by Christine Marie
Over 300 activists met at St. Mark’s Church in Manhattan on Nov. 6 to launch the United National Antiwar Committee (UNAC) in the Northeast region. People came from up and down the East Coast and the Midwest to begin organizing efforts for the bicoastal demonstrations planned for April 9 to Bring the Troops Home Now. The demonstrations will take place in New York City and San Francisco.
UNAC was initiated at a national antiwar conference in Albany, N.Y., last July, where 800 activists from 35 states unanimously approved the call for the April 9 actions and a comprehensive series of nationwide antiwar events leading up to the date.
Malik Mujahid, founder of the new Muslim Peace Coalition-USA, anticipated the themes to be presented by the nearly 40 subsequent speakers at the Nov. 6 meeting, when, in his keynote address, he said that building April 9 would require “everyday getting connected with everyone who stands for peace and justice for all, not just for some.” Mujahid introduced several antiwar clerics from mosques across the city who were dedicated to mobilizing New York’s Muslim communities for April 9. Some 75 Muslim activists from New York were participants in the Nov. 6 meeting.
Speaker after speaker pointed out that an antiwar movement that is powerful enough to halt the U.S. government’s war drive would need to be one that has overcome the obstacles of Islamophobia, racism, class prejudice, and xenophobia to unify the millions in action.
The alternative was described from the floor by Alicia McWilliams-McCollum, whose nephew was one of the African American men from Newburgh, N.Y., recently entrapped by the FBI and presented to the nation as a terrorist threat justifying war and the Patriot Act. “I see all the people in this room,” McWilliams cried, “and I ask, where were you? We don’t need four people in the court room, we need to stand together in our thousands to defeat this new Cointelpro.”
The lesson, it seems, is being absorbed by a broader section of the movement than ever before, as panelists returned again and again to the need to take on the increased efforts by the U.S. government to “manufacture” terror suspects. The meeting heard as well from Shaheena Parveen, the mother of a similarly imprisoned South Asian youth and a member of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM). DRUM’s day-to-day work dramatizes the intimate connection between attacks on the Muslim and immigrant communities.
Abayome Azikiwe of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice explained the case of Iman Luqman Ammen Abdullah, an African American community leader from Detroit who was lured to a warehouse in an apparent FBI sting operation and then shot 21 times.
Steve Downs, the attorney who founded Project SALAM, said that his organization will not rest until it has uncovered the cases of hundreds of other Muslim-American victims of entrapment and found ways to support their families. The antiwar activists in the room applauded vigorously, a seeming majority aware that efforts to involve the communities most strongly opposed to Washington’s wars—that is, the Black, Latino, and Muslim communities—required a new level of solidarity with the war’s victims here at home.
Those victims, of course, include the millions reeling from the bipartisan effort to reduce the deficit on the backs of poor and working people. Marty Nathan, a leader with the Northampton, Mass., campaign to Bring Our War Dollars Home, urged the room to understand how they really convinced the Northampton Town Council to pass their resolution. “We won,” she said, “ by talking to laid-off workers, to the homeless, to neglected veterans, to educators, to the workers at the soup kitchens, none of whom thought of themselves as ‘antiwar’ before. This is one of the bricks that must be laid to build a massive antiwar movement.”
Larry Holmes of the Bail Out the People Movement said that around April 9, the date of the projected antiwar demonstration, he hoped that the streets of New York would be regularly filled with protests against the cuts to public jobs, pensions, and benefits promised by the newly elected Governor Cuomo.
Margaret Kimberley, an editor and senior columnist with Black Agenda Report, argued for the independence of our movement from the Democratic and Republican parties if the movement is to connect with the most economically victimized. “Think of ACORN,” she said. “This organization would not be any worse off if Sarah Palin were president!”
To bring working people in the United States into the antiwar fold, argued Adaner Usmani of Action for a Progressive Pakistan and the Pakistani Labor Party, we must offer them a real understanding of what is happening in the countries under U.S. attack.
While the U.S. government whips up Islamophobia and tries to paint Pakistan as a nation of Taliban, terrorists, and jihadists, he said, “the country is composed in its majority of workers and peasants first and foremost. Just this summer, the largest textile mills were shut down by a militant strike, and 100,000 workers brought one of Pakistan’s largest cities to a halt for almost two weeks demanding that the government honor a pledge to raise wages.”
This conference is the first step toward recognizing, he argued, “that the undeniable fact of shared oppression represents the only useful foundation for going forward.”
Hanadi Doleh of Al Awdah and the US Palestinian Community Network also called for direct solidarity. The goals of UNAC, as reflected in the End US Aid to Israel resolution passed at the Albany conference, and the goals of the USPCN meeting just held in Chicago, she said, are the same. “Let us work collectively to put them into practice.” Nada Khader, the executive director of WESPAC, an organizer of the women’s track at the same Chicago conference, and an early presence in the support work for the Newburgh Four, spoke of her new confidence that we can build an antiwar movement that is genuinely welcoming to all and free from exclusion.
Marilyn Levin, a co-chair of UNAC, recounted the political advances made at the Albany conference, spoke of the failure of either political party to address the war in the recent elections, and urged all the groups present in the audience who wanted to build April 9 to join the United National Antiwar Committee and choose representatives to serve on its Continuations Committee. Joe Lombardo, also a co-chair of UNAC, spoke forcefully of the need for mass actions this spring and urged that attendees begin immediately to do the outreach that will make such an action successful.
Sara Flounders of the International Action Center led the important effort to schedule the first national meeting of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, which followed the UNAC meeting in the evening of Nov. 6.
Around $5000 was pledged for building the April 9 New York City demonstration, and more than 100 activists signed up to participate in UNAC national campaigns that include: Bring the War Dollars Home, Muslim Civil Liberties, Palestine, Iran, No War/No Warming, Witness Against Torture, Teach-Ins, and April 9.
The optimism evidenced by this level of participation was born, in great part, because a broad range of political forces had put aside political or organizational differences and cooperated to make the Nov. 6 meeting successful.
Important pacifist, anti-intervention, religious, solidarity, and left groups that did not work closely together before the Albany UNAC conference have now pulled together and created a pole for antiwar organizing on a political basis that meets the real challenges facing the movement.
The decision by significant forces in the mainstream Muslim community to devote leadership to the antiwar movement is one of the factors inspiring a new level of cooperation.
This new unity, in and of itself, is no guarantee that massive numbers can be mobilized in April. It does, however, lay the basis for the kind of mass outreach that can become possible as the Obama star dims and the confidence to fight back grows. For other reports on the meeting, visit the UNAC website at http://www.nationalpeaceconference.org.
> This article was originally published in the December 2010 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.