Report from the United for Peace & Justice [UFPJ] Conference
from Diane Schurr
Last weekend (June 6-8) I was in Chicago for an organizational conference for United for Peace and Justice. I went as a delegate representing both the Cleveland NonViolence Network (CNVN) and the Northeast Ohio Antiwar Coalition (NOAC). I went to the conference with the hopes of finding ways to strengthen the local peace and justice movement by strengthening our connections to the national organizations and other grass root organizations; and also with an action proposal from the NOAC coordinating committee encouraging UFPJ to initiate and support national and local mass actions, specifically a demonstration on September 27th in DC that we wanted to be a collectively sponsored action by UFPJ, ANSWER and U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW).
The conference had about 500 people in attendance and about 320 of those were voting delegates from a variety of organizations. The diversity of participants, including people of color, women, youth and students, and many different ideologies and styles was impressive. It was also the clear intention of the organizers of the conference that all of the participants were to be empowered to be the decision makers and movers of the process. The ambitious agenda of the conference was to adopt a strategic framework for UFPJ, to decide on the structure by which UFPJ would operate, to adopt a unity statement, to prioritize specific action proposals, and to elect the new Steering Committee that would carry out all these decisions! Although we did not accomplish all that we might have wished to in the much too short three days, I was incredibly impressed by the dedication of all the delegates and participants in the conference. They were not just there for a good time or to be told what to do next; but were really committed to working, and listening and offering ideas and shaping the direction that they wanted to move in. It was a working weekend of listening hard to different ideas, wading through amendments, and struggling with the implications of even seemingly minor ways of wording things. It gave me hope to see how strong and dedicated and thoughtful the people are who are committed to this on-going struggle with us.
I will be glad to talk with anyone at length to fill you in on all the decisions that were made, or you can check out the UFPJ web-site (http://www.unitedforpeace.org/) that I'm sure will have updates on all that was accomplished. What I think is particularly significant to our work here is from the Strategic Framework that was adopted. The main goal of UFPJ in the coming year to 18 months is to impact and mobilize public opinion in order to force a shift by the U.S. 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. Also included in the Strategic Framework was a mandate to the newly elected UFPJ Steering Committee to propose to the other major national antiwar coalitions, including, ANSWER, USLAW, NION, and others, the creation of a standing inter-coalition liaison committee, with the aim of pursuing greater communication, coordination and wherever possible joint work.
When it came to prioritizing the specific action proposals that we wanted UFPJ to pursue, including the proposal that I was advocating on behalf of NOAC, we were faced with the dilemma of having over 80 very diverse proposals to deal with in a very limited amount of time. The conference organizers did devise a system by which we first consolidated and categorized proposals in smaller groups and then came back to the main plenary with about 15 generalized proposals that we all expressed our opinions on by using green stickers to indicate which proposals we thought our group would support and red stickers to indicated proposals we might have concerns about. The results of this process resulted in the top priorities being Protecting Immigrant Rights and Repealing the Patriot Act, Linking with the Global Justice Movement, Facilitating a People's Convention to say No to the Bush Agenda, Justice in Palestine, Nuclear Disarmament, Opposing Military Recruitment in High Schools, an Educational Campaign, and Opposing the Occupation of Iraq. Support for mass actions was still strong, even if not among the top priorities; however one of the most hotly debated topics was the proposed date of September 27th. There was certainly wide support for unified actions with other coalitions as was reflected by the inclusion of the standing liaison committee with other coalitions in the strategic framework; however September 27th is Rosh Hashanah and therefore would exclude the participation of the many Jewish activist and organizations that strongly support justice for Palestine and are critical of Israel’s policies, while also being concerned about growing anti-Semitism. There were also other questions about why September 27th was chosen when September 13th is also a day of inter-national actions tied to the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun. The proposal that was finally agreed to by over two-thirds of the voting delegates was that UFPJ would work towards a co-sponsored call for a day of mass actions in the Fall, but not on September 27th. The new Steering Committee has been mandated to contact ANSWER and other coalitions to determine a date as quickly as possible.
The other outcome of the conference that I feel is very significant is the configuration of the 35 member Steering Committee of UFPJ. In the structure that was adopted there is a clear mandate for diversity: 50% of the Steering Committee must be women, 50% must be People of Color, 20% must be youth or students (under 25), and 15% must be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT). If that balance is not met by the election process, then the Steering Committee will appoint additional members to meet those percentages. 80 nominations were submitted for those 35 slots and elections were held on the last day of the conference. The results were 48.5% women, 51.5% people of color, only 11.5% youth (even though there were plenty of candidates who met that category, they were unfortunately not as well known as some of the other candidates), and 11% LGBT. Also significant is some of the organizations that this new Steering Committee represents: American Friends Service Committee, Black Voices for Peace, Communist Party USA, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Global Exchange, Military Families Speak Out, National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, Not In Our Name, NYC Labor Against the War, Sept 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Tikkun, US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation, U.S. Labor Against the War, Veterans for Peace, and War Times, as well as some representatives from local grass roots organizations.
Overall I came away from the conference feeling very hopeful. Not particularly revved up or passionate about any particular action, but confident in the commitment and staying power of our movement. It is in the process of listening to and empowering each other and taking the time to build broad and mutual coalitions, that I believe our goals can be met. Knowing that each of the participants at the conference represented many other hard working and committed activists; and that we were all working together to stop pre-emptive, unjust and illegal wars; as well as many other threats to the creation of a more just and peaceful world. There may not be any quick fix, although that does not mean that we shouldn’t be urgently working toward highly visible and effective actions; but I think that we can learn from UFPJ that whatever decisions we make and what ever strategies we develop, the process by which we reach them – listening to each other and honoring the concerns and input from all participants – is just as important as adopting any particular agenda. I hope that all of here in Cleveland can be supportive of Untied for Peace and Justice and will in turn have our efforts supported by the national resources of UFPJ. I would encourage all of us as individuals to participate in any UFPJ projects and actions that we feel passionate about, and in particular I would like to encourage CNVN to fully support national and local mass actions in the Fall, collectively sponsored by UFPJ, ANSWER and USLAW.