UNAC Conference Draws 400 Activists

Over 400 antiwar and social justice activists from 29 states gathered in Secaucus, N.J., near New York City, on May 8-10 for a “Stop the Wars at Home & Abroad!” conference that ratified a multi-faceted Action Plan addressing both domestic and international issues.

The conference was sponsored by the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC). Founded in 2010, UNAC is now the largest antiwar coalition in the United States, with nearly 120 member organizations opposing U.S. wars in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, South America and the Caribbean.

The conference included leading activists from the British-based Stop The Wars Coalition as well as representatives from Latin American, Canadian, German, Ukrainian, and other organizations opposing U.S. wars around the world.

Conference delegates also included a number of now U.S.-based activists representing struggles in their home countries—Colombia, Haiti, Honduras, Iran, Mexico, Palestine, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Syria, and Venezuela. Solidarity messages were received from Cuba, Ireland, New Zealand and Russia.

A total of 116 organizations participated in the conference. There were more than 100 speakers, more than half of whom were people of color and women. There were six plenary sessions, 31 workshops, and a Saturday night “Tribunal on the Militarization of the Police & Structural Racism.”

While UNAC conferences have always addressed domestic issues, this one was unique in that it was the first time a national antiwar gathering so clearly took up the need to oppose the war being waged against oppressed communities and working people in the United States.

In the opening plenary session, Jaribu Hill, founder of the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights, delivered a stirring call for solidarity with young activists. Declaring that resistance to the status quo is the only way forward, she called the youth who rebelled in Baltimore “young Steve Bikos and Harriet Tubmans.”

Lawrence Hamm, founder and chair of the People’s Organization for Progress (POP) in Newark, N.J. urged united opposition to “all U.S. boots on the ground, defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership, solidarity with the fight against union busting and other attacks on the working class at home, and a united challenge to the ceaseless racist attacks on Black and Brown people!”

Other New Jersey organizations with speakers at the conference included Action 21, the Jersey City Peace Movement and New Jersey Peace Action.

Opposing the wars abroad

On the international front, conference participants heard from longtime antiwar activist Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who recently completed a three-month prison sentence for protesting U.S. drone warfare.

Other keynote speakers were Kazem Azin of Solidarity Iran; Medea Benjamin of Code Pink; Maurice Carney of the Friends of the Congo; Bruce Gagnon of Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space; Malachy Kilbride of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance; Ed Kinane of the Upstate (N.Y.) Drone Action Network; Ray LaForest of Haiti Support Network; David Swanson of WarBeyondWar.org; and Kevin Zeese of PopularResistance.org.

The conference also heard from retired U.S. Col. Ann Wright, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and former U.S. State Department official Peter Van Buren, all of whom are now prominent opponents of U.S. wars.

Solidarity with struggles at home

On Saturday evening, the “Tribunal on the Militarization of the Police & Structural Racism” heard from Michelle Kamal, whose son was murdered by police. Other tribunal presenters included Manzoor Cheema of Muslims for Social Justice in Raleigh, N.C.; Larry Holmes from the People’s Power Assemblies; and the Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou from Ferguson, Mo.

Clarence Thomas of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 spoke about how his local shut down San Francisco-area ports this past May Day in support of the urban rebellions against police killings.

Other speakers for workers’ rights included John Dennie of National Postal Mail Handlers Union Local 300, a founder of the Postal Defenders coalition and an organizer for the “Stop Staples” campaign; Charles Jenkins, President of the New York Chapter of the National Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; Shafeah M’Balia of North Carolina-based Black Workers for Justice; and Rolandah Cleopattrah McMillan of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, representing Virginia Raise Up and the “Fight for $15 and a Union” campaign.

Recently elected Boston bus driver and Steelworker Local 8751 President Andre Francois addressed the conference, surrounded by union members. Local 8751 recently defeated a company-inspired frame-up of several of its members.

Marilyn Zuniga, a teacher from Orange, N.J., who was recently fired after some of her students wrote get-well cards to ailing Mumia Abu-Jamal, won support from the conference for her fight to regain her job.

Other speakers addressing important domestic issues were Gerry Condon of Veterans for Peace; Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report; Imani Keith Henry of The Equality for Flatbush (N.Y.) Project (E4F); Cheri Honkala of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign; climate change author and activist Antonia Juhasz; and John Parker, a leader in the Los Angeles ballot initiative to win a $15 minimum wage.

As in past UNAC conferences, Muslims fighting for social change played important roles. These included Malik Mujahid of the Muslim Peace Coalition and chairman of the Parliament of World’s Religions; Sharmin Sadequee of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms; Manzoor Cheema, founder of Muslims for Social Justice; as well as members of Project SALAM, which works on issues of preemptive prosecution of Muslims. Joe Iosbaker, a member of the Antiwar Committee-Chicago, himself a target of FBI repression, spoke about the case of Palestinian-American political prisoner Rasmea Odeh.

Also speaking on this panel was attorney and former political prisoner Lynne Stewart. Pam Africa spoke about the 30th anniversary of the bombing of the MOVE commune in Philadelphia and the continuing case of U.S. political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. The conference endorsed MOVE’s May 13 rally on the anniversary of the bombing.

A Message from Cuba

On Saturday afternoon, UNAC Administrative Committee member Jeff Mackler read a message to the conference from Kenia Serrano Puig, President of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples. The message opened by stating, “The work UNAC does in USA in the struggle for social justice and against military interventions in other nations is a topic of utmost importance.”

Mackler expressed UNAC’s joy at the release of the Cuban Five and recounted UNAC’s  consistent opposition to all forms of U.S. intervention in Cuba. To the thunderous applause of the packed conference session Cuba was approved as an honorary member of UNAC. “Let’s send that message to the National Security Administration,” said Mackler.

Several Ukrainian activists attended, including three from Odessa who brought a photo display of the murderous, right-wing attack on the House of Labor in that city. The Ukrainians spoke at a plenary session and in a workshop on the expansion of NATO and the situation in Ukraine. Their central message to the conference was a plea against U.S. war and intervention.

Other speakers at the conference included former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney; Born King Allah of the Nation of Gods & Earths; “Addicted to War” author Joel Adreas; Palestinian author and activist Susan Abulhawa; Johnny Achi of Arab Americans for Syria; Abayomi Azikiwe of the Pan-African News Wire; William Camacaro of the Alberto Lovera Bolivarian Circle; Dr. Ghias Moussa of the Syrian American Forum; and U.S-based Honduran activist Lucy Pagoada-Quesada.

International speakers included Elizabeth Byce of the New Democratic Party of Canada, Socialist Caucus; Chris Nineham of the U.K. Stop the Wars Coalition; and Elsa Rassbach of the German National Drone Campaign, which is demanding the closing of the Satellite Relay Station at the U.S. Air Base Ramstein and the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in Stuttgart.

Also addressing the conference were central UNAC leaders Judy Bello of the Upstate (N.Y.) Coalition to Ground the Drones & End the Wars; Ana Edwards and Phil Wilayto of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality; Bernadette Ellorin of BAYAN USA; Sara Flounders of the International Action Center; Joe Iosbaker of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression; Margaret Kimberley of Black Agenda Report; Jeff Mackler of Bay Area UNAC; and UNAC Co-Coordinators Marilyn Levin and Joe Lombardo.

People’s culture was represented by the Hip Hop duo Rebel Diaz, the Filipino dance group Potri Ranka Manis and Syrian poet Avin Dirki.  The conference was opened with a poem by Raymond Nat Turner of Black Agenda Report.

Socialist action members Marty Goodman, Christine Marie, and Daniel Adams were presenters in workshops dealing with climate change, oil wars, and Haiti, Cuba and Honduras.

A full list of speakers can be found at the conference website: http://UNACconference2015.org.

The conference was live-streamed by GoProRadio.com, enabling many more people who were not able to attend to follow the proceedings. Much of the conference can be seen on video from GoProRadio.com and provided below. Videos of many of the sessions can be found at:  http://nepajac.org/conferencevid.htm

This article is an edited version of the report on the conference issued by UNAC and available on its website: http://UNACpeace.org.

Photo: Black Agenda Report Co-editor Glen Ford speaks at the UNAC conference. By Barry Weisleder / Socialist Action