Friday, December 02, 2005



Anti-War Movement (Part I - personal experiences)

I have been thinking a lot about the anti-war movement these past few weeks. I used to be very involved (pretty much full time) organizing in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003. Recent events have been pushing me to re-think my absence from some of this work. In the meantime, im going to write a few posts about the anti-war movement and my personal role within it and perhaps i can get some feedback from folks on what they are feeling like!

Local Campus Organizing

When I came out of college and moved back in with my parents in New York, i decided to join with the newly forming NYU Peace Coalition. The NYU campus was close to my parents house and in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001 it became a hotspot for campus anti-war organizing. Our meetings balooned to (at times) over 100 people and eventually settled down around 30 student activists. The Peace Coalitions intitial grouping underwent a huge split towards the end of the fall 2001 semester, due mostly to the ISO (International Socialist Organization) and their efforts at trying to bully the group into voting to join a new national student anti-war coalition (NCAN). The background around NCAN is too long to go into here but people will be glad to know that the ISO has finally achieved its goal the second time around with CAN (Campus Anti-War Network) of setting up a national front-group formation.
After the group had dwindled from 30 to about 6 (3 of which were ISO members), the three of us remaining built the group up again from scratch.

City Wide Coalition

In the fall of 2002, when it became clear that the US was looking to (once again) invade Iraq, our group at NYU began to pick up some energy. Check out the cool 'History of the NYU Anti-War Movement' website (designed by another co-editor of Left Turn, Francesca Fiorentini) for a run down of some of our actions. As our group grew and we search for various ways to 'raise the stakes' locally on campus we did a series of militant direct actions that received a lot of news coverage. Over the course of planning out several of these actions some of us because aware of the formation of a new direct action oriented formation in the city called 'No Blood For Oil'. My experiences with NBFO were mixed. We organized some tight actions and had a good strategic frame-work which revolved around targeting the United Nations and registering us (as a part of the growing US anti-war movement) in the international media. We thought this was important, especially as a way to show the world that there was resistance within the US following September 11th, and because the United Nations was playing a central role in the unfolding of the eventual story-line.

National Formation

No Blood For Oil ran out of steam eventually for various reasons (too many of us were arrested multiple times, we were not bringing more people into the work, a few abrasive hyper-masculine personalities in the group, lack of flexibility after the UN focused strategy, lack of support from other direct action elements around the city etc). Still feeling energized from our work at NYU, including several large student walk-outs that we organized, I was still looking to be involved in something larger then our local work at the University. I had heard about the formation of a national coalition called United For Peace (UPJ) which would later turn into United for Peace & Justice (UFPJ). Several large players from past anti-war coalitions and progressive NGOs came together to form UFPJ in October of 2002 and i ended up attending their first meeting in New York in late December. With NYU being on student break and the terrain shifting in terms of the rise of a new national anti-war movement I felt like this would be a good experience for me to get involved with. From January until April I worked as kind of the informal 'student/youth' liason for UFPJ, doing several media appearances for them (including an interesting live interview with Peter Jennings together with Eli Pariser of moveon.org). Whatever conclusions I came up with reflecting on these organizations in the years following 2003, it was a very interesting and informative experience and has helped me understand many of the 'ups and downs' within the 'anti-war movement'. In a later post I will reflect on where i think UFPJ is at currently and some of their specific strengths and weaknesses.

8 comments:

francesca said...

As someone who was also apart of the history of the NYU antiwar movement (and creator of the incomplete website), I have often found myself feeling both inspired and uninspired around antiwar work. Inspired because of the daily horrors happening in Iraq, the unbelievable lies told by those in power, etc. But uninspired upon surveying the local and national antiwar scenes--which seem creatively bankrupt in many ways.
Reflecting on NYU anti-war organizing, what I see was not a lack of energy or cynicism or anything--but the fact that we operated on a very narrow, short-sighted, non-wholisitc political framework from which to base our organizing. It was about this war only, it was about "NO", it was about demos and actions and the amount of media attention one gets.
I'm not saying none of these things are important,nor that some organizations need to be necessarily geared towards that. But as far as creating a sustainable and long-term movement for justice, we were a far cry.
While one can point to the youth and naivete of student organizers, I would say that we weren't doing anything other than the mainstrem peace movement--we were taking our cues from organizations like UFPJ, and literally equating big demos with stopping a war.
I guess for me, the lowest political common denominator of a slogan, "NO", was and will never be enough. We need antiwar organizations that don't do what the Democrats do--secure the swing states. We have to build on the minds and capacities of the "already converted" otherwise, what kind of movement will we have?
We need visionary, creative, grassroots strategies (like counter recruitment and popular education) to truly have an antiwar movement.
We need to understand that building with community organizations that aren't primarily "anti-war", is key to stopping militarism abroad and in the US.
And another thing :) I find it sad that instead of cultivating new generations of leaders for movements for justice, the mainstream antiwar movement (many of who are older former Vietnam war protesters) seem more interested in getting in the NYtimes, arguing with cops about permits, and homogenizing the anti-war message..and then emerge self-congratulatory and aloof.

Finally, I recognize that radicals in the global justice movement and others have not stepped up to the plate and self-organized a new kind of local and/or national anti-war movement...it's high time we do so, and stop deferring the responsibility or acting as though anti-war work is something for the liberals...not so...should never be so...
thanks for reading, ill be here all week.

francesca said...

As someone who was also apart of the history of the NYU antiwar movement (and creator of the incomplete website), I have often found myself feeling both inspired and uninspired around antiwar work. Inspired because of the daily horrors happening in Iraq, the unbelievable lies told by those in power, etc. But uninspired upon surveying the local and national antiwar scenes--which seem creatively bankrupt in many ways.
Reflecting on NYU anti-war organizing, what I see was not a lack of energy or cynicism or anything--but the fact that we operated on a very narrow, short-sighted, non-wholisitc political framework from which to base our organizing. It was about this war only, it was about "NO", it was about demos and actions and the amount of media attention one gets.
I'm not saying none of these things are important,nor that some organizations need to be necessarily geared towards that. But as far as creating a sustainable and long-term movement for justice, we were a far cry.
While one can point to the youth and naivete of student organizers, I would say that we weren't doing anything other than the mainstrem peace movement--we were taking our cues from organizations like UFPJ, and literally equating big demos with stopping a war.
I guess for me, the lowest political common denominator of a slogan, "NO", was and will never be enough. We need antiwar organizations that don't do what the Democrats do--secure the swing states. We have to build on the minds and capacities of the "already converted" otherwise, what kind of movement will we have?
We need visionary, creative, grassroots strategies (like counter recruitment and popular education) to truly have an antiwar movement.
We need to understand that building with community organizations that aren't primarily "anti-war", is key to stopping militarism abroad and in the US.
And another thing :) I find it sad that instead of cultivating new generations of leaders for movements for justice, the mainstream antiwar movement (many of who are older former Vietnam war protesters) seem more interested in getting in the NYtimes, arguing with cops about permits, and homogenizing the anti-war message..and then emerge self-congratulatory and aloof.

Finally, I recognize that radicals in the global justice movement and others have not stepped up to the plate and self-organized a new kind of local and/or national anti-war movement...it's high time we do so, and stop deferring the responsibility or acting as though anti-war work is something for the liberals...not so...should never be so...
thanks for reading, ill be here all week.

sasha said...

i've been involved in a lot of discussions (and a little bit of activity) over the past year on how to re-invigorate anti-war work in the sf bay area and nationally.

however when the posse i'm working with (mostly white, mostly in our 20s) looked into the possibility of doing counter recruitment work we got feedback from some groups that do work with youth in oakland schools that we weren't the right people to be going into schools as we were white, not students, not youth organizers.

i'm curious if yall have had any conversations like that in new york and whether you had similar/different opinions coming out of it. i feel like every thing i see by radicals on what we should do is "counter recruitment" because its grassroots, reaches out to new people, is both community organizing and direct action in a way. but i'm wondering if that is really the right thing for every anti-war group to be working on. and if there is other ways that older people can be doing strategic anti-war work.

i also don't think its true that the "global justice" movement hasn't played a role in the anti-war movement. i feel like the majority of actors in that movement have diverted their energies into anti-war work, even take the lead in certain times and places (esp. direct action to stop the war).

but i don't think the global justice movement was at the time of 9/11 as strong, cohesive and networked as people make it out to be. most importantly the more radical parts of the global justice movement have created few long lasting institutions except maybe in radical media. i think its an important distinction because we can ask the global justice movement to play a role in bringing certain politics and tactics--but its hard to call on the "global justice movement" to bring qualities to anti-war work that it hasn't had or, unfortunently developed. for those of us that identify with that movement, we might have to look elsewhere to learn the skills that many of us would sincerly love to bring to anti-war organizing.

max said...

I think its true there might be little 'fetishization' (is that a word?) around the idea of doing counter-recruitment work. It probably stems from the fact that people are just looking for new ways to be concretely invovled in anti-war work outside of the vigils/protest/lock-down cycle.

My exprience has been (and i will hopefully get this this in future posts on this subject) that for the past few years there have not been a lot of people who i share political affinity with ('anti-capitalist/anti-authoritarian') doing ongoing anti-war organizing. Direct Action to Stop the War like Sasha pointed out is one of the few exceptions, but even DASW's major actions were nearly two years ago now.

My gut reaction has been to kind of ask 'where have elements of the global justice movement gone' although i realize thats kind of a problematic question. Especially when i think of many of my friends who are all involved in various exciting projects. I think for me its a reaction to specifically a group of New York City based radicals who seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time talking shit about UFPJ or what they term the 'liberal/reformist anti-war movement'. Some would even go so far as to say 'If UFPJ didnt exist we would have seen the rise of a much more vibrant anti-capitalist movement against the war'. I disgree with that analysis and it makes me think 'well if you disagree with the such and such movement but are really concerned about these issue then where are your alternatives'? I have not seen many, and i think thats a reflection of how difficult it is in practice to really build an alternative 'creative & militant' anti-war movement right now without a huge amount of resources.

In terms of who should be doing counter-recruitment work, thats an interesting question and i have not personally run into that debate so i cant really comment on it too specifically. In the bay area (for various reasons) you all have a lot more radical independent infrastructure to do anti-war work. That doesnt mean its still not really tough, but in New York most committed activists are just not seeing anti-war work as a priority. I have been thinking about this a lot and am really interested in the question of how to prioritize work because i dont think its an obvious question.

Any other thoughts...?

action jackson said...

" think its true there might be little 'fetishization' (is that a word?) around the idea of doing counter-recruitment work."

i think there is 'fetishization' of constant theorizing and never getting around to doing anything.

Katie said...

I'm looking forward to more reflections from ya'll (and other NYU organizers) on this question; my sense is that the ups and downs of the antiwar movement over the last few years are less to do with tactics and more to do with the political strategy of UFPJ leaders. I think since the election, that strategy has changed for the better.

max said...

I dont think the UFPJ strategy helped things to be sure, but i think there were larger trends going on that forced everyone on the defensive for at least a few months following the initial invasion.

The first (local) UFPJ effort was to support a labor rally at City Hall with local DC-37 who were fighting with the city for a new contract. We basically all got penned in a completely seperate part of the rally and many union members actually where confused as to why 'those anti-war people' showed up. Although the union leadership came to local UFPJ meetings to ask for our help, its clear they made no real effort to integrate ;our message' into the larger demo etc. I thought at the time and obviously i do in retrospect that this was a big mistake. [This was April 30, 2003 ]

The next thing UFPJ chose to support was a 'back to back' action, the first organized by several black churches and progressive organizations at City Hall to rally against police brutality, specifically the killings of Ousmane Zongo and Alberta Spruill. The next down the National Organization For Women (NOW) rallied in midtown to denounce the Bush adminitrations attacks on Womens rights. While some of us pushed for larger support of the police brutality rally, they really did very little (I spoke on stage, and i think there were a few banners in the crowd). There was a lot of outrage that summer over the two police killings and I thought we could capture on some of the energy from the anti-police brutality movements of the late 90s which centered of course around the killing (41 shots) of Amadou Diallo.

Still, having said that im not sure that anyone else was coming up with any great ideas in terms of how we could re-focus. DASW on the west coast did some cool stuff i remember, moving towards the 'corporate war profiteer' model and doing some labor solidarity work on the docks. In the end though, like i was saying before - it was really hard for anyone (DASW included) to combat what was going on in Iraq. The 'mission accomplished' speech and the falling of the statue knocked a larger number of anti-war demonstrators off course for at least a few months and im not sure how we could have dealt with that.

I agree with Katie about UFPJs strategy the past year or so... it has gotten better and the support of the military families has been central. There is still much to be desired however as UFPJ moved forward (the title of a big article in the upcoming issue of Left Turn magazine).

francesca said...

While I definitely see the reluctance and barriers for white organizers doing counter-recruitment work specifically in communities of color, I think that looking at the 40% drop in Black enlistees, yet the steady stream of them from low-income white communities, I would have to say that counter-recruitment work is not just about people of color.

Probably the hardest counter-recruitment work, for reasons stemming from white supremacy and jingoism, isolation, as well as poverty, is to be done in these communities where there is just as much a lack of options but an added illusion of "serving one's country" and continuing a legacy (for folks who are from military towns and families).

So while I feel like the narrative has been the "urban, low-income, youth of color", those aren't the only folks who are joining or disproportionally targeted.

But additionally, I think even for white folks working in communities of color, there need to be principled and anti-racist ways of doing counter-recruitment work and yeah, maybe being in uncomfortable situations or taking longer to build trust among fellow organizers.

Counter-recruitment work however can also be seen as organizing around education and against prisons...and making the connections between all three. Many people involved in counter-recruitment work run into the question of, "well what are the alternatives?" And working to better and change those alternatives should be conceived as intimately linked to counter-recruitment work.