Some Thoughts on the National Assembly against the Iraq War, Cleveland, Ohio, June 27–29, 2008

by Paul LeBlanc

[These comments were posted to an Internet discussion group of people involved with preparations for a conference on the Legacy of Leon Trotsky to be held at Fordham University, the Bronx, New York, the weekend of July 26, 2008.]

Here are some of my thoughts on the National Assembly against the Iraq war that just took place in Cleveland, drawing about 400 antiwar activists from around the country to discuss the state of the antiwar movement. I’ve shared this with Pittsburgh antiwar activists but think it might be of interest for those concerned with the Trotsky Legacy Conference as well.

The conference was a genuine success. The result is—in my opinion—a bit “lumpy” (some amendments that passed add complications to what the National Assembly is trying to accomplish, although they are manageable and perhaps can be transformed into additional strengths). The result is also an entity that is vibrant and has some genuine potential for accomplishing its goal—a democratic, unified antiwar movement that is politically independent and that can mobilize millions of people around the demand that U.S. troops be immediately withdrawn from Iraq.

Pittsburgh had about 16 activists in Cleveland, mostly from the Antiwar Committee of the Thomas Merton Center. We threw ourselves into the discussions and the nitty-gritty work of the conference and have come away feeling energized and more committed than ever to push forward on the basis of the conference’s results. I think that is the case with others as well.

The conference was an important test for a number of groups and individuals. It was possible to hear them and see them in action, and it is easier to evaluate some of their strengths and weaknesses. Some of us affiliated with UFPJ have a deepened sense, I think, of the need for us to strengthen and better orient our wing of the antiwar movement. The presence of a variety of socialist organizations (much maligned and baited by all-too-many inside and outside the antiwar movement) helped us to determine that there are significant differences among them—some being mired in destructive and sectarian dynamics, some capable of playing an incredibly positive and effective and unifying role. It was also instructive to see what groups and forces were barely present or not present at all—there is more work to be done to draw them in and encourage them to play a role in such efforts.

Passing the test with flying colors, in my opinion, was the leadership of the National Assembly. This was reflected in the functioning of the conference’s presiding committee: Jerry Gordon (a longtime and nationally known progressive labor and peace activist from Cleveland), Jeff Mackler (not only well known for antiwar, civil liberties, and other efforts on the West Coast, but also a leader of Socialist Action), Marilyn Levin (a prominent leader of a very broad antiwar coalition spanning the New England states), Colia Clark (a seasoned veteran of SNCC, who continues to lead antiracism and social justice efforts in Philadelphia), and Greg Coleridge (a thoughtful, highly principled, and capable leader of the American Friends Service Committee in Ohio).

The balance they were able to strike—putting forward procedures that helped the conference avoid chaos and incoherence while scrupulously adhering to democratic functioning—made all the difference in the National Assembly’s being able to realize its goal (a genuinely, broad, wide-ranging, democratic discussion on the war, the antiwar movement, and future perspectives) and to bring into being a national network of activists who can continue to be a force for the unity of antiwar forces around a commitment to mass actions capable of limiting the options of the warmakers and bringing the troops home from Iraq and the Middle East region.

It was also incredibly valuable for us to be able to hear such stunningly articulate and informative speakers as Jeremy Scahill (exposing the dark realities represented by the private military forces of Blackwater) and Iraq war veteran Jonathan Hutto. No less valuable was the opportunity for us to network with activists from many other parts of the country, establishing links and relationships that will stand us in good stead as we work in our localities to build effective opposition to the war.

Jonathan Hutto

Jeremy Scahill