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Up and down the road to a big anti-war movement

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  • progress@ix.netcom.com
    Up and down the road to a big anti-war movement By Fred Sanderson Numerous coalitions and organizations have sprung up to do anti-war work in the Bay Area.
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 2, 2001
      Up and down the road to a big anti-war movement
      By Fred Sanderson

      Numerous coalitions and organizations have sprung up to do anti-war
      work in the Bay Area. Most of them have had similar politics, calling
      for an end to US military action, the defense of the Arab, Muslim,
      and immigrant communities from hate crimes and racist scapegoating,
      and defending civil liberties from government attack in the wake of
      the horrific acts of terrorism on September 11, 2001.

      These coalitions have done okay. They have put on more teach-ins than
      one could count, let alone attend, all over the Bay Area. A couple of
      decent sized rallies were held in San Francisco. Over 5,000 antiwar
      activists met at Dolores Park on September 29. 3,000 marched on the
      streets of SF when the bombing started on October 7. 3,500 marched in
      downtown San Francisco on October 20. So far, San Francisco has
      produced the only demonstration anywhere in the country defending
      immigrants, particularly Arabs and Muslims from scapegoating and
      racism. This demonstration was held on October 13.

      However, some left organizations, most notably the International
      Socialist Organization (ISO) and the Workers' World Party (WWP), have
      a tendency to create front groups for their own organizations and
      call them "coalitions." At the same time, each have a number of
      satellites who operate in agreement with one, the other, or both. One
      must ask why they aren't all in the same group.

      Among the satellites are the so-called Committees of Correspondence
      (a group of a few people exchanging business cards at each event),
      Socialist Action (and its recent split, the Socialist Workers
      Organization), and a number of what is known as "rubber stamps."
      Competition between these two blocks repeatedly program different
      actions on the same day (if not the same action on different days),
      even though both blocks very often use the same rhetoric and bring
      the same speakers to "preach to the choir." This method of movement
      building is very divisive, and has led to a lot of wasted time and
      competing events over the course of the war drive and the war itself.

      Further, Bush's war on terrorism has netted some early military
      successes, avoiding inflicting as heavy damage as originally expected
      to the population of Afghanistan. Polls released just after the
      November 6 elections also showed that more than 54% of Bay Area
      residents view George Bush as their "Commander-in-Chief," shattering
      the illusion that this typically progressive and liberal region of
      the country was a hotbed of anti-war sentiment, as in the 1960s.
      Better than Kansas City, to be sure, but far from an anti-imperialist
      headquarters. This political reality, coupled with the common
      politics and methodology of the different "coalitions," has led to
      common results over the last couple of weeks: they are all shrinking.

      But there is another reality going on. President Bush is now trying
      to use the "momentum" built up over Afghanistan to continue waging
      war. Maybe Somalia, Sudan or even Iraq, who knows? Meanwhile, there
      has been a high casualty rate among civil liberties right here in the
      US. This includes the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, the Executive
      Order allowing Bush to try non-citizens who he thinks might be
      terrorists in secret military tribunals with the power to use the
      death penalty against defendants and in which hearsay is admitted as
      evidence, and the new draconian quarantine laws.

      All of these laws are likely to remain on the books, even after the
      present crisis passes. And there are still over 1,000 detainees who,
      for the most part, have not been charged with any crime related to
      terrorism. This certainly has the potential to change the minds of
      many Americans who today support the War on Terrorism. The movement
      could emerge anew around any of these issues.

      So now is the time to fix the glitches of the antiwar movement and
      get prepared to the new wave ahead. This hiatus in movement should be
      used to prepare better tools for tomorrow.

      Fighting for survival

      The Town Hall Committee to Stop War and Hate (THC, mostly a front
      group for the ISO and some other minor league leftists) understood
      some of these realities pragmatically and tried to bring together all
      of the, "diverse organizations and coalitions doing critical anti-war
      organizing work in various communities throughout the Bay Area with
      the objective of collaborating on a United Day of Action." This is an
      entirely appropriate response to the situation described: movement
      shrinking, band existing forces together to try to keep it going, for
      the war is likely to continue in the new year, possibly with some
      renewed opposition to it.

      Between fifty and sixty people, representing some 28 different
      organizations, responded to the THC's invitation by turning up at the
      auditorium at New College on Thursday, November 29, at 7PM. Most in
      attendance were organizations or activists commonly associated with
      THC. Most of them had known each other on a first name basis for a
      long time.

      A few students and faculty from City College of San Francisco were
      there, ditto for SF State, members of the Committees of
      Correspondence going by the name of Latinos Against War for the
      occasion, as well as those already mentioned. Two representatives
      from the International ANSWER Coalition, which is also known as the
      International Action Center, which is a front group for the WWP
      showed up. Maybe fifteen aging red-diaper babies from the Marin
      County Coalition for Peace and Justice were present. After about
      twenty minutes of settling down, signing in, and making nametags, the
      meeting began.

      A representative from THC (who is also a member of ISO, who was also
      co-chairing the meeting) then delivered a welcoming speech,
      recognizing the "excellent and critical work that the different
      organizations in the room were doing in their respective
      constituencies," and emphasizing the importance of uniting. She then
      made a 180-degree turn, carefully explaining that the meeting was not
      called for the purpose of forming a coalition, but merely to see if
      any of these organizations could do anything together. The welcomer
      then called on those present at the meeting to endorse a five-point
      agenda, including introductions, creating a decision-making process,
      action proposals (with time set aside for discussion and voting), and
      making a plan for the next meeting.

      At this point, a member of Socialist Alternative, an organization to
      the left of the ISO and WWP that is also promoting a broader form of
      anti-war movement, pointed out that elaborating a decision-making
      process and planning actions was a step perhaps best taken after
      constituting a coalition, and asked what the hold up to forming such
      an organization might be. This was clearly a diplomatic call to
      recognize reality and unite every group, putting aside petty turf

      The representative of the UC Berkeley Stop the War Coalition
      considered the fact that he was representing another coalition that
      had not granted him the authority to join another coalition in the
      name of all of the organizations within his coalition of origin as a
      hold up. A representative from the Labor Committee for Peace and
      Justice mentioned that he, also, did not possess the authority to
      join another coalition, that he was only there to report back to his
      coalition on what happened at the meeting, and they would take a
      decision then. Finally, someone from a Marin County organization
      whose name is too long to remember drove it home: she may not WANT
      to "coalesce" with some of the other organizations in the room.

      Back and forth

      The meeting moved into introductions. The chair encouraged everyone
      to include a bit of rhetoric explaining why he or she came to the
      meeting with his or her introduction, and most indulged themselves.
      The meeting here made its second 180-degree turn of the evening. It
      turned out that most everyone there wants to build a big united anti-
      war movement, even if the format of a coalition may not suit their
      needs. Translation: "We should keep our own shrinking little turfs to
      ourselves, but we should agree to call a common action, some time in
      the future. This will help us maintain the illusion that we are all
      united when we are not."

      And so the discussion moved into what decision-making processes this
      gathering, which is not yet a coalition, should use. It was
      determined that any participating organization should be entitled to
      one vote. However, organizations that had done a substantial amount
      of their organizing as part of a coalition were encouraged to defer
      their vote to the representative of their coalition, thus fostering
      an atmosphere of "trust." Following this principle, most of the left
      organizations at the meeting gave up their votes to representatives
      of one of their front "coalitions," except for the WWP, who only
      brought WWPers to represent their "coalition," although they voted in
      the name of ANSWER.

      Translation: Left groups like the WWP and the ISO pass as activists
      without affiliation and try to form "coalitions," not with already-
      established organizations to which independent activists could join,
      but by dissolving their members into a general body of people through
      which they can maneuver towards organizational control and keep the
      periphery unaware of their own group. Cadres of their organizations
      are surreptitiously sent to chair committees. Bitter, low intensity
      and low profile battles are conducted from the go over control of
      phone and mailing lists collected at meetings. They call this
      a "coalition." In reality, they are no more than amorphous
      collections of left activists, or organized factions of protesters.

      It was also proposed that the discussion on action proposals be
      conducted with timed rounds, with the chairs taking speakers lists
      and checking at twenty-minute intervals to see if the discussion need
      continue. Now, the strange thing is that many of those who opposed
      forming coalitions because they lacked "authority" from their front
      groups (sorry, coalitions) cast votes on program, forms of voting and
      even dates and type of action as if they HAD the authority they
      claimed to lack.

      The chair from the ISO opened the first round by proposing a
      coordinated mass march and rally. Some proposed a United Day of
      Action only with each group organizing on their home turf. By the end
      of the first discussion round, it was clear that everyone wanted to
      do a united action of some kind, perhaps a mass rally with smaller,
      more local actions building up to it. The chair proposed for the
      second round of discussion that speakers try to focus in on securing
      a date for said action. The WWP proposed that this new non-coalition
      call its action for a date they were already organizing another
      event, their typical way of controlling the mike at a given rally.
      People declined to bite, and voted the proposal down.

      Disruptive chairs

      But wait! Not everyone had said his or her piece about what kind of
      action was needed. That meant the discussion from the first timed
      round had no choice but to carry over, much to the chagrin of the

      The representative from Socialist Alternative began his contribution
      by stating the date he supported and why, and then explained that he
      had had his hand up during the previous timed round, and began to say
      his piece. He pointed out that the anti-war movement in the US had
      thus far failed to break out of the left organizations and their
      immediate peripheries and continued to "preach to the converted."

      Therefore, anti-war organizers needed to seriously consider changing
      the outreach methods that they use. First, it may be proper to
      emphasize the point in our platform relating to the defense of civil
      liberties in our outreach and at the United Day of Action, due to the
      fact that there are many people in the US who are against losing
      them, even if they support other aspects of the war on terrorism. He
      also pointed out that rather than giving every left group two minutes
      to speak, why not find speakers important enough, courageous enough,
      articulate enough, diverse enough and famous enough to be quoted by
      the media and give them more time to make their points in a way that
      people outside of the left will respond to.

      Just as he was finishing, the chair interrupted to inform him that he
      was no longer speaking on the topic of the date. The representative
      from Socialist Alternative informed the chair that if he would avoid
      interrupting him, he could finish his point, and the meeting could
      proceed. The chair relented and the meeting continued. The chairs
      were not prepared to listen to anyone suggesting ways in which they
      could be more effective. That could divide the turf they had carved
      for themselves!

      The chairs' insistence on keeping people from diverting from a rather
      dry discussion about what date to have a big demonstration on almost
      caused the meeting to break down just a few minutes later. The
      representative from the Immigrant Rights Movement (MDI), one of the
      few women of color at the event, expressed what date she supported
      and then began to speak to the character of the action, and how those
      present in the room's reticence to call a coalition in order to go
      back to their coalitions or organizations of origin was a poor use of
      time that could be spent outreaching to other organizations to make
      an even broader coalition.

      This time, two of the chairs began to demand that she be quiet. A
      member of the obscure SWO grouping heckled his support for the chairs
      from the back of the room. The meeting agreed to call a day of action
      for February 23, and to reconvene the organizations present on
      December 14, location TBA. Topics of discussion are sure to include
      whether or not to form a coalition, making it clear that the
      discussion that evening was just a maneuver to win some time.

      For one, big, democratic anti-war movement

      It is apparent that despite the necessity of combining forces in
      order to continue building an anti-war movement and their expressed
      desire to team up and kick ass, these organizations are extremely
      reluctant to do so, even for an objective as limited as a United Day
      of Action a couple of months away. It seems as though there is a good
      deal of fright at the notion of losing control of a small and
      shrinking periphery of anti-war activists, particularly on the part
      of the ISO and the WWP. They subscribe to the conventional "wisdom"
      of the left: that normal, working class folks outside their circles
      cannot be won over to understanding and confronting the Bush's war
      drive neither at home nor abroad.

      Of course, when a real anti-war sentiment develops, this petty
      maneuvering by tiny organizations will be overwhelmed by the sheer
      numbers of people who feel the urge to confront the government's
      manipulations. So, people opposed to the war should not be
      discouraged if they stumble into this surreal, parallel universe of
      organizational stinginess and pettiness. Just participate and raise
      hell. We'll get what we need.

      What we need is one, united, democratically-run antiwar movement to
      confront Bush both at home and abroad. A movement that will reach
      out to a broad spectrum of organizations and communities,
      particularly communities of color and immigrants. A coalition that
      will raise the issue at workplaces and union halls. A coalition in
      which every organization can put forward their proposals at meetings
      free of undemocratic rules. A coalition that will speak on the issues
      to workers, youth and people of color NOT yet involved, rather than
      those already convinced.

      Is there any doubt that the defeat of Bush's war drive – gingerly
      supported by the Democrats – requires as much?
    • court borges
      You could not have defined exactly what goes on at almost every meeting that I have participated in better. I was working with the THC when they first started
      Message 2 of 2 , Dec 2, 2001

        �You could not have defined exactly what goes on at almost every meeting that I have participated in�better. I was working with the THC when they first started and at the initial meeting it seemed as if we might be on to something.� People were concerned with the�war and the actions needed to stop it.� Then, like always, hidden agendas ceased to be hidden, people's problems with each other seeped into the meetings, and I realized that most of them knew each other and had issues with one another for years having had to "work together".� My frustration at meetings would increase, and people started to walk out in the middle of them, angry and feeling like they hadn't been heard.� So in the beginning I was giving speeches, and now I refuse to follow front groups and "coalitions" which already have their agends set up, yet continue to state how they need our opinions and ideas on what the next move should be.�I am interested only in real work against the government, direct actions� against major corporations, and educating as many�people as�possible,and mobilizing them. Thank you for your accurate assesment of the situation.

        Courtney Moore

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