Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn

Grantee Spotlight: MoveOn

interview with Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn

Rahna Epting is the executive director of MoveOn, which works to advance progressive policies and social change. Over the past 20 years, MoveOn members have been part of game-changing victories that have prioritized peace and diplomacy over war, including recently organizing national rapid-response protests to prevent a war with Iran.

MoveOn has encouraged leaders in Congress to support legislation that would restrain President Trump’s authorities to wage war on Iran, including the No War Against Iran Act, which passed the House with bipartisan support in late January. Why is it so important to prevent a war with Iran?

Three years ago, after successful diplomacy by the Obama administration, the risk of all-out war with Iran was at its lowest point in decades. Iran agreed to a deal with the United States and other countries that prevented it from developing nuclear weapons, and then Iran followed through. Unfortunately, when Trump took office, his advisers included many of the same war hawks who led us to war with Iraq and who have been complicit in escalating tensions with Iran for decades. With their support, Trump tore up the Iran nuclear deal and began increasing tensions with Iran. Since then, the US has reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran’s economy, assassinated Iran’s military chief Qassem Soleimani, and ignored calls from global leaders to alleviate sanctions on Iran so they can fully resource their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Preventing a war with Iran is more important now than ever. In addition to compounding the concerns of a global health pandemic and the known impact of conflict on the health, safety, and infrastructure of Iran and Iraq, a war with Iran would likely cost tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. Also, the US public and allies in Europe oppose a war with Iran. That’s why MoveOn members and allies immediately sprung into action to put a halt to a rush to war. But Trump—from his strike on Soleimani that experts have called an act of war to the taunting rhetoric and ongoing blustering—continues to put countless American, Iranian, and Iraqi lives at risk, as Iraq has been positioned as the territory of these military escalations to date. And now, with the coronavirus pandemic, Iranian lives are especially at risk in the face of sanctions. The #EndCovidSanctions campaign is calling for a 120-day suspension of sanctions on Iran so that the nation can effectively address the humanitarian crisis the disease has brought with a robust, instead of restricted, set of resources.

MoveOn has mobilized tens of thousands of members to call on their members of Congress to cut spending in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), as well as to prevent war with Iran and end US support of the war in Yemen. What would you tell MoveOn members who are committed to foreign policy and nuclear weapons issues about the spending plans in the NDAA?

As we strive toward a foreign policy vision that centers diplomacy and people over war and weapons, it’s crucial that we work to rein in our bloated military budget. The annual National Defense Authorization Act is one of the most significant ways that Congress can do this and put a stop to Trump’s increasingly reckless military spending. Passed by Congress last December, the 2020 NDAA is in many ways a blank check for Trump's reckless foreign policy, from supporting Saudi Arabia's war crimes in Yemen to discriminating against transgender troops. MoveOn members proudly stood alongside Ploughshares Fund and other allies, including Win Without War, RootsAction.org, the Arms Control Association, and others, to push Congress to cut unnecessary and dangerous spending.

Many MoveOn members were also ready to push back against this potentially disastrous bill, making more than a thousand calls in one day to Congress to voice their opposition to the 2020 NDAA. And MoveOn members have repeatedly called on Congress to rein in the president’s war-making powers with Iran and Yemen in the past year, after dangerous escalations. In a victory, the House and the Senate passed both the Yemen War Powers Resolution in April 2019 and the Iran War Powers Resolution in February 2020.

The Ploughshares Fund Women’s Initiative aims to invite and position women firmly at the peace and security table and to ensure their ability to craft and influence US nuclear policy and national security. How is MoveOn confronting these challenges?

As an African American and Iranian woman and the first person of color to fill MoveOn’s executive director role, this hits especially close to home. Issues of nuclear policy and national security affect everyone, regardless of their identity, but they also have outsized impact on women, LGBTQ+, and gender nonconforming communities. But we also know, thanks to UNSCR 1325 and the 15-year report on its implementation, that when these communities are at the negotiating table, peace comes more quickly and lasts longer. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that these spaces—including progressive organizations like MoveOn—reflect a diversity of identity, experience, and background. As we campaign, we prioritize centering the communities most impacted by war and foreign policy by working in coalition with not only individuals who are a part of and have long histories of organizing with diaspora communities but also with organizations that model relationships of accountability with communities in conflict zones. We also work to lift up women and people of color who are champions of progressive foreign policy, such as Representative Barbara Lee, who joined our #NoWarWithIran national organizing call in January and who’s been a key voice for diplomacy for years. It’s our belief that, by being intentional about who is making decisions in the progressive foreign policy organizing space, we can create a new model of who should be decision-makers in a progressive US foreign policy and help address historic power imbalances that have robbed our domestic and global communities of well-being, peace, and security.