A personal reflection from Leslie Cagan, National Coordinator of UFPJ
Below is a moving piece written by Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of
United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). LAPC, as well as other groups in the
IPJN are members along with over 1500 local and national groups around the country
that make up UFPJ. I have been impressed with the work of UFPJ, especially its efforts to bring the
peace movement together. Their website is at www.unitedforpeace.org.
On the occasion of the death of Rosa Parks, the death of the 2,000th
U.S. serviceperson in Iraq, and the 3rd anniversary of the founding of
United for Peace and Justice I wrote the following piece last night.
Please feel free to share this with others.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005. It's been a long, strange day.
I woke up this morning to the news that Rosa Parks had died yesterday.
She had lived a long, full life and had contributed to the struggle for
human dignity, for freedom and justice more than most of us can even
imagine doing. Nearly 50 years ago she took one seemingly small step
that set off a campaign that shook the south and sent repercussions
throughout the nation and around the world. Her refusal to go to the
back of the bus was not, as some would tell the tale, because she was
physically tired. No, on that day in Montgomery, Alabama Rosa Parks took
an action that reflected just how sick and tired she and a whole
generation was of being treated like second class citizens.
When Rosa Parks sat in the front of that segregated bus, refusing to
give up her seat for a white man, she sent a clear statement about the
power of one, the importance of individual action. But her action grew
out of a social context and an emerging movement. Right from the
beginning, her action was part of something bigger than herself, and the
strength of her seemingly singular action was that it was tied to a
community and part of a movement. When we recall the bravery of this one
woman we must also remember the power of collective action.
Today, I came to work thinking about Rosa Parks and how much we owe her.
It is profoundly true that we stand on the shoulders of those who
struggled before us, those who chartered new paths and opened up new
By the time I was at my desk, I knew it would be impossible to stay with
Rosa Parks today. Instead, my attention was quickly moving to the almost
surreal death count...would today be the day that we heard of the 2,000
death of a U.S. serviceperson in Iraq? Would today be the day we needed
to put out our call and urge tens of thousands of people in every corner
of the country to make their opposition to this horrible war as vocal
and visible as possible? And yes, by early afternoon the news came
through. This war that never should have happened, this war based on
lies, this war that has already taken thousands of innocent Iraqi lives
- perhaps more than 100,000 lives - is raging every single day.
Today the news came about the 2,000th U.S. serviceperson. It is strange
to use this as a marker and not, at first, even know the person's name.
And no, of course, their life was no more important or precious than the
previous 1,999 people from this country who have died, nor more
important or precious than any of the Iraqis who have been killed in the
daily carnage brought by our government to their nation. And yet it
makes sense to mark this date, this death. It makes sense to use it (if
I might even think in those terms) as a rallying cry, as a moment to
mobilize people. The reality is stark and we simply must use every tool
we have available if we are going to become a force that is actually
strong enough to stop this war.
All of this - Rosa Parks, the 2000th U.S. death - on the very same day
that also happens to be the third anniversary of the founding of United
for Peace and Justice. Just 3 years ago about a dozen of us convened a
meeting with representatives of 55 organizations to see if it made sense
to form a new coalition that would hopefully tap into the antiwar
sentiment already expressing itself throughout the country, and a
coalition that would offer a vehicle for many groups to work
cooperatively and thereby strengthen all of our efforts.
On October 25, 2002 we did not know if this new coalition would work:
would other groups join us, would we be able to make a meaningful
contribution to the efforts to prevent a U.S. war against Iraq, would we
last beyond our initial plans for work? We did last and we have grown.
Now, with about 1,300 member groups from every state, we are the largest
peace and justice coalition in the nation. We are unique in our ability
to maintain a coalition that includes national organizations and
community groups, organizations that have been around for decades and
groups that have just formed, groups that work against the war on Iraq
as their only issue and organizations that have a multi-issue agenda.
In our brief 3 years we have done a great deal of work, and there is
much we can feel good about. We've organized some of the largest
mobilization's in this nation's history, let alone in this period. We
have helped to re-energize public protest, sometimes having to fight for
the very right to gather in large numbers in public spaces. Our
coalition has helped hundreds of local groups organize, do educational
work, mobilize in their own communities. We have built bridges with
other social and economic justice movements, lending support when
possible and encouraging their involvement in the antiwar movement. We
believe our collective work has helped change public opinion in this
country, to the point where now in poll after poll it is clear that most
of the people want an end to this war.
But for all that has been done, we know full well that our work is far
from finished. The war in Iraq is far from over, unfortunately, probably
very far from over. And the Bush administration, even with record
setting low ratings and publicly embarrassing situations constantly
emerging, continues its saber rattling. Who knows what plans they have
for Syria or Iran or Venezuela or Cuba or North Korea? It's all too
clear what their plans are for our own country - just look at how they
handled the crisis in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.
And as this rainy, dreary day comes to a close in New York City, I once
again think about Rosa Parks and how much our country has lost with her
death. Tonight I will go home with a heavy heart as I think about the
senseless nightmare of death and destruction in Iraq and knowing how
hard our struggle really is. But I also will go home knowing that too
many lives have been taken, too many lives ruined for us to give up or
give anything less then every ounce of our energies. Tomorrow they say
the sun will come out again in New York, tomorrow always offers the
possibilities we long for. Let us learn from our own histories, take
stock of the present realities and prepare for what will certainly be a
hard road ahead. Let us do all we can to ensure that, in the end, peace
prevails and justice triumphs.