December 20, 2017

Coalition for Peace Action Holds Holiday Vigil, Program in Princeton

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA) held a Candlelight Vigil for Diplomacy, Not War in Palmer Square last Thursday, followed by a Peace Potluck and a Peace Program at the Nassau Presbyterian Church. About 20 people braved the cold weather for the vigil, and more than 50 overall participated in the evening’s events.

CFPA Executive Director the Rev. Bob Moore, who for 40 years has been organizing for peace full-time, expressed mixed feelings of hope and apprehension in the face of recent events. In particular, he emphasized “momentum toward this war with North Korea,” citing experts who claim that the prospects of a nuclear war are “chillingly realistic.”

Earlier last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had proposed direct talks with North Korea without preconditions, which Moore described as “a realistic posture” and ”a chance to de-escalate tensions and jumpstart the diplomatic process.” Tillerson’s proposal, however, was quickly countermanded by a tweet from President Donald Trump suggesting that negotiations would be a waste of time, and both White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee and National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster followed up in supporting Trump’s rejection of Tillerson’s overture.

“It’s so frustrating,” Moore said. “Diplomacy can work if you’re committed to it and have the patience and personnel to follow up. I appreciate that Secretary Tillerson put that out there, but I’m very discouraged that the Trump administration has reacted again by essentially saying diplomacy is worthless. It’s not. It’s really the primary alternative to war. We’re drifting toward war and that’s scary.”

He continued, “I’m really very concerned. We’re seeing highly reputable people with estimates as high as 60 percent that there’s going to be a war with North Korea, and the longer the Trump administration rejects any diplomatic engagement, the more likely that outcome will be.”

Citing examples of successful diplomacy in a 1994 treaty with North Korea and in the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, Moore said, “We’ve got to stop this momentum and generate a different momentum, and the only thing that can do that is diplomatic engagement, but there are no guarantees.”

Moore reflected on the work of CFPA and its capacity to effect change and achieve results over the past 37 years since its founding. “I don’t have much hope of changing the Trump administration,” he said, “but Congress can change. We the people can empower ourselves.”

Noting an array of petitions, lobby days, media work, ballot initiatives, demonstrations, and other actions, including participation in the Women’s March, the March for Science, and the People’s Climate March during the past year, he said, “Steady engagement and organizing does make a difference, but we haven’t got there yet.”

He pointed out the fall election results in New Jersey and Virginia, “where you saw this greatly increased turnout for Democrats and progressives, and you saw the same thing in Alabama last week.”

Emphasizing that the CFPA is nonpartisan, supporting candidates of both parties, Moore emphasized his optimism. “I’m so glad that I live in this great democracy, and we can do media work and hold demonstrations and all the other things that we try to do that we believe are important for the betterment of America and the world. We need to continue to use these classic tools of democracy. These things don’t get instant results, but over time they definitely do make a difference.”

Citing the nuclear freeze campaign of 1981-82 that eventually forced President Ronald Reagan to the negotiating table and resulted, in 1986, in the first nuclear reduction treaty in history and a nuclear arsenal reduced by 78.5 percent, Moore explained, “That campaign made the difference over five years. You have to hang in and keep at it. It’s made the world a lot safer, and it came about because of citizen organizing and empowerment.”

Moore summed up the current situation, 30 years later: “We’re doing our best. Hopefully we’ll turn this around in time.”