The National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations (National Assembly), established at a conference in Cleveland in June 2008 attended by over 400 activists from around the country, believes the best way to chart a path forward is to convene another national conference open to all organizations and individuals opposed to Washington's wars and occupations, where various strategies and tactics can be freely discussed and debated, and decisions made on the basis of one person, one vote. Such a conference has now been set for July 10-12, 2009 at La Roche College in Pittsburgh.
The conference will be held at a time when the U.S. economy is sinking ever deeper into a devastating economic crisis. Massive layoffs, loss of health care coverage and pensions, wage and benefits cuts, downsizing, outsourcing higher paying jobs, foreclosures, eliminating or slashing urgently needed services by states and municipalities these are the daily fare of tens of millions. One out of every ten people in this country is now receiving food stamps, according to an April 2 federal government report. Tent cities, the modern equivalent of "Hoovervilles," are springing up around the country as the ranks of the impoverished multiply. Today the number one issue confronting Americans is survival and all the social movements must recognize that reality if they are to win the broad support needed to achieve even limited goals.
How to make the demand to end the wars and occupations an integral part of the developing struggles to win relief from the horrendous conditions resulting from the economic meltdown that is the central challenge facing the Pittsburgh conference. But it is not the only one. The conference must also mount a major educational campaign to dispel illusions that the U.S. occupation and war against Iraq is in its final stage; that the war against Afghanistan -- now inseparably linked to Pakistan -- is a "good war," and that the U.S. should continue supporting Israel's criminal occupation of Palestine, even in the aftermath of the inhuman and genocidal bombing of Gaza, as a way of promoting "democracy" in the Middle East.
The conference must also take note of the dire threat of expansion of war in the Middle East to Iran. An attack against Iran could spark a calamity of untold consequences. Its population is 2-1/2 times that of Iraq's, its land mass four times greater, and its military far stronger. Iran would be no pushover even after destructive air strikes directed against it, which would draw the wrath of hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims throughout the region and throughout the world.
Of course, U.S. wars and occupations are not confined to the Middle East. They are worldwide in scope, including Haiti, where the U.S. kidnapped and overthrew the elected leader, Aristide, in 2004, followed by a UN occupation that continues to this day.
In fact, the U.S. has 369,000 troops in more than 150 countries, a veritable worldwide empire. The antiwar movement, if it is to be effective, must focus on the major wars and occupations being waged by Washington. But just consider the current movement's evolution. It started in late 2002 with the goal of preventing the bombing and invasion of Iraq. Now, six-and-a-half years later, antiwar actions feature demands also directed at U.S. policies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine and Iran. Momentous changes and shifts may well occur in other places of the world as more and more people struggle for national liberation and freedom from colonial domination. How to relate to these struggles is yet another concern that will be voiced at the Pittsburgh conference.
One of the signature issues of the National Assembly is its campaign to unify the movement. The September 2005 demonstration in Washington D.C., co-sponsored by the movement's major two mobilizing centers the ANSWER coalition and United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) was by far the largest after the outbreak of the Iraq war, with an estimated turnout of 600,000. But instead of parlaying that success and moving forward to build even larger actions, the movement experienced a costly split, a key factor in explaining why the actions that followed were substantially smaller. The National Assembly is determined to do everything possible to restore the unity that previously existed and that will be very much part of the discussion at the July conference.
Of course, the modest turnout for the March and April 2009 demonstrations only about 20,000 participated in actions called for Washington D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and other cities -- cannot be ascribed primarily to the divisions in the movement. The Obama factor was paramount.
Obama ran as an antiwar, pro-labor, pro civil liberties candidate. But here are some of the highlights of his record since occupying the White House:
- Escalated the war against
Afghanistan by ordering an additional 21,000 troops deployed there;
- Announced that the
withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq would be delayed until the end of
2011 (with plenty of loopholes available to extend the occupation
- Requested that Congress
authorize a new supplemental expenditure of $83 billion to finance the
Iraq and Afghanistan wars, after having repeatedly promised not to ask for
such supplemental spending;
- Intensified the drone
bombings of Pakistan resulting in many more civilian deaths;
- Publicized plans to enlarge
U.S. armed forces by 100,000;
- Proposed a budget for the
Pentagon that exceeds what Bush was proposing by $23 billion;
- Engineered a plan to bail out
Wall Street and the banks to the tune of over a trillion dollars while
refusing to take decisive measures to bail out workers and low income
people, such as a moratorium on all foreclosures;
- Endorsed the "race to the
bottom" by pressuring UAW autoworkers employed by General Motors and
Chrysler to agree to even greater concessions so that their income matches
the lower wages and benefits paid by auto company competitors;
- Directed government
attorneys to oppose habeas corpus rights for detainees, the same as Bush
- Directed government
attorneys to oppose prosecutions and civil suits against those companies
and individuals who violated wire tapping laws, the same as Bush did;
- Promised not to hold
criminally responsible those guilty of committing barbaric acts of torture
against detainees, in effect invoking the discredited and rejected
Nuremberg defense, "We were only following orders;"
- Scoffed at the Taliban-type
legislation signed into law by Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai denying
women basic human rights, declaring that while he disagreed with the law,
he was focused on fighting al-Qaeda..
Despite misgivings shared by millions, Obama continues to retain high popularity ratings. Polls showed only 34% of the U.S. population approved sending the additional troops to Afghanistan but opposition to the escalation did not translate into massive numbers of people participating in the March and April demonstrations. However, change in how Obama is perceived, not only by supporters of the antiwar movement, but by the broader population as well, is inevitable, especially as the economy continues its steep downhill descent and the consequences of Obama's bailout of Wall Street and the banks rather than the people become more evident.
Keynoters for the Pittsburgh conference will be Michael Zweig, a professor of economics at Stony Brook University in New York and a national steering committee member of U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), who will speak on "Collapse of the U.S. Economy While the U.S. Government Wages War on Several Fronts;" and Zaineb Alani, Iraqi poet and activist, and member of the National Assembly's Administrative Body, whose title will be "Strengthening the Movement to End the Occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine." Other aspects of the conference include 19 workshops on critical issues of concern, consideration of action proposals submitted by conference attendees, adoption of a course of action, and a public event featuring a number of notables from a range of different organizations and movement constituencies. Michael T. McPhearson, Veterans for Peace Executive Director and Co-Chair of UFPJ, and ANSWER National Coordinator Brian Becker will be among the conference speakers.
At a time when the U.S. antiwar movement faces yet another crossroads, the Pittsburgh conference is shaping up as a timely event of importance in helping point the way forward. Input of every peace activist is welcomed. For more information, please visit the National Assembly's website at www.natassembly.org, call 216-736-4704, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.