United for Peace and Justice sets course to end Iraq war

ROSEMONT, Ill. — United for Peace and Justice, the national antiwar coalition, decided at its third national assembly here June 22-24 to make congressional action to end the Iraq war its number one priority in the coming months.

Over 300 peace activists representing labor, faith-based, youth, women, LGBT and community groups from 35 states and 184 UFPJ member organizations participated in the assembly, held on the outskirts of Chicago.

The assembly resolved to mobilize national and local antiwar actions culminating with simultaneous regional demonstrations on Oct. 27. It projected continued efforts to counter military recruitment and support military families, veterans and active duty service men and women; making connections between domestic crises and the cost of the war; and preparing for the 2008 presidential elections.

“UFPJ is bringing people into motion that have never been in the peace movement before,” UFPJ co-chair Judith Le Blanc told the World. “UFPJ is acutely aware of the connection between peace and justice. We cannot make any headway on economic or social justice without a change in foreign policy especially in ending the occupation and war in Iraq.” Organizing to defeat Republicans in the coming elections is key, she added.

Carl Davidson from Chicagoans Against War and Injustice welcomed the delegates, saying Chicago is an “antiwar town.” Davidson noted that across the country voters and elected officials are taking a stand against the war. He cited Chicago’s City Council, which voted 47-1 against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and then, in 2005, voted by a strong majority to get out in the middle of the war. Last fall, Davidson noted, 80 percent of Chicago voters approved a ballot initiative calling for ending the Iraq war and bringing the troops home.

Kelly Campbell lost her brother-in-law on Sept. 11 and is with September 11th Families For Peaceful Tomorrows. “We don’t want other families to go through what we are going through,” she said, adding that we have to break down the idea, “Well they did it to us, and so we have to do it back to them.”

According to the National Priorities Project, the total spent on the Iraq war, including Congress’ recent vote for additional funds, is nearly half a trillion dollars. Congress will soon be asked to approve another $142 billion in war spending for the next fiscal year.

Dorothea Wilson, who is African American and the president of AFSCME District Council 47 retirees in Philadelphia, told the World, “That money should go towards our schools to help those that really need it.” She added, “Too many people are focused on the war abroad and lose sight of the war here at home in our communities.”

Rossana Cambron, a member of Military Families Speak Out from California, has a 23-year-old son serving in Iraq. She said she can’t lose sight of the future. “One of the things I’m leaving this assembly with, as a mother of a son in Iraq, is hope.”

“The elections and changing Congress really affects our families,” she added. “We want our troops home yesterday.”

John Cameron, political director for AFSCME in Illinois and an executive committee member of USAction, a coalition of unions and economic rights organizations, spoke on a panel of activists from movements on domestic issues such as immigrant rights and rebuilding after Katrina, and from the African American community, who are making the link to ending the war. Cameron said his group has started a project called Iraq Summer, targeting 100 congressional districts to build an antiwar supermajority that can end the war. Gains on domestic issues like health care or education won’t happen without ending the Iraq war, he said.

USAction is part of Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, which includes SEIU, Win Without War, MoveOn.org, VoteVets and others. It seeks to link to state and national spending on human needs to ending the war.

Small sessions throughout the weekend discussed immigrant rights, the youth movement and counter recruitment, the fight for equality and building alliances with racially and nationally oppressed communities, forging peace and labor solidarity, and the women’s and LGBT movements. All connected these issues to the urgency of ending the war.

One of the highlights was an inspiring and emotional public event that included solidarity greetings and peace appeals from Iraqi trade union leaders Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein and Faleh Abood Umara; Dr. Mona El-Farra, vice president of the Gaza Red Crescent Society; Nguyen Thi Hong, representing Agent Orange victims from Vietnam; British Member of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn; and a group of Iranian cyclists biking around the world with a message of peace.

Tom Hayden, longtime antiwar activist and former state senator in California, helped open the conference. Hayden said, “Now is the time to write ourselves into history. We are aligned with the majority. This generation will end this war and defeat the neoconservatives. Ending the war will be followed by a new progressive movement.”

The assembly also elected a new steering committee.

plozano @pww.org