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A step forward for the movement

November 16, 2001 | Page 3

THE ANTIWAR movement took a step forward this month with three regional student conferences held in Boston, Chicago and Berkeley, Calif., on November 10-11. In all, some 1,000 students and activists representing more than 125 campuses attended the meetings.

Each conference was larger than organizers expected, showing both the growth of antiwar sentiment on campuses and the desire of activists to strategize about how to build the movement.

Education was crucial to the success of the meetings. "I came to learn more about why this war is happening," said Sarah Roy, a student from Boston University. "I want to know more so I can go back to my friends and convince them to join us."

Each conference began with workshops and plenaries on questions facing the antiwar movement–from what the U.S. government really wants in Central Asia to the struggle to defend civil liberties and the fight against racial profiling of Arabs in the U.S.

Other sessions were devoted to struggles that antiwar activists can connect with–for example, the fight to shut down the School of the Americas.

The conferences also raised questions about how to organize. In Boston, for example, a serious debate took place over how to make decisions–between a consensus model that requires agreement from every member of a group or majority voting.

Delegates from the campus groups supported majority voting by a wide margin, but a minority continued to raise the debate, finally threatening to walk out if their consensus model wasn't adopted.

Participants were frustrated by the time-consuming debate and the fact that it prevented more from being accomplished. Still, it's important for activists to settle questions about how to make decisions.

Political disagreements are natural in a movement, particularly as it grows. A democratic system of voting can ensure that different opinions are discussed and debated–while activists unite to act around the decisions of the majority.

The conferences made plans for future actions–including a coordinated day of protest in December and a national organizing conference early next year. Participants came away with the sense that the fight is moving forward.

"I was very inspired by the conference," said Rachel Miller, a student from Luther College in Iowa. "As far as activism goes, this is really a first step for me. I've been mostly a thinker. Now I'm really excited about acting on it."

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