Activists gather in New England
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Some 400 people turned out for an education and organizing conference sponsored by the regional antiwar network New England United (NEU) on January 30 at MIT, exceeding organizers' expectations.
NEU formed in 2007, and the conference presented an exciting opportunity to begin rebuilding the antiwar movement in New England. The conference took up a range of important subjects, from the opening panel on "The Drive Toward Empire and Endless War" to numerous workshops such as "Domestic Costs of War" to "Israel as Apartheid State."
The large attendance vindicated the idea that taking up anti-imperialism doesn't "turn people away," as some in the movement may claim. Furthermore, the participation of youth and students was higher than usual, although there remains much room for improvement.
Among many speakers, Ashley Smith of International Socialist Review analyzed the systemic factors driving U.S. policy under both Bush and Obama; Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights detailed the continuing violations of basic human rights by the Obama administration; and Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report delivered a powerful call for independence from the Democratic Party.
The two largest workshops were on Latin America and Haiti, demonstrating activists' eagerness to make connections beyond the immediate questions of war.
Unfortunately, the conference was marred by the presence of the so-called "9/11 Truth movement." Conference organizers made a mistake by granting a panel slot to Peter Dale Scott, a "Truther" guru.
The Truthers exploited this inadvertent legitimization, and brought over 60 people to the conference. This group--nearly all older, white and male--acted in a hostile fashion, demonstrating their general lack of involvement in any activism outside 9/11 conspiracy-mongering and "Tea Party"-type politics.
When the Truther workshop failed to attract broad interest, their leader, self-described "entrepreneurial executive" Sander Hicks, suggested that police agents were to blame. This kind of irresponsible rhetoric should have no place in the movement.
Distractions and dead ends aside, the conference was an exciting step forward for the New England antiwar movement, which must use the excitement and political space generated by the conference to rebuild the grassroots organizations that can take the struggle forward.