On the issue of "racism in the antiwar movement+

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Tue Feb 25 16:10:57 MST 2003

This is a letter written by Carlos Rovira Jr. to the activists of the
antiwar movement in New York City.  I don't know if it has been circulated
nationally.  I know the letter on racism in the antiwar movement that was
circulated by activists in New York, and that Mike Friedman submitted for
the information of this list, has been circulated all over the country.

Rovira is the most prominent leader of the Vieques Support Committee in New
York City.  He has been involved in other antiwar activities as well for a
long time.  He was a member of the Stand Up New York coalition continuations
committee.  He helped the young fighters in the Bronx organize the citywide
march against the war and the economic draft of  working-class youth and the
oppressed nationalities last November,  which won the support of the whole
movement here. He organized the security for the gigantic  February 15
demonstration in New York City.

The signers of the letter he is responding to on racism in the antiwar
movement was written by genuine activists, not outside critics.  It does
not, for instance, represent a race-baiting, bullying, sectarian takeover
attempt by
one or another faction in the name of antiracism, of the kind I have seen
from time to time in social struggles in the past.  I think it is a
reflection of
increased participation of oppressed nationalities in this fight, and of the
actual problems that arise because of the class and racial composition of
the movement today.

I don't think it is divisive to raise these issues or even to make harsh
characterizations based on them (even though I don't agree with some of the
characterizations).  I think the upsurges of the oppressed nationalities,
women, and gays in the past have always included a necessary and progressive
component of "speaking bitterness," and I don't think it is going to be any
different today or in the future.

The response should not be "let's pretend this didn't happen" or "let's
sweep this under the rug," but, "Good! Let us talk about it openly!"

Previous complaints along these lines have produced progressive changes in
this regard, such as the support thrown behind the youth protest and the
composition of the speakers platform on February 15, which reflected the
national and sexual composition of the area more accurately than previous
protests.  I don't know in particular why the ketter against "racism in the
antiwar movement" was circulated now, but I have no illusions that problems
of this kind have ceased to exist.

The following comment in Rovira's letter indicates one of the main reasons
why I would not have signed the letter, if  I had been asked to do so.  It
may also explain why Rovira, who has been active in raising these issues
over the past year and obviously agrees with the letter-writers on important
points did not sign it:

Rovira writes: " The declarations for peace made by the anti-war movement
make its very
nature anti-racist. No matter how upsetting the erroneous actions of some
of our white allies may be, we can not equate them with the actions of
organized right-wing, racist organizations."  I am very uncomfortable with
putting the leaders and activists who are white in this movement, even the
most conservative or downright boneheaded, on points of some kind of
ideological continuum that  includes David Duke, the senior senator from
Mississippi, the Los Angeles Police
Department (among many others), et al.

My main negative  concern about the letter of the activists (I have a
substantial area of agreement with it) is the fear that it can foster a
turning away from the real power for change on this question -- the masses
people in the oppressed communities -- and toward an ideological and
administrative campaign to straighten our the heads (and mouths) of
middle-class white people that has the potential to be as endless as the
imperialists' war on terrorism.  What can develop is a kind of permanent
venting of legitimate frustration.

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. were powerful thinkers and speakers who
really did transform individual minds.  I know that Malcolm X in particular
had a powerful impact on me.  But it was the fighting movement of Black
people in the 1960s that made these transformations a mass phenomenon, and
enabled me to see and participate in the ideas that Malcolm was expressing
in action.

Big advances have been made toward mobilizing the Black, Latino, and Asian
communities but only the surface has been scratched.  The potential can be
seen in the high school walkouts in Washington DC and in the trade union
contingents, in particular, at the New York demonstration February 15, and I
am sure there are many other examples.  We need to look not only to the
existing and recognized  fighting organizations and nationalist groups, but
well beyond to the unions, churches, high schools, colleges, to the
community organizations, and professional organizations, and  women's
groups, and to hundreds of thousands of individuals..  We need a genuine
mass, nonexclusionary united struggles in the communities of the oppressed
nationalities.  The potential is there, and we need to recognize that the
growth of the struggle in these communities will do a lot more to break down
institutionalized racism in all areas of society -- and I include the
antiwar movement in that -- than our preachments or than the rules and
regulations we may adopt, although I don't deny that these can have some
positive effect.

Carlos Rovira's response follows below.
Fred Feldman

From: Carlos Rovira, Jr.
To: carlitoboricua at yahoo.com
Sent: Monday, February 24, 2003 12:17 AM

A Reply To The Open Letter Concerning Racism In The Anti-War Movement

The recently circulated document entitled "An Open Letter To Activists
Concerning Racism In The Anti-War Movement," and signed by a number of
people, raises a question about the present state of the progressive
movement. Whether we like it or not, racism throughout United States
history has been a central issue in a tug of war involving forces that
either expose it or suppress acknowledgement of its existence.

The anti-war movement is part of a progressive historical thrust, with
varying visions of a better world to strive for. The internal weaknesses
in this movement are many, but are ultimately reflections of the
deteriorating society we now live in. As progressive, peace-loving people
with the interest of the future of humanity in mind, we should not fear
admitting where change is crucially needed in our camp.

To dismiss this document by characterizing it as "devisive" is to ignore
what has historically been truely divisive in the United States: racism.
The criticism of racism is not what has preserved devisions in the U.S.,
but racism itself.

To say that the document is "divisive" or the like, is to resort to
similar arguments used to undermine the struggles of oppressed
nationalities in this country, such as what is now being said by the
right-wing to justify attacks on Affirmative Action.

Racism has produced in the general culture a system of habits, customs and
"norms" for the sector of society free of racist oppression. These
cultural features define the social position of the races which are
ultimately detrimental and demeaning to people of color. Take for example,
the character that is expected of a person of color in this society, which
is consistent with the concepts of Social-Darwinism: inarticulate and
nonanalytical but ready to do menial work. These kinds of expectations are
what was in essence described in the letter.

The annihilation of Native Americans, the enslavement of African
Americans, the conquest and subjugation of Latin America and the aims of
the U.S. in the Middle East and Asia, are some of the most blatant
examples of the racism in which this country is rooted.

White supremacy arose at first as an ideological justification for the
enslavement of African people and the outright rape and plunder of the
African continent. Racism has since become an institution based on social
and economic inequality which was extended to all non-white peoples of the

Those at the highest level of social privilage and political power benefit
from the insidious manifestations of racism in the general culture. Jim
Crow laws would have never been instituted had they not benefited the
interests of the financial and industrial monopolies at a time when their
development depended upon preserving divisions among the economically
exploited and politically disempowered population.

At varying intensities, from the shallowest parts of the subconscious to
open expression, traditions have tended to steer the white population into
adopting racist notions of supremacy which also lead many to identify with
those who rule this country. This is especially true in the U.S. where
racism was nurtured with the institution of chattel slavery that served to
provide rapid growth to the existing social and economic order of
capitalism today.

The declarations for peace made by the anti-war movement make its very
nature anti-racist. No matter how upsetting the erroneous actions of some
of our white allies may be, we can not equate them with the actions of
organized right-wing, racist organizations. However, because of historical
circumstances which shaped the character of race relations in the U.S.,
progressive whites have an absolute moral obligation to guard against
becoming adherents  to oppressive traditions.

This can not be an option, but an absolute political requirement for our
white sisters and brothers in the progressive political movement, if we
are to move forward in mobilizing the entire society in the quest for
peace. Racism does not allow an equalibrium between whites and people of
color, especially within the realm of politics where their exclusion has
been institutional.

We live in society that oppresses. In such a society, as more property
became privatized, the knowledge of politics was turned into an
intellectual property. That intellectual property is kept from the
oppressed. Given these impediments to their political life, interfering
with the political development of people of color is unforgivable.

And, because deprivation of property prevails, especially for the poorest
who happen to be people of color, not only is supporting their cause for
social elevation a must, but also that which extends to politics: the
right of self-determination and their demand for respect of their
political existence.

Racism in this society can only be eradicated when the concrete
circumstances which gave rise to it are also eradicated. And similarly so,
we must strive to change the circumstances in our movement in order to
build a mighty unity based on equal terms. To be truely opposed to war,
one has to be opposed to its ideological justification of racism, not just
in words, but in deeds. Anything short of that would be the greatest
example of hypocracy and disservice to humanity.

Carlos Rovira, Jr.      "Carlito"

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