The peace and justice movement is very alive, very well.
This is the undeniable truth made visible this past weekend, June 6-8, in Chicago, Illinois at the national conference of United for Peace and Justice. Over 500 participants attended, from 38 states and approximately 350 organizations.
It was not a perfect weekend. There were weaknesses and occasional frustrations. UFPJ, while very much a multi-cultural formation, is still “in process” towards having the breadth along those lines it needs to have. We are still learning how to combine a maximum of inclusive democracy with a decision-making process that is effective and coherent. And we really need to watch packing too much into one weekend!
But when one looks at the concrete results of this event, it’s hard not to feel hopeful about our movement’s ability to continue building a strong, massive opposition to war, repression, racism, corporatism, environmental destruction, sexism, heterosexism, ageism and all the rest.
The first major decision was to adopt, following amendment, a “UFPJ Strategic Framework.” Among other points, it says this: “UFPJ’s over-arching goal in the coming year to 18 months is to impact and mobilize public opinion in order to force a shift by the US government away from its present policy of permanent war and empire-building, and to address the ramifications of that policy both abroad and at home.”
Surprisingly, in my opinion, the body did not adopt an amendment which would have added “participate in the process of defeating the Bush agenda” as part of that main goal. This happened, apparently, for two reasons: concern from some non-profit UFPJ member groups about this being a potential legal problem for them, and concern from others that this statement would be interpreted as pro-Democratic Party.
The question of how UFPJ saw its relationship to the Democratic Party was one of the political sub-texts throughout the entire weekend. There is no question but that a strong majority of the delegates were very clear that they are independent of both parties. There were some, but not a huge number, who were openly pro-Democrat, particularly in regards to the upcoming Presidential campaign. Dennis Kucinich was the clear favorite of a number of people. Even several Green Party members present were open in their support of Kucinich.
But UFPJ will not be endorsing or supporting any candidates, at any level. Instead, it adopted the beginnings of an ambitious national plan of action leading up to November, 2004. It’s amazing to consider how it did so.
UFPJ member organizations were given the opportunity to submit written proposals to be considered and a deadline of four days before the conference to do so. 83 proposals were submitted. These were organized by the conference leadership into eight categories. Mini-plenaries were held in those eight areas, out of which emerged 19 proposals for action then brought to the full body on Sunday morning.
Following presentations which explained each of the 19 proposals, conference participants voted on them. They voted by putting green stick-on dots onto big sheets of paper on the wall, as well as red dots if they had particularly significant problems with a proposal.
There were two proposals that had the highest number of green dots. One was a proposal to develop an on-going campaign against attacks on immigrants and civil liberties, to repeal the Patriot Act, etc. The second was a proposal to actively support developing campaigns for actions September 10-15 during the World Trade Organization’s ministerial meeting (and the 9-11-01 second anniversary), the ministerial meeting of the Free Trade Area of the Americas November 17-21 in Miami, Fl., and the Fort Benning School of the Americas protest November 22-23.
Next in order of green dots was a comprehensive proposal for a Peoples Convention/World Says No to Bush campaign, with the key milestones an issue-oriented Peoples Convention in the spring of 2004, a mass action around the Democratic Convention in Boston July 25-30th and a huge mass protest in New York City and around the world in early September during the time of the Republican Convention.
Another group of proposals with significant support were campaigns for an end to the Israeli occupation/justice for Palestine, for nuclear disarmament and an end to military recruitment in the high schools, and a broad popular education campaign which would develop useable materials for grassroots organizing.
And a little further down in numbers were proposals to set up a “Baghdad Occupation Watch,” the development of “peace zones,” the planned August 2-30 National Poor People’s March for Economic Human Rights from Mississippi to Washington, D.C., a campaign to get rid of all weapons of mass destruction in all countries, and educational work around Iran and North Korea.
Leadership, Structure, Unity Statement
Now the challenge for the newly-elected Steering Committee is to establish work groups in many, if not all, of these areas, particularly the ones with the highest votes, and to coordinate the overall package.
An impressive Steering Committee was elected on Sunday morning. Of the 35 people chosen, 48.5% are women, 51.5% are people of color, 11.5% are youth, and 11.5% are lbgt. These were all categories in which specific percentage targets were set in the Structure Proposal for UFPJ adopted late Saturday evening.
The structure has similarities to IPPN’s structure. The highest body is a National Assembly that will meet at least once every 18 months. Under it is a Steering Committee which elects 35 people at the Assembly but can add additional people to strengthen diversity and breadth. The targets are at least 50% women, 50% people of color, 20% youth and 15% lgbt. The S.C. is also to have a roughly 50-50 balance between representatives of local organizations and national organizations. There is a provision for those elected at the Assembly to add to the S.C. to meet the targets, and this will need to be done.
The new Steering Committee will need to elect three Co-Chairs and a 12 person Administrative Committee. It will meet monthly either via conference call or in person.
The final major decision was a telling one.
Much work had been done coming into the meeting on a 16-paragraph UFPJ “Unity Statement.” Many long hours were put into it by a number of people in a process open to all UFPJ member groups. And yet, come Sunday morning and its place on the agenda, there were 28 written amendments that somehow had to be dealt with.
The conference leadership was very concerned. How was it going to be possible to deal both with all those amendments and, not yet done at that time, the decision-making process as far as UFPJ’s action plan, the 19 proposals coming out of the mini-plenaries?
The leadership proposed several options for how to deal with this problem. The first one was to change the un-amended “unity statement” to a “working document,” understand it was not final, and come up with some process for how those who wanted to could work with it following the convention. There were three other options.
At a certain point, as the session’s facilitator tried to move towards a vote on that first option, the body as a whole just flat-out took over the meeting. There was a demand from the floor to “call the question,” to stop talking and move to a vote. Following an overwhelming vote to call the question, and when the person chairing at the time mistakenly announced that before that vote there would be one person speaking for and one against the proposal, the crowd roared, in essence, “no, let’s vote now!” When the vote was taken it was overwhelmingly in favor of the “working document” proposal.
This was a conference of hundreds of serious activists from around the country who did not come to get bogged down in this word or that word, this phrase or that phrase. We were there to set up UFPJ for the next 18 months and beyond, to continue its history of mass activism and popular outreach for peace and justice. It was astounding to see 2/3 or more of the weekend’s participants still there at 2:00 P.M. on Sunday afternoon as the conference moved towards its conclusion.
There is nothing more powerful than a broadly-based group of determined, capable, pro-justice organizers with a unified political message, a plan of action and a positive, hopeful spirit