ST. LOUIS — “Bring the troops home now!” was the urgent demand to the Bush administration from representatives of hundreds of peace and justice organizations who gathered here for the United for Peace and Justice National Assembly, Feb. 19-21.

Over 450 participants from throughout the country adopted a new strategic framework setting UFPJ’s top priority as ending the war and winning a complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. They debated and adopted proposals for mass demonstrations starting with the March 19 protest in Fayetteville, N.C., on the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. They forged legislative and educational campaigns, and elected a new, broadly representative steering committee, including 40 national and local groups, among them Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, American Friends Service Committee, National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, Communist Party, and Global Exchange.

Delegates emphasized the inseparability of the war in Iraq and “the war at home” against Bush administration budget proposals, and the urgency of stopping the administration’s drive for perpetual war and global domination.

The loudest, longest applause was accorded Hiroshima A-bomb survivor and peace leader Prof. Satoru Konishi as he told the assembly that, with the Bush administration’s drive to develop “usable” nuclear weapons, “Today, humanity faces extermination or survival. Our experience convinces us that nuclear arms must be eliminated now.”

Also warmly welcomed was Iraq Veterans Against the War founding member Michael Hoffman, who told participants, “Bush tries to create the illusion that in order to support our troops, we must support the war. That’s the biggest lie out there!”

Calling on the peace movement to “stay the course,” Hoffman declared, “Bring the troops home, and care for them when they get there.”

At the opening plenary leading activists considered, “What will it take to end the war in Iraq?”

“There is no more critical issue facing us in the community than this war that draws incredible resources from needed services in our community,” said Fred Douglas Mason Jr., president of the Maryland State and District of Colombia AFL-CIO.

Terry O’Neill, National Organization for Women vice president, said, “What we’re really up against is a ‘globalized’ military-industrial-prison complex.” O’Neill called on UFPJ to understand the connection between Bush’s war on women, his domestic policy of dismantling human needs programs and his foreign policy of permanent war. “Connect the dots,” she said. “Reach out” to environmentalists, women’s rights activists, communities of color, immigrant communities, the GLBT community.

With National Guard and reserve troops making up half the soldiers deployed in Iraq, Nancy Lessin of Military Families Speak Out said vital initiatives include Vermonters’ call for the Legislature to investigate the state’s losses from deployment of its Guard troops in Iraq.

Activist and author Tom Hayden urged “a dialogue with those who opposed getting into this war but are confused about getting out,” while author Rahul Mahajan pointed to the need to “overturn the dominant media framework. We are the pro-democracy forces,” the ones who want real sovereignty for Iraq, he added.

Other panelists included Veterans for Peace President David Cline, Maleena Lawrence of Oakland, Calif., Organized Community of United People, and moderator Amy Quinn of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Participants heard a dramatic exposé of the war at home — this time linked to slashed Medicare funds — as Mickey and Norman Slawson told how Missouri’s newly elected Republican governor plans to shut down the rehabilitation center where their severely retarded daughter has lived for over 40 years. “Don’t forget the struggles are intertwined,” said St. Louis area Jobs with Justice leader Joan Suarez as she introduced the Slawsons.

The weekend opened with a moving tribute to the late actor and activist Ossie Davis. A candle burned in his honor throughout the three days.

Among those performing during the weekend were vocalist and percussionist Tiye Giraud, poet Suheir Hammad, singers-songwriters David Lippman and David Rovics, and Hip-Hop against the War. Posters and videos were displayed throughout the meeting space.

UFPJ delegates also participated in a separate event Feb. 19, when Danny Glover joined Dr. Angela Davis for an evening of conversation relating art and politics, sponsored by St. Louis University’s Black Student Alliance.

mbechtel@pww.orgclick here for Spanish text