Do you know D.C.?
Get our free newsletter to stay in the know about local D.C.
Some peace activists believe America brought the terrorist attacks on itself.
Middle-aged, gray-haired Chuck Kaufman has spent the past 14 years studying American foreign policy as the national co-coordinator of the Nicaragua Network. And from that long experience working with an international solidarity group, he thinks he’s come up with a solution to America’s current foreign-policy conundrum: how to respond to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“This is not the time for war. It is not the time for hate,” Kaufman, a former anti-Vietnam War activist, told a press conference Monday. “It is time for the U.S. to adopt the mantra of the Brazilian Landless Workers movement.”
If that sounds like a non sequitur to some people, it made perfect sense to Kaufman’s fellow peace activists at a crowded press conference sponsored by the New York-based International Action Center and a newly formed coalition called I-ANSWER (International Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). The groups plan a rally and demonstration “against war and racism” on Sept. 29 near the White House.
Although a Sept. 24 Gallup poll indicated that 90 percent of Americans favor retaliatory military action against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, that overwhelming majority hasn’t deterred the more than 300 signatories of the I-ANSWER coalition one bit. In fact, says attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice, the public’s broad support for war means that it’s more important than ever to defend dissenting views.
Those viewsdecidedly shocking to many Americans still reeling from the images of the World Trade Center towers collapsingsuggest that the United States was in large part responsible for provoking the terrorist attacks.
“We have provoked resentment and hatred,” declared Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, the auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, at the press conference. “Are those who did these horrific acts madmen?…Or must it be considered that there are profound grievances amongst oppressed peoples?”
Nor are such feelings confined to the political left. African-American newspapers, talk-radio stations, and Internet sites were crackling last week with similar sentiments, which were taken up by local black leaders.
“It made sense that an attack would happen,” says Vernard Gray, a Southeast activist who runs an educational nonprofit organization, noting U.S. support for oppressive foreign governments. “It’s almost like a festering sore just below the surface that hasn’t come to a head.”
Prominent leftists and radicals, including former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, historian Howard Zinn, Mumia Abu-Jamal supporter Pam Africa, and anti-racist activist Minnie Bruce Pratt, have signed on to the I-ANSWER program. The group’s list of affiliates is leavened with European anti-war groups, such as the Anti-Imperialist League of Belgium, which opposes the existence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; professors from European Catholic colleges; and American reform political parties, such as the Adams County Green Party in Gettysburg, Pa. (The D.C. Statehood Green Party has not signed on to the protest.)
Leaders of the Community Parties of Germany, Austria, and Bohemia and Moravia have also signed to the Sept. 29 protest. More locally, supporters will include the Workers World Party and the All Peoples Congress, from Baltimore.
This isn’t your average group of pacifists. Most of the speakers at the press conference had strong views on American foreign policy and were eager to point the finger of blame for the attack at America.
Several criticized American policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and demanded an end to military support for Israel. Some called for a withdrawal of all American troops from the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia; others, the end of United Nations sanctions against Iraq. One speaker blamed the attacks on a half-century of American militarism, including responsibility for the deaths of “5 million Koreans” and “3 million Vietnamese” in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Not one speaker mentioned Osama bin Laden or his Al-Qaeda terrorist network during his or her remarks.
“What is it that we have done that has brought us to this place and this time? Can it be that we have ignored injustices?” the Rev. Graylan Hagler, longtime D.C. political activist and senior minister of the Plymouth Congregational Church on North Capitol Street NW, asked at the Monday press conference. “In this globalized world, one thing always leads to another. When you sow the wind, you shall reap the whirlwind.”
Such sentiments are by no means universal on the left. Many activist groups are pointedly avoiding participation in the upcoming anti-war protests, deeming such agitation inappropriate during what is still a period of national mourning. The Rainforest Action Network, Friends of the Earth, and the Sierra Club all pulled out of the protests planned during the World Bank/International Monetary Fund meetings (since canceled) in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, and they intend to sit out the anti-war rallies, as well. So, too, does every single union that had been planning to attend the anti-globalization rallies, including such heavyweights as the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union. Instead, they have issued strong statements of support for President George W. Bush. Even the militant anarchist Ruckus Society has backed away from the peace protests, canceling its latest round of training seminars.
The D.C.-based Mobilization for Global Justiceknown by insiders as “Mob 4 Glob”has found itself caught in the middle. It formally canceled all further street demonstrations after a contentious “spokescouncil” meeting wherein a small faction used the group’s consensus-driven decision-making process to block an alliance with anti-war protesters.
“The environmental groups and the labor groups were the ones that pulled the rug out,” says one organizer who was at the meeting and fears reprisals for speaking out. “They said, ‘If you go forward and protest the war, we don’t know if we’ll ever support the Mobilization for Global Justice again.’” That threat was enough for some of the activists to force a strategic pullback. For public consumption, the group announced that it had decided not to participate in the anti-war protests “out of respect for the victims of this tragedy.”
Some in the delicately balanced anti-globalization coalition fear the fracture may be permanent. “Now I think it will be very difficult to get the anarchist groups and pacifist groups to come back,” says the organizer. “They’ll say, ‘You’re fair-weather allies.’”
Following the union and environmentalist pullout, and with mainstream support dwindling, the less-established organizations that make up the nascent anti-war coalition sought a new set of supporters. They found fresh allies among Arab-American groups and African-American anti-racism activists.
Damu Smith, a local activist who attended this month’s United Nations’ World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, was appalled when the U.S. delegation to that conference walked out to protest the draft resolution backed by Arab nations that equated Zionism with racism. It seemed to him that America was being held hostage by the Arab-Israeli conflict.
That walkoutand his conviction that the United States is pursuing an illegitimate policy in the Middle Eastspurred him to join the coalition organizing the Sept. 29 protest.
“We think it’s abhorrent that the U.S.a place where racism flourisheswould boycott a conference on racism,” says Smith. “The U.S. should not have pre-conditioned their participation. The issue of whether the Israeli position [toward] Palestine is racistthat is a legitimate item for discussion.”
John J. Oliver Jr., publisher of the Afro-American newspapers (including the Washington Afro-American), connected the dots between the U.N. anti-racism conference and the terrorist attacks in a Sept. 13 editorial: “This country has demonstrated a wanton indifference to the cries of people of color throughout the world, puffed-up as we are with the prideful notion that as a world power we cannot be touched. Indeed, our performance at the United Nations’ World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, was just the latest example of this type of cowboy diplomacy.”
Meanwhile, the message of Arab-American groups worried about a backlash of discrimination and violence directed at them was nearly drowned out. Lena Fattom, a member of the Union of Arab Student Associations, noted at the press conference that her friends were being “confronted with the new and baffling realization that we are being singled out as outsiders.
“Despite our ties to our origins, we are fully American,” Fattom pleaded. CP