions have caused suffering around the world. We feel that the best thing we can do to address this is to produce stories that humanize the people living in our war zones and report the harm we have caused them.

Through implementing our model of grassroots reparations, we bring resources and skilled labor to their communities, while bringing their stories back to ours.

Another problem is that our political class has managed to dominate the national discourse on our foreign policy, disseminating a culture of pragmatic reasoning guided by imperial values. Subverting this paradigm and replacing it with a culture of principled reasoning, empathy, and international solidarity is no easy feat. But the emphasis that grassroots reparations places on moral agency and politically specific responsibilities can be an important challenge to traditional discourses on war.

We also believe that grassroots reparations has a lot to offer as a discourse strategy for debates and discussions that are internal to our social movements. Too often, ideological divisions and infighting between political sects have paralyzed progressive social movements. But we don’t believe that this is inevitable. In fact, we try to bring the principles of our reparative process to all of our communications.

Instead of asserting our ideological vision of the world, we make community and movement building the goal of every conversation, publication, or debate. In practice, what that means is that we try to listen and be open minded to new ideas, and we think strategically and ethically about how we try to persuade others to accept our ideas. We avoid sectarian polemics and provide the most complete and most responsible information possible. We grow by building knowledge communities united around the ethics of repair and solidarity.

Questions? Feel free to contact us with any curiosities or questions. Want to get involved? There is plenty of work to be done, so just send us a message and we will plug you into the movement!