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Anti-war movement, progressives unite for protest at RNC

by Mick Kelly |
April 1, 2008
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Minneapolis, MN - In a great display of unity and solidarity, activists from around the country gathered on the University of Minnesota campus, Feb. 9-10, for an organizing conference to plan the anti-war protests at the Republican National Convention.

The conference organized by the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War brought together more than 60 organizations. This included the major centers of the anti-war movement, including United for Peace and Justice, International ANSWER and the Troops Out Now Coalition. Also present was Carlos Montes of Latinos Against the War and an important leader in the immigrant rights movement.

Speaking in front of a large banner that read “Stop the War” Phyllis Walker, the dynamic president of AFSCME Local 3800, the campus clerical workers union, welcomed conference participants and set the context for cooperation stating “If on September, 2008 you are tempted to put the interests of your organization before the interests of our coalition - stop and think, it is only through collective action that we can prevail. Remember our goals: Demand peace, justice and equality; U.S. out of Iraq now; money for human needs, not war. I want and need to see all of you in Saint Paul in September, 2008.”

Jessica Sundin then spoke for the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, laying out the politics of the planned protest and summarizing the work of Twin Cities activists.

To applause, Sundin stated, “The Republican chiefs of war will gather here to celebrate the years of brutality already carried out in Iraq, to cheer for more of the same and to congratulate their new candidate they hope will be elected to lead this war for the next four years. The international media will carry their story, broadcast their lies...We cannot - we will not - let this message go unanswered. To build a massive demonstration, to fill the streets with tens of thousands of opponents of war, this is our task.”

Sundin also talked about the fight to get permits for the Sept. 1 protest stating, “We have been engaged in a 17-month battle for permits to march on the Xcel Center during the RNC. The week after Republicans announced their plans to gather here, we had talked to one another, met with an attorney, then prepared and filed our first applications for the rally and march. Since then, we met with city officials, we have protested outside the police station that processes permits, we have held press conferences at City Hall and the Xcel Center, and we have marched on the Xcel Center along the very route we will take in September.”

Sundin also explained the Coalition’s attitude toward the permits, “We know that protesters have struggled to get permits at every convention in recent years. We are committed to carrying out this important demonstration no matter what. We have said many times, and we mean it: We will march on the RNC, with or without permits. But that said, we know that permits will make it more possible for more people to march with us. We will keep fighting in the court of public opinion - and if it will help us, in a court of law - to win a permit for all of us to take to the streets outside the Xcel Center.”

Building unity

Among conference-goers, there was a lot of excitement generated by the participation of the main national anti war coalitions: United for Peace and Justice, International ANSWER and the Troops Out Now Coalition. The groups spoke in the first plenary of the conference, along with Carlos Montes, a veteran leader of the Chicano movement and Angel Buechner of the Minnesota-based Welfare Rights Committee.

There were smiles across the room when Leslie Cagan, the national coordinator for United for Peace and Justice said of the conference, “This was a really good move to pull all of us together...” There is broad sentiment in the anti-war movement and among progressive for more unity and coordination.

Sara Flounders, of the Troops Out Now Coalition and the co director of the International Action Center, noted that the progressive movement in the Twin Cities has often been a force for unity, even on a national level. Flounders also spoke about the need to combat the war at home and abroad. The Sept. 1 demonstration will provide the opportunity to bring forward the demands of every movement that stands for peace, justice, and equality.

John Beacham of the ANSWER Coalition told the conference, “The ANSWER Coalition is glad to be with you and we thank the organizers of today’s event for their great work in pulling this coalition together.”

Carlos Montes, of the Los Angeles-based Latinos Against the War and an important leader in the immigrant rights movement also addressed the conference. Montes also spoke about the war at home and aboard and stressed the need to defeat the attacks on the undocumented.

During the conference, leaders of the student movement, including many chapters of Student for a Democratic Society made plans for a feeder marches that will join the main Sept. 1 protest. Leaders in the low-income community and labor movement made similar plans.

Principles that bring people together

In the weeks leading up to the Organizing Conference extensive discussions took place among the forces that are planning actions at the Republican National Convention, including the anarchist-oriented RNC Welcoming Committee and member groups of the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War.

Summarizing the principles and their practical significance Jess Sundin stated, “The four principles of unity that we have agreed to use as a guide in working with people who are planning other activities are: We will respect one another’s plans. Various actions will be separated by time or space. We will keep disagreements internal, not engaging in public denunciations of one another. And we will oppose any repressive actions by police. These principles will guide us, and give us assurance that others will respect our plans for a mass permitted march.”

Sara Flounders of the Troops Out Now Coalition praised the four principles as a model that could be employed by others.

Coalition goes national

The conference established a National Coordinating Committee of the Coalition. The proposal adopted by the conference stated, “We understand that the Sept. 1 protest is a massive undertaking. Groups from around the country can make a real contribution to pulling together the program at the rally, logistics, security and marshalling, and fundraising. A process of democratic consultation coupled with a practical approach to things will allow us to make a powerful, collective statement on Sept. 1.”

John Beacham of the ANSWER backed the proposal in the plenary where it was adopted. United for Peace and Justice, International ANSWER and the Troops Out Now Coalition have agreed to participate in the work of the National Coordinating Committee.

Marching towards September 1

Conference participant Stef Yorek, the Political Secretary of Freedom Road Socialist Organization, had nothing but good things to say about the event and said that the unity and genuine enthusiasm for the Sept. 1 march were signs of good things to come.

“On Sept. 1, we can send a serious message to the rulers of this country that we have had enough of the war on Iraq and enough of their war on people right here in this country. The eyes of the world will be on the streets of Saint Paul. What they will see is a sea of struggle.”