The national conference of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) took place in Chicago over the December 12 – 14 weekend. The conference was attended by around 200 people, including Trudy Quaif, Tim Herr, and me (Joe Lombardo) as representatives of Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace. BNP also brought along its literature table, which did a brisk business.
At the conference, we discussed a number of documents prepared by the UFPJ steering committee and elected a new steering committee to serve until the next conference. The UFPJ steering committee documents included a unity proposal, a structure proposal, and a proposal for action. Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace joined with 18 other UFPJ groups in proposing two amendments to the documents.
The first amendment was on Afghanistan. In the UFPJ documents, the war in Afghanistan seems to be downplayed. While the UFPJ documents still called for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, they did not do so for Afghanistan. Our amendment basically said that Afghanistan is not the “good war,” as some contend, and that UFPJ should call for immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. Ashley Smith from Vermont presented the motivations for passing this amendment, which appeared to have strong support. After some discussion, the UFPJ leadership decided to accept the amendment as "friendly," which means that it got adopted.
The second amendment was on unified spring actions around the anniversary of the war in Iraq. Specifically, the amendment called for UFPJ’s support for a March 21 demonstration at the Pentagon, which is being supported by a broad array of peace groups, including ANSWER, the National Assembly, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), and others. Although IVAW did not formally attend the conference, a flyer was circulated from their National Board of Directors calling for UFPJ to support the March 21 action. The UFPJ document that we sought to amend called for a number of actions on various issues leading up to a rally on Wall Street on April 4th around the issues of “re-ordering of economic priorities.” The supporters of our amendment were not opposed to any of the actions that the UFPJ leadership proposed, so we asked that we not counter-pose the resolutions and simply include one more action in the UFPJ proposal, March 21. The UFPJ leadership said that it would be too much to work on their actions plus March 21, so they wanted the two proposals to be counter-posed. That means that the delegates had to vote for one or the other, but not both.
Motivations for our amendment were given by Marilyn Levin from Boston. There were three speakers for the amendment and three against. There were three Iraqis at the conference; all of them supported our March 21 amendment. The three speakers for our amendment included two of the Iraqis and me. There was then a motion to have open discussion for a half-hour. That motion was defeated, and so the discussion ended. The vote was 49 for March 21 and 111 against.
There was also a discussion around the structure of the steering committee. The UFPJ leadership proposed having 40 members, 20 voted by the conference and 20 permanent positions from the national groups that support UFPJ. The discussion was mainly opposed to this structure, so the proposal was dropped. I was nominated for the UFPJ steering committee but was not elected.
All of the above was placed in the context of the recent elections. The UFPJ leadership felt that we are now in a new political period brought on by Obama's election and by the movement that his campaign engendered. They believe that there are now massive numbers of young people and African Americans who became politically active around the campaign and that this requires a new orientation for UFPJ. Although this was never said explicitly, I interpreted this to mean that they did not want to put forward positions that might be construed as opposing Obama. I believe this is why the Afghanistan war was downplayed, why they moved away from the anti-war issue as being central to their orientation in the coming year, and why they did not want to have a demonstration in Washington.
Immediately after the conference, the call for the March 21 Pentagon march was solidified. I’m sure that many of you saw the e-mail that came from the ANSWER coalition. Below is the call from the National Assembly. An ad hoc coalition is being set up to build the action, and a web site is being created.
I strongly believe that as long as we have troops occupying two countries, we must keep a strong anti-war movement that is visible and out in the streets. As the Iraqis who spoke for the March 21 resolution told the UFPJ conference, the Iraqi and Afghan people need to see a strong movement against the war in the US. The present condition of the economy and the people coming into political motion around the Obama campaign simply mean that we have a greater opportunity today to build the anti-war movement and relate the war to the fiscal crisis, jobs, and other issues that have become pressing during this period.
Although I will encourage the anti-war movement to build the March 21 action, I think that organizations, especially those close to New York City, should also participate in any Wall Street action that develops out of the UFPJ call. Although we did not achieve formal unity this spring, those of us who support unity should practice it by supporting the Wall Street action. Perhaps we can build an anti-war contingent with a slogan like, “Money for jobs, not for war.”
If you would like to discuss any of these developments with me, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 518-439-1968
March on the Pentagon! March 21, 2009
The National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations is joining with other coalitions, organizations, and networks in a united MARCH 21 NATIONAL COALITION to organize the broadest mobilization of people across the United States to take part in a March on the Pentagon on the sixth year of the military invasion and occupation of the Iraq War: Saturday, March 21.
Demonstrations will also be held on that date in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities across the U.S.
These actions will remind the nation that all U.S. military forces must be brought home from Afghanistan and Iraq, and that the U.S. antiwar movement – marching behind a banner demanding “Out Now!’ – will intensify its struggle to make it happen.
The actions are needed to assure the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries threatened by Washington’s expansionist policies that tens of millions of people in this country support their right to settle their own destinies without U.S. interventions, occupations and murderous wars. International law recognizes – and we demand – that the U.S. respect the right to self-determination. We reject any notion that the U.S. is the world’s self-appointed cop.
The March 21 united mass actions are also needed at this time of economic meltdown to demand jobs for all; a moratorium on foreclosures; rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure; guaranteed, quality health care for all; an end to the ICE raids and deportations; and funding for sorely needed social programs. So long as trillions of dollars continue to be spent on wars, occupations, and bailouts to the banks and corporate elite, the domestic needs of the people of the U.S. can never be met.
The So-called Status of Forces Agreement
As for Iraq, the so-called “Status of Forces Agreement” offers proof positive that far from ending the U.S. occupation, the plan is to extend it indefinitely. Tens of thousands of U.S. troops and mercenary soldiers will be maintained to carry out a number of stated missions, but in reality their aim is to carry out the one mission that is not stated: Ensure the U.S. subjugation of Iraq to exploit its oil resources and dominate the Middle East.
Any doubt about Washington’s intentions should be dispelled by the statement by Gen. Raymond Odierno who said on December 13, 2008 that U.S. forces would remain indefinitely in dozens of bases in Iraq cities, despite the language in the Status of Forces Agreement that appears to require a withdrawal from urban areas by next summer. (Wall Street Journal 12/15/08)
As for Afghanistan, it is not the “good war” claimed by the Obama administration and the power structure, which plans to increase the number of U.S. troops in that country by 20,000. Afghanistan will prove to be another U.S. Vietnam. The Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan resulted in a million Afghanis being killed, along with 15,000 Soviet troops. The U.S. war will only result in a continuation of the slaughter that has been the hallmark of all previous occupations by foreign powers.
The daily U.S. bombing and killing of Afghanis attending weddings, classes, funerals, or simply trying to survive shows how cruel and deadly this war is. It is directed against the same forces that the U.S. armed, financed, and helped bring to power.
Why is the U.S. at war against Afghanistan? To gain control of a pipeline across that country. (See the 1998 statement submitted to Congress by the Union Oil Company of California, which later merged with Chevron, stressing the need to build a natural gas pipeline across Afghanistan. And note Dick Cheney’s 1998 statement made when he was chief executive of a major oil services company: “I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian,” which led the Guardian newspaper to remark “But the oil and gas there is worthless until it is moved. The only route that would make both political and economic sense is through Afghanistan.”)
The March 21 demonstration will also highlight the dangers of expanding Washington’s two wars to Iran and Pakistan. It will also condemn U.S. support for the continued occupation of Palestine.
The National Assembly
From its inception, the National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations has called for united antiwar demonstrations this spring. We urge the entire movement to unite now around March 21. We will do everything possible to make this unity a reality.
Think of the civil rights, union, anti-Vietnam War, women’s liberation and gay rights movements. They would not have achieved victories without having built truly massive movements that were able to organize repeated and powerful independent mobilizations in the streets.
Why the demonstration in Washington? Because it is the seat of power, where foreign and domestic policies are decided, where money for war is allocated, and bailouts of the banking industry and corporate rich are given away.
Join us in mobilizing the largest possible outpouring of antiwar opposition built by a united movement on March 21. Let’s march and continue to march until all U.S. forces come home, U.S. bases are dismantled, and the sovereign people of the world have the right to control their own resources and determine their own futures.
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For more information, please visit the National Assembly’s website at www.natassembly.org or write email@example.com or call 216-736-4704.