December 20, 2008 in Breaking News
by Joe Lombardo
The national conference of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) took place in Chicago over the December 12 – 14 weekend. The conference was attended by around 220 people, including Trudy Quaif, Tim Herr, and me (Joe Lombardo) as representatives of Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace. BNP also brought along its literature table, which did a brisk business.
At the conference, we discussed a number of documents prepared by the UFPJ steering committee and elected a new steering committee to serve until the next conference. The UFPJ steering committee documents included a unity proposal, a structure proposal, and a proposal for action. Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace joined with 18 other UFPJ groups in proposing two amendments to the documents.
The first amendment was on Afghanistan. In the UFPJ documents, the war in Afghanistan seems to be downplayed. While the UFPJ documents still called for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, they did not do so for Afghanistan. Our amendment basically said that Afghanistan is not the “good war,” as some contend, and that UFPJ should call for immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. Ashley Smith from Vermont presented the motivations for passing this amendment, which appeared to have strong support. After some discussion, the UFPJ leadership decided to accept the amendment as “friendly,” which means that it got adopted.
The second amendment was on unified spring actions around the anniversary of the war in Iraq. Specifically, the amendment called for UFPJ’s support for a March 21 demonstration at the Pentagon, which is being supported by a broad array of peace groups, including ANSWER, the National Assembly, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), and others. Although IVAW did not formally attend the conference, a flyer was circulated from their National Board of Directors calling for UFPJ to support the March 21 action. The UFPJ document that we sought to amend called for a number of actions on various issues leading up to a rally on Wall Street on April 4th around the issues of “re-ordering of economic priorities.” The supporters of our amendment were not opposed to any of the actions that the UFPJ leadership proposed, so we asked that we not counter- pose the resolutions and simply include one more action in the UFPJ proposal, March 21. The UFPJ leadership said that it would be too much to work on their actions plus March 21, so they wanted the two proposals to be counter-posed. That means that the delegates had to vote for one or the other, but not both.
Motivations for our amendment were given by Marilyn Levin from Boston. There were three speakers for the amendment and three against. There were three Iraqis at the conference; all of them supported our March 21 amendment. The three speakers for our amendment included two of the Iraqis and me. There was then a motion to have open discussion for a half-hour. That motion was defeated, and so the discussion ended. The vote was 49 for March 21 and 111 against.
There was also a discussion around the structure of the steering committee. The UFPJ leadership proposed having 40 members, 20 voted by the conference and 20 permanent positions from certain national groups that support UFPJ. The discussion was mainly opposed to this structure, so the proposal was dropped. I was nominated for the UFPJ steering committee but was not elected.
All of the above was placed in the context of the recent elections. The UFPJ leadership felt that we are now in a new political period brought on by Obama’s election and by the movement that his campaign engendered. They believe that there are now massive numbers of young people and African Americans who became politically active around the campaign and that this requires a new orientation for UFPJ. Although this was never said explicitly, I interpreted this to mean that they did not want to put forward positions that might be construed as opposing Obama. I believe this is why the Afghanistan war was downplayed, why they moved away from the anti-war issue as being central to their orientation in the coming year, and why they did not want to have a demonstration in Washington.
Immediately after the conference, the call for the March 21 Pentagon march was solidified. I’m sure that many of you saw the e- mail that came from the ANSWER coalition. Below is the call from the National Assembly. An ad hoc coalition is being set up to build the action, and a web site is being created.
I strongly believe that as long as we have troops occupying two countries, we must keep a strong anti-war movement that is visible and out in the streets. As the Iraqis who spoke for the March 21 resolution told the UFPJ conference, the Iraqi and Afghan people need to see a strong movement against the war in the US. The present condition of the economy and the people coming into political motion around the Obama campaign simply mean that we have a greater opportunity today to build the anti-war movement and relate the war to the fiscal crisis, jobs, and other issues that have become pressing during this period.
Although I will encourage the anti-war movement to build the March 21 action, I think that organizations, especially those close to New York City, should also participate in any Wall Street action that develops out of the UFPJ call. Although we did not achieve formal unity this spring, those of us who support unity should practice it by supporting the Wall Street action. Perhaps we can build an anti-war contingent with a slogan like, “Money for jobs, not for war.”
If you would like to discuss any of these developments with me, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 518-439-1968
Joe Lombardo is a long-time peace activist from Albany, NY and a member of the Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace and the Albany Greens