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WHAT WE THINK
Antiwar groups call national mobilization for September 24
Gearing up for new protests

June 3, 2005 | Page 3

SEPTMBER 24 will be a day of national mobilization against the U.S. war on Iraq. International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), two national antiwar organizations, have called for demonstrations in Washington, D.C. on that date.

This is a welcome development. The antiwar movement has been at a standstill during last year's election campaign and its aftermath. There has been only one national antiwar mobilization since October 2003--and that at the Republican National Convention in New York City last fall, which allowed the demonstration's organizers and most participants to focus their fire on Bush, while ignoring the pro-war position of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

Meanwhile, public discontent with the occupation has grown almost without interruption. The most recent Gallup poll found that 57 percent of people surveyed think the invasion of Iraq wasn't "worth it." But with the antiwar movement stuck in the mud, this sentiment has had no active expression.

Since the election, many antiwar leaders have spread the idea that holding demonstrations is irrelevant anyway--because this is only "preaching to the choir."

That argument is wrong. Demonstrations are important both to give confidence to the "choir" to keep organizing--and to reach out to those who are just beginning to question the war. In reality, the "preaching to the choir" complaint is a cover for a further shift to the right, away from an emphasis on organizing and action.

Now that a date has finally been set, local activists can begin building for the largest possible turnout. The weekend in September can be a showcase for the important organizing that has taken place this year--defense of military resisters like Pablo Paredes and Kevin Benderman, opposition to military recruiters on campus, the efforts of soldiers' families.

Unfortunately, the weaknesses of the movement are still evident. For one thing, ANSWER and UFPJ have issued calls for competing demonstrations on September 24--and this in the face of a unity proposal initiated by U.S. Labor Against War and taken up by another antiwar organization, the Troops Out Now Coalition.

UFPJ's statement to member groups about the September 24 call specifically excludes a united effort. "[W]hile we applaud all efforts and activities to end the war and occupation in Iraq," the statement reads, "UFPJ will not join with ANSWER (or the Troops Out Now Coalition) in the planning and organizing of the September 24-26 mobilization in Washington...Our steering committee agreed that should USLAW still decide to convene [a unity meeting], UFPJ will participate, but only to discuss logistical concerns for that weekend."

Likewise, as in the past, ANSWER issued its call without consulting other forces in the movement--effectively, a rejection of the unity initiative.

The ANSWER call does put forward a range of demands that represents the spectrum of opinion in the antiwar movement--opposing not only the occupation of Iraq, but of Palestine and Haiti, plus the threats against Venezuela and other U.S. targets, and the "racist anti-immigrant, anti-labor offensive at home."

UFPJ has a narrower set of demands, focused only on Iraq. \Over the course of this year, the coalition's leadership has resisted any discussion of the legitimacy of the Iraqi resistance to U.S. occupation.

Plus, some voices in UFPJ even take issue with the one demand that should be the core point of unity in the antiwar movement--immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. Instead, they propose a "responsible" end to the occupation--precisely the way that the pro-war Democrats and even the Bush administration have described their aims.

UFPJ's September 24 call does demand immediate withdrawal. But another sign of the conservative pull on the coalition is its attempt to combine a "massive march, rally and festival" on September 24 with a day of lobbying on September 26.

Congressional lobbying is a top priority for UFPJ leaders. Indeed, UFPJ's statements about the September 24-26 days of action appeared along with action alerts calling on supporters to "call your representative" to back a congressional resolution sponsored by Democratic Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.). But Woolsey's resolution doesn't call for immediate withdrawal. It is carefully crafted to avoid this, instead demanding that the Bush administration "develop and implement a plan to begin the immediate withdrawal of United States Armed Forces from Iraq."

The antiwar movement shouldn't expend any effort on lobbying Congress. The way to force Washington to respond to our demands is not by "educating" lawmakers"--who already know full well what is taking place in Iraq--but by building the kind of actions and ongoing organization it can't ignore.

The call for the national mobilization in September provides an opportunity to take a further step in this direction.

The exact shape of events--where the two demonstrations will be held, what other activities will take place, the extent of any coordination--are still to be decided. But opponents of the barbaric U.S. occupation of Iraq can mark their calendars now--and get started in organizing an all-out mobilization for September.

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