Labor Advocate Online

Some E-Mail Responses to An Open Letter to the Kansas City Peace Movement

From Bill Onasch

Dear Bill, Brad, and Judy

I hope you will forgive me for this single reply to your three separate, thoughtful responses to my open letter. I think our exchange has been useful.

I agree with Bill and Judy that education about the need for long range, fundamental change to secure peace is an important component of what we should be doing. In fact I see the necessity for even more fundamental change than they mention—I think we will have to replace capitalism to get rid of wars. Ultimately I believe humanity will either embrace a democratic, global form of socialism that can eliminate the major causes of war—or we will fall into a nightmare era of slaughter and barbarism. I am willing and anxious to discuss this viewpoint with anyone showing the slightest interest.

Unfortunately there aren't many showing such interest. But there are millions in this country, and at least tens of thousands in the Kansas City area, who are urgently and rightly concerned about what Bill dismisses as a “hiccup.” Perhaps Iraq is just an episode in the long-run scheme of things. But it is an episode that confronts us now. The government that speaks in our name, and spends our money, is about to launch death and destruction in Iraq. I'm sure we all agree we have a duty to oppose this.

More than that this episode is the first real test of the arrogant “Bush Doctrine.” If he succeeds in Iraq there will be many more such actions to come. The best time to stop this doctrine is now.

I think it is possible to force Bush to back down—though that is a long shot. We don't have much time. We must marshal allies from the massive antiwar sentiment out there recognizing that this is a very diverse group. It  includes many who have quite different views than ours on many important social, economic, and political issues.

Some of these will be open to dialogue on broader questions. But many will resist “education” that goes much beyond the immediate issue of war on Iraq. That's something we need to be sensitive to. We can't simply talk at people holding different views. We should avoid the temptation to  try to “capture” opponents of the war by projecting additional slogans and demands they don't share. To a paraphrase a nineteenth century writing team I much admire “we should have no interests separate and apart from the interests of the antiwar movement.”

We can pursue education by having at antiwar events broadly representative speakers lists and by allowing all groups that oppose the war to freely distribute their literature, carry their own banners, and to advertise their own meetings.

We can also better imitate the highly effective forums known as Teach-Ins in the early days of the Vietnam movement, utilizing some of our academic resources to provide analysis and background.

In short my view of a single issue approach is that we are all inclusive, and make a genuine effort to provide a welcome atmosphere, to all who oppose the war on Iraq—for whatever reason. We act solely around this issue. At the same time we promote and facilitate  a reasonable amount of discussion and debate about the causes of war and how war is related to other issues.

As to the length of speeches I accept Brad's explanation. Everyone starts out with the best of intentions but sometimes these things get out of control.

Some made the point that the religious and pacifist emphasis was appropriate at the January 19 rally because it was billed as a King celebration event. I guess that's fair enough. However, I saw little evidence of the clergy involved bringing significant numbers of their congregations along.

I don't have a problem with clergy as speakers. In fact I would like to see more. Churches, along with unions, are the only really mass organizations of working people. Most mainstream religious bodies are on record against the war. The Holy Father has personally made some strong antiwar statements. It would be a great boost to our movement if these resolutions were translated into peace sermons and used to mobilize parishioners for antiwar events.

I have to admit I don't know much about how the churches operate. I know more about the functioning of unions. I was greatly impressed with the January 11 national gathering of trade unionists in Chicago that launched U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW). Nothing comparable to this happened during the Vietnam period until about the fifth year of the war. Several national unions and dozens of central labor bodies and local unions have adopted antiwar positions of one kind or another.

This is a very uneven development. Most of the resolutions have adopted a forthright no war stand. Others hold open the possibility of supporting war if it is sanctioned by the United Nations. We want to try to bring everyone along if possible.

The situation in the labor movement locally is not nearly as advanced as much of the rest of the country. Building formal support for the antiwar movement here will be no easy task. But we think we can find some openings to make a start.

February 15 seems to be the next date for major antiwar actions. I suspect it will not be possible to send nearly as many people so soon again to New York as we had for the January 18 action in D.C. Maybe a teach-in type event with a labor speaker or two, a bishop or two, some of our scholars and students. It could be a good way to combine protest and education.

Thanks again to all of you for your comments. While we may have some tactical differences here and there I think we're clearly capable of building a stronger, more united movement against the threat of war.

In solidarity,

Bill Onasch