UFPJís July 14 Statement on the September 24 Demonstration:
An Important Step in the Right Direction --Where We Agree and Where We Disagree
by Alan Benjamin, Jerry Gordon, Andy Griggs and Bill Onasch
We applaud the UFPJ statement issued July 14 that emphasizes that the September 24 demonstration will focus on the call for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq as its unifying demand. We note that the UFPJ leadership has listened to and responded in a positive way to the many groups and individuals, including members of U.S. Labor Against the War, who have spoken out about the need for a truly massive turnout for such an action.
The UFPJ statement goes on to say that UFPJ warmly welcomes our allies in the wide array of peace and justice movements to participate in the mobilization in ways that highlight the links between their struggles and issues and the absolute necessity to end the war on Iraq.
As supporters of the Emergency Ad Hoc Committee for a United Demonstration in Washington D.C. on September 24, 2005, we back UFPJís position on this, modifying it only to this extent: We advocate demands which we believe could help bridge the gap between the two coalitions that have called separate actions. These demands are Bring the Troops Home Now! Money for Jobs, Education, Health Care and Housing, Not for Wars and Occupations! (We are in agreement with the other UFPJ demands.)
We wish to emphasize that we believe that any settlement with ANSWER regarding demands must retain Iraq as the central focus. However, by proposing a demand that opposes the spending of money for wars (plural) and occupations (also plural), we seek to allow forces which condemn the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian land and the U.S. occupation of Haiti, Afghanistan, the Philippines, and other countries to be full participants, with central speakers on the platform, march banners and contingents, and even, if they choose, with their own feeder marches and feeder rallies. Our formulation would make it easier for those forces to visibly and vocally express their demands, while the demonstration as a whole keeps its central focus on Iraq.
The main difference we have with the approach being taken by UFPJís leadership is that it seemingly portrays the differences between the coalitions on demands as irreconcilable and etched in concrete. By contrast, we urge an all-out attempt to explore every possibility of negotiating a resolution of the differences so that there can be one united assembly point, one united march and one united rally.
We are convinced that there is virtually unanimous agreement in the antiwar movement that a single united demonstration that mobilizes a greater number of people can send a more powerful message of opposition to the war and occupation than two separate and competing actions can. So we have to ask: Why shouldn't there be a continuing effort to see if unity can be achieved? What is to be lost by trying to find a way to bring the two coalitions together?
So far as we can tell at this point, there are three obstacles posed. One is that some groups in UFPJ have such a deep animus toward ANSWER that they want nothing to do with its leadership; second, that trying to negotiate a resolution of the differences would take too much time; and third, that it would be an exercise in futility because the differences cannot possibly be resolved.
Regarding the first of these, the issue here is not whether people like ANSWERís leadership or disagree with things they have done. The decisive consideration that overrides all others is that ANSWER has demonstrated an ability to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people against the war and occupation and is taking a principled position calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. If we favor unity of all who oppose the war and occupation of Iraq, we canít possibly exclude ANSWER from that united force.
Second, regarding the hours required to work out an agreement for a united action, we agree that it would likely be a time consuming and difficult experience. The question is whether itís worth investing the energy and patience to make it happen. Given what is at stake here, we strongly believe it is. We can hardly imagine a more necessary expenditure of effort at this critical juncture in the campaign to end the slaughter which goes on day after day in Iraq, with no end in sight. We in this country, above all, have a responsibility to find the path to unity, no matter how long it takes or how hard it is to achieve.
The final argument is that the differences are so fixed in place that nothing can be done to overcome them. But here is where the rank-and-file the grass roots of the antiwar movement have a role to play. If enough people and their organizations speak up and are heard on behalf of unity, it cannot be foreclosed that unity will be attained.
Please see attached the response to the Call for Unity issued only days ago by the Emergency Ad Hoc Committee. You will note the names of leading trade unionists, African Americans, Latinos, Palestinians, civil rights activists, representatives of womenís organizations, veterans, journalists, attorneys, academicians, students, city council members, physicians, nurses, members of independent political parties, local antiwar groups, people engaged in other foreign policy issues, peace and justice activists, and concerned individuals. Their sentiment is unmistakable, certainly not limited to adding their names to an increasingly long list. If leaders of the antiwar coalitions would only read the opinions being expressed by signers of the statement which are pouring in, they would, we hope, give pause to the path they are pursuing and explore instead finding the road to unity.
Is unity assured just because the overwhelming majority of those who make up the antiwar movement favor it? We make no such claim. We only say that the attempt must be made to forge unity. Who can seriously quarrel with that?
If unity is not attained, at least it must be made clear that UFPJ sought to accommodate ANSWERís concerns and the concerns of some of its constituent groups by proposing the demands above (see third paragraph from the top).
The UFPJ statement takes note of one of the concerns about our decision not to merge our September 24 demonstration with a separate anti-war event being organized that same day. The statement goes on to say that UFPJ takes seriously the apprehension about the potential for confusion if there are two separate marches to the demonstration. It then announces that UFPJ will seek to convene a meeting with ANSWER io work through logistical issues about the day, including the possibility of bringing the marches together. This could be a step in the right direction but we urge that such a meeting go beyond logistical issues and seek a unified demonstration.
Anything less has the potential of causing further polarization of the antiwar movement, especially on the Palestinian issue. Moreover, two separate actions will inevitably result in a great deal of confusion and could be a logistical nightmare. The news that we want the world to hear about and read about after the September 24 demonstration is that hundreds of thousands of people descended on the nationís capital in unison to demand that the U.S. get out of Iraq now. Why should we give the Bush administration and the media an opening to focus instead on the divisions within the antiwar movement, alleged differences over Palestine, and disarray resulting from separate assembly sites, separate marches and separate rallies? Wouldn't this be playing into the governmentís and media's hands by making it more possible for them to obscure the demand for immediate withdrawal from Iraq?
Let us hope that the leadership of the U.S. antiwar movement listens to the voices from below and rises to the occasion by bringing us together on September 24 in Washington D.C.