[Marxism] Report on the Albany antiwar conference

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 3 14:48:19 MDT 2010


(By Joe Lombardo, an Albany peace activist.)

Dear Friends,

The United National Peace Conference in Albany brought together people 
from around the country and overseas. Although two people from India 
were denied visas to come to the conference, 520 pre-registered and 256 
additional people registered at the door, for a total of 776 
participants. Some who pre-registered did not show and some who showed 
did not register. Therefore, I believe the 776 is an accurate number. I 
will soon be able to go through the registration forms and give a better 
breakdown of where people came from.

The Sanctuary for Independent Media provided live-streaming of major 
segments of the conference to the Internet, provided a place for people 
to upload pictures and tweets and posted major presentations on Youtube. 
The day after the conference, the Youtube videos got over 17,000 hits, 
making them the most viewed videos from a non-profit organization for 
that day. This enabled thousands who could not physically make it to the 
conference to nonetheless experience it.

The core leaders of the anti-war movement were all there, including 
Media Benjamin, Col. Ann Wright, Kathy Kelly, Dahlia Wasfi, Michael 
McPherson from UFPJ and VFP, Kevin Martin from Peace Action, Blasé 
Bonpane, Mark Johnson from Fellowship of Reconciliation, Glen Ford from 
Black Majority Report and Black is Back, Kevin Zeese, Fahima Vorgetts, 
Mike Ferner, Michael Eisencher from US Labor Against the War, Larry 
Holmes from the International Action Center, Nada Khader, Debra Sweet, 
Leila Zand, and others. Cindy Sheehan also came but had to leave 
immediately when her daughter went into labor back in California. 
Additionally, Ethan McCord, a former soldier on the ground in Iraq who 
was seen on the first leaked Wikileaks video, spoke out publicly for the 
first time. War resisters, GIs who have refused to deploy, skyped into 
the conference from Canada, since they could not be there in person.

Leaders of other movements were also at the conference; these include 
leaders of the Labor movement, such as Donna Dewitt, President of the 
South Carolina AFL-CIO,. Leaders of SEIU/1199 came to ask the peace 
movement to support their upcoming October 2nd, 2010 march on 
Washington. The conference was welcomed by Mike Keenan, president of the 
Troy Area Labor Council. Present were Margaret Flowers and other leaders 
of the single payer movement, as well as Lynda Cruz, Teresa Gutierrez, 
and other leaders of the immigrant’s rights movement. Palestinian rights 
activists played a big role in the conference, as did leaders of the 
movement against intervention in Iran, Columbia, Honduras, and Haiti. 
Leaders of the environmental movement were as were leaders of the Muslim 
solidarity movement and student leaders like Blanca Missa, one of the 
central leaders of the recent student protests on the Berkeley campus 
against California’s cuts to education. Dr. Margaret Flowers, a central 
leader of the movement for single payer healthcare led a workshop with 
other healthcare advocates and spoke at the press conference that 
preceded the conference at which she made a strong connection between 
the movement for universal healthcare and peace.

Noam Chomsky spoke Saturday morning via video. Following by another 
keynote address given by Donna Dewitt, President of the South Carolina 
AFL-CIO, and leading member or the National Assembly and US Labor 
Against the War. We listened to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s audio taped message to 
the conference from death row and to the narration of Imam Aref’s, one 
of the wrongly prosecuted Muslims from Albany from his prison cell. 
Ralph Poynter, husband of imprisoned civil rights attorney Lynne 
Stewart, read her message to those assembled. Lynne was a member of the 
administrative body of the National Assembly to End US Wars and 
Occupations, the group that had initiated the conference. She was also a 
founding member of Project Salam, one of the other 31 co-sponsoring groups.

During panels held on Friday night and Saturday, movement leaders 
discussed the future direction of the anti-war movement. Throughout the 
weekend, the backdrop to the stage and podium was a beautiful 40 foot 
mural painted by Mike Alewitz and Jerry Butler, who teach art at Central 
Connecticut State University. Mike was an anti-war leader at Kent State 
University 40 years ago, during the period when National Guardsmen 
killed four student anti-war protestors. Jerry was at Jackson State 
when, 10 days later, police shot and killed students on that campus.

The conference presented thirty-three workshops on topics related to war 
and social justice. Presenters came from a range of perspectives, 
faith-based peace groups, immigrant’s rights advocates, the Palestinian 
rights movement, the labor movement, active duty GIs and veteran’s 
movements, and many more. The workshops and presenters are listed on the 
conference web site (www.nationalpeaceconference.org).

The conference operated democratically, with every person in attendance 
having a voice and a vote. Out of this process came an Action Proposal 
and a set of resolutions. All of this material will be posted in the 
near future on the national peace conference web site 
(www.nationalpeaceconference.org). Basically, the Action Proposal calls 
for local actions in the fall and bi-coastal demonstrations in New York 
City and California in the spring. The spring actions will be 
accompanied by separate and distinct non-violent civil disobedience 
actions. The proposal also calls for support of and collaboration in 
building the mobilizations being called by the labor and civil rights 
movements in the coming months. These include demonstration planned for 
Washington and Detroit on August 28 and a large October 2nd 
demonstration being organized by SEIU/1199, AFL-CIO, the NAACP, and 
others. The action proposal includes a strong stand in support of 
Palestinian rights and against the threats directed at Iran. It calls 
for coordinated teach-ins, lobbying efforts, and campaigns to pass city, 
town, and village resolutions on the issue of war spending and its 
impacts on the economy.

One theme running throughout the conference was the connection between 
the anti-war movement and the Muslim solidarity movement. Both the wars 
and the attacks on Muslims are the products of Washington’s phony war on 
terror. The wars have been called preemptive wars, and the prosecutions 
of Muslims have been labeled preemptive prosecution. These concepts are 
used by the government as theoretical justifications for the wars going 
on at home and abroad. The Muslim solidarity issue was highlighted at a 
poignant and symbolic march from the peace conference to the Masjid-Al 
Salam mosque on Central Avenue where the imprisoned Albany Muslims used 
to worship. At the Mosque, a rally was held where family member and 
supporters of the wrongly prosecuted Muslims spoke along with leaders of 
the anti-war movement such as Kathy Kelly, Madia Benjamin and Sara 
Flounders of the International Action Center. Also, on Saturday, a lunch 
time presentation was given by Shamshad Ahmad, the president of the 
mosque. A statement was read by Imam Aref, the former Imam of the 
Mosque, now in prison for 15 years

Why Albany? Some people have asked why the conference took place in 
Albany. My answer is that it could not have happened any where else. On 
the national level, the peace movement has been weak and unable to 
capitalize on the fact that the majority opposes the wars and the fact 
that trillions is being spent on war as education, healthcare and other 
human needs are being cut. Consequently, the National Assembly to End US 
Wars and Occupations decided to forgo its own national conference in 
favor of building a unity conference of the entire anti-war movement, 
understanding that the lack of unity in the US anti-war movement has 
been a major factor in the weakness of our movement. The Albany area has 
a strong peace movement in which all of the groups work together. In 
addition, when Muslims were attacked in our community, the peace 
movement and eventually the media and large sections of the non-Muslim 
community stood behind them. In many other areas of the country, this 
didn’t happen, as some peace groups felt that being associated with the 
unjustly prosecuted Muslims might alienate them from the politicians and 
others in the non-Muslim community. But what people in Albany realized 
is that the wars and the pre-emptive prosecutions of Muslims are two of 
the faces of the same phony war on terror. So as we took up the fight 
against the attacks on Muslims and the racism these attacks have 
engendered, we undercut the war on terror justification for the wars of 
occupation while, at the same time, finding new allies in the struggle 
for peace. Building bridges between the Muslim and the non-Muslim 
communities is exactly the opposite of what the government wanted, with 
its use of agent provocateurs and fabricated terror plots,

The conference was the right thing to do at the right time; it came to a 
close literally hours before the explosive Afghan War Diaries were 
published by Wikileaks and right before Congress voted for additional 
funding for the perpetual U.S. wars and occupations. The conference gave 
our movement a powerful voice at a very critical time. It also succeeded 
in bringing together thirty-one peace groups with diverse perspectives. 
We brought together the peace movement with leaders of other movements 
that have mobilized millions in their own right. In doing so, we took a 
step forward not only for peace but also for human rights and justice in 
general.

We also brought together the Albany community with the broader movement 
nationally. National leaders like Jerry Gordon of the National Assembly, 
who played a leading role in organizing the National Peace Action 
Coalition during the Vietnam War era, was a central figure bringing all 
of this together. The National Assembly put everything it had into this 
conference. The International Action Center and the Bail Out the Peoples 
movement, which have a strong base in New York City, also played a major 
role in the success of our conference. Veterans for Peace, Peace Action, 
the Fellowship for Reconciliation, the Women’s International League for 
Peace and Freedom, US Labor Against the War, Progressive Democrats of 
America, Kathy Kelly and her Voices for Creative Non-Violence, and 
Project Salam were also the pillars on which the conference was built. 
Code Pink, World Can’t Wait, National Lawyers Guild, After Downing 
Street, Black Agenda Report, the Granny Peace Brigade, Office of the 
Americas, Military Families Speak Out, and others also played a 
significant role in building the conference.
The involvement of these groups will be very important as we build 
actions for next spring in New York City and California.

Locally, a contingent of around 40 people put their all into making the 
conference run smoothly. The incredibly professional work of the 
Sanctuary for Independent Media gave us an international presence. The 
Albany media coverage, with the exception of the attacks on the 
conference by Carl Strock of the Schenectady Gazette, was excellent. The 
Times Union published four articles and an op-ed piece on the 
conference. Despite our competing with the opening day of the Saratoga 
Race Track, the TV and radio news covered us as well.

There also were some shortcomings. Outside of some alternative media, 
the conference was not covered by the national media, in stark contrast 
to the coverage of the Tea Party convention which, despite having fewer 
in attendance, was given prime time live coverage by CNN and other 
outlets. Maureen Aumand who, along with Mary Finneran, organized the 
media in Albany alerted the New York Times to the conference on several 
occasions. The Times tried to explain to her why they would not cover 
the conference, but the real reason it wasn’t covered is because the 
powers running the corporate media in the US want to build a right-wing, 
not a progressive, left-wing movement.

In addition, our audience was mostly older and white. Although polls 
show anti-war sentiment being greatest among youth and African 
Americans, we haven’t seen a lot of participation in the anti-war 
movement from these groups, and this was reflected at the conference, as 
well.

Finally, there were some tests of our unity at the conference, the most 
significant one being around the issue of Palestine. Important leaders 
of the Palestinian movement were in attendance, and a caucus was formed 
by Palestinian rights activists to discuss how best to integrate the 
Palestinian issues with the broader peace issues. They put together a 
resolution and an amendment to the Action Proposal on Palestine, which 
passed by a large majority. However, some felt that the wording was too 
strong and therefore fought to change it. This was a serious 
disagreement, and my hope is that it will not cause any deterioration in 
our unity.

Pulling together a unity conference with thirty-one different groups, 
each with its own perspective on how to bring about peace, was a real 
achievement. However, our true test will be in how united we remain as 
we build future actions to end the wars. Towards this end, the 
conference passed a proposal for a continuations committee that will be 
chaired by Jerry Gordon. It will meet for the first time on August 16th, 
with the goal of continuing our work and broadening it to include other 
forces at the local and regional levels.

The peace conference came together at just the right time and place. It 
happened at the same time when other progressive forces (like the labor 
and civil rights movements) also are mobilizing (on August 28 and 
October 2). The labor and civil rights leaders who have called these 
actions may see them in the context of the mid-term election but they 
come at a time that millions are being victimized by the wars at home 
and abroad and are looking for a way to fight back. The unity we 
attained with the conference was significant. If we can continue and 
broaden this unity with our allies within and outside of the peace 
movement we can change the world.

Peace,
Joe Lombardo










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