For the last 4 days, I was in San Francisco for a meeting of the coordinating committee of the National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations. Of the 45 members of the coordinating committee, about 30 people from across the country were present (we also hold meetings once per month by phone conference). One member of the coordinating committee who was not present was Lynne Stewart. As you know, Lynne, a now-disbarred attorney, is in jail, having been convicted of aiding terrorism for defending her client, who was accused of being involved with the plot to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993. (For more information on that case and Lynne’s situation, please go to www.lynnestewart.com.) The group gathered at the meeting sent Lynne a note of support, and each of us who know her also wrote a personal note. Mine was also from the Muslim Solidarity Committee, a group that she always thought was doing exemplary work. Lynne let us know that she would like protests at federal buildings on her behalf. People who want to send her a message can write to: Lynne Stewart, 53504-054, MCC-NY, 150 Park Row, New York, NY 10007.
There were two important points that came out of the meeting. The first is that we decided to endorse the call from the ANSWER coalition to have demonstrations on March 20 to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the Iraq War. The National Assembly would have preferred that the ANSWER coalition not put out this call unilaterally but rather to work in conjunction with other national anti-war groups, including the National Assembly, before deciding what to do on the 7th anniversary of the Iraq war. But in the interest of promoting unity in the anti-war movement—a principle that the National Assembly was founded on--we agreed to support and build this action and to try to get other forces to join us.
The second point of importance that came out of the meeting was that we agreed to hold our 3rd national conference in Albany, New York on July 23rd-25th, 2010. This means that national leaders along with hundreds of peace activists from around the country will be coming to meet in Albany. Also present will be members of the peace and progressive movements from other countries. The main function of the National Assembly conference is to assess the state of the movement and to decide on a program of actions during the upcoming period. This will occur during plenary sessions where everyone present will have voice and vote. Additionally, there will be workshops and a large public meeting on Saturday night, along with a panel discussion on Friday. Besides having a fairly strong peace movement in the Capital District, we have done some very good defense work with Muslims who have been attacked in our area and have done some important work with Iraqi refugees. It would be important to showcase this work for the rest of the country and international guests.
The San Francisco meeting also heard reports and discussed situations in Iraq, Afghanistan/Pakistan, Palestine, and Honduras. In addition, we had a discussion on the current state of the anti-war movement. As we all know, the anti-war movement is at a low point. Some of the national groups are not functioning well, if at all. Despite polls that continue to show that the majority are against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and occupations, anti-war demonstrations and rallies have been much smaller recently than in the past. On October 17, demonstrations took place in 54 cities around the country, but all of them were small. However, discontent with U.S. policies is growing, especially given the present economic environment. We can expect to see a surge in Afghanistan soon, and cities all across the country are preparing a response. The National Assembly believes that this is a very important moment when we must continue to build anti-war organizations and activities in preparation for what we believe will be an inevitable explosion of anti-war sentiment and activity as the wars continue and the honeymoon with the Obama administration ends.
You have probably heard about the explosion of protests on the California campuses after the California a 33% tuition increase was announced. While in California, I was able to take two trips to the Berkley campus, where students have been demonstrating and occupying buildings. These activities are going on throughout the state. The students tie their protest in to the issue of the war using slogans like “Money for schools not for war.” They are also chanting, “This is what democracy looks like,” and “The people united will never be defeated.” Some can argue that the birth of the student movement of the 60s and 70s began with the Berkley Free Speech movement. The students are also aware of the connection of their movement to the plight of union workers who are being laid off; the biggest cheers at their rally came when some fired janitors spoke. Teachers and other workers throughout California are suffering from the cutbacks and protesting too. California reflects the future of all states across the country, as our nation's corporate elite try to shift more and more wealth from the working people and the poor to the corporations and the already obscenely rich. People working on all issues, from war to healthcare to tuition hikes, need to come together and join in one fight against a common enemy. With this understanding in mind, the National Assembly sent a message of support to the striking students.
There are many union activists on the coordinating committee of the national assembly, included the presidents of two state-wide labor federations. The group took note of the resolution that came from our own Troy Area Labor Council calling for the AFL-CIO leadership to organize a mass action around the issues of jobs, the war, and health care. A similar call was passed by the Wisconsin state AFL-CIO federation, the San Francisco Labor Council and a number of other labor groups. We see such calls as extremely hopeful signs and as a way forward for the movement as a whole. They point toward our developing a real fight-back against the attacks being directed at the American people today. The Albany conference in 2010 will be a very important step in that direction, as well. I hope all activists in our area will join me in building this conference.