How antiwar movement should answer Times' redbaiting

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Fri Jan 24 08:59:27 MST 2003


The following is a message I have posted to a number of antiwar lists:

Last night, about 160 activists met to prepare the February 15 march and
rally to be held in New York City.  The meeting decided to include in the
framework of our opposition to the war against Iraq a clear statement of
opposition to the threat of - U.S. backed  ethnic cleansing of Palestinians
in Israeli-held territory.  We expressed support for proposals  to have a
speakers platform that would reflect the real antiwar population of  New
York City and the powerful forces that need to be brought into action to
defeat the warmakers -- roughly 75 percent people of color and 50 percent
women.  We formed committees and began the distribution of leaflets and
other materials to get the show on the road.

Precisely because of the inspiration and energy represented by that meeting,
I think it is very important that our movement respond very strongly to the
following article from today's New York Times as what it is -- an attempt to
redbait the entire movement and disrupt the process of building a genuinely
united and truly massive action on February 15.  The article is an attempt
to heighten the line of attack on the struggle against the war that attempts
to divide and conquer by selecting ANSWER as a scapegoat.

Of course, as we all know, ANSWER, and the Workers World Party which
participates in ANSWER, have the right to take any positions they want on
any questions they want -- North Korea, Yugoslavia, whatever.

Right or wrong, these positions do nothing to illegitimize or throw into
question the tremendous work they did for the fight against the war in Iraq
by initiating, building, and succeeding in involving broad forces in the
October 25 and January 18 protests.   In building the united fight against
the U.S. aggression -- that's what preemptive war is --  in the Middle East,
the antiwar movement does not pretend to stand in judgement over its
participants' political positions.

We unconditionally support ANSWER's right to be part of the movement and we
welcome their full participation at every level in building February 15.

The crookedest trick in the Times article is to present United for Peace and
Justice as some kind of "okay," safe and sane "alternative" to ANSWER.
Leslie Cagan's statement, made repeatedly in all kinds of contexts, that we
assume speakers on February 15 will relate their perspectives to their
opposition to the war in Iraq is presented as a kind of attack on ANSWER or
criticism of  January18 or as indicative of a desire to keep ANSWER at at a
remove from the February 15 action.

United for Peace and Justice is not an "alternative" to ANSWER but an
attempt to build a broad, united network of antiwar forces, including ANSWER
and anyone else who sees the need for broad united action.

The Times'  attempt to disrupt and divide a  young and growing movement
needs to be firmly countered.

Among other things, this requires, in my opinion, firm action by United for
Peace and Justice to reach out to ANSWER and involve them fully in the
preparation and building of  a united action.  We have to take affirmative
action right now to make it clear to ANSWER that they are not merely free to
join the action -- which they have already endorsed -- but that we strongly
desire their full participation at every level.

I know that we aren't going to fall for the New York Times' bait.  That goes
without saying.  But I think that we should counter the crude trap set for
us by moving aggressively to advance the perspective of including ANSWER in
a prominent, public, and, I might even say, defiant way in genuinely and
fully united action against the war on February 15.
Fred Feldman

NY Times, Jan. 24, 2003
DISSENT
Some War Protesters Uneasy With Others
By LYNETTE CLEMETSON

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 - After a weekend of antiwar protests that many
participants say signaled an expansion of public opposition to military
action against Iraq, some organizers are facing criticism, much of it
from within the movement, about the role played by their group,
International Answer.

Attendance at rallies in Washington and San Francisco last Saturday was
in the tens of thousands, and reflected a mix of views that spanned the
social and political spectrums. Many protest organizers say the presence
of labor unions, religious groups, business people and soccer moms
showed a growing mainstream opposition to the war.

But behind the scenes, some of the protesters have questioned whether
the message of opposing war with Iraq is being tainted or at least
diluted by other causes of International Answer, which sponsored both
the Washington and San Francisco rallies.

Answer, whose name stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, was
formed a few days after Sept. 11, 2001, by activists who had already
begun coming together to protest policies of the International Monetary
Fund and the World Bank. Some of the group's chief organizers are active
in the Workers World Party, a radical Socialist group with roots in the
Stalin-era Soviet Union. The party has taken positions that include
defense of the Iraqi and North Korean governments and support for
Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugolav president being tried on war
crimes charges.

The positions of some of Answer's members have caused rifts in past
antiwar movements as well. In January 1991, at the onset of the Persian
Gulf war, two coalitions of protesters marched separately, on
consecutive weekends, because one refused to align itself with the
other, whose members included current Answer officers who would not
criticize the Iraqi government or support economic sanctions against it.

In an interview today, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a spokeswoman for
Answer, said questions raised about the group's role were "classic
McCarthy-era Red-baiting."

"When you select out the Socialists or Marxists," she said, "the point
is to demonize and divide and diminish a massive, growing movement."

But Answer's critics say they simply wish that when it sponsors antiwar
rallies, it would confine its message to opposition to war. At the rally
in Washington, the group's speakers advocated causes like better
treatment of American Indians and release of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the
radical activist long imprisoned for killing a Philadelphia police officer.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the Jewish magazine Tikkun, which sent
protesters to the rally despite concerns about pro-Palestinian speeches
planned there, said: "There are good reasons to oppose the war, and
Saddam. Still, it feels that we are being manipulated when subjected to
mindless speeches and slogans whose knee-jerk anti-imperialism rarely
articulates the deep reasons we should oppose corporate globalization."

Karen Guberman helped organize a small protest in her neighborhood in
Northwest Washington last weekend, in part to provide an outlet for
those who felt uncomfortable attending the Answer-sponsored rally.

"I felt like it was important just to go and be counted," Ms. Guberman
said, "but many of my friends felt they couldn't count on what was going
to be said, and so we did this very specific thing."

In fact, some of the newer antiwar coalitions were formed precisely to
create a forum for protesters with views different from Answer's.
Leaders of those groups have carefully avoided criticizing Answer, for
fear that doing so would undercut their movement.

Still, the more mainstream voices in the antiwar movement may be trying
to focus the message. The next national rally is scheduled for Feb. 15
in New York, and it is being sponsored by United for Peace, a coalition
of more than 120 groups, most of them less radical than Answer.

Answer has signed on as a supporter of the New York rally, but it is not
yet clear what role it will play in shaping the tone. Leslie Cogan, a
coordinator with United for Peace, said her organization would welcome a
wide variety of perspectives. But she added, "We want our speakers
making a clear link to the issue."

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