Uniting For Peace and Justice

By Jessica Maxwell

In early June, I joined over 500 delegates from local, regional, and national peace and justice organizations at the United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) national conference in Chicago. UFPJ is the coalition that organized the anti-war demonstration in New York City in February that attracted half a million people, including six busses from the Syracuse area. I attended the conference as the Syracuse Peace Council (SPC) delegate.
The conference’s main purpose was to bring together UFPJ member groups to more effectively coordinate our efforts at the national and international levels. By the end of the weekend we had accomplished our four primary goals: 1) to agree on a statement of unity defining our common interests and vision, 2) to create a strategic framework to shape and focus UFPJ’s work, 3) to develop a formal structure for UFPJ, 4) to set common action priorities for the next 18 months. Interestingly, the strategic framework we adopted is very similar to the organizing plan that SPC generated in May to guide our work for the coming year.

Strength in Diversity
The conference also sought to increase the diversity and accessibility of the peace and justice movement. The conference planning committee had broad racial, gender, and political diversity to ensure that many perspectives would inform the process and agenda for the weekend. The conference, held at the O’Hare International Holiday Inn, was subsidized: if a delegate was willing to share a room with another delegate, UFPJ covered the cost of the hotel room and provided lunch and dinner. This was possible due to a grant from Funding Exchange and a sliding scale registration fee based on the size of the delegate’s organization.
It was often challenging to move through the agenda given the overwhelming number of voting delegates in attendance and the diversity in political perspective, organizing strategy, tactics, and personal backgrounds. Strong facilitation and mutual respect among participants allowed us to focus on common ground and reach agreement even on difficult issues, such as defining UFPJ’s relationship to other coalitions and its role in the 2004 elections.
Uniting the Anti-war and Global Justice Movements
It was clear from the number of new organizations and first-time organizers at the conference that many people who joined peace organizations during the war on Iraq did not leave at its declared end. They are still outraged and remain disillusioned with the current US government. For many, the anti-war movement was an entry to learning about broader social justice issues and thinking critically about US government policies and practices. The demonstrations that galvanized millions of people opposing the invasion have subsided for now, but the heightened consciousness and energy they generated persist. National and global coalitions and community groups are strategizing, networking, clarifying priorities, and figuring out how to work together cooperatively. In short, we are focusing our energy internally to build a stronger, deeper, more effective movement.
Though there were imperfections in the conference process and the framework that was produced, they are greatly overshadowed by the synergy and strength evident in the emerging coalition. Disillusioned Democrats are joining with long-time socialists. Anarchists and mainstream non-profit organizations are finding common ground. Empowered youth are taking leadership alongside long-time activists from the Viet Nam War era. The anti-war movement and the global justice movement in the US have finally realized we share a common agenda – and that we must consciously join with other movements around the globe that are also challenging militarization and corporate globalization.
I left Chicago with no doubt that the current period of movement building will soon be followed by another wave of massive demonstrations nationally and globally as grassroots peace and justice groups, mainstream non-profit organizations, international think tanks, and global activists consolidate and strengthen efforts to redefine the global landscape. The next several months are a crucial time for our newly formed alliances. We must deepen our understanding of one another and of our current political reality. We must develop our skills and challenge each other to creatively work through our differences and act in solidarity. We must continue to be active and hold firm to our conviction that another world is possible. We must be willing to confront the obstacles – state, corporate, or ideological – that would try to block the implementation of a global agenda based on sustainability, peace, and justice.

Jessica is an SPC staffperson. Her current work includes helping to define and coordinate SPC’s response to the occupation of Iraq, as well as addressing the broader US global agenda.

More information about the conference, including all documents produced, photos, and a list of official UFPJ members, is at: www.unitedforpeace.org