Part two of a report on a Northern California meeting at which local peace activists tried to discern how to keep ending the Iraq war a lively part of the national election campaign. Part one, Tom Hayden's remarks, is here.
Leslie Cagan, coordinator of the national coalition, United for Peace and Justice focused on the condition of the peace movement itself. Nobody is better placed to have a sense of what organized peace forces exist in the U.S. UFPJ has over 1000 member groups, ranging in size from national organizations like the American Friends Service Committee to little local vigils. As Leslie kept saying: "There are many strands to the movement. And there are probably as many peace groups not in UFPJ as inside UFPJ -- it is a big country."
Some of her points:
- At this time of political transition, we need to understand that the interior work of strengthening our movement is legitimate, important work -- as much so as our public agitation.
- The Obama phenomenon means that a large new group of people have come to believe that what they do can make a difference. He organizes for hope and people respond.
- We can't let the election completely overrun the peace movement. There will be a Congressional vote on additional funding for the war in April. We must push back against the instinct of Democratic legislators to just get it out of the way. They need to hear from us: NO MORE.
- The peace movement must work to overturn the very notion that we are in a "war on terror." We must repudiate the underlying assumption that the U.S. can freely use military force anywhere in the world.
- The peace movement has to be genuinely open to younger people and people of color -- that means it won't look like this room. It's good that the people who are here are here -- but we can't hold on to all the space.
- Paradoxically, the movement does not talk enough about what Iraq is actually like for Iraqis -- what is really happening there. The 4.5 million uprooted refugees are often invisible, even to the peace movement. We do better at focusing on the war's harm to U.S, troops, probably better than peace movements have in the past. But we cannot be U.S.-centric. The U.S. has made a desperately dangerous failed state of Iraq.
- In the United States, we need to drive home an understanding of the costs of the war. The weakness of the U.S. economy, people's struggles to get by, are a direct result of the war. Good money thrown to mercenaries and contractors is the reason our bridges are crumbling and so many don't have health insurance.
UFPJ is promoting a new slogan on stickers and buttons like the one pictured above. Available here. Several activists from progressive Democratic clubs, while agreeing heartily with the message, questioned the wording. The allusion to the Clinton campaign mantra of 1992 -- "It's the economy, stupid" -- seemed to them insider-ish. They worried some people would think they were being called "stupid." It was interesting to hear this response to a peace coalition trying to be clever.
This was a meeting of serious, competent people very determined to find ways to carry antiwar agitation through the election season.