East Timor Activism in Boston

Cynthia Peters


Sydney Morning Herald reported on Tuesday, September 14, 1999 that "Piles

of bodies were burnt on the streets of Dili at the weekend and tens of thousands

of refugees were without food or water as they fled the militias and the

Indonesian Army. . . Dr Andrew McNaughton, spokesman for the Darwin-based East

Timorese International Support Centre, feared the militias and the Indonesian

Army had embarked on "a final solution" in East Timor that had echoes

of Nazi Germany."


many U.S. progressives, I am overwhelmed and sickened by this fresh bout of

heinous crimes for which my government is largely responsible. I have been

wracked with questions about what I should do, what actions would be most

effective, and how progressives can ameliorate the short-term crisis (and save

lives) yet stay rooted in a long-term vision and a deep understanding of how

these crises develop in the first place (and build alternative institutions that

will support grassroots democracy and justice at home and abroad).


others are pondering similar questions, I have written a profile of what’s

happening in Boston around the crisis in East Timor, what it says about the

state of our movement, and the challenges we face – all in the hope to inspire

some exchange amongst us. I hope others will write about what is going on in

their cities, and that we can constructively share information about strategies

and goals.


Monday, September 13th in front of Boston’s Federal Building, approximately 100

people picketed, chanting "Indonesia Out! Peacekeepers In!" while

three area activists went into the building to meet with Steve Kerrigan,

legislative aid to Ted Kennedy. They wanted to remind Kennedy of U.S. complicity

in the slaughter, ask him to use his influence on the armed services committee

to ensure the withdrawal of Indonesian troops, press upon him the urgent need

for rapid deployment of UN peacekeeping forces, push for a War Crimes Tribunal

that would investigate and prosecute Indonesian military war crimes, and to rush

humanitarian aid to East Timor.


meanwhile, spoke spontaneously into a portable microphone. I asked one young man

after he had made an impassioned plea for increased activism and awareness of

the consequences of U.S. foreign policy how he got involved in political work.

"I’m not," he answered. "I just read a book by Noam

Chomsky." The book was The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism -

published 20 years ago, but highly relevant not only for its analysis of the

roots of terror in East Timor, but for its overall analysis of the systems and

institutions emerging out of Washington that give rise to and support terror



the end of the demonstration, Cathy Hoffman, Peace Commissioner for the city of

Cambridge, announced that an ad hoc group of activists were pulling together

last minute meetings to determine strategies for responding to the current

crisis in East Timor. She stressed that hours and days matter.


Boston office of the East Timor Action Network, along with Mobilization for

Survival and a number of unaffiliated individuals, is providing the framework

for most of the organizing going on in the Boston area. In general, ETAN is

calling for the United States to:

  • "lock

    in" the temporary suspension of military assistance through

    congressional action.

  • back

    the speedy deployment of an international force to support the UN in taking

    control of security, ending martial law, demanding Indonesian military

    withdrawal, and disarming and arresting paramilitaries.

  • demand

    immediate access by humanitarian and relief agencies to internal refugees

    and refugees forcibly displaced from East Timor and support emergency

    airlifts of food and medical supplies.


congressional bills that are pending and that speak to the above include: HR

2809 in the House and S. 1568 in the Senate, which call for: the immediate

suspension of all U.S. military and economic assistance to Indonesia until the

results of the August 30 ballot have been implemented, and U.S. support for an

international mission in East Timor. For the longer term, rally support for HR

1063 the binding bill with over 80 co-sponsors, that would ban all U.S. combat

training (under law) to any country currently restricted from receiving any

single training program due to human rights violations. Massachusetts residents

can call Ted Kennedy at 617-565-3170 and John Kerry at 617-565-8519 and your

congressperson at 202-224-3121 or check www.congress.gov for additional



Mobilization for Survival’s Wells Wilkinson praised ETAN for their long-term

educational work, and credits them with ensuring that this crisis is well

understood in international terms, especially the U.S. role. But Wilkinson

lamented the state of the peace movement in Boston. MOBE itself is so

underfunded and underresourced that they are having trouble staying in touch

with the two dozen or so committed volunteers that would like to play a role in

their work. A representative from a Boston area South Asian peace and democracy

group that is helping to mobilize people around the crisis in East Timor

questioned the lack of a network of peace and justice groups in the Boston area

who could combine efforts at a time like this. The American Friends Service

Committee is using its e-mail networks to disseminate news, analysis and action

alerts. A few churches and some of the Portuguese communities in the Boston area

have also been active around East Timor.


ETAN coordinator for the Boston area is overwhelmed with requests for

information, speakers, and queries about everything from how to start collecting

humanitarian aid to how to set up a teach-in. Despite major and very commendable

efforts on the part of individuals and small organizations, Boston-area social

change groups lack resources and any kind of real network that can be activated

during a crisis. Currently, there is more interest from the community in being

involved than there is infrastructure to plug them in.


meeting on Tuesday evening, called with one day’s notice, brought a core group

of five people together to consolidate plans for the next few days and weeks,

and the long term. Here are some of their plans.




Timor teach-in 7-10 pm Tufts University, Medford Pearson (chemistry Lab) on

Talbot Avenue, Room 104


Meldon 617-627-3570; featured speakers Peter Dale Scott and Constancio Pinto


are being planned at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of government on either

September 21 or 23, and Boston University (date to be announced). Call

781-648-0548 for more information.


will be a demonstration in Harvard Square at noon on Saturday, September 18th.


demonstrations are being planned for the fashionable Newbury Street’s "Nike

Town," the Federal Building, and possibly the Boston Globe.




Timor activists are interested in working with other peace and justice

organizers to demand reparations for the East Timorese. The United States bears

tremendous responsibility for the tragedy in East Timor, but our organizing

should not be based on this single issue. In addition to ending the short-term

crisis, we should find ways to address the underlying causes of the crisis, such

as the U.S. need for markets, new colonial strategies, the role of the IMF and

the World Bank, militarism, etc.


(Tuesday) on Christopher Lydon’s local "Talk of the Nation," Alan

Nairn, a U.S. reporter who is currently being detained by the Indonesian

military in East Timor, reported that he has watched military officials toss

their files into a bonfire. When he asked them why, they answered, "It’s

all over. We’re out of here." Nairn says the Timorese have won. The

Indonesian military will do as much damage as they can (and as the international

community allows), but ultimately their 25-year occupation is over. Progressives

will need to set their sites on how to support the rebuilding of a ruined



should support alternative media. The book (The Washington Connection and Third

World Fascism) that so motivated the young picketer at Monday’s demonstration

was originally suppressed by the mainstream publisher that had agreed to publish

it. It saw the light of day through South End Press – an independent publisher

that has kept it in print. Countless small media outlets keep independent

analysis and perspective alive, and provide an indispensable organizing tool.


peace and justice activists should work with others in their locales, including

labor unions, religious groups, and women’s, gay/lesbian, anti-racist and

community-based organizations in coalition around a wide range of issues. We

should understand the connections between local struggles and those abroad. At a

minimum, Boston should have a network of organizations that is at least loosely

associated and poised to rally its resources in moments of crisis.

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