Organizing for the February 15 demonstrations
February 7, 2003 | Page 2
PROTESTS AGAINST the U.S. war on Iraq are planned for dozens of cities around the world on the weekend of February 15. In New York City, activists are organizing for a national mobilization called by United for Peace and Justice--and hope that the turnout will be the biggest yet.
Socialist Worker talked to several activists about building for February 15 and some of the issues they face. HANY KHALIL is national coordinator of the group Racial Justice 9/11 and New York City distribution coordinator for the antiwar newspaper War Times. MICHAEL LETWIN is former president of Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325 and co-convenor of New York City Labor Against the War. MENEEJEH MORADIAN is a member of the International Socialist Organization.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
NEW YORK is a multiracial city, with huge immigrant communities and a relatively strong union movement. What has this meant in terms of organizing for February 15?
MICHAEL New York City has a relatively high proportion of unionized workers, and many of the city's labor organizations are mobilizing for February 15. These now include 1199SEIU, CWA District 1, CWA Local 1180, AFSCME DC 37, AFSCME DC 1707, IAM Lodge 340, New York City Labor Against the War, New York Taxi Workers Alliance, New York Teachers Against the War, PSC-CUNY/AFT Local 2334, Transit Workers Against the War, UAW Region 9A New York City, and the Working Families Party.
This level of organized labor antiwar activity is new, unparalleled and invaluable. Organized labor can mobilize large numbers. It's more racially and ethnically diverse than perhaps any other institution. By virtue of workers' role in the economy and the military, labor is uniquely placed to effectively oppose the war abroad and at home.
MENEEJEH The majority of New Yorkers are against the war. There's a myth that building a "mainstream" movement means attracting white, upper-middle class professionals. But New York City is 75 percent made up of people of color--the real mainstream is overwhelmingly working class and incredibly multiracial. That's who fights these wars. That's who gets scapegoated, detained, racially profiled and rounded up. And that's who really going to pay for this war.
Working-class people are beginning to see that it's the same George Bush who gives tax cuts to the rich and who wants to spend billions invading and occupying Iraq. February 15th will be a huge step forward in uniting unions, community organizations, immigrants and radicals with the more traditional liberal peace movement.
HOW DO you see the importance of the February 15 demonstration in terms of the future of the antiwar movement?
HANY February 15 and 16 may be our greatest and last opportunity to stop Bush from launching a no-weapons-barred, bloody assault on Iraq. If turnout is solid, it will be the largest internationally coordinated day of protest in world history and will send a strong message to Bush that the political costs of invading Iraq are growing.
Stopping the war on Iraq is critical not only to save the lives of innocent Iraqis, but also to show that the world will not stand for the U.S. seizing the right to use military force--up to and including the use of nuclear weapons--whenever it wishes.
It will also make it harder for Israel's just-reelected Ariel Sharon to follow through on threats to ethnically cleanse Palestine of its indigenous people, under cover of a U.S. war on Iraq. It will make it harder for the U.S. to bully governments in Latin America and across the globe.
And for all of us struggling for justice, equality and economic survival here in the U.S., stopping Bush on the war front will weaken him politically in this country, enhancing our ability to beat back the attack on immigrants, the budget cuts, etc.
It's also a critical test about whether white sections of the peace movement will share leadership with those who are most directly targeted by the war at home and abroad--people of color, who have been waging struggles for equality and self-determination long before 9/11 came around.
For the left, it also poses a challenge as to how to work in coalitions effectively with a broad range of forces--so that we both cooperate with liberal forces and utilize opportunities to bring our political analysis and organizing approaches into the core of the movement.
MICHAEL February 15 comes at a critical moment in Bush's escalating attack on Iraq. It can vividly convey the great depth and breadth of antiwar sentiment among ordinary people and generate further confidence among both participants and observers throughout the world.
MENEEJEH February 15 will show just how broad and diverse opposition to the war has become. The labor movement will be represented not just on the stage, but on the march. Organized workers, more than any other group, have the power to actually stop the Bush Doctrine of never-ending war.
In Britain, two train drivers refused to transport weapons for the war. This is one small act, but it's important, because there can be no war without the labor of millions of workers. The experience of marching together can energize people and revive the idea that protest matters.
This war has two fronts--one abroad and one at home. There is a vicious class attack hitting every aspect of working people's lives, from layoffs to budget cuts to attacks on civil liberties. By standing up to Bush on the war in Iraq, we can gain confidence to challenge the war at home in our workplaces and communities.