by Jerry Gordon, Marilyn Levin and Jeff Mackler
Our overall assessment is that the conference was an overwhelming success. Over 400 people from many parts of the country and Canada attended, including a bus of 44 – mostly youth – from Connecticut (see breakdown by states below). The conference met its main objective, which was to urge united and massive mobilizations in the spring to "Bring the Troops Home Now," as well as supporting actions that build towards that date. It also provided a prototype for how an antiwar movement can function effectively and democratically. The one person-one vote voting formula made everyone feel involved, able to have a voice, and capable of influencing decisions on critical issues. People left the conference sky high, and with renewed energy and determination to build the movement.
Conference highlights included the following:
1. Ensured that it was action oriented by urging support for demonstrations at the Republican and Democratic Party conventions (September 1-4, 2008 and August 25-28, 2008 respectively), other actions preceding the elections -- especially those called for October 11 -- and proposing December 9-14 as dates for local actions across the country demanding the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. These December actions provide the best potential for uniting the entire movement in the months ahead. ANSWER and the Troops Out Now Coalition have endorsed them and the hope is that UFPJ will do the same. The need now is to take these proposed dates to local antiwar coalitions; labor groups, especially U.S. Labor Against the War; veterans and military families organizations: the faith community; Black, Hispanic, Asian, Arab, Muslim and other nationalities, racial and ethnic groups; students; women's peace organizations; the Moratorium; and all other social forces that can be drawn into antiwar activities. All actions are viewed as springboards for building massive, united, independent and bi-coastal Spring 2009 demonstrations against the war.
2. Expressed its strong opposition to attacks against Iran, as well as sanctions and other forms of intervention into that country's internal affairs; registered determination to join other antiwar forces in massive united, protest actions in the event that the U.S. or its proxy, Israel, bombs Iran; and urged that if this occurs an emergency meeting of all the major antiwar forces be called to plan such actions.
3. Added Afghanistan to the name of the Assembly because the U.S. is fighting two unjust, illegal and brutal wars simultaneously and both must be opposed. We are now the National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations.
4. Voted to integrate the issue of Palestine into the broader antiwar struggle and to challenge U.S. support for the Israeli occupation.
5. Included in the conference program and agenda a number of workshops of interest to attendees, with the workshops designed to show the interconnection between the wars and occupations and other issues of concern. Here is the list of workshops: The Cost of the War and the Deepening Economic Crisis; War Rages While Racism, Anti-Immigrant Attacks and the War at Home Escalate; Building the Antiwar Movement in Labor Organizations: International Solidarity and the Common Needs of U.S. and Iraqi Workers; Lessons From the Vietnam Antiwar Movement; Students, the Economic Draft and Military Recruitment in Our Schools; Confronting the Assault on Civil Liberties and the U.S. Constitution: the War on Terror – Today's Justification for Washington's Wars at Home and Abroad; Palestine, the Middle East and Iraq: Drawing the Connections; The Critical Role of Veterans and Military Families Opposed to the War; Latin America and the Caribbean: the Next U.S. War of Intervention?; The Next Oil Wars: Africa Command (AFRICOM) and the Expansion of U.S. Military Intervention in Africa; This is What Democracy Looks Like: Effective Lobbying to End the Occupation; Local Organizing and the Iraq Moratorium; Nonviolent Direct Action: Is It Effective? Outsourcing Our Sovereignty: Blackwater and the Privatization of War with Public Money; War, Militarism, Violence Against Women, and Women's Resistance; The St. Paul Republican National Convention Protest; and the Movement and the Media.
6. Attracted a broad range of movement activists as well as the leadership of the nation's most prominent antiwar coalitions – UFPJ, ANSWER and TONC – as well as leaders and representatives of U.S. Labor Against the War, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, and Military Families Speak Out.
7. Featured an impressive array of speakers representing critical constituencies, several of whom pledged future collaboration. These included: Donna Dewitt, President of the South Carolina AFL-CIO and Co-Chair, South Carolina Progressive Network; Fred Mason, President, Maryland AFL-CIO and Co-Convenor, U.S. Labor Against the War; Cindy Sheehan, Gold Star Families for Peace (by video tape); Jonathon Hutto, Navy Petty Officer, Author of Anti-War Soldier and Co-Founder of Appeal for Redress; Elliott Adams, President, Veterans for Peace; Beth Lerman, Coordinator of Military Families Speak Out in Ohio; Leslie Cagan, National Coordinator, United for Peace and Justice; Jesse Diaz, Organizer of the May 1, 2006 immigrant rights boycott; Marilyn Levin, Boston United for Justice with Peace, New England United, and Middle East Crisis Coalition; Brian Becker, National Coordinator, A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition; Colia Lafayette Clark, Richard Wright Centennial Committee; Jorge Mujica, Chicago March 10 Coalition; Jeremy Scahill, Author, of "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army;" Clarence Thomas, Executive Board Member, ILWU Local 10, the trade union that initiated the May 1 one-day antiwar strike that closed all U.S. West Coast ports from Canada to Mexico; Riham Barghouti, Adalah, New York City; Lynne Stewart, attorney and 30-year veteran of civil liberties and civil rights defense work; Josh Davidson, Shaker Heights High School Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); Larry Holmes, Coordinator, Troops Out Now Coalition; Jeff Mackler, Coordinating Committee, National Assembly to End the Iraq War and Occupation; and Jerry Gordon, Steering Committee, U.S. Labor Against the War and Co-Coordinator of the Vietnam-era National Peace Action Coalition. Saturday Night Performer: Son of Nun.
8. Projected an atmosphere where spirited and sometimes sharp debate could take place in a civil manner on substantive issues. The few attempts to deprecate groups or individuals encountered a strong negative response.
9. Voted to maintain the Assembly as a network with its mission intact and continuing: to be a catalyst and unifier, striving always to unite the movement in the streets. Our abiding conviction is that a united movement is a stronger movement and one better able to reach out to and involve the broader forces that must be won if we are to put an end to the wars and occupations.
10. Elected a 13-member Administrative Body (AB), composed of Zaineb Alani, Colia Clark, Greg Coleridge, Donna Dewitt, Jamilla El-Shafei, Mike Ferner, Jerry Gordon, Jonathan Hutto, Marilyn Levin, Jeff Mackler, Fred Mason, Mary Nichols-Rhodes and Lynne Stewart.
11. Raised enough money to pay all the bills for what was a very expensive undertaking, with the total cost being an estimated $23,500.
Hitches Along the Way
Of course, there were flaws in the planning and preparation for the conference and, in retrospect, there were things we would have done differently. The most serious problem was not making it clear beforehand what was meant by an action proposal as differentiated from requests for endorsements of events, minor word changes, and proposals outside the realistic scope of the conference. This resulted in an avalanche of proposals and later of amendments to the action proposal the conference voted to focus on. Because all of these amendments could not be taken up in the allotted time, many were referred to the incoming Administrative Body.
Then, too, the Saturday night program lasted too long and the concluding speakers, as well as Son of Nun, who performed magnificently at the end, were heard by dwindling numbers. We also underestimated the turnout and although we prepared 400 kits going into the conference at a time when registrations totaled about 300, there were not enough kits to go around (especially since a number of people took more than one so they could pass them along to activists back home).
We will learn from all this and make the necessary changes the next time around. After all, this was the Assembly's founding conference. We are confident the next one will be bigger and better.
Where Does the Assembly Go From Here?
As we see it, the immediate priorities are completing work on the action and structure proposals and posting them on the Assembly website; circulating them widely throughout the movement; securing endorsements for the December 9-14 actions and acting as a clearinghouse for listing and promoting the December actions; encouraging groups which are in agreement with the five points that unite us – "Out Now!" as the movement's unifying demand, mass action as the central strategy, unity of the movement, democratic decision making, and independence from all political parties – to elect representatives to the Assembly's Continuations Body and help guide us as we move forward; and preparing a DVD featuring highlights of the conference for distribution and sale.
Was the conference a success? This will be determined less by what we discussed and voted upon there and more by what conference attendees do in the aftermath. If those who went through the experience of the conference are vocal and assertive in not only pressing for united actions in the future but demanding them and if, as a result, our fractured antiwar movement at last comes together in the streets, and stays there until the U.S. stops waging war on the peoples of the Middle East, as well as Afghanistan, then it may truly be said that the June 28-29 conference held in Cleveland, Ohio was, indeed, an historic event.
*Conference attendance: 417 people registered, 12 who did register did not come, so the total attendance was 405. One person came from Arizona, 29 from California, one from Colorado, 41 from Connecticut, 7 from Washington, D.C., 2 from Florida, 27 from Illinois, one from Indiana, 16 from Massachusetts, 5 from Maryland, 17 from Michigan, 14 from Minnesota, 6 from Missouri, 1 from North Carolina, 10 from New Jersey, 39 from New York, 140 from Ohio, 1 from Oregon, 21 from Pennsylvania, 6 from Rhode Island, 2 from South Carolina, 1 from Texas, 1 from Utah, 4 from Virginia, 3 from Washington State, 6 from Wisconsin, 4 from Ontario, Canada