POWER PLAY IN THE ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT
WORLD WAR 3 REPORT Speaks With Leslie Cagan of United for Peace & Justice
by Bill Weinberg
Many activists in the New York area are confused as to who exactly is
behind the March 20 demonstration which has been called to mark the first
year since the bombs started falling on Iraq. Initially, word went out that
United for Peace & Justice (UFPJ), the broad-based coalition behind last
year's historic February 15 mobilization, had issued the call for March 20.
Then International ANSWER--a group with which UFPJ has had a frequently
contentious history--began issuing a call for a demonstration the same day.
An entity called the March 20 National Coalition began distributing
leaflets for the march with all ANSWER's contact info--and only their
contact info. The list of endorsers leads with ANSWER, and UFPJ is nowhere
Many activists are bored by the endless internecine rivalries of the
movement leadership, but there are real issues behind the intrigues.
International ANSWER (for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) is formed
around the core of the Ramsey Clark-led International Action Center (IAC),
widely perceived as a front group for the sectarian Workers World Party
(WWP). Workers World is so orthodox that it supported the 1956 Soviet
invasion of Hungary, the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and--more
recently--former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic in his battle against
war crimes charges at The Hague. In the movement to oppose the first attack
on Iraq in 1991, WWP provoked a split by refusing to condemn Saddam's
invasion of Kuwait. This resulted in two separate national marches on
Washington, just days apart, in January of that year.
The specter of two separate marches on March 20 was averted--but the
contradiction in the movement persists between UFPJ and ANSWER, which
positions itself further to the left but is perceived by many to be the
tool of a doctrinaire sect which has apologized for mass murder.
On March 4, WW3 REPORT spoke by phone with Leslie Cagan, co-chair and top
organizer of UFPJ, at the group's office at 351 W 41st St.
WW3R: Can you clarify who is really organizing the March 20 demonstration?
LC: We originally called it back in October or something--I don't remember
the exact date. In December we started to put together a broader coalition,
and called a meeting which was attended by Labor Against the War, the
Campus Anti-war Network, Not In Our Name, Bring Them Home Now, Racial
Justice 9-11 and other groups. ANSWER didn't come. They asked us to change
the date, but that wasn't convenient for other groups. They then didn't
come to a second meeting, and failed to respond to our overtures to change
meeting dates. In January, we see another coalition has formed including
ANSWER, the March 20 National Coalition. Our coalition is the March 20
So ANSWER started their own coalition. They just went ahead and formed
their own thing. Not only did they put out their own call for March 20,
they made it sound like we were divisive.
WW3R: How did they do that?
LC: They pushed Palestine on an equal footing with Iraq for March 20. They
said they would only sit down with us if we agreed with their formulation.
Now there's a buzz going around that we had divided the movement and called
a second demo in New York. Some ANSWER groups are attacking the anti-war
movement generally but UFPJ in particular for not taking Palestine and the
Arab community seriously. Our position is that March 20 needs to be
anchored in the fact that March 20 was the anniversary of the Iraq bombing.
Putting the Iraq and Palestine issues on an equal footing was not the way
to go. Based on that they say we're not respecting the Palestinian
community and we're putting them at the back of the bus.
So now March 20 is being co-organized by UFPJ and ANSWER in separate
coalitions. Its not a great situation but its better than having competing
demonstrations on the same day. Hopefully what will come across to the
public is tens of thousands people in the streets of New York opposed the
ongoing occupation of Iraq and linking that to other issues of the day.
WW3R: Palestine is also under occupation, and our tax dollars are paying
for it. Don't we have a responsibility to take this issue on?
LC: We agree the anti-war movement has not been as strong on the Palestine
issue as it needs to be. But March 20 was picked because it was the
anniversary of the start of the war against Iraq. The challenge is to keep
people in motion, in a protest activism mode in an election year. We are
using this date to call attention to the ongoing crisis in Iraq and make
connections to other issues like Palestine. You don't do that through a
rhetorical device--a slogan that could be confusing to people and makes it
sound like Palestine and Iraq are the same thing. We don't think it is the
same thing. It's at least a tactical difference.
WWR: What is the ANSWER slogan that you object to?
LC: "End Colonial Occupation from Iraq to Palestine and Everywhere." The US
isn't occupying Palestine, although we are paying for it. And I don't think
the US wants to stay in Iraq permanently--they just want to leave a
compliant regime in place.
WW3R: Has anybody asked ANSWER why they have nothing to say about colonial
occupation in Tibet, Xinkiang and Chechnya?
LC: I assume that's a rhetorical question.
WW3R: Will there be marches in other cities on March 20?
LC: There will be some 150 actions around the country March 20. In most
places people are not engaged in the UFPJ-ANSWER conflict. In some places
like San Francisco it is an issue, and I understand the lead has been taken
by ANSWER there.
WW3R: Is there international coordination around March 20 as well?
LC: UFPJ had two people at the European Social Forum in Paris in November.
Out of that came an agreement to do March 20 actions, and we had people at
the World Social Forum in India in January pushing it as well. We don't
have a very good handle on where yet, but there are demonstrations being
planned around the world.
WW3R: People have accused UFPJ of being close to the Democratic Party and
there is a rumor that you will be part of a larger coalition with organized
labor around supporting the Democratic candidate in this year's election.
LC: That's not true. We're not doing any endorsements. We made a policy
decision not to endorse any candidates. Both because some of our members
could jeopardize their non-profit status and because we didn't want to open
the whole internal debate around that.
WW3R: How do you think the split with ANSWER will play out in the future?
LC: I really don't know. There are people around the country who feel very,
very strongly that we should not work with ANSWER. I think that's the
majority position. But there is not unanimity within our own ranks on this
See also WW3 REPORT #73