10th anniversary of the ANSWER Coalition
Building a nationwide movement for justice during a decade of war, racism and repression
On September 14, 2001, just three days after the September 11 attacks, the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) came into existence and announced a planned mass demonstration against war and racism for September 29, 2001, in Washington, D.C. The attacks against ANSWER were swift and furious. Right-wing organizations condemned us as “traitors” and many liberal organizations said that it was “wrong” and “untimely” to have a demonstration against the Bush administration.
The people of the United States were still in a state of shock and grief on September 14, 2001. Behind the scenes, the Bush administration was rapidly putting into place a plan for military invasion and domestic repression using the terrible events of September 11 as a pretext. Bush's announced "war on terror" was the rationale that the administration hoped would be enough to silence any opposition. In the days after September 11, Bush's approval ratings were at 90 percent.
In a Difficult Moment, September 29 Showed that Mass Opposition to Bush was Possible
The ANSWER Coalition organized a demonstration of 25,000 people on Sept. 29, 2001, just 18 days after the Sept. 11 attacks, to show mass opposition to Bush's policy of war abroad and racism at home.
The September 29, 2001, demonstration in Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C. was a watershed event. People of conscience came together—under very difficult circumstances—to make clear that they would not support the government’s efforts to launch a global war drive abroad and eviscerate civil liberties at home. Under the heavy pressure of a national propaganda campaign intended to silence dissent, many were told, even by friends and allies, that they should not speak out – yet they came. Some of the students organizing busses were falsely told by their schools that attending the demonstration would be dangerous and unsafe—but they too came anyway.
We did not know how many people would come, but knew that it was imperative that those who were willing, organize against the looming imperial war drive and domestic repression. As the demonstration grew, we watched the Plaza fill as people joined to take a stand together. 25,000 people came despite the intense pressure. The chants rang out from the heart of Washington, D.C., “We will not be silent!” and “We want justice, we want peace, U.S. out of the Middle East.” C-Span carried the demonstration and the message went out throughout the country that resistance and organization was possible.
Including the Issue of Palestine in the U.S. Peace Movement
Seven months later, on April 20, 2002, the ANSWER Coalition organized the largest demonstration in U.S. history in support of the Palestinian people. 100,000 people marched under the slogan, “Free Palestine, No War on Iraq” just three weeks after the Israeli re-invasion of the West Bank. That demonstration was also a major controversy within the peace movement. ANSWER, which at its core included partnership between non-Arab and Arab-American organizers, refused to accept the marginalization of the Palestinian struggle. Treating the Palestinian struggle as a taboo was a shameful legacy of the traditional peace organizations in the U.S.
Many groups said we should not emphasize the issue of Palestine, claiming it would “alienate” people. That demonstration marked a turning point. The struggle of the Palestinian people was raised as a vital part of the movement for justice and peace in the Middle East. Support for the Palestinian people is now widespread among many U.S. groups because of this hard-fought battle in the anti-war movement and others that followed from 2002 to 2005. Today there are few in the peace movement who would suggest that Palestinian self-determination can properly be delinked from organizing for a just peace in the Middle East.
A New Anti-War Movement
As the Bush administration made its plans for war against Iraq, the ANSWER Coalition announced plans for a mass demonstration on October 26, 2002, in Washington, D.C.
To the surprise of the administration and the media, 200,000 people answered that call and a new massive anti-war movement was born. On January 18, 2003, a half million people marched again in Washington, D.C. On February 15, 2003, millions took to the streets in thousands of cities in nearly every country.
In the months and years that followed, hundreds of thousands more came together as the ANSWER Coalition became the motor for mass actions against the war in Iraq as well as mass actions in support of the Palestinian people, against the war in Afghanistan, and the bombing of Libya, the threats against Iran, and in support of the people of Cuba and Venezuela to develop free from U.S. sanctions, threats and subversion.
ANSWER Coalition’s Unique Political and Organizational Perspective
Half a million people marched on Jan. 18, 2003, in opposition to the looming war on Iraq—the largest anti-war demonstration in Washington, D.C., since the Vietnam era.
A cornerstone of ANSWER’s approach is to provide in-depth political analysis from an anti-imperialist framework. We have also stressed the primacy of action, of mobilizing and organizing people. The ANSWER Coalition has been characterized by a dynamic organizing style, a sustained level of activity throughout the country, and the inclusion of hundreds of volunteers who have worked selflessly to build this grassroots movement. We believe that the people themselves are the decisive factor to bring about change. We have been distinctive in our orientation towards the Republicans and Democratic parties. We believe that both parties were responsible for the war drive and the attacks against civil rights and civil liberties at home.
The ANSWER Coalition from its inception was distinctive because it was completely multi-racial and multinational. It made the connection between the anti-war movement and the struggles against racism and for social and economic justice. We have fought free speech battles around the country to open the streets and parkland to all those who wish to speak out.
ANSWER has played a leading role in the fight against racist and religious profiling, in defense of the Muslim and Arab American communities inside the United States, and in support of civil rights and civil liberties that are under attack. We have taken to the streets to defend workers rights, defeat anti-immigrant bigotry, and to advance the struggle for social and economic justice.
There were others who criticized raising issues besides “peace” but we felt that no U.S. movement could be relevant, inclusive or effective without doing so.
A New Era of Organizing Among Active Duty Troops and Veterans
In recent years March Forward!, an affiliate of the ANSWER Coalition, has brought together anti-war veterans and active-duty service members to fight for their rights and oppose U.S. imperialist wars of aggression. March Forward! organizers have worked to defend conscientious objectors and demand justice for the families of military members whose lives have been destroyed by war. These current and former military personnel have taken the risk of speaking out and organizing a powerful movement in opposition to the generals and the Pentagon.
A Decade of Consistent Organizing Creates a New Generation of Leaders and Activists
Numerous organizations have come and gone in the last decade. The ANSWER Coalition is still here. In fact, the Coalition has vibrant chapters all over the country active in education, outreach and mobilizing. A whole generation of young activists who came into political life during the past decade have become trained, skilled organizers through their experience with the ANSWER Coalition. They continue as a generation of young leaders working not only in the anti-war movement but in critical progressive social movements throughout the United States.
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