By Joe Lombardo, Green Party of New York State and co-organizer for United National Peace Conference
The United National Peace Conference in Albany, New York on July 23 – 25 brought together people from around the country and overseas, with nearly 800 people registered. With an extensive list of speakers including Media Benjamin of Code Pink, Green Party representatives delivered a message of a real political plan for peace.
ìI think that there is a tendency to say ëwell, we are war wearyí but having just returned from Afghanistan and Pakistan and having been in Iraq all through the shock and awe bombings, I think we donít have even a tiny fraction of war weariness that burdens the people who bear the brunt of our warfare. Ö We need one another as a nationwide community of peace activists. Ö The peace movement has been referred to as the worldís only other superpower,î said Kathy Kelly at the conference. Kelly is a founder of Voices in the Wilderness and three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The conference presented 33 workshops on topics related to war and social justice. Presenters came from a range of perspectives including: faith-based peace groups, immigrantís rights advocates, the Palestinian rights movement, labor groups, active duty GIs, veteranís and many more.
The conference operated democratically, with every person in attendance having a voice and a vote. Out of this process came an Action Proposal and a set of resolutions. The Action Proposal calls for local actions in the fall and bi-coastal demonstrations in New York City and California in the spring. The spring actions will be accompanied by separate and distinct non-violent civil disobedience actions.
The proposal also calls for support and collaboration in building mobilizations these include demonstrations planned for Washington and Detroit on August 28 and a large October 2nd demonstration being organized by SEIU/1199, AFL-CIO, the NAACP, and others. The action proposal includes a strong stand in support of Palestinian rights and against the threats directed at Iran.
The Action Proposal also calls for coordinated teach-ins, lobbying efforts, and campaigns to pass city, town, and village resolutions on the issue of war spending and its impacts on the economy. The proposal can be read here.
The Albany area Sanctuary for Independent Media provided live-streaming of major segments of the conference on the Internet, and provided a place for people to upload pictures, tweets and posted major presentations on Youtube. The day after the conference, the Youtube videos got over 17,000 hits, making them the most viewed videos from a non-profit organization for that day.
The core leaders of the anti-war movement were all there, including Benjamin, Kelly, and Col. Ann Wright, who resigned in protest from the State Department and has been outspoken against the war ever since. Noam Chomsky spoke via video. Followed by Donna Dewitt, president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, and leading member or the National Assembly and U.S. Labor Against the War.
Also there was Ethan McCord, former soldier and seen on the first wikileaks video. He spoke out publicly for the first time at the conference. War resisters, GIs who have refused to deploy, spoke via the computer from Canada since they could not be there in person.
Giving rousing speeches were leaders of the movement against intervention in Iran, Columbia, Honduras, and Haiti and student leaders like Blanca Missa, who was key to the recent student protests on the Berkeley campus against Californiaís cuts to education.
Mumia Abu-Jamal, death-row prisoner for 30 years spoke from an audio taped message from his prison cell, as did Imam Aref, one of the wrongly prosecuted Muslims from Albany, New York. Ralph Poynter, husband of imprisoned civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart, read her message to those assembled. Stewart was a member of the administrative body of the National Assembly to End U.S. Wars and Occupations, the group that had initiated the conference. She was also a founding member of Project Salam, one of the other 31 co-sponsoring groups.
Many of the participants at the conference came representing different groups active in the peace movement. Many from across the country were members of the Green Party, some of whom were key organizers to the event. New York State Greens had a strong presence at the conference, with a table and representatives to let participants learn how the Green Party has never wavered on its stance against the war and other peace issues. As well as letting people know how activism can and must take place in the political arena.
Howie Hawkins, who is the Green Party candidate for governor in New York, presented at a workshop at the peace conference on electoral strategies against militarism, war and imperialism.
One theme running throughout the conference was the connection between the anti-war movement and the Muslim solidarity movement. The wars have been called preemptive wars, and the prosecutions of Muslims have been labeled preemptive prosecution and both are part of a phony war on terror. The government uses these concepts as theoretical justifications for the wars going on at home and abroad. The Muslim solidarity issue was highlighted at a poignant and symbolic march from the peace conference to the Masjid-Al Salam mosque where the imprisoned Albany Muslims used to worship. At the Mosque, a rally was held where family members and supporters of the wrongly prosecuted Muslims spoke about the tragedy that had befallen their families and democracy.
There was strong and positive local media coverage of the event including five articles by the Times Union newspaper of Albany. However, outside of some alternative media, the conference was not covered by the national media, in stark contrast to the coverage of the Tea Party convention which, despite having fewer in attendance, was given prime time live coverage by CNN and other outlets.
At times unity was tested at the conference, the most significant one being around the issue of Palestine. Important leaders of the Palestinian movement were in attendance, and a caucus was formed by Palestinian rights activists to discuss how best to integrate the Palestinian issues with the broader peace issues. They put together a resolution and an amendment to the Action Proposal on Palestine, which passed by a large majority. However, some felt that the wording was too strong and there was serious disagreement. Pulling together a unified conference with 31 different groups, each with its own perspective on how to bring about peace was a real achievement.
The conference was the right thing to do at the right time; it came to a close literally hours before the explosive Afghan War Diaries were published by Wikileaks and right before Congress voted for additional funding for the perpetual U.S. wars and occupations. The conference gave the peace movement a powerful voice at a critical time. It also succeeded in bringing together 31 peace groups with diverse perspectives. It also brought together the peace movement with leaders of other movements that have mobilized millions in their own right. In doing so, it was a step forward not only for peace, but also for human rights and justice in general.
For more information on the conference go to: www.nationalpeaceconference.org
To view speeches, lectures and other video of the conference go to: mediasanctuary.tv/crows/
ìThe peace movement has been referred to as the worldís only other superpowerî Peace Activist Kathy Kelly