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
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:
in" the temporary suspension of military assistance through
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.
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.