United National Antiwar Conference Registers Antiwar Unity

by Barry Weisleder


Antiwar unity in action got a major boost from a gathering of over 800 peace and social justice activists, held July 23–25 in Albany, New York. The United National Antiwar Conference was the largest of its kind since 2001. It had the backing of thirty national organizations across the United States, including the National Assembly Against U.S. Wars and Occupations, US Labor Against the War, Arab American Union Members’ Council, Black Agenda Report, Code Pink, International Action Center, Iraq Veterans Against the War, National Lawyers’ Guild and Progressive Democrats of America. People came from as far away as California and Texas. Several activists from Canada attended too, including a War Resisters’ Canada representative, leaders of the NDP Socialist Caucus, and six members of Socialist Action/Ligue pour l’Action socialiste from Toronto and Montreal.

The UNAC heard from dozens of high profile speakers, including a video-recorded message from best-selling author and professor of linguistics Noam Chomsky, an audio message from world-renown political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal on death row, and written greetings from the unjustly jailed (and recently re-sentenced to 10 years) civil liberties lawyer Lynne Stewart. The proceedings were live-streamed via the inter net by The Sanctuary for Independent Media, which received thousands of hits during the weekend.

Following extensive discussion, with debate and voting on scores of amendments and additional proposals, the UNAC adopted a plan of action for the year ahead. The plan includes a wide range of activities, culminating in mass demonstrations in New York and San Francisco on April 9, 2011 in support of the following demands: “Bring the troops and military dollars home now!” and “Money for human needs — for jobs, education, housing, pensions, health care, and the environment — not war!”

Disillusionment with Barack Obama and visceral anger over the deepening and widening war in Asia drove many activists to the conference. But the spirit of unity against the war machine was not devoid of controversy. How many issues and causes should the movement seek to encompass and express?

Most think that the time has come to place Palestine at the forefront, despite resistance by some labour leaders. Thus, UNAC agreed to incorporate demands on the U.S. government to end all U.S. aid to Israel, denounced the occupation of Palestine, and approved the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, along with challenges to the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the murderous attacks on the Freedom Flotilla.

On the subject of Iran, the conference rejected by a wide margin a call for sanctions, taking the view that the enemy is at home (U.S. imperialism) and that it is up to the people of Iran to determine issues of democratic governance and nuclear power development in that country.

Stimulating, intense and animated discussions at over 30 workshops filled the weekend. The hottest topics included: “Is a two-state solution Possible or Desirable [in Israel-Palestine]?” and “The Rise of Right Wing Populism and the Tea Party: Do We Need a Right-Left [antiwar] Coalition?” Over a hundred people attended each of those sessions.

Close to sixty joined a panel discussion on Foreign Policy and the Economic Crisis, which included a presentation by this writer on Canada’s war in Afghanistan. Another forty or so witnessed a debate on “Electoral and Legislative Strategies against Militarism, War and Empire,” which featured left-Democrats, Greens, and the Socialist Action candidate for US Congress in Connecticut, Christopher Hutchinson.

Following the nearly unanimous adoption of the Action Plan, the UNAC voted to establish a Continuations Committee “to help coordinate and implement the decisions,” consisting of one rep and one alternate from each of the UNAC co-sponsoring groups that choose to participate. Jerry Gordon, who served as conference secretary, agreed to continue in that capacity, subject to future decisions on structure and personnel. A fund raising rally collected over $8,500 to continue the work of the gathering.

At the adjournment of the conference, about two hundred participants marched to the New York State Capitol building to demand freedom for Muslim political prisoners in America, for Mumia Abu-Jamal and Lynne Stewart, and for an end to the U.S. wars of occupation abroad.

The demonstration then walked for about a mile into Albany’s Black and Muslim communities, ending at Masjid As-Salam. The local mosque was the scene of a police raid about two years ago that led to the arrest and jailing of two congregants falsely accused of “terrorism” despite the absence of any disclosed evidence or of any illegal materials. The rally inside the mosque denounced the unjust incarceration of dozens of Muslims being held at Fort Dix, New Jersey and of hundreds more across the U.S. held under the provisions of the infamous Patriot Act — scapegoats in the “war on terrorism” being waged by Washington.

The so-far modest, but real revival and re-convergence of elements of the U.S. antiwar movement also pose a challenge to the movement across the Canadian state. After a two-year hiatus, and in the wake of the revelations by WikiLeaks of the sheer ugliness and poisonous nature of the Afghan quagmire, it is time to mobilize antiwar opinion, the majority opinion in Canada, back onto the streets. Best to begin now, with educational events in the Fall, and an international day of antiwar action on April 9.