Below are introductory remarks to the March 23-25 UNAC conference by UNAC co-cordinator Marilyn Levin.
When I started preparing for this talk, I thought back to July 2010, when UNAC began, and where we are today. It is astounding how much has changed over the past year and a half, although many of the challenges we face are the same.
We experience an Empire that is losing ground, and in its desperation to control world resources and maintain its power, engages in expanding brutal wars, draconian measures to cut spending on social needs, increases assaults on the environment, and institutes police-state measures to scapegoat vulnerable populations and stifle dissent.
But just think of what has happened for the good, when our side—in the millions—has fought back. There were the uprisings against despots, backed by the United States, in North Africa, which inspired the fightback by workers in the U.S., in Madison, Wis., Greece, and around the world, against austerity measures imposed by the rich. That, in turn, triggered the Occupy movement, directed at Wall Street, that spread like wildfire across the country, and brought a new vocabulary to the movement—Mic Check!
The Muslim and Arab communities have taken the lead in organizing to stand up to Islamophobia and the intensified repression of the War of Terror, raining down on us all. The Palestinians have inspired us by their unflagging determination to end over 60 years of ethnic cleansing and U.S.-backed Israeli oppression.
How has UNAC and the broader movement fared? Our first conference was the largest movement conference held since 9/11. Glen Ford summed it up this way in Black Agenda Report, in a report titled: “An Anti-War Movement That Won’t Cave to Obama or Israel.” He wrote: “A renewed antiwar movement is under construction, one that breaks decisively from the Cult of Obama, demands an end to all U.S. aid to the Israeli ‘apartheid regime,’ and calls for ‘immediate, total and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. troops, mercenaries and contractors from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and the immediate closing of all U.S. bases in those countries.’”
A highlight of the conference was a focus on Islamophobia and the targeting of Muslims and Arabs—culminating in a march to a local mosque. This was the first time that an alliance was forged between antiwar and Muslim activists. From that, the Muslim Peace Coalition was organized and a new civil liberties group, the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, was formed—and leaders and members of those organizations are here with us today.
Before the conference, there had not been national mass actions for a long period, and as a result, the antiwar movement was considered half dead. We, in UNAC, believe that, along with other types of actions, periodic, visible, mass actions in the streets are critical to building a powerful and inclusive movement. Mass actions bring new people into political action, demonstrate our power, and give heart to people around the globe that there is a movement demanding change in the United States.
We called for bicoastal demonstrations on April 9 and 10, 2011. Some 13,000 people marched last year in New York and San Francisco, and for the first time, there was a significant contingent of Muslims.
Today, UNAC is a well-established force on the left, the largest and most visible coalition in the country. We see our role as making the connections between the issues we all deal with as coming from the same source—the profit-making demands of the 1%. We are proud of what we have accomplished, and we are confident about our ability to build unity with all sectors of the antiwar, social justice, environmental, and international solidarity movements in united-front actions that will truly challenge imperialist power. Egypt taught us that things can change on a dime when the time is right and the mighty can fall.
This is an election year, when the lesser-evil Democrats tell us to leave the streets and campaign for the Democrats—or the evil Republicans will bring fascism down upon us! There is not a shred of evidence that this is true. The expanding wars and drone attacks, cuts in services, gifts to the obscenely wealthy, the trampling of our rights, assassinations of American citizens, and attempts to crush the fledgling Occupy movements, are horrendous bipartisan acts, happily led by the present big honcho Democrat in the White House.
Historically, the liberals, when in office, have been more dangerous, because many movement leaders mute their protests when Democrats are in power. When the powers-that-be hold the movement in their back pockets, they can readily move to the right without strong opposition.
Well, this year, we got a gift by the [Obama] Administration. They decided to bring the world’s economic and military rulers here, to plot their diabolical schemes. UNAC took the lead, in June 2011, in calling for national demonstrations in Chicago in May 2012, and helped to initiate CANG8, the Chicago-based coalition, doing a terrific job in leading the fight with the city and Homeland Security for our constitutional right to protest. Some movement leaders, warned us not to demonstrate—“now is not the time; it’s an election year, you know.” [Chicago Mayor] Rahm Emanuel and Obama cockily thought they could intimidate us from demonstrating, but our organizing efforts and civil liberties campaigns for the right to protest gave them second thoughts, and we chased the G-8 out of Chicago to Camp David.
We will continue to demand our right to protest “within sight and sound” of the Summit, and we will win! Thousands of us will be in Chicago to say No! to the NATO/G-8 Agendas of War, Poverty, and Repression. And we’ll be seeing the U.S. leaders again in August and September at the Democratic and Republican Conventions.
At this gathering of a broad and diverse movement, we have an incredible program for you to enjoy. There are 50 amazing workshops reflecting all sectors of activism and analysis. The panels of leading thinkers and activists reflect the major concerns we face today.
Last night, we set the stage by taking stock of the changing strategies of the 1%. We need to “Know thy Enemy” and what’s really motivating their actions—and as we heard, it ain’t freedom and democracy. This morning’s panel deals with our response to their military and economic plans.
Our lunchtime panel features the War at Home on the Black community, the most oppressed group in the country, and the most antiwar—and usually overlooked by the majority white left. We see the blatant racism that killed Trayvon Martin and the spontaneous response of sorrow and anger. We see the new Jim Crow of mass incarceration of Black youth, police brutality and surveillance, where over 40% of all prison inmates are African American and one-third of Black males born since 2001 will spend time in prison.
We see the crushing economic deprivation of a Black official unemployment rate of 13.6%, and a real rate that includes people who have given up is much, much higher. These conditions, in my opinion, will inevitably trigger a new civil rights struggle, and we all need to be part of it and stand together in solidarity.
Tonight’s panel will focus on the domestic repression targeting Muslims, the Bill of Rights, and the ceaseless war on workers and the organizations that represent their interests. Tomorrow, we will hear firsthand about the victims of repression, recognizing once again, that an attack on one is an attack on all.
Our lunch panel tomorrow features very different keynoters: Environmental activist Bill McKibben by SKYPE, foreign affairs analyst Vijay Prashad, and economist Richard Wolff. We finish tomorrow afternoon with a NATO/G-8 protest organizing session to hear about the plans for Chicago.
The other thing that makes UNAC unique and vital is that we discuss and debate major issues, vote democratically on our public positions, and decide on a program of actions that will take us through the next year. We believe in the united front.
While we may have differences on some issues, even some hot button ones, where emotions run high, we can calmly have a high-level discussion, debate the issues, and then unite around the principled demands and actions we can all agree with, while maintaining our different positions through our individual organizations. This is what allows us to grow and makes us strong.
We invite all of you whose organizations are not yet affiliated with UNAC to join us. We urge you to be an active partner in carrying out the mandates of this conference. We have application forms at the UNAC table for organizations that want to join and be part of the organizing and decision-making process. We want and need to have a leadership body—our coordinating committee—that is representative, broad, and diverse and reflects the composition of the movements that make up the coalition.
Make your travel plans now for Chicago and don’t miss the major mass demonstration of 2012!