From A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition Steering Committee
December 16, 2005
Ten weeks after the September 24 demonstration brought more than 300,000 people to Washington DC in a massive show of strength by a united antiwar movement, the leadership of the United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) has publicly announced its unilateral intention to effect a long-term split in the antiwar movement. This is the second time in seven months that UFPJ has publicly proclaimed its intention to split the movement, coupled with a false and ugly attack on the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition. In May 2005, they announced that they would hold a second and separate demonstration in Washington DC on September 24 rather than work in a united front with A.N.S.W.E.R.. Fortunately, the progressive movement overcame that splitting effort, which would have seriously weakened the movement at a critical moment.
It is important to understand the political and organizational motivation behind UFPJ's decision to split the antiwar movement now, as we are becoming increasingly successful. Public opinion has shifted dramatically against the war. More than 100,000 Iraqis have died, thousands upon thousands of U.S. soldiers have either been killed or horribly wounded, and nearly one half trillion dollars has been appropriated for this criminal endeavor. Why then, under these circumstances, would UFPJ's leadership issue a public declaration that it is determined to split the movement? The justifications cited in their December 12 split declaration are embarrassingly petty and astonishingly trivial for a U.S.-based antiwar movement, especially given the gravity of the war itself and the monumental human suffering in the Middle East. They are also an unfortunate collection of half-truths and outright distortions of facts. UFPJ's justification for this split serves really to obfuscate rather than clarify the real motivations of UFPJ's shamefully sectarian decision.
This response comes in three parts. First we present our view of the political motives behind these continuous attacks, second is A.N.S.W.E.R.'s perspective on unity and then we follow with a factual rebuttal of the petty and inaccurate charges put forth by UFPJ.
BACKGROUND TO UFPJ'S DECISION
The UFPJ leadership, from its inception, has been on a relentless path of splitting the movement. In spite of this, there have been three mass united front protests sponsored by A.N.S.W.E.R. and UFPJ: (1) The October 25, 2003 march of 100,000 in Washington; (2) The March 20, 2004 march of 100,000 in New York City and; (3) The September 24 demonstration of more than 300,000 in Washington DC. In each instance the united front was proposed by A.N.S.W.E.R., initially rejected by UFPJ's leadership and then accepted later by UFPJ's leadership either because of pressure from the movement or because UFPJ's leadership recognized the demonstration would be massive with or without their participation. UFPJ has never once proposed a united front with A.N.S.W.E.R.. A.N.S.W.E.R. has also fully mobilized and supported the major demonstrations that UFPJ has called in New York, organizing A.N.S.W.E.R. supporters and people around the country to attend in large numbers.
Seven months ago, UFPJ's leadership announced a similar decision to split the movement. On May 11, A.N.S.W.E.R. issued the call for a September 24 antiwar march on Washington and on the same day, invited UFPJ to form a united front and hold a join action. On May 23, 2005, in response to A.N.S.W.E.R.'s invitation, UFPJ sent out a sudden and public letter announcing that they were canceling their planned demonstration in New York City and were calling for a separate demonstration on September 24 in Washington DC, across the street from the White House's Ellipse, where A.N.S.W.E.R. called for protest. It was only under significant pressure from the Arab-American and Muslim community, and people throughout the antiwar movement -- including key sectors in labor - that UFPJ's sectarian split scenario was defeated and a hugely successful joint demonstration took place. We encourage all to review the joint position of the National Council of Arab Americans (NCA) and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation (MAS):
The NCA and MAS were partners with A.N.S.W.E.R. and other prominent organizations in the September 24 National Coalition, which was the partner with UFPJ for that day.
The foundational political issue in the controversy between the two coalitions was over the inclusion of Palestine, the centrality of the Arab-American and Muslim community in the leadership of the movement and the occupation of Haiti. At its essence, the issue was one of an anti-imperialist perspective. Another underlying and related issue, usually in the background but very vital to strategic perspective, is UFPJ's increasing orientation toward and flirtation with the Democratic Party. In the core of UFPJ's leadership are political parties and organizations that worked tirelessly for John Kerry and the election of Democrats. Their vision of "left-center unity" means to support the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party leadership and almost all of the politicians in Congress cannot possibly embrace an antiwar movement that openly supports the Palestinian people and their right to return to their homeland. The Democratic and Republican party leadership are both fervently committed to Israel and its ongoing suppression of the Palestinians. According to this orientation, working with A.N.S.W.E.R. means it will be impossible to get the Democratic Party or members of Congress "on board."
For our part, the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition considers it harmful to try to tailor the message of the progressive movement to please the long-awaited but fictional support from the politicians. During the Vietnam war, Congress only cut funding for the war in 1974 - a year after the last U.S. soldiers left Vietnam. The leadership of the Democratic Party and the Republic Party are unflinching supporters of the war machine and they share the strategic designs for U.S. global domination through the agencies of the Pentagon, IMF, World Bank and other auxiliary instruments like the WTO, the FTAA, and NAFTA.
During the first Iraq war of 1990-1991, some of the same leadership forces now in UFPJ chose to create a second antiwar coalition and insisted on marching under the banner "Economic Sanctions Not War" while some of those who are today in the leadership of A.N.S.W.E.R. argued that economic sanctions were war - and a weapon of mass destruction at that. We contended that economic sanctions against Iraq would result in a form of genocide against the Iraqi people and that the only correct position for the U.S. antiwar movement was to demand, "no war against Iraq." Many of the current UFPJ leaders argued then that if the movement refused to call for economic sanctions, it would be smeared as an objective apologist for Saddam Hussein's government. Likewise, a large contingent of representatives in Congress voted in favor of economic sanctions rather than war. Ultimately, Congress voted for war and sanctions that deprived people of clean drinking water, food, and access to medicine. The economic sanctions ultimately took the lives of more than one million Iraqis, most of them children under the age of five, according to the UN's own statistics. Much later, witnessing the destructiveness of the sanctions they had publicly advocated, these same organizations and leaders now with UFPJ switched, and began to take a position against sanctions.
The question for the antiwar movement is this: are we building a movement that comprehensively challenges imperialism or are we opposed only to certain tactics employed by imperialism such as overt, unilateral military invasion? And, are people and communities most affected by imperial wars mere objects for this movement, or are they real partners in it? What is the message we are bringing to the people of the United States? This is critical in our opinion because we believe that the people alone are the source of change and transformation. The politicians are in the back pocket of Corporate America and the Military-Industrial Complex. Building genuine solidarity with Iraqi, Palestinian and Arab people - the central targets of the current war for Empire - is not simply an exercise for the already radicalized community. It is rather a life and death need of the movement to win the population away from the xenophobia, national chauvinism and racism that is promoted by the government. These are the central methods they employ to rally support for their war for empire—or as it's commonly known, "the war on terrorism."
Inside the UFPJ leadership and in its publications there is great excitement about John Murtha's disaffection with the war. We too welcome it as a sign that there is a small but increasing division in the camp of the war makers. Murtha is part of the camp that believes the armed insurgency cannot be militarily conquered. The split, however, is over tactics and not over the strategic goal of U.S. domination over the Middle East and its peoples.
UFPJ's leadership sent out a sample letter to the antiwar movement that calls on people to write a letter to Congress that reads: "Instead of scorn, Murtha deserves praise and support for his courageous leadership. Isn't that what we want from our elected officials?" Remember this for a man who stated "I supported Reagan all through the Central American thing" at his press conference announcing his call for "redeployment" from Iraq. Two hundred thousand Guatemalans, 40,000 Nicaraguans and 70,000 Salvadorans died during Reagan's "Central America thing."
So what is Murtha actually proposing as he breaks ranks with Bush over the war that he previously supported? Murtha wants to "redeploy U.S. troops," "create a quick reaction force in the region," and "an over- the- horizon presence of Marines."(*) Murtha has not adopted an antiwar position. He wants to redeploy militarily to strengthen the hand of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East because the current path is not working. Fewer U.S. soldiers will be in harm's way, which of course is a welcome development, but Murtha and the other disaffected elements in the Pentagon's high command want to continue to strategically station air power and the Marines for rapid strikes in the Arab world. If the slogan "Bring the Troops Home" ends up meaning redeployment and more surgical bombing and strikes against the people of the Middle East it loses its antiwar meaning entirely. Murtha's redeployment call is on par with Ariel Sharon's removal of troops and settlers from Gaza. It is fundamentally a military action to strengthen the military and political position of the occupiers, in response to the pressures of the resistance.
Why is it that UFPJ's leadership can build a gushing "united front" with imperialist politicians but not the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, which has organized hundreds of thousands of people to promote genuine peace and self-determination for all peoples in the Arab world and the Middle East. We believe that the antiwar movement should take advantage of splits within the camp of the war makers and also solicit the support of progressive elected officials to support the program of the antiwar movement, but it would be destructive if the progressive forces delete its own anti-imperialist or anti-racist politics so that the movement becomes "acceptable" to imperialist decision-makers.
A.N.S.W.E.R.'S PERSPECTIVE ON THE STRUGGLE FOR UNITY
The A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition regards the united front that was formed at its initiative to have been remarkably successful. It was a powerful showing of a growing movement. The success of the day is not measured by the inconvenience or unpleasantness of having to work with those who do not share the same political views or particularities of personality. The success of the day is based on the ability to do what is necessary to bring together the largest and most inclusive showing possible of antiwar sentiment on a principled basis.
There are many significant, and many less than significant, controversies in the movement. That is natural and inevitable. There are also weaknesses and mistakes. Open discussion, evaluation and criticism (even sharp criticism) are necessary to overcome our weaknesses and learn from our mistakes. A.N.S.W.E.R., like all other forces, has its share of shortcomings in addition to its strengths and its accomplishments.
We are also aware that the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition is routinely singled out for attack from right-wingers in the media, as well as an insignificant and small coterie of liberal literati who sit comfortably on the sidelines slinging mud and defaming A.N.S.W.E.R. as hundreds and thousands of real activists go out every day passing out leaflets, postering, meeting with new people and conducting all the other unseen tasks that are necessary for the functioning of a truly mass movement. Those with access to media outlets and significant funds raise this same chorus of inconsolable attack with every major action that A.N.S.W.E.R. organizes or helps organize. It is a predictable pattern. If we organize an event of 100,000 or more the chorus starts to sing simultaneously, with great excitement, from exactly the same worn out hymnal. Conservative and liberal self-appointed elites use the same old, tired, factually-inaccurate red-baiting caricatures to slander the movement we have all been working day and night to build during the past four years. We do not normally respond to those routine attacks because it is a diversion from building the real movement. Besides, it is a cottage industry that feeds off itself.
It is a source of embarrassment for the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition that the antiwar movement in the most privileged country, led by a government whose actions have created so much suffering and consequent anger from people around the world, is unable to come together to shoulder the responsibility placed on us. Splitting the peace movement on an unprincipled and sectarian basis in the U.S. is an act that will enter history shrouded with the indignation of the victims of empire and war.
Abrogating our responsibility to unity is an option the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition will not take. We will never abandon those struggling against the bombs and jet fighters made here in the United States.
It is unfortunate that we have had to divert energies to respond to this effort to split the movement, but we are also confident that the many hundreds of thousands of antiwar activists in the country will choose the path of unity—to stand together regardless of whether a small leadership grouping directs people to be divided. There will be Spring demonstrations against war and racism including the March 18-20 days of action. We still believe that unity is the best way to proceed and that the most important work is to bring as many forces as possible together based on the inclusion, not exclusion, of targeted communities.
In the weeks and months ahead, the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, working with allies in oppressed and targeted communities, with young people in the high schools and universities and in the workplace, and with all those who are fighting for peace and justice, will seek to build the broadest, most militant mass movement to stop the war in Iraq and the war against working class communities at home. Different groups may have different slogans on their banners, but they should try to overcome the forces of division so as to march shoulder to shoulder against the real enemy.
RESPONDING TO FALSE ALLEGATIONS
For the record, we must also tell the truth in answer to the shameful distortions presented by UFPJ about what actually happened before and during September 24. These issues, as outlined in UFPJ's public letter of December 12, are petty on their face, but the presentation is also disingenuous and false. It is noteworthy that the December 12 letter about the "problems" on September 24 never mentions that more than 300,000 people came together, surrounded the White House in a show of united protest, and confronted the war makers with the largest explicitly antiwar protest since the start of the criminal imperialist adventure. People from all communities marched together, rather than be separated, in a magnificent demonstration of human solidarity and opposition to the war in Iraq. One would think from the UFPJ letter that September 24 was a dismal event, and that the question of organizational problems was most important for the movement. Given the massive success of the antiwar movement, we are embarrassed to even have to address these false and petty issues.
Since the UFPJ's allegations consist of half- truths and distortions, we are obliged to respond with the facts. There are three main points:
1) UFPJ claims that A.N.S.W.E.R. went over its time limit at the joint rally. In violation of the assurances given at negotiations prior to the signing of a united front agreement for one single, joint rally at the White House/Ellipse, UFPJ turned the Washington Monument musical concert into a "second rally." In the weeks leading up to September 24, UFPJ sought to divert attention from the joint rally to the second rally, announcing speakers at the second rally and making virtually no mention of the joint rally.
UFPJ had the stage first at the joint rally. They went over their time. They advised A.N.S.W.E.R. to take an equal time. UFPJ then retook the stage and began telling the crowd to march, even though A.N.S.W.E.R. still had its second segment left. UFPJ announced they were moving their speakers to a second rally, urged people to march, and directed people out of the joint rally area at the White House draining it for the remainder of A.N.S.W.E.R.'s segment. Because of the number of people still streaming towards the White House's Ellipse as busses were still arriving, this directive to march caused a logjam of people coming towards the rally and leaving the rally, bringing 15th St to a standstill.
2) UFPJ claims that A.N.S.W.E.R. delayed the start of the march and thereby disrupted the front of the march and prevented the lead contingent and agreed-upon banner. The story about the front of the march is also a fabrication. There was an agreement that both groups would designate people to be at the front. UFPJ had a certain number of "VIPs" that they wanted on the front banner. A.N.S.W.E.R.'s speakers included George Galloway, Jessica Lange, Delores Huerta, Ralph Nader, Michael Berg, Michel Shehadeh, Lynne Stewart, Mahdi Bray, Mounzer Sleiman, Ramsey Clark and many others.
There were so many people, perhaps over 100,000 people who were still coming towards the rally site from the east and north (the whole western side of the Ellipse was frozen by the Secret Service because of the IMF/WB meetings) so that the front of the march, as it attempted to gather at 15th and Constitution was basically stuck in a human gridlock. This situation was worsened by UFPJ's entreaties from the stage to march when the crowd was still streaming in. The "front" of the march could not march northward against the river of protestors that was still flowing in the opposite direction. 15th street became completely full and did not move. At some point the crowd took off.
Both A.N.S.W.E.R. and UFPJ leaders negotiated on the spot with the police to get the front formed up through an alternate route and we worked with the UFPJ VIPs to get them on the front banner which was unfurled in the middle of the march to create a second "front." When UFPJ wanted to bring the march to a halt so that the press corps could be brought to this second "front" and take pictures of the UFPJ VIPs on the front banner and the UFPJ leadership at the front of the march, we did not object as it was evident that this was very important to them. The broad collection of leaders and organizations designated by A.N.S.W.E.R. to be at the front were unable to make it there because of the huge concentration of people. While this is unfortunate, it is certainly a better problem than having a smaller number of people present. It is unfortunate that UFPJ's relationships with others were "jeopardized" when their VIPs were unable to easily access the front banner.
The logistical problems, however, affected both coalitions. Indeed some of our speakers never got to speak and others for whom we have great respect spoke at the end after UFPJ had drained the joint rally area telling people to march. The original agreement was to have people holding the banner at the front of the march and to have 500 people (250 from each side) behind the front banner with other signs and slogans independently chosen by each coalition. Because of the human gridlock, that contingent did not happen, which, while it may have been a disappointment, should certainly be understood as a very minor event, particularly since it affected equally all partners of the demonstration, and since the real story of the day was not who was in the front but the fact that so many came out into the street in unity.
3) UFPJ claims that A.N.S.W.E.R. did not turn out many volunteers to provide for fundraising, security and media operations for the March and Rally. This is a particularly offensive falsehood as it discounts and seeks to eliminate the hundreds of A.N.S.W.E.R. volunteers and their hard work. A.N.S.W.E.R. volunteers did all of the set up and take down for the joint rally including UFPJ's own banner on the stage. A.N.S.W.E.R. volunteers served as fundraisers and security, and handled media along with UFPJ volunteers. From 6 am on Friday September 23 until 10 pm on Saturday, September 24, only A.N.S.W.E.R. had volunteers working at the joint rally site. For these 40 continuous hours, which included security shifts through the entire night, organizing logistics, and the physical labor of set-up and take-down, UFPJ provided not one volunteer.
The claim is also astounding considering that A.N.S.W.E.R. paid the full cost for the stage, sound, porta-Johns, back-stage set-up and other expenses for the joint rally. UFPJ did not pay one cent. Yet, while A.N.S.W.E.R. paid all the expenses for the joint rally, the fundraising collection at the joint rally was evenly divided between the two coalitions. The money raised from the collection did not cover A.N.S.W.E.R.'s expenses associated with the joint rally. We do agree that many more volunteers from all sides were and are needed but that is a function of the further growth of the movement. The presentation about the facts here is merely to set the record straight. A.N.S.W.E.R. and UFPJ volunteers both worked hard on September 24 and the entire movement owes them our gratitude.