40 Things We Can Do and Know for People in Ukraine and the World
By David Swanson
Remarks at Code Pink event in Washington D.C. on March 3, 2022
Send aid to Ukrainian friends and aid organizations.
Send aid to organizations helping refugees leaving Ukraine.
Send aid especially that will reach those being refused help for racist reasons.
Share the remarkable media coverage of war victims in Ukraine.
Take the opportunity to point out the war victims in Yemen, Syria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc., and to question whether the lives of all war victims matter.
Take the opportunity to point out that the U.S. government arms most of the world’s worst dictators and oppressive governments and would have a lot more funds for humanitarian aid if it didn’t.
Take the opportunity to point out that the proper response to a horrific crime by the Russian government is not the crime of economic sanctions that harm ordinary people, but the prosecution of those responsible in a court of law. Sadly the U.S. government has spent decades tearing down the International Criminal Court, which has thus far only prosecuted Africans, and if it were to start prosecuting non-Africans and be credible and supported globally, it would have to prosecute quite a few people in the United States and Western Europe.
I don’t think a proper balance of power will save us, but the globalization and universalization of power.
Russia is violating numerous treaties that the U.S. government is one of the few holdouts on. This is a chance to consider fully supporting the rule of law.
We should condemn the Russian use of cluster bombs, for example, without pretending that the U.S. doesn’t use them.
The risk of nuclear apocalypse is very high. There’s nothing more important than avoiding destroying all life on earth. We can’t picture a planet devoid of life and happily think “Well, at least we stood up to Putin” or “Well, at least we stood up to NATO” or “Well, we had principles.” Quite apart from where this war goes or where it came from, the U.S. and Russia should be talking right now about taking nuclear weapons out of the calculations, disarming, and dismantling them, as well as protecting nuclear power plants. The news while we’ve been in this room is that a nuclear power plant has been shot at and is on fire, and firefighters are being shot at. How’s that for an image of human priorities: keeping the war going, shooting at people trying to put out a fire in a nuclear reactor that sits next to 5 more?
Forty years ago, nuclear apocalypse was a top concern. The risk of it is now higher, but the concern is gone. So, this is a teaching moment, and we may not have many of them left.
This can also be a teaching moment for the abolition of war, not just of some of its weapons. It’s important for us to understand that almost every war kills, injures, traumatizes, and makes homeless mostly people on one side, mostly civilians, and disproportionately the poor, the elderly, and the young, just usually not in Europe.
It’s important for us to understand that keeping militaries around kills vastly more people than the wars do — and that this will be true until the wars become nuclear. This is because 3% of just U.S. military spending could end starvation on Earth.
Militaries divert resources from environmental and human needs, including disease pandemics, as well as preventing global cooperation on pressing emergencies, severely damaging the environment, eroding civil liberties, weakening the rule of law, justifying government secrecy, corroding culture, and fueling bigotry. Historically, the U.S. has seen an upsurge in racist violence following major wars. Other countries have too.
Militaries also make those they are supposed to protect less safe rather than more. Where the U.S. builds bases it gets more wars, where it blows people up it gets more enemies. Most wars have U.S. weapons on both sides because it’s a business.
The fossil fuel business, which will kill us more slowly is also in play here. Germany has canceled a Russian pipeline and will be destroying the Earth with more U.S. fossil fuels. Oil prices are up. So are weapons company stocks. Poland is buying billions of dollars worth of U.S. tanks. Ukraine and the rest of Eastern Europe and other members of NATO are all going to be buying a lot more U.S. weapons or having the U.S. buy them as gifts. Slovakia has new U.S. bases. Also up are media ratings. And down is any attention to student debt or education or housing or wages or the environment or retirement or voting rights.
We should remember that no crime excuses any other, that blaming anyone doesn’t absolve anyone else, and recognize that the solutions now being offered of more weapons and a bigger NATO are also what got us here. Nobody’s forced to commit mass murder. The President of Russia and Russian military elites may simply love war and have wanted an excuse for one. But they would not have had that excuse had the perfectly reasonable demands they’d been making been met.
When Germany reunited, the U.S. promised Russia no NATO expansion. Many Russians hoped to be part of Europe and NATO. But promised were broken, and NATO expanded. Top U.S. diplomats like George Kennan, people like the current director of the CIA, and thousands of smart observers warned that this would lead to war. So did Russia.
NATO is a commitment of each member to join in any war that any other member gets in. It’s the very madness that created World War I. No country has a right to join it. To join it, any country has to agree to its war pact, and all other members have to agree to include that country and join in all of its wars.
When NATO destroys Afghanistan or Libya, the number of members doesn’t make the crime more legal. Trump supposedly opposing NATO doesn’t make NATO a good thing. What Trump did was get NATO members to buy more weapons. With enemies like that, NATO doesn’t need friends.
Ukraine became independent of Russia when the Soviet Union ended, and kept Crimea which Russia had given it. Ukraine was divided ethnically and linguistically. But turning that divide violent took decades of effort by NATO on one side and Russia on the other. Both tried to influence elections. And in 2014, the U.S. helped facilitate a coup. The president fled for his life, and a U.S.-backed president came in. Ukraine banned the Russian language in various fora. Nazi elements killed Russian-speakers.
No, Ukraine is not a Nazi country, but there are Nazis in Ukraine, Russia, and the United States.
That was the context of the vote in Crimea to rejoin Russia. That was the context of the separatist efforts in the East, where both sides have fueled violence and hatred for 8 years.
Agreements negotiated called the Minsk 2 agreements provided self-governance for two regions, but Ukraine did not comply.
The Rand corporation, an arm of the U.S. military wrote a report pushing to arm Ukraine to drag Russia into a conflict that would damage Russia and create protests in Russia. A fact that should not stop our support for protests in Russia, but make us careful about what they lead to.
President Obama refused to arm Ukraine, predicting it would lead to where we are now. Trump and Biden armed Ukraine — and all of Eastern Europe. And Ukraine built up a military on one side of Donbass, with Russia doing the same on the other, and both claiming to be acting defensively.
Russia’s demands have been to get the missiles and weapons and troops and NATO away from its border, exactly what the U.S. demanded when the USSR put missiles in Cuba. The U.S. refused to meet any such demands.
Russia had choices other than war. Russia was making a case to the global public, evacuating people threatened by Ukraine, and mocking predictions of an invasion. Russia could have embraced the rule of law and aid. While Russia’s military costs 8% of what the U.S. spends, that’s still enough that either Russia or the U.S. could have:
- Filled Donbass with unarmed civilian protectors and de-escalators.
- Funded educational programs across the world on the value of cultural diversity in friendships and communities, and the abysmal failures of racism, nationalism, and Nazism.
- Filled Ukraine with the world’s leading solar, wind, and water energy production facilities.
- Replaced the gas pipeline through Ukraine (and never build one north of there) with electric infrastructure for Russia and Western Europe.
- Kicked off a global reverse arms race, joined human rights and disarmament treaties, and joined the International Criminal Court.
Ukraine has alternatives right now. People in Ukraine are stopping tanks unarmed, are changing street signs, blocking roads, putting up billboard messages to Russian troops, talking Russian troops out of war. Biden praised these actions in his State of the Union. We should demand that media outlets cover them. There are many examples in history of nonviolent action defeating coups, occupations, and invasions.
If either the U.S. or Russia had tried for years, not to win Ukraine to its camp, but to train Ukrainians in noncooperation, Ukraine would be impossible to occupy.
We have to stop saying “I’m against all war except this one” every time there’s a new war. We have to support alternatives to war.
We have to start spotting propaganda. We have to stop obsessing over the few foreign dictators that the U.S. doesn’t fund and arm.
We can join in solidarity with courageous peace activists in Russia and Ukraine.
We can seek out ways to volunteer for nonviolent resistance in Ukraine.
We can support groups like Nonviolent Peace Force that have greater success unarmed than do armed UN troops called “peacekeepers.”
We can tell the U.S. government that there is no such thing as lethal aid and that we insist on actual aid, and serious diplomacy, and an end to NATO expansion.
We can demand that with the U.S. media now like peace demonstrations it cover some in the U.S. and include some antiwar voices.
We can turn out at events on Sunday to demand Russia out of Ukraine and NATO out of existence!
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is executive director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson's books include War Is A Lie.