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Activists set out plans for the future

By Sherry Wolf | June 13, 2003 | Page 12

MORE THAN 500 delegates representing some 325 organizations gathered in Chicago June 6-8 for the first national conference of the antiwar coalition United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). The groups came together to hammer out an organizing structure and action plan to oppose the occupations of Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan.

UFPJ sponsored the New York City antiwar demonstration on February 15, which drew at least 500,000 people onto the streets on the same weekend that more than 10 million marched against the war on Iraq around the world.

Since the fall of Baghdad and the beginning of the U.S. occupation, antiwar activity has slowed. But the three days of panels and workshops set a tone of collaboration among groups with different political backgrounds--and expressed the feeling of urgency about educating and mobilizing today.

The most contentious debates arose concerning the question of strategies for the 2004 elections. Damu Smith of Black Voices for Peace set the tone early on when he argued, "This administration is taking us down the road to a fascist police state. The movement must become actively engaged in the political process toward regime change. We can't sit on the sidelines of election 2004."

All attendees agreed that their organizations should remain active in confronting the war abroad and at home. But a vocal minority of activists led by members of the Communist Party were drawn to the focus of campaigning for "anyone but Bush."

Socialists and other independents challenged attempts to let the Democrats off the hook for their complicity in Bush's war--and for overwhelmingly supporting the USA PATRIOT Act that guts civil liberties.

Michael Letwin of New York City Labor Against the War proposed a resolution establishing a body to liaison with the other national antiwar groups, which was adopted by the delegates. This could be an important step forward after the tensions and division that have at times dominated the antiwar movement.

However, a heated debate arose over whether or not to join Act Now to Stop War and End Racism's (ANSWER) call for a national mobilization on September 27 against the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Some delegates spoke out against ANSWER's undemocratic organizing methods. Others said they opposed the September 27 date--chosen by ANSWER because it marks the third anniversary of the new Palestinian Intifada, or uprising--because it coincides with the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah.

One delegate who rightly argued for unity said, "If the Israelis could take the Territories on [the Jewish holiday of] Yom Kippur, we could march to demand them back on Rosh Hashanah." A meeting between the newly elected steering committee and representatives of ANSWER is supposed to resolve the question.

UFPJ's proposed unity statement--adopted as a working document--condemns U.S. aid to Israel and its attacks on Palestinians, along with clear opposition to the U.S. drive for oil and empire. This is a sign of progress in a movement that only months ago would have shunned any open challenge to Israel and avoided using terms such as "imperialism."

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