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A Hundred Peace Movements Bloom | The Nation

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A Hundred Peace Movements Bloom

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For those behind United for Peace--such as Cagan; global justice guru Medea Benjamin, founding director of Global Exchange; and former AFL-CIO official Bill Fletcher, president of TransAfrica Forum--the antiwar movement's biggest test is not what to do about ANSWER but whether it is possible to bring together the traditional peace organizations with the two most dynamic social movements in recent years: the sprawling global justice coalition that debuted in Seattle and the urban racial justice movement, with its vibrant campaigns around police brutality, racial profiling and immigrants' rights. Such a merger, they argue, would provide lasting infrastructure for an antiwar movement.

Esther Kaplan is co-chair of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, which has
endorsed United for Peace.

Click here for a list of activist groups opposing war on Iraq.

About the Author

Esther Kaplan
Esther Kaplan is editor of the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, and author of With God on Their Side: George...

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"Events are showing that these issues are interlinked," says Fletcher. "But it will be a challenge for the antiwar movement to talk about the role of empire and the dangers of domestic repression, and a challenge for organizers in communities of color, who have focused on domestic issues to the exclusion of foreign policy."

It's not an easy fit for the global justice movement, either, except perhaps for the movement's anticapitalist sector, which, says El-Amine, has "always understood that you can't have that invisible hand of the market work overseas without the fist of militarism to open up markets." Benjamin says that earlier this fall, she heard deep concern from other global justice forces, still struggling to regroup after September 11, that taking on the war might alienate labor--which was virtually unanimous in support of the invasion of Afghanistan--from its "Teamsters and turtles" alliance. But it turns out that in the view of American labor, Iraq is no Afghanistan. On Iraq, says former Teamsters organizing director Bob Muehlenkamp, "unions have begun to question their government's war policy earlier, more broadly and more seriously than ever before at such an early stage of a war threat," with giant union locals, and even two state labor federations, taking an antiwar stance [see Marc Cooper, "Antiwar Labor Pains," December 9]. In addition, says Benjamin, the massive antiwar demonstration that burst out of the European Social Forum in Florence in early November allayed American activists' concerns about taking on the war. "It sure didn't seem [the Europeans] had a problem convincing people there that saying no to war was part of the global justice movement," she says.

But the fault line that runs between these three movements--and could easily capsize them as they combine--is what Fletcher calls "the tripwire of US politics": race. While the traditional peace movement--especially its religious wing, mobilized by early, strong leadership from the National Council of Churches--has conferred a moral legitimacy on antiwar sentiment and has reached deeply into Middle America, its organizations are mostly white and middle class. That pattern has plagued the anti-corporate globalization movement, too. This whiteness shapes everything from outreach strategies to meeting style to which messages are considered to have "broad appeal." So it will take some profound rumblings for this movement to tap the deep pockets of antiwar sentiment among African-Americans, Muslims and Latinos. (A recent poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that African-American support for the war was at a low 19 percent.)

This is why one of the most talked-about developments among antiwar activists is a new coalition, Racial Justice 9-11, formed specifically to build antiwar resistance among communities of color. The coalition's founding conference last February drew forty community-based groups from across the country that have traditionally worked only on home-front agendas, such as criminal justice reform. Coordinator Hany Khalil says that between "the shift of public money to a permanent war abroad" and the possibility "that our own home countries might be targeted down the road," RJ9-11 aims to frame the issues in a way that will break a "routinization" of priorities and focus community attention on the war. Indeed, twenty more groups have joined the coalition in recent months.

As these movements come together, serious differences of opinion are inevitable. While some at the founding meeting of United for Peace urged that a narrow message, "Stop the war on Iraq," would appeal most to Middle America, Khalil and others argue that separating the war abroad from the war at home--from immigrant roundups to stateside structural readjustment--will do little to activate people of color. (The Joint Center's poll showed that while most African-Americans oppose a war, only 6 percent rank it as the top concern.)

Likewise, some urge avoiding the third rail of Palestine, not so much because it would likely alienate Jewish institutions, which have exhibited little inclination to oppose this war anyway, but because the issue has to be carefully formulated to avoid alienating important liberal institutions as well. NOW vice president Olga Vives, for example, mentioned "balance" on the Israel-Palestine conflict as crucial to her group's involvement in a broader peace movement. But given that the Palestinian cause has galvanized the student left and will be deeply affected by any war in the region, Khalil predicts that the antiwar movement will have to take up the question.

The winning formula, Fletcher says, is to insist that "the front needs to include anyone who is in opposition to this war," to respect political differences within the movement as it expands and to work toward "a broader, anti-imperialist political analysis" that can prepare the movement to challenge future American military adventures and their domestic repercussions.

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