United for Peace & Justice (UFPJ), arguably the largest antiwar group in the United States, recently released a recap of its 2007 activities and announced new goals for 2008. The announcements, publicized via their mailing list and on their website, suggest that while antiwar groups in West Michigan have been fairly quiet as of late, that there is some energy at the national level.
However, while it is refreshing to see an antiwar group using a forward-thinking strategy, it is unclear if the UFPJ strategy really offers that much to the antiwar movement. In an email titled “2008: Looking Forward to a Critical Year for Peace and Justice,” UFPJ outlined outcomes of a recent meeting by its steering committee (which is made of representatives of member groups around the country). UFPJ boldly declares, “2008 will be a critical year for ending the war and occupation in Iraq, preventing war on Iran and building a massive peace and justice movement strong enough to change the course of this country.” To do this, the antiwar movement must “up the ante pull, out all of the stops and build so much pressure on Washington that the next Congress and president will be forced to finally end the war and occupation in Iraq.” In addition, the group calls for ongoing action to prevent a war with Iran.
UFPJ has announced a three-part strategy for achieving these goals:
“1. UFPJ will focus its efforts to end the war and occupation in Iraq on two of the major pillars that support it, by working to:
- end funding for the war;
- weaken the capacity of the military by supporting counter-recruitment projects, resisters within the military, veterans and military families.
2. The coalition will focus energies on preventing any attacks, including the use of sanctions, on Iran.
3. We will work to strengthen the coalition by inviting new groups to join UFPJ and working with our member groups to help expand their organizing capacity. We will continue to build alliances with other anti-war forces as well as other progressive movements for peace and justice. Doing this work today will lay the foundation for our efforts in the future. As vital as it is to do all we can to bring the troops home from Iraq now, there are other struggles that need our attention, and that means we must build a sustainable movement for peace and justice that will continue and grow into the future.”
The group then goes on to state that while much needs to be decided regarding specifics, the strategy will focus developing new tactics and approaches. This will entail election-cycle specific strategies as well as developing ways to get first time activists involved.
While this is promising, the announcement segues into an announcement that the first three months of the year will be used to build momentum around protests for the fifth anniversary of the war:
“In January we will kick off a 3-month organizing campaign, concentrating on work at the local level, that will help build protest activities around the 5th anniversary in March.
UFPJ is committed to providing major support to Iraq Veterans Against the War and its Winter Soldier activities in Washington, DC, on March 13th-16th. One aspect of our work will be to help local groups plan events that directly link to and amplify the Winter Soldier hearings.
UFPJ will also participate in the planning and organizing for what we hope will be the largest nonviolent civil disobedience action yet against the war in Iraq. We will encourage people to be in Washington, DC, on March 19th to be part of the civil disobedience directly or to assist in support work. Our goal will be to have all 50 states represented in the action.
We will encourage those who are not able to make it Washington on March 19 to organize local actions, with the hope of having at least one protest event in each of the 435 congressional districts around the country on that same day. These actions will vary in character, but they will all be tied to the protest in Washington.”
Unfortunately, this announcement is made without any indication of what type of evaluation of past actions–if any–went into the decision-making. For the past four years, the antiwar movement has held “anniversary” demonstrations commemorating the start of the war, but these protests have done relatively little to force an end to the slaughter in Iraq. It is surprising to see that civil disobedience is on the agenda for the fifth anniversary event, but it does not mention any real–i.e. a target with power to end the war or affect its ability to continue–goals, only that they hope “to have all 50 states represented in the action.” In recent years, when large-scale civil disobedience has been used by the antiwar movement in the context of national mobilizations, it has been purely symbolic–for example, negotiated arrests in front of the White House. While some in the antiwar movement–particularly those doing counter-recruitment (praised by UFPJ earlier in its announcement) or those physically blocking the shipment of military vehicles to Iraq–have used civil disobedience strategically–there is no reason to believe that this is what is being proposed by UFPJ.
Its 2007 “End of the Year Re-Cap” provides further indication that the group may not be making decisions based on strategic considerations or honest and thoughtful reflections on its past actions. The report says that its January 27 actions successfully sent the message “End the war in Iraq, and bring all the troops home,” but there is no indication that anyone was listening. Similarly, while they assert that such mobilizations “strengthen ongoing local organizing efforts,” they offer no proof that this actually happens. In some cities, it no doubt inspires people to organize a bus trip, but it’s hard to say that really qualifies as “organizing” in the sense of building real, local power and movements. It also cites its October 27 rallies held across the United States–the Midwest one was in Chicago–as examples of its work strengthening the antiwar movement. To be sure, those rallies had the potential to strengthen local antiwar movements, even if many–such as Chicago–did not welcome civil disobedience and were closely aligned with the Democrats. However, whatever gains were made in advocating the decentralized strategy will be muted by yet another call for protests in Washington DC. The group also cites its Legislative Action Network as being an example of the positive work that it has done, and indeed its targeting of legislators and specific bills is a strategic choice–far more so than yet another march. There they have run into the problem of a Democratic Party unwilling to end the war.
There is also a potential for further strategic confusion, with 2008 being an election year. None of the likely Democratic Party presidential nominees have promised to end the occupation of Iraq, and like in 2004, this will put the segment of the antiwar movement represented by United for Peace & Justice in a difficult position. In 2004, the antiwar movement largely adopted the “Anybody but Bush” slogan and “organizing” framework, which largely meant blaming the war on the Bush administration and absolving the Democrats of their responsibility. For UFPJ, this meant organizing a march at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in New York City with the slogan “The World Says No to the Bush Agenda” rather than adopting the simple and more direct “U.S. Out of Iraq” or “The World Says No to the Occupation.” In addition to the RNC, UFPJ had a presence at the Democratic National Convention (DNC)–not to seriously confront the Democrats for their complicity in the occupation–but to “educate the candidate, educate the delegates, and… mobilize the public.” However, despite its problems–UFPJ’s 2004 Strategic Plan was light years ahead of what has been disclosed thus far for 2008.