Peace Activists Hit the Streets From D.C. to San Francisco Seeking End to Ukraine War

Yves here. As this article notes, the US price tag for supporting Ukraine so far is $67 billion, with no end in sight. That is enough to focus a few minds, and also make it less politically toxic to discuss the need for an off ramp to this conflict.

However, there was already no bargaining overlap between Russia and the collective West. The “liberated” areas of Ukraine seeking referenda sooner rather than later, and to join Russia, as opposed to being part of some sort of nominally independent state, has further outraged US and EU officials, which is quite something given their existing level of unhappiness.

By Marcy Winograd, coordinator of CODEPINK for Congress, is a longtime antiwar activist who served as a 2020 DNC delegate to Bernie Sanders and co-founded the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party. A retired English and government teacher, Marcy blogs about militarism and foreign policy at LA Progressive. Produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute

On September 18, President Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin, “Don’t. Don’t. Don’t” use nuclear weapons in retaliation for severe battlefield losses in Ukraine. While Putin dismissed Biden’s worries as unfounded, the specter of nuclear armageddon drove U.S. antiwar activists to the streets days before in a September Week of Action organized by the Peace in Ukraine Coalition

Demanding a “ceasefire now,” activists hosted antiwar events in D.C., San Francisco, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Madison, Boston, Rockville, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, San Pedro, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles. The Peace in Ukraine Coalition—consisting of CODEPINK, Veterans for Peace, Democratic Socialists of America, Massachusetts Peace Action, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom-U.S., and other organizations—mobilized for negotiations, not escalation, in what CODEPINK describes as a proxy war threatening a direct war between the two most heavily armed nuclear nations, the United States and Russia.

With President Biden asking Congress for another $13.7 billion for Ukraine, $7.2 billion for weapons and military training, activists delivered letters to their U.S. House and Senate representatives, some letters simply urging a ceasefire, others pushing for a no vote on the next weapons request folded into a $47 billion COVID-19 relief bill. That bill, called a continuing resolution, must be voted on in one form or another by September 30 to avoid a federal government shutdown.

If the resolution passes with Biden’s request, military analysts say it would bring this year’s total for Ukraine to $67 billion. The amount allotted for weapons, military training, and intelligence could surpass $40 billion, four times the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency during an existential climate crisis of wildfires, droughts, storms, and rising sea levels.

In the nation’s capital, CODEPINK co-founders Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans, together with Colonel Ann Wright and other activists, kicked off the Week of Action, going door to door to the offices of the House Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), where the most natural antiwar allies would, theoretically, be found. While some members of the caucus call for much-needed diplomacy and raise concerns about the risk of nuclear war—either through a miscalculation or an intentional first strike—not one member of the nearly 100-member CPC will commit to voting against more weapons for Ukraine.

Benjamin told the press, “Further escalation should be unthinkable, but so should a long war of endless crushing artillery barrages and brutal urban and trench warfare that slowly and agonizingly destroys Ukraine, killing hundreds of Ukrainians with each day that passes. The only realistic alternative to this endless slaughter is a return to peace talks to bring the fighting to an end.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer do not make it easy for Democrats to break ranks—as the Republicans are doing ahead of the midterms—on the question of weapons for Ukraine. Pelosi and Schumer embed humanitarian aid and military dollars in the same legislation, making it hard for progressive Democrats to join with the

57 Republicans, among them hard-core Trumpers Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA-14), Lauren Boebert (CO-03), and Jim Jordan (OH-04), who voted against previous Ukraine packages.

Since the Russian invasion on February 24, thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have died, and according to the United Nations, 12 million have been displaced, either internally or throughout Eastern Europe. The Pentagon estimates 80,000 Russian soldiers have been killed.

Partners in the Peace in Ukraine Coalition condemn the Russian invasion but argue there is no military solution to a war that was provoked by the same neoconservatives responsible for the disastrous U.S. invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Through successive administrations, the voices for a unipolar world in which the United States dominates led to the expansion of NATO, a hostile nuclear-armed military alliance, from 12 countries after the fall of the Soviet Union to 30 countries, including some that border Russia: Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Lithuania.

In addition to the expansion of NATO, organizations in the Peace in Ukraine Coalition cite other provocations: U.S. support for a 2014 coup of Ukraine’s democratically elected Russia-friendly president and years of U.S. arms shipments—from Presidents Obama to Trump to Biden—to undermine the 2015 MINSK II peace agreement. That accord signed by Russia and Ukraine was to end the civil war that followed the 2014 coup and left an estimated 14,000 people dead in Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region. Fighting between the swastika-flag-waving Azov Battalion and Russian separatists preceded Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, though corporate media often fails to mention this.

On Thursday, September 15, demonstrators in San Francisco’s Financial District marched from the Senate offices of Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein to deliver letters in opposition to funding a protracted war in Ukraine.

Massachusetts Peace Action activists camped outside the offices of three Democratic House members—Jake Auchincloss, Katherine Clark, and Stephen Lynch—to implore them to support a ceasefire.

Milwaukee antiwar activists, including a county supervisor, took their peace flags and “Diplomacy, Not War” signs to the campus of conservative Marquette University, where they passed out hundreds of flyers with QR codes for students to email their Congress members for a ceasefire. Organizer Jim Carpenter, co-chair (with myself) of the foreign policy team of Progressive Democrats of America, told skeptics who want a fight to the last Ukrainian, “Are you more concerned about saving lives or saving territory?”

half-pager to a staffer for Democratic Congressman Salud Carbajal, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee and represents a district crawling with military contractors and home to Vandenberg Air Force Base, where a test launch of a nuclear missile was delayed due to Putin’s placement of Russia’s nuclear arsenal on high alert.

On the steps outside the congressman’s office, activists talked to a Ukrainian church member visiting the lawmaker at the same time to press for more weapons for Ukraine. “You can’t negotiate with Putin—you can never trust him,” he insisted, waving a large Ukrainian flag and arguing for a fight to the finish—to regime change.

“But there is no military solution short of economic ruin, global famine, climate catastrophe—or worse, nuclear armageddon,” I responded, and I pointed out—to nods from the Ukrainian—that since the start of the war, Ukraine and Russia had negotiated grain exports and nuclear reactor inspections. Why couldn’t they negotiate an end to the war, if only the United States and NATO would stop sending weapons to prolong the crisis?

Veterans for Peace members in the Bay Area wrote to Democratic Representatives Mark Desaulinier (CA-11) and Barbara Lee (CA-13), the lone vote against the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and sponsor of legislation to cut the Pentagon budget by $350 billion. “We urge you to forcefully call for negotiations and speak out against Secretary of Defense [Lloyd] Austin’s call for continuing the war to ‘weaken Russia.’ That is a recipe for a world war if ever there was one,” read the letters.

In Rockville, Maryland, another Veterans for Peace member, Jim Driscoll, who volunteered for the Marines in Vietnam, published an op-ed in the local press titled, “Why I Was Arrested to ‘Stop the War! Save the Climate!’” Driscoll was arrested in August during an antiwar protest outside Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen’s office. His message to Van Hollen, as well as the media, was to stop fueling the war in Ukraine that exacerbates the climate crisis.

Driscoll writes, “As with Vietnam and Iraq, the U.S. government and a subservient media have painted an ahistorical, one-sided, distorted narrative to justify the damage we have foisted upon the people of Ukraine…”

It was announced that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, was expected to on September 21 virtually address an Austin, Texas, summit of military contractors—Raytheon, Northrop Grumman—to appeal directly to the war profiteers for more weapons. The White House—concerned that Ukrainian battlefield victories will trigger Russian retaliation—opposes Zelenskyy’s latest request: missiles with a range of 190 miles that Zelenskyy could use to strike Russian-annexed Crimea.

As a plan B, Zelenskyy’s government has launched an “Advantage Ukraine”initiative of low taxation and deregulation to attract foreign investors to build made-to-order weapons systems in Ukraine. That country, however, may have serious competition as a forward-deployed threat to Russia, for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently announced he wants to make his country “the cornerstone of conventional defense in Europe.”

Not everyone in high places campaigns, however, for escalation and further militarization. Mexican President Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) announced plans to call on the United Nations to create an international committee to promote dialogue between Biden, Putin, and Zelenskyy with invitations to Pope Francis, the prime minister of India, and the UN secretary-general to act as mediators to end the war in Ukraine. AMLO would like to put everything on the negotiating table, including nuclear missile tests

Excited by AMLO’s initiative, members of the Peace in Ukraine Coalition hope to amplify his message in the coming weeks as an existential question haunts coalition members.

How does the war in Ukraine end—with nuclear annihilation of 60 percent of the human race; a decades-long war of attrition; or a backdoor deal for semi-autonomy of the Donbas and partial denuclearization of Europe?

As October 2022 marks the 60th anniversary of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, one is reminded that former President John F. Kennedy persuaded Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to remove nuclear missiles pointed at Florida from a base in Cuba, not by fast-tracking weapons to escalate a hot war but rather by quietly making a deal to remove the Jupiter missiles from Turkey.

As time passed, U.S. nuclear warheads were reinstalled in Turkey, though the quiet negotiations between JFK and Khrushchev serve as an example of how diplomacy can avert catastrophe.

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  1. Nuclear Winter

    Russia just called for partial mobilization in Russia incl. making sure that the weapons industry provide the necessary weapons. He also reminded the West that if they keep on bombing nuclear plants to spread nuclear waste and keep on talking about using nuclear weapons on Russia, Russia has all the means answer to that threat and they will.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes, have the Putin speech up in a new post. But as indicated, there was no negotiating opportunity even before this move. But at least some in the US were willing to speak up.

  2. Michael

    Small rays of hope emerging!
    I have been in Porto and Barcelona the past week. Have seen no signs, flags and overheard no talk of the war. Except Catalan of course.
    Its time to protest Americans. Even if you think it will go unheard.

    1. Ignacio

      Yep, interestingly the Ukrainian war is something that everybody avoids to talk about here in Spain. My guess is that official posturing makes it difficult any rational debate. It is the easy way to loose friends!

  3. Citizenguy

    80,000 Russian soldiers dead? I’d expect Russian citizens would be apoplectic if this number was remotely accurate. Is the Pentagon just breathlessly quoting the Ukrainian MoD on this?

    1. Polar Socialist

      Russian minister of defense announced today Russian Federation armed forces official casualties as 5,937.

      It probably doesn’t include groups like Wagner or Chechen Rosgvardiya.

      1. Ignacio

        According to Mercouris most losses in the Russian-Donbass side (whatever the numbers) would be within Donbass militias that bear most of the battle effort. One could argue this is a civil proxy war, being Ukranians and ex-Ukranians most of the combatants and bearing most of the losses.

    2. Robert Gray

      >> The Pentagon estimates 80,000 Russian soldiers have been killed.

      > Is the Pentagon just breathlessly quoting the Ukrainian MoD on this?

      Indeed. Why in the world does Marcy Winograd — who should know better — repeat (… endorse … spread …) such lies?

    3. J. Edward Tipre

      Yes. Have read in several sources the number is more like 5,600 Russian soldier mortalities. Other casualties would included aiding militia wounded and dead such as the Wagner militia. Basically: Russia: 5,600, Ukraine 80,000. Of course, Ukraine uses Nato militias (it’s basically a NATO v. Russia war now) and international mercenaries. Nevertheless, Ukraine has suffered disproportionate losses compared to Russia which chose a grinding 3:1 (3 Ukrainians to 1 Russian) strategy in an effort to preserve military and civilian life and infrastructure.

      There now appears to be a sea change–from a [police/military action to the very defense of the country of Russia. Of course, the elites running the US show from Washington, as well as Brussels/Euro elites desire and plan for a war of attrition to wear down, eliminate Russia. As always, we shall see.

  4. Greg

    How does the war in Ukraine end—with nuclear annihilation of 60 percent of the human race; a decades-long war of attrition; or a backdoor deal for semi-autonomy of the Donbas and partial denuclearization of Europe?

    Terrible set of possible end state guesses.
    Seems low for nuclear war kill count, long for attritive war on the current pace, and too little too late for a negotiating position.

    Not sure what “partial denuclearization of Europe” is even on about – the shutdown of Ukrainian power plants?

    1. Sibiryak

      How does the war in Ukraine end?

      One possibility: it ends with de-facto partition of Ukraine and an extended cease-fire (armistice)– but no negotiated settlement, no recognition of Russian gains, no end to sanctions etc. A frozen conflict of unpredictable duration.

      There are other possibilities, of course.

    2. Bill

      Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, France, and the United Kingdom all have nuclear weapons. It’s possible Romania and Bulgaria have some stationed in their countries too. Could be a reference to that.

      1. ambrit

        That should be edited to add: “…all have nuclear weapons stationed on their territory.” If Turkey and Belgium had atomic warheads of their own, this would be an “interesting” world political climate indeed!

  5. Chicken Little was wrong

    Greg quotes:

    > How does the war in Ukraine end—with nuclear annihilation of 60 percent of the human race; … [or … ]?

    Well, it seems that it’s time for a sanity check.

    Is there anybody out there who really, truly believes that there is any likelihood greater than 0% of a nuclear detonation — let alone nuclear annihilation — as a result of and / or in connection with this present contretemps in the Ukraine? Be honest now. My vote is ‘naggah happen’ and anything else is deliberate fear-mongering to disturb the … ones … who are susceptible to fear-mongering.

    1. John Steinbach

      The question isn’t whether the Ukraine crisis is likely to result in nuclear war, or whether the probability is low. Statistically, the probability that a regional conflict will escalate to nuclear is a cumulative one, meaning that as time goes on the likelihood of nuclear war breaking out at some point becomes inevitable. Considering the “tail risks” involved, nuclear disarmament is the only answer.

    2. tegnost

      Well, it seems that it’s time for a sanity check.

      assuming you are an american, you should listen to your president and the political class in general.
      Rattling sabers and smashing windows with copious amounts of gibberish and BS excuses for why we need to keep kicking sand in peoples faces and spending untold kajillions on “expanding our global reach” privatizing the world for the benefit of wall st., who indeed ask the same question you do. No, Wall st titans don’t expect an expanded war because there’s money to be made, who (should I say “what rational person?” No, there aren’t any) would mess that up. The f 35 is the perfect example, it doesn’t have to work, it’s payload are patents that will be used to enrich contractors and bankers. This war doesn’t need to go nuclear to be a problem, russia’s weapons actually work. If they didn’t there would be a no fly zone in ukraine, the fact that this favorite form of saber rattling is not happening is telling, and not in a good way. The people who need to have their sanity checked are the panglossian morons who think nothing bad ever happens. The US believes it’s own hype,we have bought our way through various crises by simply backstopping the worlds worst people (2008 bailed out the very worst people ever) and passing the cost on to homeless people. If nuclear wepons will never be used then why does the west insist on placing them at russias border? I for one am totally sick and tired of this Bu!!$hit. Sanity check? Is that a joke? This in the country that views a carny as an existential problem, but war? No thats just how rational people carry on, and boy they do carry on

      1. jsn

        Sanity check indeed.

        I haven’t seen any in US politics in a generation.

        Now, incompetents who can’t tell the difference between maps and territories are in charge of everything and neoliberal power structures prevent any feedback from faulty manipulation of maps. How can one make sane decisions in a crisis when the representation of the crisis you’re relying on has been generated by incompetents & lunatics?

    3. MoB

      Of course there is a non zero chance. They exist don’t they?

      The real question is what do you think the chances are and what is acceptable. Phrasing the question this way quickly exposes ignorance because of course you have no idea.

    4. RookieEMT

      67$ billion worth of US aid sent to Ukraine as well as other NATO material and training support. Russia’s military budget is around 60$ billion.

      Russia thinks they are basically at war with the West and I’m starting to agree with them. A nation state with a GDP of California against the combined might of NATO?

      If escalation from NATO continues, Russia has to keep calculating that even with their best efforts, they can’t hold against such a powerful bloc of nations.

      Then they start to feel a little nukey…

      1. Mark Gisleson

        Russia is being outspent and is still successfully prosecuting their special operation with their industrial capacity undiminished and the West about to run out of oil.

        It’s not Russia’s nukes people are worrying about right now…

    5. fjallstrom

      I see a small, but non-zero risk of escalation to nuclear level.

      A nuclear exchange would of course be a lose-lose scenario, but as long as the actors believe that the other side is bluffing and will back down if only a little more pressuer is applied, the risk is there in an escalation. If the actors believe their own propaganda about how the other side is bluffing and how their own side will naturally prevail. The higher the escalation goes, the higher the risk as the loss inherent in your side backing down becomes larger.

      The first world war was a loss to all rulers at the start of the war, several lost their crowns and some their heads. Even the victorious European powers – France and Great Britain – exited the war weakened. This was predictable, and therefore the rational expectation was a short war, with the boys back for Christmas. Famously it managed to unrationally drag as the sunk costs grew on all sides.

    6. Cat Burglar

      The historical record shows that the risk of nuclear weapon detonation has been greater than zero, just from mishandling (Eric Schlosser’s Command And Control is the best source on US nuclear weapons accidents).

      The Soviet record is less clear, but during the Cuban Missile Crisis a decision to fire a nuclear torpedo at US vessels was approved by two of the three officers necessary, but stopped by the third. During a period of high US-Soviet tension in 1983, a Soviet nuclear warning system showed that the US had launched six missiles at the USSR, and the duty officer, realizing it was a false alarm, disobeyed orders and stopped a retaliatory nuclear attack on the US.

      To assume a zero chance of detonation in the current situation would require some positive evidence.

      1. podcastkid

        Thanks, Cat Burglar. You and John Steinbach have nailed it.

        My only change in phrasing would be that rather than “inevitable,” with this war contributing factors over time would increase in number as long as it continued, more time for chips to go bad for one thing.

        No, there’s not enough positive evidence. Reason for that seems to be most of the MICIMATT’s been in dreamland for quite some time now.

        1. JBird4049

          Depressingly, that Soviet duty officer was criticized afterwards by others in the Soviet military and government for not allowing that unneeded counter strike even when it was obvious how disastrous it would have been.

          1. The Rev Kev

            Helluva thing to have on his resume though-
            ‘Can handle pressure. Prevented the total destruction of human civilization and most of the human race.’

    7. Greg

      Others have pointed out how silly your assumption that nukes will never be used is, but I do feel I need to say that you completely missed the point I was making.

      *If* nukes are used, 60% mortality seems very low. >90% is much more likely on all reasonable analysis I’ve read, and a return to glacial human populations (~150k worldwide in very small isolated groups) seems probable.

      This is important for risk management, as the consequences weight the probability of use.

      1. JBird4049

        Well, considering that hominids, their ancestors as well as their related species were usually under a combined million people over the whole world, it might be considered going back to the old normal; when you also add that the line that includes Homo sapiens itself was reduced to as low as ten thousand people twice leaving us with lower fertility and genetic diversity than with our close relatives the chimpanzees, that would merely add to this belief.

        The real strength of humanity is its ability to survive over greater adversity and in more environments than most species. It is not in its intelligence.

  6. Carolinian

    So in our upside down world the supposedly horrible Marjorie Taylor Greene votes against US involvement while all those “liberals” are gung ho. Of course in the past Republicans were often skeptical of war since they figured their wealthy base would have to pay for it. See the period before WW2 (and indeed taxes on the wealthy soared during that war).

    But now that the Congress is heavily bribed by and dependent on foreign special pleaders things have changed. To me the only solution is to defenestrate the current Dem leadership and we have an upcoming election to do it. This will put Republican trogs in charge but that was true a few years ago and we somehow survived. It’s not at all clear that we are going to survive the Dems.

    1. Mark Gisleson

      The world is upside-down. Code Pink seems to have swallowed almost as much propaganda as anyone else.

      I’m not an isolationist, but the USA should be sentenced to house arrest for at least the next twenty years or so. We lack the capability to make an ankle bracelet that large, but I’m sure more advance countries will be willing to help out.

      1. orlbucfan

        Neoliberal and Neocon are just another way of saying stupid and greedy. A Pox on them all. And Putin, just end the (family blog) fight with neo-Nazi Ukraine, and take what you want. No nukes please.

      2. Lupana

        Very much agree. Even the so called peace groups seem to have jumped on the “Russia bad” bandwagon. It’s become like a mantra. We’ve found to our surprise that all the anti war people we thought we knew have gone all in on the anti Russia hatred and view the weapons from the west as completely necessary and justified. It’s not even open to discussion so we just look on in increasing isolation and sadness and wonder how this happened. It’s like being Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

    2. Aanon

      Interestingly, if one considers that war is the only thing that will keep the liberal-engineered USAmerican economy/house-of-cards on its feet, it is in the interest of the ‘conservatives’ to deny them that. It is the militias, nationalists and zealots who will thrive in such a collapse, with ample opportunity to return the homeland to its lily-white roots.

      I am not taken by their selective rationality.

  7. steven

    Didn’t read through all the comments about Putin’s mobilization speech but what seems to be missing is a political-messaging as opposed to a military focus. My guess is Putin is trying to tell Western leaders (SIC!) Russia is serious about the threats to its security. The 2014 coup and subsequent history in Ukraine were the last bridges too far.

    It is way past time to take Russia’s concerns about national security seriously. If AMLO were a real statesman (as opposed to a politician), he would start at least talking about allowing Russia or China to station troops and weapons in Mexico. If this failed to focus Western attention on Russia’s security concerns, it might at least provoke some discussion in the American Southwest. Canada’s leadership could do the same thing.

    All of the above is, of course, suicidal crazy for those involved. But, hey… What do they and the world have to lose? It is only a matter of time before we all suffer the logical consequences inevitably flowing from US neoconservative foreign policies in the 21st century.

    1. Cat Burglar

      It is true that the big protests against the Iraq war did not stop the invasion; nor did the Vietnam war protests end the war then, either.

      What the movements did was cause big political management problems for the Powers, that still continue. One reason for Biden’s lack of popularity is that a sizeable number of people still remember his war criminal time as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, smoothing the way for the attack on Iraq (he even had to lie about it during his last campaign). The anti-Vietnam war movement jammed every public venue with the war issue. IIRC, in Kissinger’s memoirs of the Nixon years, he wrote that Nixon shelved consideration of a nuclear attack on North Vietnam because of the huge turnouts in the Moratorium marches in 1969. The war was finally defunded by reluctant congresscritters because it was too unpopular with their constituents to do otherwise.

      So, yes, big marches might not end a war soon, but a movement using big marches can make continuing a war destroy political careers (Johnson), block easy operation of power, and force the powers to manage or mollify (or repress) the militants. It is still worth doing, and we are only at the very beginning of this war.

  8. Tom Stone

    I went on my first antiwar march in 1967, and marched in quite a few subsequently.
    Some of those marches had hundreds of thousands of participants.
    It made no difference then and it will make no difference now.
    As to the likelihood of a Nuclear Exchange, no one knows.
    What I do know is that the actions of the Blob in regard to Russia and the Ukraine have been objectively insane.
    The “Deciders” are, to put it very nicely, delusional.
    Expecting Batshit Crazy people to act rationally…
    Bless your heart.

    1. jonboinAR

      It made a difference. You made a difference, as did my parents, who also protested. (I attended one as a little kid).

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