Labor Advocate Online

An Open Letter to the Leadership of the Kansas City Peace Movement
by Bill Onasch

January 20, 2003

Dear Brothers and Sisters

First, let me congratulate you on some impressive achievements. Sending three bus loads of activists to the January 18 demonstration in Washington was quite an accomplishment. The regular vigils on the Plaza and in Westport have helped keep opposition to the war visible. The gathering of several hundred at the Fountain yesterday was commendable.

But, I'm afraid I have to say that I left yesterday's rally with some mixed feelings. I'm not just talking about the excessive length of most of the speakers' remarks—though that is a not unimportant consideration at an outdoor event in January. More importantly was the parochial mood of the gathering—people of faith preaching familiar messages to the choir.

This atmosphere did not reflect, and does not seem to welcome, the breadth of antiwar sentiment which currently runs both wide and deep throughout American society.

My guess is that a majority of those who oppose war on Iraq are not pacifists; many in fact supported the last Gulf War because they viewed it—however mistakenly—as a just war to liberate a conquered nation.

Opponents of the war are hardly united around the emotionally-charged issue of capital punishment—a major theme of yesterday's event.

Some, such as the Libertarians, would not even support slogans such as "money for jobs not war."

And, I suspect, that even many "people of faith," not to mention those who are nonbelievers, would prefer a more secular setting than most local movement events have had.

I would agree with those speakers who say there is a connection between war and racism, economic injustice, destruction of the environment, and many other evils in our society. But most others with antiwar sentiment have not, at least yet, drawn those conclusions. Even among those of us who see such connections there is little agreement about what should be done to address broader social issues.

I went through the experience of the Vietnam antiwar movement. Early on, and continuously to the end, we had debates about whether we should build a multi-issue movement or stick to a single issue of "bring the troops home now." The multi-issue attempts never succeeded in expanding beyond their initial components. On the other hand, the bring the troops home movement was embraced by literally millions on one level or another and clearly had an impact on the outcome of that war.

I believe we need to again move toward putting together a secular coalition that can unite as many opponents of this current threat of war as possible—around this one issue, and one issue only. Especially promising are the new opportunities opening up within organized labor.

Of course I do not want to exclude or muzzle people of faith, or anyone else. Speakers such as the ones at yesterday's event should be prominently featured at future rallies. But we should also include other antiwar currents as well and make clear that the only "line," the sole requirement for participation, is opposition to the threat of war against Iraq.

Let me close by again emphasizing my respect and appreciation for what you have done. I hope that we can do even better by reaching out further. I mean my criticisms to be constructive in substance and fraternal in tone. I look forward to your response and a productive discussion. I will post any replies on the KC Labor web site.

In solidarity,

Bill Onasch
member, U.S. Labor Against the War

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