I attended the United for Peace and Justice conference in Chicago, on June 6-8, as a delegate of a local group Columbus Campaign for Arms Control ("over 500 participants attended, from 38 states and approximately 350 organizations," according to UFPJ). I'm happy to have attended the conference, meeting many organizers and intellectuals whom I wouldn't have been able to meet otherwise (networking is always the best part of any conference). More or less, I got what I bargained for. I chose to go to the UFPJ conference, rather than the May 17-18 International ANSWER conference (which about "850 activists and organizers" attended, according to ANSWER), because I thought that whether or not I attended the ANSWER conference would make no difference in its outcome. The politics of ANSWER is clearly determined by its steering committee, whose members are strongly united by a principle of anti-imperialism. For better and worse, there wouldn't have been much to be discussed at the ANSWER conference. UFPJ, a coalition of national and local groups with divergent perspectives on many issues, is another story. On one hand, UFPJ is a little more open to democratic participation from below than ANSWER (though the UFPJ conference, too, was firmly managed from above by its organizers at certain key points). On the other hand, UFPJ finds it more difficult to work out a clearly anti-imperialist political direction (rather than just an anti-Bush or anti-war position) than ANSWER does.

Soon after the UFPJ conference, Ted Glick, the national coordinator of the Independent Progressive Political Network, published his generally optimistic assessment of it: "UFPJ Takes Big Leap Forward," . While I, too, "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," as Glick does, I believe that organizers and activists in the anti-war movement must not avoid taking a stock of our weaknesses as well as strengths. Only by explicitly acknowledging the problems that exist in the movement can we hope to figure out how to remedy them and move forward. Below I offer my observations about the UFPJ conference in the spirit of constructive criticism.

* Independent Politics

I concur with Ted Glick on his observation about UFPJ and the Democratic Party: "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" ("UFPJ Takes Big Leap Forward," ). It is a hopeful sign that the conference was not dominated by a contingent who wanted the rest of us to devote most of our time to electing Democrats to defeat "the Bush agenda." Presentations by the advocates of independent politics at the workshop for electoral politics were lackluster, however, indicative of the weak positions of supporters of Third-Party campaigns (e.g., the Greens have yet to find an appropriate presidential candidate). Therefore, it remains to be seen what character UFPJ actions around the Republican and Democratic Party conventions and other election-centered campaigns (see #3 at ) will assume.

* People of Color, Israel and Palestinians, Etc.

It is great that 51.5% of the newly elected UFPJ steering committee are people of color. Affirmative action works! What's not so great is that people of color were only a tiny minority of all delegates to the conference. Hotel rooms were paid by UFPJ for delegates who shared rooms, but travel expenses must have been, as always, obstacles for low-income organizers (not to mention time off from work, child care arrangements, etc.). Aside from the costs of attending the conference (not all of which UFPJ could possibly defray, though it did offer some travel funds), there is a question: what special efforts did the conference organizers make to increase the participation of people of color? It appeared that there were few organizers of Arab descent, few organizers of Muslim heritage, and few black organizers at the conference. Were Al-Awda, the Muslim Students' Association, various Arab-American organizations, student groups working on divestment from Israel, etc. specifically invited to send delegates to the conference? What of local organizations whose members are predominantly black? Were they not personally invited? Or they were invited but couldn't or didn't want to come? The demographics of the delegates did, I think, have an impact on the overall political atmosphere of the conference. For instance, immigrant delegates and delegates of color kept saying that repression didn't start with the USA Patriot Act, that even most of the post-911 political arrests, detentions, and deportations were made under the criminal and immigration laws and regulations that predate the USA Patriot Act, etc.; the present immigrant detention crisis is rooted in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, all of which served to "provide the underpinnings for the use of secret evidence, mandatory and indefinite detention,Ć toughening of criminal provisions that radically increased the number of noncitizens subject to detention" (Tram Nguyen, "Detained or Disappeared?" ColorLines 5.2, Summer 2002, ). Nevertheless, the number one UFPJ campaign priority became fighting against the USA Patriot Act: "Specific actions for consideration include supporting the on-going work for Civil Liberty Safe Cities, to repeal and defeat Patriot Acts I and II as well as the Bill of Rights action proposal from IPS [Institute for Policy Studies] (section 2 of IPS)" (see and ) -- not a very promising approach if one of the main goals of the campaign is to appeal to and mobilize more people of color. It would have been much better to prioritize fighting against the so-called "wars on drugs and crimes" that has made the US incarceration rate the highest in the world even before the advent of the Patriot Act. The second UFPJ campaign priority is to "unite the Peace and Global Justice Movement" (i.e., what is often misleadingly called the "anti-globalization" movement). Tragically, what Elizabeth (Betita) Martinez pointed out in her widely read essay "Where Was the Color in Seattle? Looking for Reasons Why the Great Battle Was So White" (ColorLines 3.1, ) still holds true. The US branch of the "global justice movement" has never clearly distanced itself from the protectionist policy and rhetoric (most likely for fear of alienating top US labor officials) - a major turnoff for US people of color who cannot but worry about the impacts of rising US protectionism on the sisters and brothers of color in the global south. The most problematic of all for people of color, the "economic justice" angles of the UFPJ campaign priorities misses the most fertile ground of people of color organizing: fights against budget cuts (keep in mind that people of color are disproportionately employed in the public sector jobs, as well as most in need of state-funded social programs, both of which are being lost and endangered through budget cuts). As you might expect, the paucity of Arab, Muslim, and/or black delegates had an impact on the discussion of Israel and Palestinians or lack thereof.

The people of color caucus met twice during the conference, but, due to the packed schedule of the conference, the caucus meetings were inconveniently scheduled (the first meeting of the caucus took place after all other officially scheduled events on the first day, very late at night), with little time for work. Nevertheless, the people of color caucus managed to craft and submit two amendments to the unity statement (the unity statement is posted at ): one (brainstormed and drafted by Rania Masri and Yoshie Furuhashi) to clarify the Israeli-occupied territories, to affirm the importance of the Palestinians' right of return, and to steer the focus of the unity statement away from the Bush administration in particular and onto the US government in general; the other (drafted by Saulo Colon of the Vieques Support Campaign) to include clear and concrete anti-imperialist demands in the unity statement (the former was also approved by the Palestine caucus). Amendments to the unity statement were to be discussed on the last day of the conference, but the organizers clearly wished not to have them debated on the floor, as they presented the choice to discuss the amendments as the dead last of the five choices (the other four being all choices to avoid discussing them). Most of the (mostly white) delegates -- in part taking the cue from the conference organizers, in part expressing their own impatience at the slow pace of the conference (things went behind the schedule on both the first and the second day), and in part not knowing what signal their vote would really send -- overwhelmingly voted to adopt the draft unity statement as "work in progress," as Ted Glick reported. The reason I feel that more than a simple concern about time may have motivated the conference organizers to encourage the delegates not to discuss the unity statement at the conference at all is that there were much anxieties in the air as soon as some folks got the wind of a proposal for an amendment that includes the mention of the Palestinian refugees' right of return (I was approached by several nervous individuals wishing to see the proposed amendment before it got submitted). Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that, while amendments to the strategic framework, an alternative proposal for the UFPJ structure, and amendments to the UFPJ structure -- all submitted by _individuals_ -- were discussed at length, the ones proposed by the people of color _caucus_ merited no discussion time. Thus it turned out that the people of color and Palestine caucuses met mostly in vain (though we did get to network a little, discuss nominations for the steering committee briefly [at the people of color caucus], and debate pros and cons of some proposals [at the Palestine caucus] -- we didn't have enough time to discuss medium- to long-term strategic concerns). Apparent "unity" was achieved at the cost of not listening to the voice of the people of color caucus and not having a potentially controversial question deliberated collectively.

UFPJ _will_ conduct a campaign for "Justice for Palestine" (though, as Ted Glick wrote, the idea didn't get as much support as campaigns to fight against the USA Patriot Act and to defend civil liberties and immigrant rights, an effort to link UFPJ with the global justice movement [especially mobilizations around the Sept. 10-13 WTO meeting in Cancun], a campaign "to progressively impact the 2004 election and key policies"): "UFPJ will initiate a campaign for justice in Palestine, with another International Day of Action as a focus, which will build on the success of June 5 and may include coordinated local actions in many countries, including Israel and Palestine. An educational and outreach program will build toward the actions, including a speaking tour that may include Palestinians and returning members of the International Solidarity Movement. Longterm campaign may include divestment campaigns, support for SUSTAIN'S focus on Caterpillar tractor, and other strategies. A working group will be convened to find a date and craft a message that will assure broad participation and sensitivity to both the Palestinian and Jewish communities" (see #4 at ). (In "many countries, including Israel and Palestine" -- an expression that explains why the right of return couldn't be discussed at the conference...but let's move onto the topic of tactics.) Aside from a proposed International Day of Action, it is not clear what UFPJ will do except support what's already happening: ISM activist speaking tours, SUSTAIN's Cat campaign, and divestment campaigns. Moreover, what does it mean to "build on the success of June 5"? I suppose "June 5" refers to the call for "the International Day of Action for Justice in Palestine" described at . I don't think that this call got very far, much less fostered "broad participation"; nor have I seen any media coverage of "June 5" (despite my Google & Lexis-Nexis searches). I suggest that the next International Day of Action be built up in a way different than "June 5" was.

"[S]ensitivity to both the Palestinian and Jewish communities" may sound laudable, but what will it translate in practice? During the discussion about whether or not to endorse the ANSWER-sponsored "Global Day of Protest against Occupation and Empire" on September 27 (the third anniversary of the beginning of the second Intifada), some objected to the idea because the date also falls on the beginning of Rosh Hashanah. I thought that objections were reasonable until I heard one man expressing his view that it is a matter of "Jewish self-determination" (!!!) not to support a protest against Israeli occupation on Rosh Hashanah (no one booed him, though the remark did raise some eyebrows). Now, it may or may not be a good idea to have a protest on a Jewish high holy day. At the very least, it sure would discourage participation of observant Jews. It may also influence how the media would frame the coverage of the protest. Such pragmatic questions are valid, however you answer them. In contrast, bringing up an idea of "Jewish self-determination" in this context (i.e. discussing when to protest the Israeli occupation!!!) indicates a deep political confusion, the confusion that the conference failed to clarify due to its avoidance of any difficult question. A black woman eventually spoke up to counter the objections, saying (I paraphrase from memory) that if Israel can take land away from Palestinians on Yom Kipper, Palestinians can try to take it back on Rosh Hashanah. For her effort, she got screamed at by a white man.


Some people's objections to "the Global Day of Protest against Occupation and Empire" on September 27 stemmed from their antipathy to ANSWER. At the Palestinian caucus, I even heard one man say that ANSWER is anti-Semitic because of some of the speakers that it chose for its rallies (his remark didn't get more concrete than this). Feelings about ANSWER and stances toward Israel and Palestinians appeared to be intertwined in the minds of some delegates, though the nexus between them remained largely a subtext at the conference. Frank discussion would have been welcome (though I'm sure it would have been time-consuming, some activities at the conference that ended up mainly busy work -- e.g., the speakers on "The Bush Administration's Permanent War Agenda at Home and Abroad," small-group discussion about "Assessing Our Movement," and "Workshops on Challenges Facing the Movement" on the first day -- could have been profitably replaced by more political discussion at caucuses and plenaries). That said, the conference did vote to mandate the incoming steering committee to create a standing liaison committee to work out inter-coalition relations with major national coalitions (ANSWER, Win Without War, Racial Justice 9-11, the National Network to End the War Against Iraq), as proposed by Michael Letwin of New York City Labor Against War (he had tried to set up such a liaison committee long before this conference, but his idea finally got put into effect). It will be up to the newly elected steering committee (at least a third of whose members are likely to be strong voices for politics independent of the Democratic Party), via the aforementioned liaison committee, to work in a non-sectarian fashion with ANSWER and other coalitions to plan a big and feisty International Day of Action against the occupations and other joint actions.

* Youth & LGBT

Not too many young persons attended the conference (it's hard to evaluate the demographics in terms of sexual orientation). The majority of delegates appeared to be above 30 years old. In this case, affirmative action couldn't remedy the problem on the spot. 11.5% of those elected to the steering committee were youth and 11.5% are LGBT, whereas the targets were 20% youth and 15% LGBT. As Ted Glick mentioned, however, there is a provision for adding more individuals to the steering committee to meet the targets and/or to include representatives of important organizations that decide to join UFPJ after the conference.

* Disabled

I talked with a genderqueer woman from Buffalo who uses a cane about accommodations for the disabled. Here, I report the concerns that she mentioned. Some meals were provided in a buffet style -- unfriendly to some disabled individuals. The conference volunteers didn't seem well informed about how to make room changes convenient for the disabled (e.g., being unable to answer where the closest elevator is). On the second day of the conference, we had to move from Holiday Inn (where the entire conference was originally scheduled to take place) to Westin, for the plenary for discussion of the UFPJ structure. For an able-bodied person, the 10-minute walk between the hotels presented no difficulty, but, for some disabled individuals, the distance meant walking for more than 30 minutes. The genderqueer woman ended up taking a cab on the way back to Holiday Inn. She told me that she had contacted UFPJ before the conference to express suggestions about how to make the conference accessible to the disabled, but her suggestions were not incorporated into it.

In conclusion, I wish to reemphasize that what I wrote above is not meant to discourage anyone from taking part in UFPJ. The opposite is the case. I strongly encourage all anti-imperialists -- especially those whose activism is focused on the question of Palestine -- to actively participate in UFPJ. You can take for granted that ANSWER will try to organize strong mass mobilizations against the Israeli occupation, without hesitating to affirm the Palestinian refugees' right of return. You can't take for granted that UFPJ -- a coalition more representative of the wide range of opinions about Israel, Palestinians, and US imperialism found among left-of-center activists in the USA -- will do so, so your voice needs to be heard.


Here's the text of one of the proposed amendments to the unity statement submitted by the people of color caucus that didn't get discussed at the conference:

(1) In the paragraph beginning with "U.S. military involvement is on the rise in Latin America...," change the following sentence from: "U.S. political, economic, and military aid is fueling Israel's rise as an unchallengeable regional military power and sustains Israel's illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, and its denial of equal rights to Palestinians."


"U.S. political, economic, and military aid is fueling Israel's rise as an unchallengeable regional military power and sustains Israel's illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights of Syria, and the Cheba'a Farms of Lebanon, and Israel's denial of equal rights to Palestinians."

(2) Add the following two sentences at the end of the same paragraph:

"We support and recognize the need for equal and secular rights to all citizens and residents in Israel, regardless of religious affiliation. Any peace process must recognize that the right of return for the 6.5 million Palestinian refugees cannot be separated from the struggle for justice and peace."