Hundreds of delegates representing 325 local and national peace groups converged on Chicago June 6-8, 2003, for the first national strategy conference of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). UFPJ was founded seven months ago to co-ordinate efforts to stop the Bush administration’s drive to wage war on Iraq.
The more than 550 delegates from 38 states represented community, labor, student, and religious groups throughout the U.S.
UFPJ initiated the Feb. 15 “The World Says No to War” demonstrations, which mobilized millions around the U.S. with a half million in NYC alone.
That day of action was the high point of resistance to the Bush administration’s preemptive war strategy. It brought together national peace organizations with newly-formed local peace coalitions, along with national civil rights, labor, religious, student and immigrant rights groups. From that day on UFPJ helped to give voice to the millions who stood in opposition to preemptive war on Iraq.
UFPJ gained invaluable experience by organizing efforts to mobilize public opinion both at the grassroots and national level. The work drew diverse constituencies into action together, articulating the connections between foreign and domestic issues. The conference participants came from communities where the policies of spending tax dollars for war and occupation is being felt every day in their schools, hospitals and seniors centers. When speakers reflected this reality at the conference, along with the dangers to civil liberties and democracy, they got the biggest cheers. Participants know from their own experiences the interconnections between military spending and budget cuts, attacks on democratic rights and whipping up a war drive.
UFPJ’s Overall Strategic Framework presented to the conference highlighted the changing character of the movement born in the pre-Iraq war moment, but continuing in the time of preemptive strikes and occupation. The document argued, “We face the danger that with the end of the conventional war in Iraq that there will be a sense that a formal antiwar body is no longer necessary.”
The document continued, “UFPJ should help maintain a public and national debate on the dangers inherent in U.S. foreign policy; the criminality of the occupations of Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan; and the domestic justice struggles that are closely related because they center on ‘national security’ and militarism.”
As the conference convened the White House and right wingers on Capitol Hill pushed through a Senate Bill to lift the ban on research and development of small nuclear weapons, highlighting the critical importance of an active and expanding peace movement.
Participants gave strong support to national initiatives that maximized the political clout of the peace and justice movement. High priority was given to initiatives to activate peace sentiments in the 2004 election battles through political action on legislation, voter mobilization and education including demonstrations at the Republican and Democratic Party conventions next year. Detailed discussions about the 2004 elections dramatized the the critical importance of turning back the far right control of the White House and Congress.
Delegates also voted to prioritize mass education campaigns and national protest actions on civil liberties and immigrant rights, as well as linking with the movement for global justice in the struggles against World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). (See www.unitedforpeace.org for all conference materials.)
The success of bringing together national and grassroots organizers of the massive peace upsurge that was characterized by the New York Times on Feb. 16 as the “other super power” will be seen in the next 18 months. The priority for UFPJ of mass demonstrations, educational campaigns, lobbying and voter registration can be a powerful force in the 2004 elections, helping to defeat the dangerous, strategic outlook of unending war of the Bush administration.
Judith Le Blanc is a vice chair of the Communist Party and a newly elected member of the UFPJ steering committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org