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campaign 2020 and foreign policy

Progressives and the Missing Foreign Policy Link

Words: Tristan Guyette
Pictures: Nico Roicke

On July 11, 2019, over thirty-six hundred activists, organizers, and political operatives descended on downtown Philadelphia for the 14th Annual Netroots Nation, a gathering of self-identified progressives put on by Daily Kos. From the pre-parties the day before, to the panel discussions, the mood was hungry for change and hopeful that the groups gathering could bring about that change.

But, over the course of the three-day event, it became clear to me that a link is missing from most progressive policy debates – it was even missing from my own understanding for many years. During the final day of Netroots Nation, a forum took place with presidential candidates Gillibrand, Castro, Warren, and Inslee. Two hours into the forum, not a single question had been asked about foreign policy, Iran, nuclear weapons, or global security.

Five years ago, bright-eyed and excited about the possibilities that lay before me as an organizer, I never would have imagined the path that led me to work on nuclear weapons policy. My causes were humanitarian ones: abortion access, climate change, voting rights. I knew nothing of war and strategy and had no desire to – I just wasn’t called to those issues.

The problem with this mindset is that war is never simply war. War is misogyny and empiricism, it is greed and corporate profit. The very foundation of American war is built on the backs of marginalized communities, from purchasing uranium mined by Congolese slaves under French rule, to the tax dollars allocated to maintain the war machine instead of the wellbeing of the American people. This mentality of siloed causes, excluding the ones we don’t feel equipped to handle, is prevalent in the minds of many activists. Until we join the links of each of these fights however, we suffer under the chains of those who understand their relationships.

At some point, an intersectional candidate must emerge and link these issues.

Current mass migrations from Central America, for instance, come largely from ‘the Central American dry corridor,’ including Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. More than thirty percent of jobs in these areas are in agriculture, but extreme weather conditions have made farming, and even living, in these areas difficult. Both flooding and droughts have affected living conditions and crops. In 2018, after the decimation of the corn crop due to a years-long drought, the UN World Food Program warned that “total or partial loss of crops means that subsistence farmers and their families will not have enough food to eat or sell in coming months.” What option, then, do they have?

There is no way to combat the migration crisis without addressing the climate change crisis, just as there is no way to end climate change without acknowledging the role of foreign policy and US intervention, yet another driver of the migration crisis. To speak about one issue without putting it into the full context of the decades of driving forces behind it leads to temporary solutions, not lasting change.

At that Netroots Nation Presidential forum a contingent of activists from Beyond the Bomb, of which I was a part, made every attempt to raise our voices and bring foreign policy into the debate. Elizabeth Warren was the only candidate to address us, while discussing a progressive agenda. “That’s not going to be in this,” she says, referring to the agenda she was outlining, adding “they’re not going to give me another two minutes to talk about foreign policy.” The problem with that sentiment is that we must include foreign policy in our discussions about a progressive agenda — and not in a separate two minutes.

As much as I wish to argue that ‘it was the moderators!’ that could be said for every debate and forum we’ve seen thus far. At some point, an intersectional candidate must emerge and link these issues. Hours beforehand, Somali-born representative Ilhan Omar made this point so succinctly, saying “first we have to understand… how did we get here? We got here, one, because of some of the policies this administration has implemented,” mentioning things like metering and the family separation policy. “Beyond that, we need to think about what is causing this mass migration.”

While some in Congress, like Omar, have called out this obvious disconnect, they have been drowned out by more seasoned voices in the Democratic party. Foreign policy, the driving force and symptom of so many of our issues as a nation, must be a part of the progressive agenda. Otherwise, that agenda is part of the bandage, when it should be the stitches that help to close these wounds.

Tristan is the national field organizer for Beyond the Bomb, a people powered movement to end the threat of nuclear weapons use.

Tristan Guyette

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