Albany’s United National Peace Conference: Unity Attained
|The United National Peace Conference (Albany, July 23-25) succeeded in bringing together representatives from several movements working for peace and social justice, including labor, single payer healthcare, immigrants’ rights, environmental, Palestinian rights and Muslim solidarity movements. Photo: Independent Media Sanctuary|
The United National Peace Conference in Albany on July 23-25 brought together 776 people from around the country and overseas (although unfortunately, two people from India were denied visas to come to the conference). The National Assembly to End US Wars and Occupations initiated the conference, and it was co-sponsored by 31 other groups.
The Albany-area Sanctuary for Independent Media (mediasanctuary.org) provided live-streaming of major segments of the conference to the Internet, gave people a place to upload pictures and tweets and posted major presentations on YouTube (youtube.com/mediasanctuary). The day after the conference, the YouTube videos got over 17,000 hits, making them the most viewed videos from a non-profit organization 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 Medea Benjamin, Col. Ann Wright, Kathy Kelly and many others. Ethan McCord, who as a soldier in Iraq was seen on “Collateral Murder,” the WikiLeaks video released in April 2010, spoke out publicly for the first time. US war resisters living in Canada video conferenced into the conference since they could not be there in person.
Leaders of other movements were there as well, including leaders of the labor, single payer, immigrants’ rights, environmental, Palestinian rights and Muslim solidarity movements. Leaders of SEIU 1199 came to ask the peace movement to support the upcoming October 2, 2010 March on Washington (which they are co-sponsoring with the AFL-CIO and NAACP). There were leaders of the movements against intervention in Iran, Columbia, Honduras and Haiti, and student leaders including Blanca Missa, one of the central organizers of the recent student protests at Berkeley against California’s cuts to education.
Noam Chomsky spoke via video. He was followed by an address given by Donna Dewitt, President of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, and leading member of the National Assembly and US Labor Against the War. We listened to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s audiotaped message to the conference from death row, and a letter was read from Imam Aref, one of the wrongly prosecuted Muslims from Albany who is now in prison for 15 years. Ralph Poynter, husband of imprisoned civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart, read her message.
Throughout the weekend, the backdrop to the stage 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 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 33 workshops on topics related to war and social justice. Presenters came from a range of perspectives – faith-based peace groups, immigrants’ rights advocates, the Palestinian rights movement, the labor movement, active duty GIs and veteran’s movements, and many more.
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. The Action Proposal calls for:
• Local actions in the fall and bi-coastal demonstrations in New York City and California next spring. The spring actions will also include non-violent civil disobedience. • Support of and collaboration in building the mobilizations being called by the labor and civil rights movements, including the demonstration planned for Washington, DC on October 2. • Strong support of Palestinian rights and opposition to the threats directed at Iran. • 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.
There were some tests of our unity, the most significant being around the issue of Palestine. Leaders of the Palestinian rights movement were in attendance, and they caucused to discuss how best to integrate Palestinian issues with 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 fought to change it. This was a serious disagreement, and my hope is that it will not cause any deterioration in our unity.
One theme running throughout the conference was the connection between the anti-war and the Muslim solidarity movements. 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. The Muslim solidarity issue was highlighted at a poignant march from the peace conference to the Masjid-Al Salam mosque where the imprisoned Albany Muslims used to worship. At the mosque, a rally was held where their family members and supporters spoke, along with leaders of the anti-war movement.
The Albany media coverage of the conference, with one exception, was excellent. The Times Union published four articles and an op-ed piece. Despite our competing with the opening day of the Saratoga Race Track, the TV and radio news covered us as well. However, other than by some alternative media, the conference was not covered by national media. This is 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.
The conference gave our movement a powerful voice at a very critical 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 US wars and occupations. It happened at the same time other progressive forces (like the labor and civil rights movements) are also mobilizing. Now is a time millions are being victimized by the wars at home and abroad and are looking for a way to fight back.
Pulling together a unity conference with many different groups 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 which met on August 16, with the goal of continuing our work and broadening it to include other forces at the local and regional levels.
We succeeded in bringing together 31 peace groups with diverse perspectives, as well as connecting the peace movement with leaders of other movements. The unity we attained was significant. If we can sustain and broaden this unity with our allies within and outside of the peace movement, we can change the world.