Interview with Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, conducted by Scott Harris on June 27, 2005
Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/btl070805.ram (Needs RealOne player or RealPlayer)
Recent public opinion polls indicate that increasing numbers of Americans now oppose the Bush administration’s decision to launch the Iraq war and the continuing bloody occupation. A Washington Post-ABC News survey found that more than half of Americans believe the war has not made the U.S. safer. A Gallup poll found 56 percent believe the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s government was not worth the sacrifice and 60 percent favor a reduction in U.S. troops deployed to Iraq.
After the deaths of more than 1,700 American soldiers and news coverage of the British Downing Street memo that cast doubt on President Bush’s stated justification for the war, some Democrats as well as a handful of Republicans in Congress are now openly calling for a timetable for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. President Bush strongly opposes such a move and re-asserted in a June 28 national address his belief that there is a “clear path to victory” in Iraq.
Over the past year, the U.S. peace movement has focused much of its energy on local organizing efforts. But anti-war groups are now planning for major protests this September in the nation’s capital to give voice to the growing opposition to the war. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, who discusses the goals of the anti-war actions being organized by a coalition of peace groups for Sept. 24 through 26 in Washington, D.C.
LESLIE CAGAN: United for Peace and Justice, as I’m sure as a lot of your listeners will recall, is the largest anti-war coalition in the country right now. We have over 1,000 member groups all around the nation.
We decided, actually, back at our February national assembly that in September it would be opportune and important to have a major anti-war demonstration. As things have unfolded, we’ve come to realize really how important it is. And what we’re planning to do is to have actually three days of anti-war activism in Washington, D.C. We’ve decided this time to go to the nation’s capital and we’re doing this on the weekend of September 24th, that’s a Saturday; Sunday the 25th of September and then we’ll invite people to stay with us over to Monday the 26th.
On Saturday, we’ll do a mass — and we think this will be a massive turnout of people — a march and rally. We’re actually thinking of not doing the same old kind of rally that usually happens at these events, but something that’s much more interactive almost like a fair, a festival of resistance, an anti-war fair. Anyway, that will be on a Saturday, and already momentum is building; there’s a tremendous amount of interest in this, and as I said, the timing is certainly right for it.
On Sunday evening, we’ll do an interfaith religious service, and again try and pull together a large event where all the different religious orientations will be part of the program. Also on Sunday, we will be doing trainings for a lobby day on Capitol Hill where people will be visiting their members of the House, as well as their senators on Monday — so the training for that will be on Sunday.
Also on Monday, there will be a non-violent civil disobedience action, so the training for that will also take place on Sunday. And we’re imagining that as we get closer other activities, educational events, other protest activities will also be developed that will be part of the whole package of the weekend.
Obviously, it’s been important from day one that these kind of public protests happen, but there’s so much horrendous news every single day coming from Iraq — this war and the occupation continues unabated — that it’s really, really critical that we put pressure on the White House and on the Congress to do everything we can to force them to stop this war.
What’s really interesting about the timing is that things really seem to be shifting in the country. Not only are recent public opinion polls over and over again showing a great majority, a growing majority of people in this country opposing the war and wanting it to end, but also there’s cracks opening up in the Congress, in the policymaking circles in Washington. Things like the Downing Street memo that came out of London a few weeks ago reaffirming what we all knew — that the president lied about this war.
So, there’s a whole lot that’s going on that lead us to conclude that not only is it important to maintain the day in, day out activism that so many people are doing around the country, but that it’s time in the fall — and again we’ve designated the weekend of September 24th for people from not only the East Coast, but from wherever they can travel from all around the country, to come together in Washington and send a strong message.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Leslie, what’s the key message or demand coming out of these days of demonstrations in September?
LESLIE CAGAN: Well, the key demand, the central demand is the same one we’ve had from the get go, and that is we need to end the war in Iraq and our troops need to be brought home now. That has been United for Peace and Justice’s consistent demand from day one. We’ve never wavered from that and we still think it’s the right demand.
This is a war that never should have happened. It’s a war everybody, the whole world, knows was a war that was based on lies. That the quickest way to end this war is to end it — is to declare, is to announce — for U.S. policymakers to announce this war is over and we’re bringing our troops home. That’s what we think is the quickest road to turning things around in Iraq.
In the context of that major demand, there are other demands that we’ll be making. For instance, we think it’s time for military recruiters to get out of our schools. We know that our communities are being bankrupted by this war. So instead of billions of dollars going into the war, we want money coming into our own communities and the programs we need funded.
So there are a number of connections that we will be making during the weekend, but the core central issue here is ending the war in Iraq and bringing our troops home.
Contact the nationwide coalition United for Peace and Justice by calling (212) 868-5545 or visit their website at http://www.unitedforpeace.org
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending July 8, 2005. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.