The upcoming September 11 anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on how the local peace and justice movement has responded to the past year's events. We find ourselves in an extremely dangerous period of world history. Never before has one nation possessed the ability to act unilaterally with such impunity. The treacherous group of men currently running things in Washington makes the effectiveness of our efforts more crucial than ever.
In the immediate aftermath of September 11, no organization took the lead in bringing people together. Several women activists organized a candlelight vigil at the Thornden Park amphitheater for the evening of September 14 to grieve the loss of life, speak out for peace and stand with our Arab and Muslim neighbors. Hundreds attended.
Peace Council activists gathered the following week to discuss local efforts to prevent our country from going to war. That group, initially called the Beech Street group and then the Global Justice Committee, developed a petition, organized a peace vigil at the Westcott Street Fair and called a coalition meeting to bring together other Central New Yorkers to raise our voices for "Justice Not Revenge."
The CNY 9-ll Peace and Justice Coalition emerged from those efforts, composed of concerned individuals and representatives of the Syracuse Peace Council, Peace Action, the local anti-capitalist/anti-corporate globalization movement, CNY School of the Americas Abolitionists and the CNY Committee to End Iraqi Sanctions. The Peace Council was at a low point of activity, which prevented it from playing a strong leadership role. In part because of lack of leadership and in part because of the challenges inherent in the start of any new coalition, there were organizational difficulties.
The Coalition organized an emergency response demonstration drawing about 75 people to Clinton Square only hours after the October 7 US military attack on Afghanistan, followed by a successful Teach-In/Town Meeting at Nottingham High School on October 11, with 150 participants expressing varying perspectives. An education committee created a speaker's bureau and produced a brochure to publicize it, though very few presentations resulted.
An action committee coordinated weekly vigils beginning on October 17 and organized "Mall Walks" in December at Shoppingtown and Great Northern Malls. That same month the Peace Council's Global Justice Committee organized a bridge-building Ramadan Solidarity Fast in solidarity with the Islamic Society of Central New York.
Peace-List, a listserv to publicize local peace actions and share information, was created and remains a powerful communications tool. (To subscribe, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org In the message, type: subscribe Peace-List [your name].)
By the end of 2001 Coalition participation dwindled and the formal coalition disintegrated. However, the various organizations involved in the Coalition, and others, have continued to work on their core issues, tying them into opposing the "War on Terrorism."
The Syracuse Women's Collective grew out of conversations among older and younger women activists. It has organized several events highlighting women's resistance to the "War on Terrorism" _ a weekend of activities over International Women's Day, an Art Show last spring and the upcoming September 8 Art Show opening and Speakout (see calendar).
Also in the Fall of 2001, the Global Justice Committee began a process to rejuvenate the Peace Council. This resulted in Carol Baum and me being hired to share a full-time staff position in January 2002. The Peace Council has maintained several of the projects originally started by the Coalition, including the weekly vigils _ now held at a variety of busy Syracuse-area intersections every Wednesday from 4:45 to 5:45 pm.
Evaluating The Peace Council's Work
Voices dissenting from the rush to war have been steady, though not sufficiently loud, in our community since September 11. This has been most evident in the letters page of the Post-Standard, but also at vigil sites, community events and to a limited degree in other mainstream media. We have developed creative actions to get the word out to more people in various parts of Central New York. However, our limited people-power and financial resources have constrained many ideas which have been developed.
Existing peace and justice organizations have come together with some success
to collaborate more actively with one another. However, we have been much less
effective at drawing in groups on the periphery of our work and encouraging
them to take a more active anti-war stand. Strong links have been created with
people in the local Muslim community which have been reassuring for them and
which has increased our effectiveness.
We have had little success linking the escalating violence in our own community and the violence of war. Our meetings, programs and discussions continue to draw overwhelmingly European-American participation. There has been only limited emphasis on strategizing about how we change this deep-rooted problem.
Lots of activity is planned to coincide with the upcoming anniversary of 9/11. (See page 3 for details about Peace Council events and the back cover for a full calendar of events.) The Peace Council is increasingly thinking about campaigns, rather than isolated events. This is an important step forward in making our various efforts part of a planned strategy, rather than simply responding to the various crises created by the US government. This proactive approach may help us work with new people and groups.
As we move forward, I believe it is vital for us to reframe our work. It is time for us to say more clearly that the War on Terrorism is merely a cover. The Bush Administration was intent on using military force, economic blackmail and political repression to create freedom for its corporate allies long before September 11. Their agenda is designed to enrich their supporters at the expense of the rest of the worlds population and at the expense of the Earth itself.
The response of the rest of the world to Bushs threats to launch a war against Iraq has created an opening. People in the Middle East, in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America have articulated their opposition to this unilateral, premeditated war-making. It is up to us to provide the domestic dissent which can prevent such an atrocity from being carried out. For the foreseeable future, such dissent must be on our front burner.
Andy Mager, Peace Council Co-Coordinator, is a long-time activist for peace and justice.