The international peace movement took another step forward last month when some 1,200 people gathered in London for the Dec. 10 “Stop the War” conference. The delegates, many from the United Kingdom, included representatives from about a dozen other countries, including the U.S., Iraq, the Philippines and Poland. The meeting called for worldwide protests on the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, March 18-19.
The conference passed two resolutions. The first described the Iraq war as the “central problem in world politics today” and called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. and British troops and an end to the occupation. The second deplored the holding of illegally detained prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, and called for their release, along with the release of four Christian Peacemaker Team members who are currently being held hostage in Iraq.
Among the U.S. delegates was Judith Le Blanc, co-chair of United for Peace and Justice. UFPJ is projecting a week of nationally coordinated, decentralized antiwar actions across the U.S. March 15-22.
Le Blanc, who is also a national vice-chair of the Communist Party USA, was interviewed by Richard Bagley of the Morning Star, a daily left newspaper in Britain. What follows are excerpts from that interview.
There is a special quality to Judith Le Blanc. Le Blanc exudes a welcoming warmth that invites people near her to join in conversation. She talks in an impassioned, yet incisive, tone. She is a veteran campaigner. She was drawn into activism by the civil rights struggle of her Native American community.
It is hard to remain unaffected by Le Blanc’s enthusiastic depiction of the changing situation in the U.S. She portrays a growing awareness among ordinary U.S. citizens that the problems that communities are facing domestically are heavily linked to the foreign policy being pursued by the Bush administration.
“The endless spending on the military budget is increasingly making the economy unstable,” she said. “Huge numbers of people don’t even have medical insurance. People are making the link. That frightens the right.”
She recalled a recent visit to the Pine Ridge Native American reservation. “It’s one of the largest reservations in the country,” she said. “There are 800 people from the reservation now serving in Iraq because of the predatory recruitment of the U.S. military.
“This reservation has the three poorest counties in the country with 85 percent unemployment. It is clear that the Bush administration made it a focus to go into the most impoverished communities — especially communities of color and immigrant communities — to press people who are in dire circumstances to join the military.
“It was very inspiring to see our people making the connections between the war and their impoverishment at home and understanding the need to organize.”
Le Blanc quoted recent opinion polls to show the depth of opposition to war in the U.S. “In a recent survey, 40 percent said that the U.S. should withdraw immediately. That is a breathtaking change.
“The challenge is to turn those public sentiments into an organized, politically empowered movement that can compel Congress to bring home the troops. The next challenge will be 2006 congressional elections.”
She pointed to the recent “Murtha-quake,” as it has been tagged by commentators. This saw Democratic Rep. John Murtha, a Vietnam veteran with a traditionally strong stance on defense policy, come out openly for a speedy withdrawal from Iraq.
“Murtha speaks for many within the Pentagon who are fearful to speak out about withdrawing the troops. He reflects the split developing on the war,” said Le Blanc.
But she issued a word of caution about the Bush administration’s plans to soften up U.S. voters in advance of the 2006 elections. “The Bush administration is going to reduce troop numbers next year for the U.S. election. But the danger is that the administration will begin a brutal air war that will bring increased havoc and destruction and an increased number of civilian deaths.
“The administration’s policy is premised on maintaining a pro-U.S. government in Iraq and control of the oil. The U.S. movement has a challenge to uncover these plans.”
Le Blanc believes that UFPJ must inform ordinary people of the truth and inspire them to activism.
“We have to have the confidence that everyday people can end the war and do great things,” she said.