While the Netroots Nation Convention commands the attention of many who are tuned into activism this weekend, there is another gathering of significance that is happening in Albany, NY--the United National Peace Conference.
The conference, co-sponsored by 31 different peace and justice organizations, is, as Teresa Gutierrez characterized it, a "visionary event" that is filling a vacuum. Activists have gathered to deliberate and come to a meaningful consensus on what can be done "to end the U.S. wars, occupations, bombing attacks, threats and interventions that are taking place in the Middle East and beyond" and to discuss where the U.S. peace movement is today and where it must go from here.
The organizers are united behind the following demands: immediate and total withdrawal of U.S. military forces, mercenaries and contractors from Afghanistan and Iraq; funds for jobs, health care, education, the environment, infrastructure and other human needs; compensation for peoples whose countries have suffered from U.S. attacks and occupation resulting in loss of lives, suffering and massive destruction.
The conference began Friday night with a panel discussion called "Strategies and Tactics in the Struggle to End the Empire's Wars and Occupations."
Panelists included: Medea Benjamin (CODEPINK), Michael Eisenscher (National Labor Coordinator of U.S. Labor Against the War), Glen Ford (Black Agenda Report), Chris Gauvreau (Administrative Body, National Assembly to End US Wars and Occupations), Teresa Gutierrez (International Action Center), Kathy Kelly (Voices for Creative Nonviolence), Nada Khader (Palestinian-American and Exec. Director of the Westchester Peace Action Coalition Foundation), Bianca Misse (Graduate Student, UC Berkeley), and Debra Sweet (National Director, World Can't Wait).
Medea Benjamin asked the audience if they had ever been called un-American or unpatriotic for engaging in "antiwar work." She suggested there was a shift going on where that was no longer the attitude. She talked about leaving the halls of Congress to go to a rally where librarians were saying they needed money. She connected that to war and ran back in with a group of activists and, unable to contain themselves, they shouted at Carl Levin for the activity going on in Congress to spend another $30 billion on war and called support for more war funding "downright unpatriotic."
Benjamin spoke of the need to find ways to show the peace movement is behind finding money for librarians and for rebuilding the country and that we need to make that message visible through signs that could say things like "End War, Build America." And, closed by calling for "not just ending money for war but also money for empire" by closing the 800-plus bases the US has around the world. And, she said that the movement needed "to make this month really hot for Democrats and Republican politicians."
Michael Eisenscher talked of the peace movement's responsibility "to remove the boot of foreign occupation from the necks of the Iraqi people." He recounted how the newly elected government in Iraq continues to suppress union organizing. For example, he mentioned how the Iraq regime "escalated war [on unions] by banning all foreign travel by union leaders" unless they get approval of the government prior to travel. He mentioned how the Iraqi government has filed charges against two top officers of an oil workers federation that has organized in opposition to the privatization of Iraq's oil resources. And, he shared how the Ministry of Electricity is engaged in the repression of trade union activity and all forms of cooperation with unions in the workplace.
Eisenscher pledged to circulate a letter to Congress asking for opposition to be registered against the Iraq government's actions against unions (even though this may be happening with the consent of US political leaders). And noted that people suffering aggression need peace movement to be united and that there must be an "effort to find common ground" instead of engaging in "the zealous pursuit of political purity."
Glen Ford talked about the culture of resistance that used to make black people the most dependent antiwar demographic in the U.S. Bu, now, with Obama elected, they have become more confused than anybody else. He cited a poll that indicated blacks are now the largest group who believe they are better off than before the recession, which indicates Obama's presence has served as a "narcotic" for the black population.
Ford said, "Breaking the Obama spell is the must do task for a renewed movement for social justice and peace" and added, "There is nothing complicated about it. You simply tell the truth. Obama works for Wall Street and the militarists. That is the truth."
Chris Gauvreau highlighted the importance of the April 9th mobilization and talked about utilizing the October 2nd March on Washington being organized for jobs and how the peace movement should utilize it to build the movement. She talked of the value of mass action and how it is possible since hundreds of thousands have shown up to AZ, to march in the National Equality March for LGBT rights, and for immigrant rights in D.C. She encouraged a move away from divisiveness and toward cooperation and encouraged the assembly to stand for political independence and build a movement visibly independent from both major political parties in the country.
Teresa Gutierrez talked of the revival of May Day in the country and how immigrant rights could play a role in the building of a peace movement. She condemned the militarization of the border, the breaking up of families by authorities, and the mass incarceration of worker "whose only crime is that they were trying to survive." She highlighted the continued saber-rattling against Iran that the U.S. is engaged in and talked of how the 7,000 troops in Costa Rica are there to challenge the symbol of revolution that is Cuba, the people of Honduras who continue to resist the coup that has been imposed upon them, and the country of Bolivia, which has become a symbol of resistance.