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Sunday, July 24, 2005

UFPJ's take on the unity issue

   By Marion Delgado at 6:25 PM

United for Peace: UFPJ Fall Mobilization: New Dates and Location:
At the UFPJ National Assembly in February, there was tremendous support for organizing a major anti-war demonstration this fall. More specifically, the Assembly agreed that UFPJ should organize a demonstration in New York City on September 10, which would be right before heads of state come to the United Nations for the Millennium+5 Review.

Soon after the Assembly, we learned that there were serious problems with that date. The Central Labor Council of NYC will be holding its annual Labor Day parade on September 10, a parade that usually includes upwards of 100,000 trade union members. It would be both impractical and politically unwise for us to call for some other major action that same day. In addition, a large international coalition of groups that work on global debt and poverty issues have targeted September 10 as a day they will be issuing a call for action. While we can see a clear connection between the hundreds of billions of dollars poured into the war in Iraq and the urgent need to re-order global economic priorities in order to eradicate hunger and poverty, we do not wish in any way to compete with those groups' desire to keep the public spotlight squarely on their issues that weekend.

The decision to change the date and location was not made lightly: these issues were discussed at several steering committee meetings as well as within the administrative committee. The UFPJ National Steering Committee took into account the range of other political priorities set by the National Assembly, and particularly the clearly stated desire for the peace and justice movement to increase the pressure on pro-war politicians in Congress.

Therefore, United for Peace and Justice has decided to organize a weekend of action - Sept. 24 - 26 - in Washington, DC against the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq:

• Saturday, Sept. 24: massive march, rally, and festival
• Sunday, Sept. 25: interfaith religious service; trainings in direct action and grassroots lobbying
• Monday, Sept. 26: lobby day and mass nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience

These three days of actions will send a clear message to the White House and to Congress: this immoral and illegal war must end. Our demands will call for a new direction: Bring the troops home now, leave no bases behind; stop bankrupting our communities with war appropriations, and get military recruiters out of our schools.

The steering committee's discussions about this started at its first in-person meeting over the April 9-10 weekend. In the six weeks since then there have been several steering committee and administrative committee conference calls. On the May 2nd steering committee conference call there was agreement to explore both the Sept. 17th and the Sept. 24th weekends, with the intention of trying to decide on a date as quickly as possible.

As our discussions took place other developments were unfolding, which we want to be sure our member groups are fully informed about. Several weeks ago US Labor Against War (USLAW), a member group of UFPJ with representation on our National Steering Committee, initiated a public process aimed at pulling together UFPJ, ANSWER and the Troops Out Now Coalition (led by the International Action Center) for a meeting to discuss the possibility of a joint demonstration this fall. In light of past problems working with these groups, the UFPJ National Steering Committee expressed serious reservations about such a joint action, but agreed to participate in such a discussion, should USLAW convene it. The UFPJ co-chairs and national coordinator had several conversations with USLAW leadership expressing concerns about their process and relaying the decisions of the steering committee, including our willingness to take part in such a meeting.

In the meantime, while our steering and administrative committees were engaged in discussions about the feasibility of organizing a September 17 or 24 action in D.C., ANSWER, on the morning of May 12, issued a public call for a national march on Washington on Saturday, September. 24. Their call to action has these major demands: Stop the War in Iraq; End Colonial Occupation from Iraq to Palestine to Haiti. Other demands in their call are: Support the Palestinian People's Right of Return; Stop the Threats Against Venezuela, Cuba, Iran & North Korea; U.S. out of the Philippines; Bring all the Troops Home Now; Stop the Racist, Anti-Immigrant and Anti-Labor Offensive at Home, Defend Civil Rights.

In the evening of that same day the leadership of ANSWER sent an email to UFPJ that proposed what they called "a united front between our two coalitions" to jointly organize a Washington, DC demonstration on September 24. It should be noted that the ANSWER memo to UFPJ came well after their call to action had already been released. As has happened in the past, ANSWER publicly announced the political platform of the action and then called for "unity" around their demands. Members of the UFPJ steering committee were troubled about this process and there was further discussion about how to proceed. On May 16th, the Troops Out Now Coalition then issued their letter supporting the ANSWER call, adding their view that, "the Iraqi people have a right to resist occupation by whatever means they choose cannot be censored or excluded."

On the most recent conference call of the UFPJ steering committee (May 18), a decision was made to proceed with our plans as outlined above. This means that while we applaud all efforts and activities to end the war and occupation in Iraq, 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, DC. We will organize a massive march, rally, and festival on September 24; ANSWER may well decide to have a separate event in Washington on that day. We want to be clear. Our call will be an open invitation to groups who want to end the war and bring our troops home now, and who agree with our demands, to join us in the streets. We welcome everyone, including ANSWER and the Troops Out Now Coalition, to organize contingents or feeder marches into our demonstration that day. Our steering committee agreed that should USLAW still decide to convene the meeting described above that UFPJ will participate, but only to discuss logistical concerns for that weekend.

This was not an easy decision. The UFPJ Steering Committee recognizes that there is widespread interest in seeing many antiwar forces working together. But based on our past two and a half years experience, it will not be possible to work with ANSWER or the Troops Out Now Coalition on a joint action this fall. We believe any efforts to work together must begin with developing common, jointly agreed upon political demands and be based upon a style of organizing grounded in mutual respect. We take very seriously the mandate of the UFPJ National Assembly to build the broadest, most diverse anti-war movement possible as a key strategy for bringing an end to this war. Our primary commitment is building this movement, including the fall mobilization, in a way that makes it possible for the largest and widest array of people to come together in opposition to the war, including military families, Iraq war veterans and other veterans, and the labor movement. This commitment has an impact on everything we do: from the nature of the program, to the articulation of our demands, to the ways we do our organizing.

UFPJ is also committed to building a movement culture based on trust, respect, principled action, democratic decision-making, and good-faith communication. Both the national coalition and a number of our regional remember groups have had extremely negative experiences on all these grounds throughout our history of working with ANSWER or the International Action Center. While professing to desire unity, ANSWER and the IAC have repeatedly misrepresented the positions of, attacked, and attempted to isolate and split UFPJ and other antiwar groups, even when we were supposedly in alliances. Now, they once again have announced a political platform and a date for a demonstration without any consultation with us, while on the other hand calling for unity.

Every day the war in Iraq rages on and people are killed and maimed, lives are ruined, and a once sovereign nation is under the military occupation and corporate control of the United States. We must stay focused on our priorities: building the strongest movement possible in order to end this war, bring our troops home and prevent future wars! We ask all UFPJ member groups to join in the effort to ensure the most successful September mobilization possible

So reading between the lines, this year they put the schedule of the union blocs, including some that're part of their coalition, ahead of their tentative schedule.

Then a union group that's part of their coalition tried to work out a big joint demonsttration. While they were still working on it, they were preempted by International Answer and International Action/Troops out (WWP popular front groups). That made them back out. That seems reasonable to me. Moreover, they are explaining that they're not very contrite about it, because ANSWER was acting in its typical, high-handed way to utterly dominate the event before it started, speak for everyone, and control everything that happened.

Let me add several points:

  • In the past, UFPJ has sided with ANSWER. When they were both part of a four-coalition action, they agreed not to have any speakers who had trashed any of the four coalitions. Michael Lerner of Tikkun had trashed ANSWER on a number of occasions, so he wasn't a speaker. Some people said UFPJ and its allies had banned him. UFPJ politely responded that that was not the case, it was simply sticking to an agreement. UFPJ seems to me very centered, very sure of their ethical values.

  • I dunno about E. Lansing. Perhaps a more united action would get more people there than 2 separate would. Here in Oregon, in Portland, the biggest draws for a huge no war in Iraq march were labor, traditional peace, and environmental groups. ANSWER hasn't got a lot of cachet here. Even where it might draw more than other groups, it does have a lot of baggage. It gives pro-war people a peg to hang a McCarthyite hat on. Therefore, I think it's sensible UFPJ puts labor groups higher up than communist-led groups.

  • That said, I will again acknowledge ANSWER's tremendous organizing skills. In that regard they outshine annoying communist-led groups of the past like INCAR (run by the PLP). In fact, that's a big part of the problem. It's easy to get people in all walks of life to say "yeah I don't want the #$#@ war" but it's hard for most of the groups to get people out. ANSWER is very good at that, but admitting that is embarrassing.


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