Ted Glick on ANSWER and Washington demo
mikedf at amnh.org
Sat Jan 25 13:16:07 MST 2003
On Leftist Parties
By Ted Glick
Theres been a fair amount of back-and-forth recently on several email
lists Im on regarding Workers World Party. WWP is the group without which
there would be no International ANSWER, the coalition which organized the
hugely successful January 18th peace demonstrations in Washington, D.C. and
San Francisco, Ca.
Some people whom I respect have no use for WWP. On a conference call I was
on a couple of days ago, one such person described them, to paraphrase, as
an ultra-left, sectarian, marginal group. Others are critical of them for
their unwillingness, going back many years, to be publicly critical of the
Soviet Union, China, Saddam Hussein, Milosevic, North Korea, Hamas or just
about any country or Third World leader or movement in opposition to the
United States government.
Up until last year, Ive had very few direct dealings with WWP since a very
negative experience working with them in a coalition that organized a major
national demonstration in D.C. in the spring of 1981. I was not unhappy
that for over 20 years our paths rarely crossed, except for an occasional
hi, how ya doing contact at a meeting or a demonstration.
The interactions last year were in connection with the April 20th
demonstration in Washington, D.C. There was a lot of déjà vu-ness to the
experience, harkening back to the spring of 1981. Among the problems coming
-publicly announcing to the world via email a unity agrement between
ANSWER and the coalition I was part of, the April 20th United We March
Mobilization (A20UWMM), when there wasnt one, in no way at all, totally
short-circuiting and undercutting a process of discussion that was just
-disregarding a decision that was agreed to, once an overall unity
agreement was finally reached, that the youth/student groups from within
both the A20UWMM and ANSWER would head up a unified march down Pennsylvania
Avenue. Instead of ANSWER youth and students at the front of their side of
the march, Palestinians and Arabs were at the front. Most likely, since
there had been agreement to prioritize the Palestinian issue given what was
happening at the time on the West Bank, if ANSWER had proposed this it
would have been agreed to in the negotiations in the last week leading up
to the march, but they didnt do so.
-disregarding decisions that had been painstakingly arrived at regarding
the speakers at the joint rally held on the Mall in front of the Capitol.
The Palestinian woman proposed by ANSWER who had been agreed to as a
co-chair brought to the microphone speakers who had not been agreed to, one
of whom said something to the effect of, we will drive the Jews into the sea.
-following April 20th, Brian Becker, key WWP/ANSWER leader, wrote an
analysis of what happened in which he essentially labeled A20MUWM as a
front group for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, a completely
distorted and inaccurate charge. As I said in a response to Becker at the
time, There are any number of participating organizations, mine among
them, which are forthright and clear in our rejection of both the
Republican and Democratic parties, which are consciously building an
independent political movement outside the control or influence of either
one. I am aware of no organized discussions ever taking place. . . along
the lines of Beckers description.
I went on to say that, Narrow approaches are a dead-end for our movement.
. . What is needed is an approach that can appeal to millions of people,
that connects with and draws strength from the deep-seated traditions of
struggle for justice among the peoples who make up this country. This is
what we need to fight against the sham war on terrorism, U.S. support of
Israeli occupation, attacks on our civil liberties and civil rights, racism
in all its forms, and the economic terrorism experienced by people from
Watts to the Mississippi Delta to Harlem to Colombia, Africa, Argentina,
Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world.
Now, as we face the urgent threat of a bloody, destructive and dangerous
war of aggression against Iraq by the U.S. government, there are still two,
primary, national peace coalitions, International ANSWER and United for
Peace and Justice. UFPJ is in many ways an outgrowth of the A20UWMM. And
the question still is, can and should these two efforts find ways to
interact with a minimum of friction or, as at least a few people are
arguing, should we, in the words of one of them, refuse to capitulate to,
endorse and work with ANSWER and, instead, break from them, refuse
their endorsement, and refuse (a) false unity with ANSWER and their
unprincipled tactics and message?
My view is similar to what is was back during the difficult days of
interaction leading up to April 20th.
First, I do not believe that International ANSWER is THE answer. But any
objective observer can see that they are PART OF the answer. Any group
which can pull together the types of actions held on January 18th cannot be
discounted as marginal or fringe.
Second, over the long run I believe that the constellation of groups and
the political/tactical/process approach of UFPJ holds much more promise of
building and holding together the kind of peace and justice movement needed
in this critical period in our history. UFPJ, despite weaknesses, has
greater breadth and the potential to broaden out more. From what I have
seen it is more democratic and inclusive. As distinct from ANSWER, UFPJ is
multi-tactical. ANSWER and the WWP-connected coalitions preceeding it are
very good at organizing demonstrations, but I am not aware of WWP ever
being actively involved to any significant degree, for example, in lobbying
or grassroots pressure on Congress, or work to get city or town councils to
issue statements against the war, or nonviolent civil disobedience, or
running peace candidates for office. All of these and other creative
tactics must be in the ballpark as we build our movement.
Third, it is just plain inaccurate to believe that ANSWER is only WWP.
ANSWER is a coalition that includes groups like the Kensington Welfare
Rights Union, IFCO/Pastors for Peace, the Muslim Student Association of the
U.S./Canada and the Mexico Solidarity Network. To disregard this is to
refuse to deal in facts.
I have had several concrete experiences which have proven to me that these
groups are not just names on paper or on a website. The clearest example is
what happened right after 9-11-01 when, a few days after that terrible day,
ANSWER put out a statement which said a number of things but did not
specifically condemn the hijacking of the planes and the terrorist attacks.
I spoke with someone on the ANSWER board about this and was told that he
had already contacted WWP leadership to address this issue. Within a day or
two, following this input, they revised their statement to include a
Heres a thought: perhaps WWPs experiences in building ANSWER and in
working together with the broader peace/justice movement may be having some
positive impacts. Perhaps some individuals, at least, are seeing the need
to work in a somewhat different way. Granted, those changes might be just
tactical, driven by a desire to be seen as THE leaders of the overall
movement, but, over time, is it out of the question that deeper, more
substantive change could happen?
A famous man once said, Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I
think it applies here. Have the predominantly white and middle-class peace
groups gotten it all together? No. How about the labor movement? No. All of
us have our weaknesses and strengths. All of us are, or should be, in a
continual process of growth and change.
A friend of mine, Jim Mohn, made an analogy recently on a Green Party
listserve Im part of. He referred to what happened within the labor
movement in the late 1940s and early 50s when there was an anti-communist
purge within the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the CIO, which at
that time was the leading and most militant group within the labor
movement, a strong and vibrant labor movement. Eight of 10 left-led
unions were destroyed as a result of this process. The labor movement was
internally divided, stripped of the hard work, willingness to sacrifice and
fighting spirit of the members of the Communist Party, USA, the predominant
group on the left at that point in time. The result: a labor movement that
began a long, slow decline from which it has still not recovered.
Jims point was that we should not denigrate and attempt to isolate WWP in
a way similar to what the dominant leadership of the labor movement back
then did to the CPUSA. He is right, and what he is saying doesnt just
apply to WWP.
There are other leftist (socialist, communist, Marxist) parties that are
very active, playing important roles in the overall peace movement. Most of
them are either affiliated with UFPJ or are not part of either ANSWER or
UFPJ. Some of them can be legitimately criticized for some of the same
things that ANSWER can be criticized for. The difference is that none of
them is right now in the position that WWP is in as far as their success in
building ANSWER. But I can see that if they were there might be similar
We are confronting a short-term war crisis while having to also deal with
the longer-term problem of rebuilding a strong and broadly-based, peace and
justice movement that is internally democratic and healthy, seriously
committed to dealing with racism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism and other
negative isms, and, I would submit, humbled by the awareness that how we do
our work here in the United States has tremendous ramifications for the
entire world. Lets be upfront and direct with our criticisms of ANSWER or
any other group doing serious peace/justice organizing while resisting the
impulse to paint them unfairly with a broad brush.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
Ted Glick is the National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive
Politics Network (www.ippn.org) and a recent Green Party candidate for U.S.
Senate (www.glickforsenate.org) He can be reached at futurehopeTG at aol.com
or P.O. Box 1132, Bloomfield, N.J. 07003.
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