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Kevin Martin


Kevin Martin gets paid to promote peace, but you won't see him crisscrossing the country wearing tie-dyed T-shirts in a VW bus with peace signs on the outside. In fact, it's far more serious business. As the executive director of Peace Action, which was founded in 1957, Martin leads a grass-roots network of autonomous organizations with a similar peaceful goal. Martin, who's been with Peace Action 24 years and the director since September 2001, will speak in Boise at 7 p.m. this Thursday, May 21, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ on what's next for the peace movement, as well as "Why Better Than Bush is Not Good Enough."

How did you get into this line of work?

[Ronald] Reagan recruited me and many other people my age. In the early '80s I was very opposed to Reagan's foreign policy, particularly his nuclear weapons buildup ...

What does the world that peace action fights for look like?

It's an ambitious agenda that I assume will take the rest of our lives, but the abolition of nuclear weapons worldwide. That's the issue that we were founded on in 1957, and a good way to put it is: overwhelming war and injustice with peace and nonviolence and love and social justice ...

How do you answer skeptics who say we've always had war or the United States needs nuclear weapons to defend itself?

Nuclear weapons don't have much to do with defending ourselves ... I think a world where peace and nonviolence and social justice and a sustainable economy and environment [is] the only possible future for my children and grandchildren ... But it won't happen easily. War and everything else are human constructs, and we can choose to do something different and resolve our conflicts in another way. We have a better opportunity to do that now than ever.

What's your opinion on President Obama? Is he sitting at a crossroads?

It's very interesting ... The achievement of him being the first black president is certainly historic and wonderful and a signal to the rest of the world of a change in this country ... I think there's a bit of a struggle now between people who want to give him a long honeymoon, give him a break and sit back and wait for him to deliver and others who believe that we need to stay engaged.

Even Obama himself [has] always been very clear: Don't just vote for me and think your job is done and think that I'm going to somehow deliver change to you. If you really want fundamental change you have to stay engaged. We at Peace Action take him at his word, and we're going to hold him accountable. We'll support him and work with him when he's doing the right thing, and when he's not, we're not going to be cheerleaders just because he's better than Bush. Real change doesn't come just because you have smart people in Washington talking about it ...

In a way it was fairly easy over the last eight years to just always be oppositional to whatever Bush and Cheney said and did. Now we have to be more nuanced ... So it's a different kind of organizing. Some, especially younger activists, who became enraged and active all around the country and all around the world, too, in the last eight years, all they've known is oppositional organizing ... So it's learning some new muscles for some folks.

Does Peace Action advocate for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan?

Yes, but immediate, what exactly does that mean? We cannot get out this afternoon as much as somebody might like that. Certainly less than a year, but I don't think it's worthwhile to argue about what immediate means. And there has to be a commitment to help rebuild both Iraq and Afghanistan, which are devastated societies.

Why do you favor bold rather than an incremental path to nuclear abolition?

Because I don't think an incremental strategy will work ... A lot of what Obama is proposing sounds great, and his Prague speech, where he talked about a nuclear- free world, was great. But then he did away with the boldness by saying perhaps that won't happen in my lifetime. He's 47; I'm 46. I'm not prepared to postpone getting rid of nuclear weapons ...

Politically, there are umpteen different incremental steps, which you can really look at as hurdles that need to be leapt ... It's just not a good strategy to say you have to clear all these incremental hurdles and then we can talk about abolishing nuclear weapons. I think it's a much better strategy to say we're serious about abolishing nuclear weapons and we're going to start talking about that right now ... Right now there are all kinds of people in the nuclear weapons establishment and bureaucracy who could give a fig that Obama says he wants to move toward nuclear abolition. They're going about continuing to justify their existence. Same old policies, same old doctrine, same old weapons ... If they just produce the same old same old, that's going to be a heavy pressure against Obama moving forward, so we have to counteract that pressure.

Is the movement today different than it was during the Vietnam and Martin Luther King Jr. era?

I think it's still motivated by a lot of the same concerns ... The amount of resources that go toward war and militarism, those are the resources we need for jobs, a green economy, restoring the environment, improving education, health care, etc ... King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech from 1967 brings tears to my eyes every time I read it, in part because of his oratory and his analysis is so fantastic, but also because so many of the same issues are still maddeningly relevant today. There's a lot of that speech where you could white out Vietnam and put in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it's every bit as relevant today ...

But is the American public now too apathetic or distracted for a peace movement?

If you look at anything other than real bedrock community issues, there's never a huge proportion of the public that's actively engaged, particularly on war and foreign policy issues ... If there was a draft--and I think the military and the war machine knows this--we'd be out of Iraq and Afghanistan in six months. People wouldn't stand for it. The definition of a real just war--you know what that is? One you send your kids to fight. And if people had to make that choice, it'd be a lot different.

What would you like people to take away from what they read here?

They've got to be part of the solution in making a more peaceful and just community, state, nation, world. They can't expect Barack Obama or a Congressperson or anybody like that to deliver for them.