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Youth Are Challenging the US War Machine as Tensions Escalate With Russia

“Making things better is not what the war machine is for,” says Kelly Hayes.

People protest on February 19, 2022, in Grand Central Station, New York City, against war in Ukraine.

Part of the Series

“What we cannot do is rally our compassion on the basis of whether or not we think the U.S. war machine can drop some bombs and make it better. Making things better is not what the war machine is for,” says Kelly Hayes. In this episode of “Movement Memos,” Hayes talks with organizer Yaira Matos from the youth antiwar group We Are Dissenters about militarism, international solidarity, and why the U.S. war machine cannot be made good.

Music credit: Son Monarcas and David Celeste


Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.

Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about things you should know if you want to change the world. We talk a lot on this show about organizing and what solidarity demands of us. Today, we are going to talk about militarism and antiwar organizing, because when we talk about the potential for U.S. military intervention in any scenario, no matter how disturbing or tragic, we need to remember the nature and history of the apparatus being discussed. Right now, warmongering pundits and U.S. officials are rhetorically trying to position the U.S. military as a potential force for good, arguing that Putin must be stopped. But in the face of this rhetoric, we cannot forget the nightmarish havoc caused by U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Haiti, and beyond. History has shown us again and again that the United States military cannot be made good – it is structurally invested in domination and extraction, and its interventions inevitably result in devastation. That is the context we need to consider when we hear about potential U.S. military interventions anywhere in the world. And to elaborate on that context a bit, we are going to talk with Yaira Matos from the antiwar group We Are Dissenters, an organization led by young people who are challenging U.S. militarism and educating the public about how these systems really work.

Yaira Matos: Dissenters is a youth-led, anti-militarism organization that is leading a generation of young people to reclaim our resources from the war industry, and reinvest in life-giving services and in solidarity with people across the world that are fighting for different liberation struggles. So we’re really grounding ourselves in the belief that these really bloated military budgets that we see every single year, every single new administration is time and time again reinforcing investing in death and violence and the development of war machinery, incarceration tactics, and policing, deportation, immigration apparatus. All of these things that fall in line with militarization are things that we know time and time again the government chooses to invest in.

Dissenters is really saying that as young people, we are kind of taking charge of the right to be able to have ownership of the resources that we create, of the communities that we are a part of, and re-steward those resources towards community and technologies that support solidarity and life-giving and these radical acts of unity as opposed to continual separation and war.

KH: When we talk about U.S. militarism, we need to start from a place of understanding that preventing people from dying and suffering is never the issue for the United States government, nor is it the result, no matter what we are being told. As Noam Chomsky recently told Truthout, “For many years, there has been a striking correlation between U.S. military aid and torture, massacre, and other severe human rights abuses.” Growing up, Yaira became politicized as she became more curious about the dynamics, details and consequences of imperial warfare.

YM: I think as a very young child, I was very engrossed in the images around war. I remember being very young and watching the news and seeing these images of, for example, after 9/11, these bombs being dropped and these very catastrophic events that were placed elsewhere, it was very clear to me that these things were not happening here, that these things were happening in other parts of the world that I didn’t necessarily have direct access to. I always had a lot of curiosity about what does this mean? Who are the people that are being impacted by this? What does it mean when we see images of children starving or of people with mutilated limbs? Why is this not the story that’s being told? Why is it just kind of a flash on the screen that the real impacts of war are affecting people in their day-to-day lives?

So around the time that I was in high school, I believe — yeah, I was about to graduate high school — was when the government was really ramping up its assessment of Syria. That was really the first time that I had… I think I spent years developing a sense of consciousness around political violence and the complexities of war and what it meant as somebody living in the United States, that my government had an outsized hand in the affairs of other countries. So that was really the first time that I was able to actually participate in an antiwar action outside of my state senator’s office.

I was mostly joined by people from the Peace Action group in the state that I live in and Veterans for Peace, these kinds of organizations that have existed for a really long time. They really kind of nurtured and supported me in developing a stronger assessment of the situation and kind of grounding me in these ideas around anti-militarism and antiwar and exchanging stories with me about their trajectories, in terms of going from being people that at one point were usually enlisted in the military to then people that were actively protesting against any further invasions.

So they really kind of took me under their wing and wanted to support me, largely because there was such a dearth of young people involved in this type of organizing for a lot of different reasons. We’re in school. We are having to work multiple jobs or having to have our focus elsewhere. And I’ve found particularly with international organizing, there’s a huge confidence issue around people feeling like, “Well, I can’t take a stance unless I know every single thing there is to know about politics and every single thing there is to know about the country that is in the news right now, or the war or the issue that’s happening.”

So that was when I realized that there weren’t a lot of peers for me to engage with in the antiwar movement. It was a lot of people that were veterans of the Vietnam war and some people that had done organizing against the original invasion of Afghanistan. As I continued to kind of explore what was out there with organizing, I decided to study international relations in school, and what my education was teaching me really was how to be a war hawk and how to analyze the world from a perspective of strictly geopolitics or strictly the United States is the bastion of freedom and liberty and democracy, and the only person that can decide how a country should operate, and what’s within their best interest?

So I very quickly realized I’m in the wrong discipline. This isn’t what I want to learn. This isn’t what’s going to help me realize a vision for a better future. So I started to explore other questions and other realms that were looking more at the people.

So as the years have gone on, it’s become very evident to me that what Martin Luther King [Jr.] had said about poverty, racism and militarization being the three societal ills really reigns true and continues to be the areas that I believe and I would argue most of us in Dissenters believe really underlies an analysis of what we want to see in the future. So joining Dissenters, for me, was really about being able to be around peers, being able to be around other young people of color that were doing this work as well, who historically our families may have been victim to occupation or have been displaced from their countries because of militarization, domestically or externally.

So being able to be in a space that is oriented towards looking at militarism as a set of social relations and not just as these acts of war really reinforces that the solution is going to be people to people engagement. It’s going to be solidarity. It’s going to be learning. It’s going to be connecting. It’s not going to be about a paternalistic stance of I’m going to sit down and write a policy, because I went to American University, and so that means that I de facto know exactly how to handle foreign policy.

We’re saying this isn’t even a question of using the tools that we’ve been provided. It’s about totally orienting ourselves towards a toolkit that’s looking at how do we honor the collective struggles in different countries? How do we learn about what is going on? We’re doing that work in the International Solidarity Committee. We’re really thinking about how do we build these relationships so that we are learning, so that we are amplifying, and so that ultimately we are aligning ourselves and supporting movements for liberation that are also seeking to shift resources to people and really make sure that everybody has access to a safe and long dignified life with opportunities for work for communities and lives free of violence, and ultimately free of neocolonial efforts and imperialism.

KH: The idea of militarism as a set of social relations is an important one. In 1970, almost ten years after Eisenhower warned of the creeping threat of the military-industrial complex, there were approximately 22,000 prime contractors doing business with the U.S. Department of Defense. By 2008, there were over 47,000 prime contractors and over a hundred thousand subcontractors, forming what journalist Noah Shachtman has called a “massive conglomerate touching nearly every sector of society.” While nearly a third of Pentagon contracts go to five major weapons contractors, those expenditures amount to $4.4 trillion of a $14.1 trillion budget. As Nick Turse wrote in The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives:

The Pentagon payroll is a veritable who’s who of the top companies in the world: IBM; Time-Warner; Ford and General Motors; Microsoft; NBC and its parent company, General Electric; Hilton and Marriott; Columbia TriStar Films and its parent company, Sony; Pfizer; Sara Lee; Procter & Gamble; M&M Mars and Hershey; Nestlé; ESPN and its parent company, Walt Disney; Bank of America; Johnson & Johnson; among many other big-name firms…. As this list suggests, Pentagon spending is reaching into areas of American life previously neglected: entertainment, popular consumer brands, sports. This penetration translates into a remarkable variety of forms of interaction with the public.

Militarism is not a self-contained phenomenon. It envelops and flows through nearly everything.

YM: There’s no real way in our day-to-day lives for us not to participate in what is happening … So a lot of us are implicated in militarism as being de facto residents of states that have the power to wage war. And so, militarism is…. It’s important to look at it, not just as the state is deciding to take up arms, to send in troops, or to drop a bomb, it’s also a set of ideas, policies and institutions that can be critiqued. It’s a series of social relations that are intimately entangled with and make up our identities, our value systems, our everyday practices, and our modes of interaction.

And so, what you’re really understanding is that when you are taking part in anti-militarist organizing, you’re also vying for a world that hasn’t really been made yet, that doesn’t really exist yet. And so, you’re having to ask these questions and think critically about how do we try not to reproduce the same violences that we’re exporting or that we are enacting domestically or abroad, how do we try to shift away from any of the dominant narratives that privilege other forms of knowledge and heads of state as those who are the only decisive actors for peace-making and for sharing that communities abroad are taken care of or are safe from harm, and how we relate to each other and who gets to put our collective messages forth is an experience that we haven’t had a lot of say in.

So, throughout any of the invasions that the United States has taken part in, we’ve seen people try to wage war in the names of women’s rights, or human rights, or these concepts that I think many of us feel connected to because we do value our fellow humans and we don’t want to see people being hurt or killed for, be it their gender, their race, their class, or any of these factors.

But what we don’t always know how to do is really actually connect with one another and be able to lend these messages of support and solidarity and say, “We see you. We hear you. We know you’re experiencing this and we want to support you.” And so, really, it’s so important to circle back to this idea that we are responsible for one another. We’re trying to build a collaborative and connected world in which there isn’t a need to have these governments doing the vying for us. We’re able to speak directly to one another and aid one another in the various liberation movements that we’re all struggling with.

KH: Given the larger discussion that’s happening, I also asked Jaira about how We Are Dissenters is approaching the situation with Russia and Ukraine. (And I do want to note for our listeners that this response was recorded prior to Russia’s recent attacks on Ukraine.)

YM: So I think it would be good to defer to a partner organization that we work with often, the Black Alliance for Peace. They have an incredibly incisive and sharp analysis on international relations across the board. And I would say that we align pretty closely with some of their messaging and ideas around this. And, ultimately, what it comes down to is, we often see these vies for war and for intervention arise when the United States is in a position to need… I don’t know how other way to phrase it other than an ego boost, almost. Whenever there is a low approval rating for a president, whenever things are taking a turn in the country, suddenly, we see threats arise from China, from Russia, from Latin America and the Caribbean. And we start to receive this propaganda and this messaging that is attempting to demonstrate that there is a power out there that is at risk of unseating the United States of America as the dominant enforcer of the world order.

And so, really, with these calls for intervention, with these reinforcements of NATO, with conversations around what is the threat that Russia poses to us and why do we need to defend our allies, it again reinforces this idea that the United States is the only arbitrator of peace and of democracy.

And we’ve seen repeatedly that it is rarely in good faith. We’ve seen repeatedly that the United States oftentimes is already positioned to be prepared for war. And that war is, in fact, the first option, not the second, third. It’s the first thing that we’re prepared to do. And so, with Ukraine and Russia, this is a situation that has been in the making for several years now, through small and large instances. And the United States has certainly taken a position and, at this point, has very decidedly stated that any kind of affront to Ukraine is an affront to America. And so, there is no separation there. We should be seeing them as an extension of us, which, again, reinforces the colonial-thinking, and then is ultimately engaging in this proxy war and saying, “We must defend our people, our right, our resources, our democracy, our freedom.” And there hasn’t been deep engagement from many U.S. senators, say, I know that there’s been two that have opined on it, and both have stated very similar things in terms of we must protect American democracy.

And so, with a situation like this, again, it just reveals that this isn’t a process that citizens of the United States or of any country get to meaningfully engage with. Things are being done in our name around ideological lines that are ultimately causing further division and just reinforcing that our resources are going to sending troops and continuing to send weapons. And the weapons trade is a big target of Dissenters because we’re aware of the Big Five who, at this point, are taking billions of dollars in federal contracts to produce weapons. And they have existed for years just profiting off of war, profiting off of these instances of inflamed tension.

And so, just to name-drop the big five are Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and Raytheon. And so, these companies, like I said, they profit off of the federal government inciting these instances of fear and of propaganda. And when the troops get deployed, it’s these people who are the first to support and to mobilize our resources in service of empire. And so, really, Dissenters is primarily interested in naming that people are profiting from any type of invasion that may happen, from naming that these instances of inciting fear and terror in our populace are used to further trap us into this… And I just want to also shout out your podcast episode on security and how much that also ties very much into Dissenters’ mission to reinvest in real safety, because we know that the United States saying, “Russia’s going to come here and they’re going to take over the world and hurt us first,” is also a vie for the desire for safety. And people will cling onto that and will just decide Russia’s the enemy and we must run with this narrative.

And that really deeply impacts our ability to actually connect to each other, and to see each other, and to actually build solidarity with one another, if we are believing that the threat is outside of us, and it’s coming in the way of a country that hasn’t actually ever really explicitly made a clear threat, if anything, has attempted to negotiate with the United States on several occasions. But because we can manufacture these stories and these ideas about the imminent threat that a country like Russia poses to us, it puts us in a position of being fearful, of being dependent on this government to use strong arms and this very paternalistic stance towards the rest of the world that says, “You will not be safe unless we have boots on the ground. And unless the Ukrainian people are free and safe from intimidation from Russia.”

KH: It is especially interesting to me that Biden’s willingness to mount a military response in Ukraine is being held up as a measure of his willingness or ability to defend democracy. As we have discussed on this show, the electoral system in the U.S. is being stolen out from under the Democrats in real time. Democrats have proven unable to mount any meaningful defense of voting rights in the United States. They are in the process of losing their own country, in a manner that may not be legally revocable. But this situation with Russia and Ukraine is suddenly the measure of Biden’s relationship with democracy.

The United States has a long history of overthrowing democratically elected governments, so obviously, nothing our leaders say about defending democracy in other countries can be taken seriously. But as Yaira mentioned, when things are not looking good for a president, war is always a viable PR option. If we are all focused on the fact that Biden has more fire power than any other man on Earth, and that he may throw bombs around in the name of democracy, we are not talking about how Biden can’t seem to stop the right-wing overthrow of the electoral system in the U.S. Generally speaking, the idea that the United States has any regard for the sanctity of democracy is so ahistorical as to be offensive. Historically, the U.S. has supported the overthrow of any government, whether it was democratically elected or dictatorial, for the sake of U.S. interests.

Fundamentally, the idea that the United States government can ever be trusted as an arbiter or enforcer of international justice must be rejected on its face. At any given time, people are being killed, tortured and forced to flee their homes due to U.S. policy. U.S. foreign policy does not prioritize preventing those outcomes; rather, U.S. political and military decisions are almost always structured in pursuit of maintaining U.S. hegemony rather than opposing injustice or human suffering, so when our government talks about those things, we can always be assured that there’s something else at stake. We are going to hear many calls for war with Russia and China in the coming days, months and years, and those calls will not be about improving or saving the lives of the people impacted by Russia or China’s policies or actions. They will be about arm wrestling for terrain, power and resources, and resisting the formation of a new global pecking order, where the U.S. is not on top anymore.

YM: We have the House Foreign Affairs Committee that gets to decide, and interrogate, and investigate events that happen abroad that primarily endanger U.S. interests. And so, it’s also important to name that. That, right now, foreign policy in international relations is predicated on the interests of the United States. And, again, in recent years, there’s been a turn. Where, in the past, the theatrics were much more about human rights, women’s rights.

All of these issues around international development were brought into the scheme and you still see it today in what we write into our budgets; we’ll say we’re sending all of this money to Peru to support in developing infrastructure for water. And written into that is that the people that are going to be building this infrastructure for water are going to be profiting off of the development of this dam that’s going to, likely, displace an Indigenous community, and they’re going to take their time really building a culture of repression. And if they need to, they’re going to wipe out the local mayor that would like to retain control over this water. And so, there’s such a fine print that, over the years, has begun to surface.

And, now, we’re seeing the government be pretty straightforward in terms of saying, “Hey. Actually, we have interests in Chile,” and “No, we’re not particularly interested in Chile,” rewriting their constitution. And if they do rewrite their constitution, we’re going to start planting stories in the media that is going to try to discredit this effort, or is going to be critical of this effort, or we’re going to start seeing stories arise about organizers in Chile doing things that the media can paint easily as against American values, or leadership is incompetent and they’re about to destroy their whole country because they’re taking on this feat.

And so, it’s really important to name that the media, the narrative, this all feeds into this theatrical presentation that is given every time where we become prepared to incite some type of militarist action. It’s always going to be about, who is our enemy? What are we fighting for? What’s the historical precedent for whatever is happening? Why do we need to fear this? And then, who stands to benefit? And in the past, these things were somewhat obscured.

But now, I think we’re moving into a place where it’s easier to read between the lines and to say like, “Hey, the United States has intervened in so many different countries. Domestic politics has replaced leaders, has killed social movement leaders, has pretty tacitly named that they will not accept a strong leftist leader anywhere because they don’t want to see capitalism be on its knees.” And so, it’s not conspiracy. It’s not this desire to plant ideas that aren’t real in people’s heads. It’s [that] these are the priorities of the United States. Economic prosperity, economic growth. And all of these things are at odds with a healthy and strong environment and with healthy and strong communities.

And so, Dissenters is also very organized around reclaiming the right to relationship with land, with the earth, with the environment. And naming that militarism, again, it’s not simply about these acts of very outright warfare, it’s also about displacing Indigenous people from their land. It’s also migration and the fact that these things tend to happen because people’s domestic countries become inhospitable through these acts of aggression and deliberate attempts to remake states.

And so, all of these efforts that get done, and when militarization is ramping up, are all things that then we do experience the blowback firsthand, and we respond in kind by incarcerating people, by building these detention camps at the border, by enacting stronger borders again, and continuing to try to use fear to keep us as divided as possible.

KH: When our solidarity is constrained by prison fences or borders, the system is working exactly as intended. If our understanding of structural violence is not global, we cannot begin to fathom what we are up against. Internationalism is seriously lacking in our movements, and this both hurts our analysis and hinders our potential. What we cannot do is rally our compassion on the basis of whether or not we think the U.S. war machine can drop some bombs and make it better. Making things better is not what the war machine is for. We cannot afford to forget that, even for a moment.

YM: So one thing I want to mention is that my entry point, or I should say my understanding of a lot of militarization has come from Latin America and largely the Spanish-speaking Caribbean or… Yeah, my understanding of Latin American politics in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean as well. And so throughout the years, we’ve seen that be a site of total and deliberate destabilization, environmental destruction, political interference by the way of shipping policy, predatory loans with the IMF and the World Bank, and taking all sorts of extreme ends to try to prevent the spread of communism. Latin America and the Caribbean has also been implicated in these kinds of experiences around continuing the genocide of Indigenous populations, finding ways to extinguish and erase Afro descendant populations, and really go through this whole whitewashing process that ultimately is catered to remaining dependent on the United States as a source of legitimacy, politically, as well as a financial incentive.

So this region really has been such a great example of the different tools and tactics that the United States employs and has also been a great example of this question around nationalism and the role of nation states in how we undergo internationalist organizing, because what we’re seeing is, the way that the story of one campesino in Guatemala eventually becomes the story of somebody that is trying to cross the border into the United States and gets apprehended by ICE, and then gets let go and is allowed to work as they have this ongoing case where they can’t always articulate the structural experiences of violence that led them to choose to migrate. And then as they are working, they obviously don’t have the same labor rights and protections. They can be here for years contributing meaningfully to our society, and all it takes is one small act that gets read, or rather, is criminalized for them to then enter the deportation machine, which can result in a number of different interruptions for them individually, within their community, within their family. It’s all the way around devastating.

When you look at the singular, the sole immigrant as a case study, what you’re really looking at is the ability to erase the structural oppression, the ability to erase the context that really matters in terms of how we are choosing to advocate for this person. So when you see the immigrant rights movement make a lot of these concessions around who gets to stay and who gets to go, like, “At this point, we’ve decided there’s a good immigrant, there’s a bad immigrant. If you break the law, then yeah, you should be deported. If you don’t then you get to stay, but you’re still not going to be the right person for us to try to give citizenship to because citizenship is this thing that is given to a certain type of person.” The hoops are never ending, every step of the process existing in the United States, forces you to have to divide yourself and to break apart your story in a way to simply get through the next hoop and continue to have this lapse of memory around what you actually experienced.

KH: As I told Yaira, I am a child of the ’80s, and this country’s relationship with war has transformed over the course of my lifetime. When it announces itself loudly, U.S. warfare is steeped in sanctimony, and dissent is punishable by ruin, but more often, in this day and age, war is background noise.

YM: When you were talking about your experience with the 80s, the first thing that came up for me of course, was Reagan. In Latin America at the time, there was El Salvador, there was Nicaragua and these places were experiencing extreme collective trauma in that there were these civil wars happening in which, again, Indigenous communities were being subjected to genocidal acts of warfare, where labor unions and teachers unions and farmers were being massacred or being executed en masse for largely being the people organizing in resistance to state violence. And the United States was arming these repressive governments. The United States was fully backing and offering propaganda to assure that nobody was going to actually be looking at what was happening.

So understanding that within the context of even the drug wars and how that has also been turned into a war and a site of militarization that Latin America and the Caribbean has been subjected to, all of this, it’s background noise because we’ve been able to obfuscate it with these questions around morality, with these questions around citizenship and legality, and these little technicalities that the state can use to, again, further divide and further criminalize anybody who dare question the right of the nation state to have its ability to protect itself. So this kind of protective stance that the United States takes and then that other countries take, and that are taught to take because the United States also trains this exchange program that we see with Israeli police and police in the United States being taught the same tactics. We also saw this with Haiti and Columbia, and then we saw Haiti’s President assassinated by several Columbia nationals. So these exchanges that are happening have very real implications and they’re all happening in ways that are not legible to us because we’re seeing it through a very different lens. We’re seeing it as stopping the drug war or as a really wholesome display of international learning and teaching that police are getting to learn these tools and these tricks from the best government of the most democratic place in the world.

So a big cornerstone around Dissenters as well is that we are in solidarity with people and movements. So we’re not looking to legitimize the ability of a government to decide what is a cause worth fighting for and what’s not. Because every time we see this, they’re not advocating for people, they’re not advocating for the provision of resources to the most oppressed. So we’re interested really in making sure that when we align ourselves with different movements, they’re choosing their own form of liberatory resistance, and we are really showing that, putting that in the forefront, listening and learning and saying, not necessarily, “This is wholesale what we endorse and we think this is the right way to go about things.”

It’s more about saying, in this context, in this part of the world, people that are not being adequately represented or even people that are targeted by the state are in need of amplification and are in need of solidarity so that they know that their movements are supported, are seen and are going to be brought to the forefront by people in the United States who do have a whole lot of sway over what happens in many countries, be it through these kind of vanity projects. There’s a lot of countries that simply do not want to have to be in the news because they’re violating human rights. They don’t want an Amnesty International report written on them. So knowing that there are U.S. eyes on them oftentimes does prevent human rights atrocities from happening.

There’s a real way that we, as people, that are in the heart of empire, do and can influence how people are talking and thinking about things, and that’s a key practice that Dissenters is looking to really start to grow into with our storytelling committee as well. Really looking at how do we bring these things out from the shadow? And when the noise starts to get really loud or when things start to die out in today’s media cycle, and as well as the social media cycle, how do we continue to build bonds and build relationships so that, for example, our friends in Sudan who have been organizing, for quite a while now, a rebellion against their government, so that when that’s no longer a social media hashtag, when that’s no longer on the news, they still have avenues and channels to get tapped into communities here that are interested in making sure that their message is heard and that their cause is heard, and that they are not just the going to fade off into the background because it’s not trendy anymore.

It’s really important that with the limited attention and time that we all have, when we’re thinking about what’s happening in different parts of the world, it’s not about simply spreading a hashtag and simply engaging in these kinds of acts that do spread awareness, but it’s also, how do we actually bear responsibility as well or how do we share responsibility for making sure that people caught in the crosshairs of different violent forces have space to speak, to share, to collaborate and to ultimately say, “This is what we need of you in order to feel supported and connected in this time of struggle”?

KH: So what can you, our listeners, do about all of this? Fortunately, anti-militarism takes many shapes, and there is a place for all of us within the scope of this work. We often need to start by listening, learning and appreciating that we don’t know what we don’t know.

YM: Anti-imperialist organizing and activism really relies on the ability of activists and organizers to listen to what is being said by people creating and launching these liberatory movements. We are not encouraging people to not be critical or to not have their own ideas and opinions about how people are going about these things, but the importance is in understanding the limitations of our scope as people living in the United States or wherever listeners are living. It’s really important to acknowledge that liberation struggle cannot fully take form in the United States or in the west because as I mentioned earlier, we are so deeply embedded within the different forms of relations that take place for militarization to be possible that we are constantly having to be on the offense in a way that really limits our ability to understand what openings exist for liberatory struggle.

And so understanding humbly that what we read here, what we see here, these images, these articles, the podcasts, everyone’s favorite podcast, “The Daily,” you must be very critical of everything you are reading about foreign affairs because it is always in service of U.S. empire. You must listen as if things are in service of U.S. empire and ask yourself “who is this conflict benefiting? Who is this coverage benefiting?” Even if it’s a super sad story, if it’s a story that is really appealing to human rights or women’s rights or children’s rights, time and time again, we see that when you peak behind the veil, what we find is that this is often a ploy to demonize, to propagandize, or to otherwise frame another nation and their people as the enemy to us.

And so being able to assess media and understand that we are being taught that we have the answers, that we are correct, that our think tanks, that our data is the correct way to view the world, to see the world, to assess the world really helps in beginning to unravel the imperialist mindset that we’ve all been given — that we are kind of this untouchable country that has all of the answers in terms of how to mitigate conflict or how to create peace and create peace in the world.

And then engaging in political education — that’s a big value of Dissenters as well. In order to advance this vision, we must be educated about the histories, the context, and the current events that are happening because of these things. And so the more that you are able to listen to the people on the front lines of these experiences and really understand what’s at risk for them, what they’re saying and why they believe that this struggle that they’re mounting is the correct response, the more that we’re able to pivot our attention away from these very kind of shallow acts of solidarity in order to really say, I will put your interests alongside mine. I will understand that our legacies are deeply connected to each other. And so what happens to you in Honduras or in Puerto Rico or in Sudan or in Nigeria deeply affects what happens to me and really taking ownership of one another in that way and imagining solidarity to be something that is built and practiced and modified over time.

So it’s not going to be signing one petition and moving on with your life. It’s a continual sense of engagement with this question or this topic. And I also want to name that a huge reason why a lot of people shy away from internationalist organizing is because there’s so much going on. I hear that all the time. But there’s so much going on. There’s so many different things going on. How am I supposed to be attentive to all of them and care about all of them? And the answer to that is always that the call is made and you respond. So it’s not about sitting down at home and reading every single book on every single country in the world that is going through some type of event, some type of uprising, or is at risk of being invaded by the United States. It’s heeding the call of those who say right now what we really need is to be heard. Right now what we really need is to spread the messages about what’s happening in our country. Can you spread that message? Can you listen to us?

And this isn’t to say don’t be proactive in thinking about what’s happening in other parts of the world, but it’s important that when you’re doing anti-imperialist organizing, you aren’t just becoming a talking head. It’s incredibly important that you remain connected to a practice and principles that keep you connected to other people so that there is a sense of accountability there. And we cannot be accountable to every single human being in every single country across the world. It’s important to honor that if you’re going to deeply engage in supporting a liberation struggle, you’re going to do that from a place of understanding that there is an alliance being forged, and that means trust, right?

We talked about the social relations aspect of this. We want to get away from this idea that the United States is the arbitrator of knowledge and can just give out all of these policy ideas. We’re not here to inform. We’re not here to say, “I know exactly how we’re going to fix this issue or in the United States what we do is we go to our legislator’s office and we do a direct action.” That’s not the direction we want to take things in. We want to meet people where they’re at and really see their struggle as a part of this larger interconnected struggle and then work from there. What resources and tools do you have to offer and what resources are they in need of and what asks do they have for us?

And so Dissenters is always offering trainings on Anti-Militarism 101 in order to really ground yourself in what this means and in who we’re targeting, who are the people that are really behind these efforts? We have student training programs on college campuses and we have this new International Solidarity Committee that is going to be kind of leading the work of doing this relationship building and ensuring that what we’re doing is in alignment with our values, our vision, and ultimately with the direction of our partners.

KH: As Yaira said, we cannot follow or track everything. But I believe that breakthroughs happen when our solidarity is not constrained or deflected by borders or the zoning of disposal and sacrifice. To build a new future, we must have politics that are internationalist and anti-imperialist. We have been conditioned to think of ourselves in isolation because our collective power is a threat to the people who are killing us. As my friend Brendan McQuade emphasized in a recent episode, “We’re social creatures and as such, we’re collaborative, we’re not alone.” I think that’s a good thought to hold onto right now: We are not alone. We have been divided from each other in countless ways, but so many of the barriers between us can be undone. Our solidarity can scale prison walls and build coalitions across borders – and sometimes, the work of reaching for one another changes everything.

I want to thank Yaira Matos for talking with me about We Are Dissenters, militarism and anti-imperialist organizing. If you want to learn more about We Are Dissenters you can hit up their website at or follow them on Twitter or Instagram at @wearedissenters. You can also check out the show notes of this episode on our website at for more information about how you can get involved and support the cause. I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today, and remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good and to remember that the good we do matters. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.

Show Notes

  • You can sign We Are Dissenters’ petition demanding the city of Chicago cancels its contract with Boeing as a step towards divesting from the war industry. (You can learn more about that campaign here or search the hashtag #BoeingArmsGenocide.)
  • We Are Dissenters is also running a campaign called #DivestFromDeath aimed at getting U.S. colleges to sever ties with the military industrial complex. You can learn more about that campaign here. If you would like to start a #DivestFromDeath campaign, you can email Dissenters at [email protected].
  • We Are Dissenters has also been working to get cops off campus, in addition to running #RecruitersOffCampus campaigns. If you want to get involved, you can email them at [email protected].
  • You can follow and subscribe to We Are Dissenters’ Youtube channel for webinars and political education.
  • You can follow We Are Dissenters on Instagram and Twitter for updates on their organizing, actions and workshops at @wearedissenters.

Further Reading

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