Posted by Wobbly City - June 1, 2006 | NLN Archive

Starbucks Woes Continue as IWW Initiates Legal Action

Reprinted From Wobbly City (

Starbucks barista Charles Fostrom wears his union pin

‘Rogue Corporation’ is Flouting the Law with Impunity

New York, NY – May 30, 2006 Still reeling from a defeat at the National Labor Relations Board in March, Starbucks was hit with a fresh legal charge from the IWW Starbucks Workers Union today. The Labor Board charge outlines continuing discrimination and retaliation against union baristas by the world’s largest coffee chain. The legal filing and supporting evidence establish that Starbucks has breached the settlement agreement reached with the government less than three months ago.

“If there was any doubt in the past, Starbucks now has made clear its anti-worker intentions,” said the union’s General Counsel, Stuart Lichten, of Schwartz, Lichten, and Bright. “The company is violating one bedrock labor rights principle after another.”

The Unfair Labor Practice charge contests final warnings before termination against three IWW Starbucks Workers Union members: Suley Ayala, Daniel Gross, and Tomer Malchi. Starbucks disciplined the three because of their continued participation in an organizing drive to win a living wage, secure hours, and respect on the job. Ironically, Mr. Gross’ first final warning before termination for union activity was rescinded by the recent government settlement of IWW charges against Starbucks. Less than two months later, Starbucks concocted another one against him.

Currently pending charges also contest the firing of IWW barista Joe Agins, Jr. from a Manhattan Starbucks for his organizing activity.

“It’s just disgraceful how this company considers itself above the law,” said Pete Montalbano, an IWW barista at Starbucks. “Starbucks is a rogue corporation – unconcerned with human rights when it gets in the way of profit.”

The wearing of union pins continues to be an area of contention between the IWW and Starbucks. While Starbucks agreed in the March settlement to acknowledge the long-standing right of workers to wear union pins, the company continues to discipline workers at Starbucks locations not directly at issue in the settlement who choose to wear union pins.

“My manager flipped out when my co-workers and I put on our IWW pins,” said Charles Fostrom, an IWW member and Starbucks barista. “I couldn’t believe how gripped he was with fear because we chose to express our support for the IWW with a modest-sized pin.”

After being informed by employees that he was breaking the law by demanding they take of their union pins, the store manager, Patrice Britton, contacted his superiors at Starbucks who instructed him to continue to prohibit the pins.

Despite record profits and a claim to social responsibility, Starbucks and Chairman Howard Schultz have yet to accept the fundamental right of baristas to free association in the form a union.

In the midst of the fierce anti-union campaign, the Wobbly baristas have made important gains in wages, security of hours, and individual grievances on the job. The IWW Starbucks Workers Union operates on a solidarity union model where workers control their own organization and take direct action against the company without mediation from the state or paid union representatives.


New York, NY. The New York City Chapters of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) have endorsed the War Resisters League call for a solemn procession to commemorate the loss of life in the Iraq War. The procession will be held on Sunday, March 19th – the third anniversary of the US invasion and occupation. SDS’ New York City chapters are asking their members and friends to assemble at 1 PM at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue (SW corner, near the fountain), Manhattan. Participants will step off at approximately 1:30 PM, proceeding to the recruiting center at Times Square and on down to the Theatre District.

“As far as I am aware, this is the first SDS anti-war march in New York City since 1969″, said Thomas Good, one of four SDS activists who called for the formation of a national organization this past Martin Luther King Day. “Therefore we are very pleased to announce to the press when they ask us: ‘where are the youth?’ – they are right here. And I am very proud to be marching alongside the student activists – as a member of Movement for a Democratic Society, the post-grad arm of SDS”, he added.

“Today we are experiencing endless war, which tears through the Middle East ruining families and tradition. At the heart of this imperialism is our silence…who would we be if we did not fight back?” asked Chloe Watlington, a student and member of New School SDS.

Marching with the student activists will be members of the Industrial Workers of the World. Many members of SDS are also “Wobblies”. The Starbucks Workers Union (part of the IWW) is composed mainly of young people, many of whom are students working their way through college. “A student and worker alliance that struggles to end this barbaric war is something that is long overdue”, said Daniel Gross an IWW organizer and law student. “US and Iraqi workers are being senselessly slaughtered. Working people in this country need to come together and stop the war machine”, he added.

Students from several SDS chapters will be marching: Columbia, New School, Pratt Institute and Pace SDS are all taking part. SDSers from Connecticut and New Jersey chapters will also be a part of the event. 18 year old SDS activist Pat Korte of the Stonington, Connecticut High School chapter said: “The anti-war movement needs to step it up if they want to put an end to America’s bloodletting in the Middle East, and it’s up to the students to up the ante. We need to bring the war machine to its knees. It’s time for a unified student and non-student coalition to put pressure on the real terrorists – the ones in the White House. The “War on Terror” is not only affecting the people of the Middle East and the soldiers being sent there, it is directly affecting students in almost every aspect of their life – their economic situation, eduction, freedom, and privacy.”

Participants are being asked to maintain a solemn silence and nonviolent disposition throughout the march.

Among the are organizers of the event are members of the War Resisters League, Students for a Democratic Society, the Industrial Workers of the World and several other anti-war and labor organizations. The march has been endorsed by the New York Metro Alliance of Anarchists (NYMAA), The Riverside Church Global Justice & Peace Ministries, St. Mary’s Manhattanville Church, the Socialist Party of New York City and Upfront News.

SDS is an education and social action organization dedicated to increasing democracy in all phases of our common life. It seeks to promote the active participation of young people in the formation of a movement to build a society free from poverty, ignorance, war, exploitation, racism and sexism.

The Hamas Breakthrough and Pathways Forward
Beyond Apartheid to Convivencia:
"Walking We Ask Questions"

By Bill Templer

This time, for the first time in my life, I do feel a change in the air. The rebellion spirit of the Palestinian resistance is a spirit people can empathise with. You know why? Because the Palestinians are in the forefront of the war against evil. (Gilad Atzmon) [1]

A new era in the Palestinian liberation struggle is upon us. Rather than just a electoral repudiation of Fatah’s long years of corruption, mismanagement and collaboration with the Israeli plutocracy, the extraordinary success of Hamas at the polls comes from the gut, the depths of despair of an entire population. It is a powerful protest against the Occupation, a loud NO to persistent efforts by the Israeli military and political class to force Palestinian surrender and crush their national rights.

This vote by the Palestinian working masses was a resounding NO to political Zionism and its century-old agenda of Zionist segregation and land expropriation. NO to a pseudo-‘settlement’ imposed by Washington. NO to abandonment of the demand for a right of return for the millions of Palestinian refugees. NO to shredding Palestine into Bantustans. NO to the Great Wall of Palestine. A massive electoral expression of muqawama, resistance. As embodied in the name Hamas itself, an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement).

Even as the victory was celebrated on Jan. 26, the Israeli army shot dead a nine-year-old girl in Gaza, Aya Al Astal, walking near the security fence. That dark incident is an emblem of the nightmare beneath why the Palestinians cast their ballot for so many local Hamas candidates. The murderous oppression knows no end.

This paper reflects on that victory, and on future pathways out of the impasse in Palestine/Israel, beyond the dead-end of the two-state solution. The social action of Hamas, its local dynamic pragmatism in addressing the everyday needs of Palestinians, may become the mother of inspiration for far more than observers at present can imagine.

Israeli jazz artist, novelist and peace activist Gilad Atzmon put it pointedly:

"those who dwell in occupied Palestine had their say, they went to the poll and gave all us a major lesson. They presented us with the most heroic spirit of resistance. They told the West, and Israel, and the EU, and the Arab world ? and the other gatekeepers, "you can all bugger off. We know what we want. We are tired of your phoney kindness. We are exhausted of your hypocritical willingness to help. We are sick of your solidarity. We don’t want you to tell us what we are and what we should be. Don’t liberate us and don’t save our women. We will take care of it all from now on" [ibid.].

The Qalqilya Effect

In particular, massive non-violent muqawama to the Wall has continued unabated, as has its construction and snaking path of strangulation and land expropriation. One contributing factor behind the victory is probably what has been called the "Qalqilya effect." Ali Abunimah observed:

Take for example the city of Qalqilya in the north of the West Bank. Hemmed in by Israeli settlements and now completely surrounded by a concrete wall, the city’s fifty thousand residents are prisoners in a Israeli-controlled giant ghetto. For years Qalqilya’s city council was controlled by Fatah but after the completion of the wall, voters in last years’ municipal elections awarded every single city council seat to Hamas. The Qalqilya effect has now spread across the occupied territories, with Hamas reportedly winning virtually all of the seats elected on a geographic basis. Thus Hamas’ success is as much an expression of the determination of Palestinians to resist Israel’s efforts to force their surrender as it is a rejection of Fatah. It reduces the conflict to its most fundamental elements: there is occupation, and there is resistance [2].

Resistance to Ihtilal: the ‘Suffocation’

It’s useful to ponder a few facts of the singular political ecology of this election: it was carried out under the most grinding Occupation (Ihtilal, the ?Suffocation?) currently in force anywhere on the planet — a free vote by ordinary people living under appalling oppression, in extreme poverty, their villages and towns turned into locked cages. Some two-thirds of the population lives below the official poverty line of $2.20 a day. A WB Report for 2004 described the economic situation as the "worst economic depression in history," with unemployment of 60-70 percent in Gaza and 30-40 percent in the West Bank. The PA itself is a major employer, with some 136,000 on its staff rolls, their salaries supplied largely by international donor Capital.

31 of the candidates, 15 now elected, are behind bars in Israeli jails, probably unprecedented for any democratic poll in the world. That includes the most popular single Palestinian in the eyes of the masses, Marwan Barghouti of Fatah. The Hamas West Bank leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef, elected in Ramallah, is also in prison.

Sheikh Mohammed Abu Tir, second on the Hamas national list, spent most of the past 30 years in Israeli jails. The Hamas leaders Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi were openly assassinated by Israeli air strikes in March and April 2004. So the massive pro-Hamas vote is also in part a payback and political ‘blowback’ for that kind of targeted state violence by the Israeli political elite, tacitly supported by Washington.

To compound matters, some of those who won election are wanted by the Israeli authorities for ‘suspected involvement’ in anti-Israel violence. Most of these men are now in semi-seclusion, and fear arrest if they try to travel to Ramallah, the site of the Palestinian parliament. Is this the fruit of ?free ?elections? under an iron Occupation?

Refugees Excluded

Nor should we forget: this election was a poll by a clear minority of the true electorate of the Palestinian people, the far greater majority of whom live as refugees in a vast Diaspora — mainly in the Middle East, most ?ethnically cleansed? in 1948 and 1967, and as second-class citizens inside Israel proper. If all Palestinians could vote in a pan-Palestinian plebiscite, who knows what the results might be. Their right of return should be high on the agenda. Hamas is absolutely committed to it [3]. Meanwhile, Washington, its allies and the UN went to extraordinary lengths to allow Iraqi “out of country voters” (even in Israel) to participate in the poll in Iraq. But those same powers have shown no interest in giving Palestinian refugees a voice of any kind. They are ?silenced? in a classic sense.

Rooted in the Working People

Most centrally, Hamas is a multi-sided grassroots movement rooted since its founding in 1988 in the working people, the neighborhoods: its activities in the Palestinian street have concentrated on building an extensive education network, distribution of basic foodstuffs for the holidays, aid to the poor, youth camps, sports, care for the elderly, scholarships, sponsorship of light industry, and religious services in the mosques.

Armed resistance, the activity of the jihadist shahid (martyr for the faith) and the Ezzedin al-Qassem brigades, is a relatively small part of its program, demonized by the Western media as "terrorism" with no cause. It is Palestine?s principal weapon against military occupation. One of the Hamas women elected in Gaza, Mariam Farahat, known as Um Nidal (Mother of the Struggle), helped send three of her sons as shahid. She told ABC news: "Our land is occupied. You take all the means to banish the occupier. I sacrificed my children for this holy, patriotic duty. I love my children, but as Muslims we pressure ourselves and sacrifice our emotions for the interest of the homeland."

Islamic fundamentalism is a major strand in Hamas ideology and integrity, but many of their supporters in the Palestinian street are secular and will remain so. As anarchist activist Ilan Shalif stressed: "From the polls it seems that the voters of Fatah and Hamas did not differ so much where their level of religious fervour was concerned" [4]. Some of its leaders and rank-and-file are hard-line, others are ?pragmatists.? People learn to distinguish between rhetoric and action.

The Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya has anchored itself not as a political party but a genuine people’s movement of mutual aid, highly efficient — and resistance to an entire choreography of systematic oppression. As one Palestinian village resident put it in response to ?why people chose Hamas?: "if you sit with them they will say: ‘We hate Fatah. They did nothing for us. A few poor people suddenly became rich people. Hamas worked in another way. They worked with society. They worked with the poor.’ ” Many Palestinian Christians also cast their ballot for Hamas. Now anticipating a heavier Israel military hand in their daily lives, another villager commented: “They knew what they voted for ? They know the consequences. If they want to liberate their land, they have to suffer” [5]. And the big gains for Hamas were among the local candidates, precisely at this scale. The Washington Post reported that the U.S. secretly channeled $2 million to Fatah in the closing phase of the campaign.

"Paradise Now"

Hany Abu-Assad?s Oscar-nominated film "Paradise Now" tells the story of 24 hours in the lives of two Palestinian youths who have decided to carry out a suicide bombing on an Israeli bus in Tel Aviv. Peace activist Uri Avnery on the film:
IF ONE wants to understand what the Palestinians did on election day, one has to see the film ‘Paradise Now’, which has been nominated for an Oscar for the best foreign film, after collecting several prestigious international prizes. It explains better than a million words. The film addresses a question that is troubling everyone in Israel, and perhaps throughout the world: Why do they do it? What makes a person get up in the morning and decide to blow himself up in the middle of a crowd of people in Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv? And some of the people also ask: Who are they? What is their background? How did they come to be like that? Today, a long time after it was made, the film also answers another question: Why did the great majority of the Palestinians elect the very group that sent these people to blow themselves up? The film answers these questions. Not with slogans, not with propaganda speeches, nor with an academic report. It does not preach, praise or get mad. It tells a story. The story says everything [6].

Make sure you see the film. Never has a Palestinian film been nominated by the Oscar clique.

Imperative Now: De-Demonize Hamas, Oppose Efforts to Withhold International Funds

John Whitbeck projects a possible scenario Condy Rice is already trying to choreograph:

it appears that the “destruction of Israel” (already recited in the Western media virtually as though it formed part of Hamas’ name) will become the new catch phrase used to justify avoiding negotiations or even “talks”, as well as Israel’s withholding of Palestinian customs revenues, the West’s withholding of financial aid for Palestinian subsistence under occupation and a concerted effort to make the Palestinian people regret their flirtation with democracy and starve them into submission [7].

Such withholding of funds is a form of international political blackmail. Progressive forces need to be on the alert and mount a campaign of protest against any such concerted efforts to in effect strangle and ostracize the new Palestinian leadership, plunging it into huge deficit and financial chaos. This will indeed be the "Class War from Above," orchestrated by international donor Capital, on Hamas and the will of the Palestinian people to resist, a form of geopolitical extortion. You can write a letter to your representative in Washington urging Congress not to stop aid:\

It is time to de-demonize Hamas and listen to the will of the Palestinians, their voice. That is also the gist of Uri Avnery?s (Peace Bloc/Gush Shalom) analysis. Gilad Atzmon echoes this and ups the ante:

If we are as democratic as we claim to be, it is down to us to respect and welcome the Palestinian people?s choice. I would suggest that to support Palestine is to support the Palestinian people and their right of return regardless of their political, theological or cultural choices [8].

Ever more Israelis may come to share that view. Ever more are disgusted with the militarization of their society and concomitant brutalization, its colonial-settler ideology of inequality, segregation and might over right, the endless bloodshed, the insanity of the ever expanding West Bank settlements [9]. Whatever the fundamentalist views of some strands in Hamas leadership, are they any more ?extreme? than some of the Jewish religious parties that may play a role in the next Israeli government? The sacralization of politics is a distinctive element on both sides of this divide.

"Sorcerer’s Apprenticeship"?

But Gilbert Achcar’s astute analysis of this victory through a macro-geopolitical lens that sees it as the fruit of the "catastrophic management of U.S. policy in the Middle East by the Bush administration" or the Israeli ruling class (their ‘sorcerer’s apprentice’) is blinkered. Almost Orientalist. It robs Palestinians of their voice, operating at a plane of abstraction ("clash of barbarisms") far above the scale of real people, their shattered lives and anger. Surely this outpouring of disaffection and defiance cannot be reduced by some kind of simplistic geopolitical calculus to an appraisal that contends once again the Israelis ‘engineered’ Palestinian response: "the electoral victory of Hamas is the outcome that Sharon’s strategy was very obviously seeking" [10]. In some extrapolated sense that may be true, especially for those in the military who have sought to ?churn? the Intifada. At the same time, give Palestinian workers the integrity of their own agency, their political dignity in their own life-worlds — instead of constructing them as ?pawns? manipulated in some master neo-con game of regional control.

Beyond the Rotting of Oslo: Thinking Outside the Box

The Hamas victory is a watershed. It is time for a new political class in Israel to move forward to a just solution. Beyond the contradictions, hypocrisies and cul-de-sac of the Oslo process. Mahmud al-Zahar, a key harder-line Hamas leader in Gaza, put it well: "As for a future government, we are putting all the possibilities on the table. What has the Israeli government presented to us? Nothing. Oslo is not only dead, it has rotted." Khalid Mish’al, head of the Hamas Political Bureau, wrote:

Our message to the Israelis is this: we do not fight you because you belong to a certain faith or culture. Jews have lived in the Muslim world for 13 centuries in peace and harmony; they are in our religion “the people of the book” who have a covenant from God and His Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him) to be respected and protected. Our conflict with you is not religious but political. ? But if you are willing to accept the principle of a long-term truce, we are prepared to negotiate the terms. Hamas is extending a hand of peace to those who are truly interested in a peace based on justice [11].

If the "?two state solution’ has been all but killed off by the very powers who today claim to be supporting it, primarily Israel and the U.S. [and] the fictitious ‘Road Map’ is as much on life support as is Ariel Sharon himself" [12], perhaps other options can begin to be envisioned and pragmatic steps taken toward their realization. Many foresaw that the Oslo agreement would not bring stability to the region because it spelled Palestinian capitulation to colonization, no settlement freeze, the continuation of apartheid within Israel and across the West Bank and the de-Arabization of Palestine. Adam Hanieh notes: "The Hamas victory helps to dispel the myths surrounding the negotiations of the last decade. The Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has overwhelmingly stated that these negotiations have merely been a cover for the deepening of Israeli apartheid" [13].

Whatever the prevailing ?two-state fantasies? in the pipeline, none can provide a lasting just solution to the intractable impasse in Palestine. The populations are too massively intertwined (1.3 million Palestinians live in Israel, and 450,000 Jews in the West Bank), the physical geography of water and transport militates against it. The apartheid nature of the Israeli ?ethnocracy? [14], marginalizing its large Arab citizenry, cries out for radical change and civil equality within Israel. Moreover, both peoples? identities and national meta-narratives are now interwoven with the total area of historic Palestine, most especially that of Hamas. In a unitary state, those narratives would move to revision. The very upending of old structures and command networks on both sides of the divide signaled by the Hamas breakthrough at the municipal level (and Sharon?s demise) may open up new wormholes in anti-state space.

An Old Vision Revitalized: One Democratic State

Can we imagine ordinary people working together to build a single democratic state for all Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, one democratic polity, its citizens living in ta?ayush (solidarity) and full equality? Sound totally utopian? This is the concrete vision of the Palestinian peace activist Mazin Qumsiyeh, as laid out in a powerful article in 2005. The compelling 2004 Olga Appeal by a group of non-Zionist Israeli intellectuals is also in this spirit [15].

Virginia Tilley?s comprehensive and incisive study The One-State Solution (University of Michigan Press 2005) is illuminating. Though a concrete political anti-capitalist pathway forward to that new symbiosis is not projected, her overall description of the present dead-end and pragmatic argument for one unitary polity in Palestine is cogent. The book deserves wide discussion.

And now there is an association: a growing fusion of people across the planet, including Israeli Jews and Palestinians, banded together in the organization The Association for One Democratic State in Palestine/Israel ( They deserve your interest and support. Join the group?s ranks. Prof. Mahmoud Musa is its president (see fn. 15). There is a broad spectrum of political opinion, united by orientation to a few core principles for a unitary state.

Writing on the Hamas victory, Whitbeck is visionary:

The “destruction of Israel” is clearly a negative formulation. The “creation of a fully democratic state with equal rights for all” in all of Israel/Palestine could be a positive reformulation which would be recognized by the world as just and offer genuine hope for peace and reconciliation [ibid.].

The revitalizing of the demand for refugee return could be part of that new agenda, as Hanieh suggests.

?One State? and Beyond
Perhaps the election victory of Hamas is a first step on that path to building a polity and society beyond the nation-state, a ?no-state solution? — a cooperative Arab-Jewish commonwealth in the ancient land of Canaan. Hamas?s own practical agenda, as it emerges, will initially likely be quite different, anchored in its 1988 Charter. But politics is in powerful flux, if people can discover new modalities for political organization in the workplace and neighborhood. Hamas may prove to be an inventive amalgam of pragmatism and principle.

Zapatismo in Palestine/Israel: Ya Basta/Khalas!

Social pragmatist paradigms for such bottom-up organizing are now multiplying in Latin America, within Zapatismo in Chiapas, the Landless Workers? Movement (MST) in Brazil, the rise of the indigenous peoples in Bolivia, Ecuador and elsewhere, and as a complex of autonomous movements across Argentina, a "socialism of the people, participatory and decentralized" [16]. An analogous ferment is needed as an organizing tactic and avenue forward here. Holloway talks about it:

Probably we have to think of advancing through experiments and questions: “preguntando caminamos” \”walking we ask questions\”, as the Zapatistas put it. To think of moving forward through questions rather than answers means a different sort of politics, a different sort of organization. If nobody has the answers, then we have to think not of hierarchical structures of leadership, but horizontal structures that involve everyone as much as possible. What do we want? I think we want self-determination-the possibility of creating our own lives, the assumption of our own humanity. This means collective self-determination [17].

In Palestine, that would require a massive popular movement to "regain the commons" among ordinary Jews and Arabs, energizing a new ensemble of struggles for direct & inclusive democracy and participatory economy. It means bringing people in the neighborhoods into a new kind of political and economic decision-making in their own streets and communities, a pro-active role in the management of their own affairs, their work places [18].
Building an infrastructure of what was called in the togetherness of Arabs and Sephardic Jews in Spain in the Golden Age of Arab-Jewish symbioisis ?convivencia."

The goal of a libertarian-socialist multicultural and multi-faith Commonwealth could begin to energize new forms of decentralized direct democracy, people?s participation and horizontalism, neighborhood autonomy as it moves beyond notions of any conventional capitalist ?state? run by a corporate ruling class, in Israel a veiled dictatorship of 15 families over the Israeli economy, media and politics.

The people?s NO to the old politics in Palestine was a protest against their own lack of political participation and disaffection, their daily ordeal of dispossession and denigration under the Ihtilal. Those masses may well be open to proposals for new forms of political life, based on local control, autonomy and creative resistance. Perhaps, as realism will require, initially within a Hamas-Green armature for transformation. Mousa Abu Marzook has emphasized: "Hamas has pledged transparency in government. Honest leadership will result from the accountability of its public servants.
Hamas has elected 15 female legislators poised to play a significant role in public life. The movement has forged genuine and lasting relationships with Christian candidates." It is explicitly open to pluralism, a major role for Palestinian women on the political road ahead. Marzook: "fair governance demands that the Palestinian nation be represented in a pluralistic environment. A new breed of Islamic leadership is ready to put into practice faith-based principles in a setting of tolerance and unity" [19].

One Big Union

Grassroots working-class syndicalism among Palestinians and Israelis, forging new bonds of solidarity, is one pathway out of the morass of the ?national question? — and the immense ever widening gap between poor and rich in Israeli-Jewish society. It can become a hands-on incubator for overcoming mutual distrust. One option that can appeal to workers and the many unemployed is to create IWW-like base groups in both communities. Not a small political party, but a work-oriented horizontally structured independent movement ?- oriented to people?s everyday problems to make ends meet and have a say, and broader issues of self-determination and vernacular dignity. Building, from the bottom up, a scaffolding for organizing and change, aspiring to "a world in which production and distribution are organized by workers ourselves to meet the needs of the entire population, not merely a handful of exploiters" [20]. A Wobbly union is one such non-hierarchical vessel for nurturing autonomy. It is lean, concrete, a structure workers can understand.

Or imagine a movement like that of Argentina?s Piquetaros (picketers) across Israel and Palestine: protesters, many unemployed and underemployed workers, staging marches again and again against the government to draw attention to the people?s plight.

But authentic organization springs from struggle, not vice versa. That must begin and be sustained.

A Call for Urgent Solidarity: Anarchists Against the Wall

It has: and one key ongoing battle deserves your support now. Kobi Snitz in Tel Aviv has issued a call for online donations to the legal fund of Anarchists Against the Wall (AATW, Anarkhistim Neged ha-Gader): Help of various kinds, including direct participation on the front lines, is much welcome. The repression of internationals on this front by the Israeli military and police has been vicious.

AATW is involved in both direct action and demonstrations against the Wall, especially at the embattled villages of Budrus and Bil?in in the West Bank. It is committed to a joint struggle of Palestinians and Israelis. AATW’s contribution, an unprecedented mode of joint Arab-Jewish sumud (steadfastness), is widely recognized in both the Palestinian and Israeli media, and is regularly reported on AINFOS.

Joint Palestinian-Israeli demonstration against the Wall, Bil’in,

Occupied West Bank, January 2006 (Photo Credit: Gush Shalom)

In part linked with them is the organization One Struggle/Ma?avak Ehad (, another dedicated vegan anarchist group in frontal confrontation with all aspects of the Israeli state. Ma?avak Ehad, which initially helped spawn AATW, also deserves libertarian solidarity [21].

In its fierce commitment to direct action, AATW could serve as a mini-paradigm of joint Palestinian-Israeli action, its praxis perhaps a template for future more systematic radical organizing of workers (and students as workers-to-be), One Big Union ?from the river to the sea.? New beginnings for convivencia. Whether that is ?Western cultural colonialism? in the political sense that Atzmon criticizes only joint struggle will determine. Before the Hamas victory in local elections last December, Mazin Qumsiyeh wrote:

Will insular groups who believe in the purity of their message keep doing what they are doing and hope for the best? Or will we put our heads together, ratchet up our activism, and coordinate our activism in ways that develop effective (i.e. result driven) strategies and appropriate tactics to implement these strategies (from capacity building to media work to lobbying etc). The next six months are critical ? Are we up to the challenges of the moment to build an effective 21st century anti-apartheid, anti-neo-colonial movement and to shape our own future as a human family? [22]


1. Gilad Atzmon, "Western Cultural Colonialism and the Palestinian Choice," ; see also

2. Ali Abunimah. "Hamas Election Victory: A Vote for Clarity," The Electronic Intifafa, Jan. 26, 2006,

3. As Khalid Mish?al stated: "Our message to the Palestinians is this: our people are not only those who live under siege in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but also the millions languishing in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria and the millions spread around the world unable to return home. We promise you that nothing in the world will deter us from pursuing our goal of liberation and return." See Khalid Mish?al, "We will not sell our people or principles for foreign aid," Guardian, Jan. 31, 2006,,,1698702,00.html

4. Ilan Shalif, "Palestinian Parliamentary Elections: The Hamas Victory ,"

5. I. Fisher, "Villagers Who Voted for Hamas Saw Hope Despite Obstacles," New York Times, Jan. 27, 2006,

6. Uri Avnery, "? Shall We Not Revenge?," Feb. 4, 2006, Gush Shalom (http.://; see also:

7. J. V. Whitbeck, "De-demonize Hamas and support democracy," posted on USQuagmire listserv, Jan. 28, 2006.

8. G. Atzmon, "Where to now, Palestine? Some reflections," .

9. See especially the work of New Profile, .

10. Gilbert Achcar, "First Reflections On The Electoral Victory Of Hamas,"
Jan. 27, 2006, .

11. Khalid Mish?al, "We will not sell our people or principles for foreign aid."

12. "Hamastan Indeed," Mid East Realities, Jan. 26, 2006, .

13. Oren Yiftachel, "?Ethnocracy?: The Politics of Judaizing Israel/Palestine," Constellations 6 (1999), .

14. Adam Hanieh, "The End of a Political Fiction?,"

15. M. Qumsiyeh, "A Two-State Solution is No Solution: Thinking Outside the Box on Israel / Palestine" (CounterPunch, June 2005, ); Olga Appeal at ). See also "One State for Palestine – Israel: Silvia Cattori interviews Mahmoud Musa," Dec. 3, 2005, ; key to this perspective are articles by Noel Ignatiev, "Toward a Single State Solution: Zionism, Anti-Semitism and the People of Palestine," (CounterPunch, June 17, 2004, ) and Omar Barghouti, "Relative Humanity. The Fundamental Obstacle to a One State Solution" (ZNet, Dec. 16, 2003,

16. Judy Rebick, "Socialism in the 21st Century," ; see also Marina Sitrin, "Horizontalidad in Argentina," and idem, Horizontalidad: Voces de Poder Popular en Argentina, Chilavert 2005.

17. See M. Sitrin and J. Holloway, "Walking We Ask Questions," . The ongoing re-establishment of the SDS in North America is a kindred potential paradigm for ideas for participatory social activism, with a strong libertarian socialist thrust, .

18. See B. Templer, "Tanks & Ostriches," and idem, "Thirteen Theses,"

19. Mousa Abu Marzook, "What Hamas is Seeking," Washington Post, Jan. 31, 2006.

20. IWW homepage, Edmonton/Alberta. The IWW grew internationally by some 35% in 2005, celebrating its 100th anniversary in struggle. A very active exemplary IWW local is the Edmonton General Membership Branch ( ). See their newsletter, The Wobbly Dispatch (

21. A well-informed brief analysis of the work of One Struggle is W. Budington, "Animal Rights Activists: Up against the Wall," the student underground, Oct. 2005,
22. M. Qumsiyeh, "Changes in Israel-Palestine: Letter to Activists," Dec. 8, 2005,

Bill Templer is a member of the new Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Templer, a Chicago-born Israeli, worked many years with the Negev Bedouin in southern Israel in their struggle for rights and dignity, and with Romanies in eastern Bulgaria.

Posted by Benjamin Ferguson - | NLN Archive

EZ action in beautiful Brooklyn

By Benjamin Ferguson

Deep in the gritty, industrial district of North Brooklyn/Queens, 15 of the workers of EZ Supply started the new year right by marching to their workplace and demanding that their highly abusive boss sign a petition recognizing their union.

Little over a month earlier they had come to the workers’ night at Make The Road by Walking, and told of working long hours without being paid overtime, which ultimately amounted to being paid less than minimum wage. Sometimes the trucks would finally be loaded to the top by 3PM, and the workers would be told that all 25 stops in Manhattan had to be made. And they did something rarely heard of: they collectively forced their boss to rehire a fired worker. Soon they signed up with the IWW, and decided on some direct action.

Wearing IWW pins and carrying IWW flags and a banner saying “abolish the wage system”, they were joined by members of the local NYC-GMB, Make The Road by Walking, and workers from Handy Fat, another warehouse nearby which has also organized with the IWW. Soon there were rowdy chants and a picket line which managed to turn away at least one delivery.

“The boss thinks he’s God”, said FW Bert Picard, one of the key organizers in the campaign. FW David Temple’s command of the Chinese language conveyed the importance to this “god-like” boss of coming out to speak with the workers and signing the petition, or else there would be no work that day. Ironically it wasn’t the chants in Chinese of “rat, rat, come out of your hole” by those on the picket line which finally brought the management out of their hole, but instead management’s call to the police. By 11AM the boss had the petition, to be shown to his lawyer, and the workers were back at work.

EZ Supply provides restaurants with various utensils, but the union drive at their warehouse is providing the sweatshops and exploited workers in the area with a wonderful example of revolutionary unionism. After the EZ Supply workers returned to work, FW Bert and other organizers remained outside and took the names and numbers of other deliverers and workers who had witnessed the brief strike and wanted to learn more about the IWW and how to organize.

It was only the second day of 2006, a year which so far promises to be very rewarding.

Posted by TAG - | NLN Archive

Filed By Samuel Morales Jr and Thomas Good

This is an electronic log of telephone and email contacts with Sam Morales, chair of the SPNYC, DAT member and IWW local branch secretary, in DC for “J20″, serving as a member of the Anti-Fascist Contingent an anarchist collective that traveled to DC for the counter-inaugural actions.

This electronic log also includes correspondence with two other SP Activists: George Kropog from Michigan and Ron Braithwaite of Portland, Oregon both of whom participated in actions on J20 in their home states.

We have never tried documenting our actions in quite this way before and so if you are inclined to offer feedback pls send it to [ address removed – obsolete ]

20 January 2005
Early Reports from IndyMedia: is reporting that police have pepper sprayed a large group of “anarchists” near 7th and 8th Ave near G NW. One IMC reporter was hit.
No arrests yet.

13:28 – report in from Sam (via telephone):

Sam was part of a large anarchist march that police disrupted.

The march attempted to go in a direction that the police did not want and the cops attempted to block access. The marchers drew a breath and counted to three then marched with locked arms into the police cordon. The cops began pepper spraying. Cops slammed one man onto a car for no particular reason, anarchists surrounded the car, rescuing the comrade who thus evaded arrest. At this point, folks are standing in the street, eating, singing and dancing. The police have ceased pepper spraying and no arrests have occurred near Sam’s group.

There is a large police presence but no reports of additional police violence…at this point indymedia is reporting that riot police are now lining Penn Ave and 14th Street with about 1000 protesters approaching. This is probably a splinter group from the large march the police disrupted (above). There are unconfirmed reports that the riot cops in this area have been issued tear gas.

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2005 13:29:20 -0500
From: Samuel Morales [ old email address removed – obsolete ]
Subject: Protest warrior

One thing I forgot. Protest warriors showed at malcolm x park and we of the anti-fascist contingent “escorted” them out of the park!

Subject: Re: protest warrior
From: Samuel Morales [ old email address removed – obsolete ]

People gettin pepper sprayed, 14th and penn, overheard police telling
media to leave…

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2005 15:57:11 -0500
From: Samuel Morales [ old email address removed – obsolete ]
Subject: Tear gas rumors

Rumors of tear gas used but cannot confirm. Pepper spray definitely, screams of “medic!!!” have been frequent. Mutual aid and solidarity have been inspiring

Protested refused permission to leave 13th and Penn….

16:08 – report in from Sam (via telephone):

Police harrassment had intensified somewhat (pepper spray, etc) at about the time IndyMedia reported that some activists had knocked down the fence at Penn and 14th near the Willard Hotel. Fortunately Sam was not on the receiving end of any pepper spray. At this time things are winding down and some contingent members have departed. Sam reports that there is a rally at 4 pm and a counter-inaugural ball at 6 pm. After a bite to eat Sam will investigate these events. (Sam also related to me that the contingent had been able to function all day in a very decentralised manner, no apparent leadership. One tool that was very useful was txtmob web to pager messaging. Every contingent member was able to receive the same info and the contingent was able to make collective decisions on the fly.

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2005 16:23:21 -0500
From: Samuel Morales [ old email address removed – obsolete ]
Subject: Anti-choice activists…

Anti-choice rightwingers @ 14th and F. Now receiving hugs by anarchists.
They appear annoyed

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2005 17:18:41 -0500
From: Samuel Morales [ old email address removed – obsolete ]
Subject: Action continues

Anarchist contingent reforms, marching down L street, turning on vermont

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2005 17:37:43 -0500
From: Samuel Morales [ old email address removed – obsolete ]
Subject: What barricades?

We removed a baricade, proceeding down H

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2005 17:45:19 -0500
Subject: Re: [directactiontendency] J20 Addendum: Protest Warriors removed
from Malcolm X park…

Damn, my day was very mild in comparison with Sams. I was the final speaker at a teach-in at the University of Michigan.

Keep us up to date on Sam, Tom. If he gets arrested, let us know so that we can help out. The same goes for any other SP member that gets thrown in the klink.

Freedom isn’t free,
George Kropog

[ NOTE: this message of support was conveyed via phone to a grateful Sam ]

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2005 18:01:22 -0500
From: Samuel Morales [ old email address removed – obsolete ]
Subject: More

Taking over street, flashing peace signs at passing cars, getting honks in support

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2005 18:26:58 -0500
From: Samuel Morales [ old email address removed – obsolete ]
Subject: Warnings

Police issues 3 warnings to clear the street, began running into us with motorcycles to push us onto sidewalk. We linked arms in solidarity, I was nearly hit, brother to my left was hit. We moved onto the sidewalk and have converged at Union Station…

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2005 18:31:25 -0500
From: Samuel Morales [ old email address removed – obsolete ]
Subject: Party

Spontaneous party at Union Station, chants for peace and end of occupation. Tense situation now has good vibes.

Having a blast!

19:53 – report in from Sam (via telephone):
Sam is safely back at his assigned housing (thanks to Bill Blum) after a long day in the streets. Sam evaded Metro DC cops who pepper sprayed (tear gassed?) activists, rode motorcycles into people and physically assaulted some demonstrators for no apparent reason. Reports on corporate media mentioned Bush’s motorcade speeding up to avoid protesters along the parade route. It’s hard to claim a mandate when the evidence is right in front of your face…

20:02 – report from Ron Braithwaite (via phone) at a demo in Portland, OR

A few minutes after I spoke with Sam I got a call from Ron Braithwaite in Portland where demos are ongoing…on both coasts the resistance made its presence felt. Maybe one day the so-called red states will wake up. Let’s hope it doesn’t take too many body bags to make this happen.

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2005 18:54:56 -0800
From: Ron Braithwaite
Subject: Re: [directactiontendency] End of A Long Day

We had a pretty good crowd out – completely filled about 12 blocks, I think. We did a very long lap of downtown Portland and brought the downtown to a halt. I was part of the IWW feeder march and we had about 150 or so Wobblies that joined up with the main march in the North Park Blocks (for those of you who know Portland. We marched south on SW Broadway (which was where I called Cde Tom) and turned left just past the Oregonian building (largest paper in the NW with absolutely terrible coverage of anything to do with progressive or labor politics)). Then back down 2nd and up Oak and then back on 3rd. Which was when I realized that my bum leg (badly broken in a motorcycle accident about 15 years ago) was starting to act up. I cut back to Burnside and crossed the bridge, got in my car and came home. I suspect they are still going strong. there was a LOT of energy there.

I saw some of the usual suspects, but there were a lot of people who I expected to see that I never did. Didn’t mean they weren’t there, but… I did march for awhile with Bonnie Tinker, a wonderful lesbian activist who founded Love Makes A Family ( and the Freedom To Marry Coalition. She is on unemployment, since donations are down so much – people are really depressed here in Oregon and those of us who are dependent on fund raising to pay the rent aren’t doing very well. Hint. Hint.

More later. I’m tired and my leg hurts.


UFPJ Diary: The Case For Participatory Democracy

This article has been reprinted by the following news services:

Appeal To Reason NYC Indymedia
DC Indymedia Pittsburgh Indymedia
Infoshop Portland Indymedia
Love And Struggle San Francisco Indymedia
Michigan Indymedia September Action

Say, would you let me cry on your shoulder
I’ve heard that you’d try anything twice…
But then you open your eyes
And you see someone that you physically despise
But my heart is open
My heart is open to you

- Stephen Morrissey

This is an opinion piece, not a position paper of either the Direct Action Tendency, the Industrial Workers of the World, the War Resisters League or September Action. All of the positions advanced are my own, as are the errors. Of course, the final product has profited from some donated labor: many thanks to Brendan Story, David Meieran and Jim Macdonald for their valuable input and valiant efforts to trap my many errors.

This piece and my role in the organizing described within it could not have happened without my wife Donyal’s patience and generosity (and skills as a photographer). I am also indebted to Ed Hedemann and Ruth Benn who are War Resisters and War Tax Resisters extraordinaire. My friend Matt Daloisio also played a pivotal role in the work described in this piece: Matt, an organizer with Catholic Worker, is incredibly supportive of this writer and my fellow Wobblies. People like Matt help make the WRL a place where the religious left and the secular not only coexist but form a very viable synthesis.

Samuel Morales, Jr. (right), at the UFPJ Second National Assembly, February, 2005

(Photo: TM Good)

I’d also like to thank my brother Sam Morales for having made this journey with me. Sam is a true revolutionary and good friend. Lastly I want to thank my comrade Frida Berrigan for providing an example, in terms of level of activism, that always makes me feel guilty for not doing enough to elevate the Struggle. This piece is a Call To Action: the ultimate goal is the creation of a space wherein all activists can ramp up their level of participation – on their own terms.

I – Introduction

There is no shortcut to a society of participation.
Either one makes the basic institutions internally
democratic or one is blessed with political institutions
that take on the coloration of their surroundings.

- C. George Benello

A little more than a year ago I was driving home from the Socialist Party’s National Committee meeting in Pittsburgh when my mobile rang. Winding my way along the Pennsylvania Turnpike I listened as Greg Pason, the SP’s National Secretary, asked if I would be willing to represent the Party as the national delegate to United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). I was a little wary of committing to any more meetings, however, Greg would not be denied and I saw this as an opportunity to lobby UFPJ to embrace direct action. I said yes…

I am now at the end of my rookie year as a UFPJ delegate. Much has changed in a year’s time: we’ve created a tendency of the SP devoted to activism, UFPJ has embraced direct action and I applaud them for that. As for democratizing UFPJ, I am no longer convinced that this is an attainable goal but I encourage and support all of the dedicated activists who continue to struggle towards this end. As I complete a year’s worth of work within UFPJ I am recommending to the Direct Action Tendency that we disaffiliate in order to work with September Action with the long range goal of creating a new organizing model predicated on participatory democracy and direct action. Although I am resigning as DAT New York’s local delegate to UFPJ I am not advocating that we anti-authoritarians not sit at the same table with UFPJ: I plan to do so. But I plan to speak frankly, at that table and elsewhere, about the need for sweeping and immediate reform in United for Peace and Justice. In as much as UFPJ claims to speak for the anti-war movement they need to start listening to those of us who are rank and file organizers. Whether we are card carrying members or not.

Although I lobbied hard for UFPJ to embrace direct action, suffered through innumerable meetings and teleconferences and eventually saw the creation of the Nonviolent Direct Action (NVDA) working group, I did not participate in its first action: the civil disobedience at the White House that took place on September 26, 2005. I opted out, choosing instead to join in an autonomous direct action at the Pentagon. What follows is the story of how it came to pass that what I fought for in UFPJ was realized and why I chose not to be a part of its first outing. It is also an attempt to analyze the shortcomings of UFPJ and make a case for participatory democracy within that organization. In my estimation, the effort to democratize UFPJ will prove to be much more difficult than the struggle to get UFPJ to accept direct action, and is probably more meaningful for both the peace movement in general and its direct action arm in particular. In the end, although I have opted to work to create a new organizing model external to UFPJ, I believe, given UFPJ’s size and organizational profile, that the struggle for democracy must be carried on, from within and from without.

Participatory Democracy is a form of democracy in which people participate directly in decision making rather than indirectly through the election of representatives. In terms of group structure – this would involve a free agreement of individuals who work collectively towards common objectives. In local councils, e.g. citizen’s assemblies, every voice is heard. The deliberative model is often consensus wherein a harmonization of values is attempted so that the group as a whole defines it objectives, tactics and message. (As opposed to a an elected body developing policy in isolation or attempting to fabricate a compromise that mollifies a majority of the constituents, marginalizes a minority and satisfies no one). In a large organization a national council can facilitate participatory democracy if it is formed as an assembly of recallable deputies mandated by local councils and its sole functions are coordinative and administrative.

For more see:
Tom Hayden,
Murray Bookchin,
et al.

I urge all friends of participatory democracy and direct action who have chosen to remain in UFPJ to join in the cry for democracy, to demand that the J in UFPJ not be cast aside, to work with those of us who identify as anti-authoritarian and who want a voice in the peace movement, who want a say in our messaging and tactics, who want an organizational model that is consonant with the goals of peace and justice. I urge all friends of peace and progress to work together to build a movement we can all be a part of – and have a say in.

II – A Year In The Life of a UFPJ Organizer

Early June, 2004. David McReynolds, a longtime war resister and member of the Socialist Party since 1951, asked for a volunteer to represent the New York City Socialist Party Local in regular meetings of the newly reanimated NYC Local of the War Resisters League (WRL). I began attending meetings of the WRL in preparation for the upcoming RNC protests. This ranks as one of the best decisions I have ever made. I haven’t gotten around to leaving the WRL yet and have no intention of doing so as the people are truly special and the actions are meaningful. Although I am not a pacifist, believing both in the efficacy of armed struggle as a means of national liberation and in the right to self defense I feel very much at home in the War Resisters League as diversity is not only tolerated but sought and the WRL approach to organizing is refreshing. One of the things that is most distinctive about the WRL is the group synergy that results from a democratic internal process and the shared struggle of activists who risk arrest as an act of resistance. My WRL Local proves on a weekly basis that participatory democracy is not only possible but productive as well. The WRL’s commitment to direct action is well known. And inspiring.

Nathaniel and Thomas Good with Frida Berrigan at Ground Zero, August 31, 2004
A few hours later Tom and Frida would be in Pier 57 – guests of Mayor Bloomberg
(Photo: Donyal Svilar)

The RNC: August 2004

August 29th, 2005, saw a very large demonstration in New York City, site of the Republican National Convention. UFPJ turned out 500,000 marchers and yet a fraction of this number set foot in Central Park as Mayor Bloomberg had denied UFPJ a permit out of concern for “his” grass. As Jesse Jackson said at the time: we shouldn’t be so concerned about grass, whether we walk on it or smoke it. {1} At the end of the march UFPJ parked a sound truck at Union Square where steering committee members and staffers issued instructions for marchers to disperse, indicating that some marchers were going to Central Park. No UFPJ sponsored Direct Action to take the park occurred although some protesters did indeed go there on their own. Two days later, on A31, there were waves of civil disobedience and direct action throughout New York City. In my first arrest as a War Resister I was cuffed at 28th and Broadway, doing a die-in near Madison Square Garden. The WRL got good press coverage for this action, in part due to illegal police arrests of 227 WRLers at Ground Zero in an attempt to preempt the march (which failed). When I was transported via corrections bus from Pier 57 to the Tombs, UFPJ protesters were outside the Pier, yelling and cheering us as we drove by. We learned later that UFPJ had organized a press conference and protest that pressured police into moving us out of Pier 57, improving our conditions of confinement. This was much appreciated and gave us hope that one day UFPJ organizers would join us in the streets.

WRLers At The New York Stock Exchange, November 3, 2005

(Photo: TM Good)

The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) Action

Jump ahead to the “re-election” of Bush. The WRL, partly in response to the illegal arrests of our marchers on A31 and partly to point out that no matter who is in the White House the Iraq War would not stop, staged a civil disobedience at the New York Stock Exchange on November 3rd. By this time I had been to several New York City Coordinating Committee meetings at the UFPJ offices on 38th Street and knew Leslie Cagan slightly…I called her and asked if UFPJ would consider supporting our action. I was told that UFPJ’s primary concern was the election and that if it was stolen (was there any other possible outcome?) they would need to act quickly and therefore could not support us. We held our CD as scheduled, the day after the election. My family participated in it by leafleting (this was my ten year old son’s first action as a War Resister, I was quite the proud papa) and even in a hostile setting like Wall Street numerous passersby took our leaflets and thanked us – expressing their outrage and disappointment that Bush remained in power. Although irregularities plagued the election UFPJ did not organize a mass protest. This left some of us in the WRL wondering what it would have cost UFPJ to promote our action – via simple endorsement and perhaps email outreach.

Leslie Cagan speaks at the 2nd National Assembly (February 2005)

(Photo: TM Good)

UFPJ’s Second National Assembly (St. Louis)

After the action at the NYSE my WRL Local continued to have regular meetings and began discussing UFPJ’s role in the anti-war movement and the upcoming National Assembly to be held in St. Louis, Missouri. In one of these meetings my comrade and friend Frida Berrigan asked me to consider being the WRL national delegate to the Assembly. I spoke with Greg Pason and was able to get the SP’s National Committee to designate an alternate (a capable comrade by the name of Samuel Morales, Jr.) so that I could rep for the WRL and Sam could replace me, at least temporarily, as the Socialist Party delegate. We traveled together to St. Louis in February, 2005. At the assembly we listened to speeches by Movement stalwarts Angela Davis and Tom Hayden and voted on a wide variety of proposals. But our primary reason for being in St. Louis was to push the proposal for the creation of a Nonviolent Direct Action Working Group – an idea put forward by the Iraq Pledge of Resistance, the Brandywine Peace Community and the War Resisters League national office. Things went well initially and our proposal made it out of subcommittee…but on the day of the actual vote we were badly burned by a combination of rigid bureaucratic process and the actions of a steering committee member named Lisa Fithian who, in the opinion of many, misused her position to block our initiative by speaking against it as an officer of UFPJ (it is my view that she was responding to a perceived territorial threat as the proposal’s primary author was someone with whom she had personal issues). After the vote, Sam and I sat down with a delegate from Madison and drafted a motion of reconsideration citing the irregularities that resulted in our proposal going down to defeat. At the next day’s plenary we presented the motion to the appropriate committee, expecting to be tossed aside with a recitation of some arcane procedural rule. This did not happen – to our astonishment an administrative committee member named Judith LeBlanc asked me to meet with Cagan in the hall…this was my first exposure to the extraordinary administrative processes in UFPJ. I quickly found two of the other proposal endorsers and we met with with Leslie outside the plenary. She apologized for the actions of the steering committee member who spoke against our proposal and asked me to withdraw our motion as, at best, it would lengthen the assembly considerably, and at worst, might invalidate the entire affair due to some of the voting irregularities cited in it. She offered us a deal: Fithian would apologize from the podium and we would be guaranteed the working group we had asked for. We took the deal and only later did it occur to me that this sort of thing might be a symptom of a serious problem within UFPJ. {2} I fully believe that Leslie felt she was doing the right thing by all concerned and probably she did – but what troubles me is that she was ABLE to do this, without any process whatsoever. After the Assembly the NVDA proposal was brought to the Steering Committee where there was a vote on it. This provided a post hoc veneer of democratic process. It was a pretty thin veneer. Leslie had made a backroom deal that essentially circumvented the assembly altogether. I think, in retrospect, it was a Faustian bargain for all concerned. Had I been a delegate who voted against the NVDA I would have been very surprised to see it created – despite the proposal being defeated on the floor of the assembly by what was supposed to be a democratic process. The fact that the national coordinator was able to reintroduce a defeated proposal to the steering committee is problematic in terms of process but the fact that she negotiated with me using this as a bargaining chip, guaranteeing its passage, would seem to be an even larger issue. (The fact that this deal was struck in order to prevent public scrutiny of alleged voting irregularities is also an issue worthy of further examination).

• The NYC Coordinating Committee of UFPJ •

After the assembly, focus within the NYC Coordinating Committee (CC) meetings of UFPJ turned to March 19th, the second anniversary of the Iraq War. My WRL local was planning a civil disobedience that incorporated military counter-recruitment – doing a blockade at Times Square. I began to urge the NYC CC to support this but attention within UFPJ was largely focused on a demonstration in Fayetteville, North Carolina which centered on veteran’s groups – devoid of direct action. Nonetheless I continued to agitate for direct action, having now been joined by fellow DATer Sam Morales who was representing the Socialist Party while I continued on as a lame duck WRL delegate. At one meeting the Communist Party representative, Judith LeBlanc (the current vice chair of the CPUSA), was addressing needs for the upcoming actions and covered all of the various elements of the weekend of protests except ours. Realizing this she turned to Sam and I and said: oh, we’ll try to work in support for your civil disobedience. Clearly, we were an afterthought but we felt that Judith’s assurance was significant. Even though UFPJ-NYC is not a national body (UFPJ has a Steering Committee which meets monthly via teleconference and presently has 42 members) it is very influential. It meets in the UFPJ national office and 2 members of the Administrative Committee (a subset of the Steering Committee which meets biweekly and is UFPJ’s most powerful body) rotate facilitation of the meetings. In addition to this, Leslie Cagan, the national coordinator, frequently sat in on the UFPJ-NYC meetings I attended. Thus we had hope that the move from protest to resistance might at last be underway.

• CP-UFPJ? •

The Communist Party is a major player in UFPJ New York. This is a mixed blessing – on the one hand the administrative expertise and resources are very valuable. On the other hand, the legacy of Gus Hall and the years of democratic centralism being abused by CP leadership (which came to a head in 1991 at the 25th National Convention where 1/3 of the Party was expelled by Gus Hall – the expelled becoming the nucleus of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism) has produced something that those of us who were once in the CPUSA call “CP Style”. For the uninitiated, this is an organizational style that is not particularly subtle about being top down. It is my understanding that Sam Webb, the CP’s current chair, is invested in making the CP a more democratic organization (and perhaps he has succeeded, I wouldn’t know) but they have yet to jettison democratic centralism, i.e., Leninism. Judith LeBlanc, in her capacity as UFPJ admin committee member, once remarked in a UFPJ-NYC meeting that the role of the CP was critical in UFPJ as “when you say Communist Party” people know what you mean – “it has name recognition.” Setting aside the issue of whether or not this name recognition is always positive, this is an interesting point as UFPJ is big on name recognition and sucks in a fair number of celebrities which it then husbands as a resource. Brian Flanagan once remarked that the Democratic Party is like “a black hole with an event horizon surrounding it” that sucks in peace activists who are “never to be seen again” {3} – this could well describe UFPJ as it is presently constituted. Indeed, it is my view that organizers as well as celebrities are sucked into UFPJ and become “resources” (in the case of skilled organizers they are all too often treated as go-fers – Jim Crutchfield, a member of the IWW General Executive Board, attended a UFPJ NYC meeting in 2003 where “everybody sat in a big circle and talked for hours, and then four people made all the decisions after the meeting.” This is very similar to my experience). Whether or not this approach was influenced by the CP is anyone’s guess but there is a striking similarity in terms of the management of human resources between UFPJ today and the CP of the 1980s. It is significant that two of the most influential officers in UFPJ: Judith LeBlanc and Leslie Cagan, are vice-chair of the Communist Party and co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, respectively.

• How Can You Help? Donate! •

It became clear to Sam and I, as we attended UFPJ NYC CC meetings, that they bore the hallmarks of top down organizational model. In the course of struggling for acceptance of direct action we began to notice that agendas appeared to be preset and that agenda changes were not encouraged due to the ever present urgency of some upcoming meeting or event. We also noticed that no minutes were ever distributed to attendees. There was a weekly email but it did not contain the previous week’s minutes – it focused on announcements. Sam and I began to joke that, even though we had not signed enlistment papers, we were becoming foot soldiers in “CP-UFPJ”. This was all sort of acceptable until the CC began having “Citywide Mobilization” meetings. These were held at 23rd Street, in the Communist Party’s building which once housed the Daily World and the storefront Unity Book Store, now an artists’ supply shop. Sam and I attended the meeting but it became obvious that there was little planning happening…this was really an opportunity for UFPJ to pass the hat – my first exposure to just how relentless UFPJ fundraising can be. It is my contention now that they differ little from any capitalist charity in that over one third of the annual revenue ($288,000 of $800,000 in 2004 {4}) goes to payroll. This is an astounding sum for most Leftists used to running their organizations with volunteer staff and a shoestring budget. Why is the budget so large? Clearly, maintaining the budget dictates the need for constant fundraising – but where is the public accounting of where the money goes? The balance sheet available on the UFPJ website is somewhat lacking in terms of specifics.

WRL Protestors Just Before The Arrests, March 19, 2005

Frida is lower right, the author (top right) is 1 of 3 Wobblies in the back row.

(NY Times Photo)

M19: The Second Anniversary of the Iraq War

The net result of attendance at numerous meetings to plan protests on the second anniversary of the Iraq War wherein we pushed for full support of the M19 civil disobedience was a vague assurance of some kind of “support” as clearly the Fayetteville demonstration was the centerpiece of UFPJ’s weekend of protest. There was, however, great interest on UFPJ’s part in getting Frida Berrigan to speak at their Friday sendoff (of the buses to Fayetteville) at Union Square. I was the go between and Frida did agree to speak, providing UFPJ with their nationally known figure (the speech was good and helped the WRL to a degree but I later regretted asking this favor of Frida when I realized that UFPJ regarded her as yet another commodity…)

3 Wobblies Were Arrested At The WRL M19 Action

The M19 civil disobedience went well for the War Resisters League. A couple dozen of us were arrested at Times Square. Both Reverend Sekou and Leslie Cagan of UFPJ showed up at Times Square – to urge us on, not to risk arrest. I was pleased to see them, especially Sekou as, although he is a cleric and I have a secular orientation, he is a rank and file organizer, a straight shooter and a very likeable and committed activist. As I was loaded into the police van with my fellow arrestees I saw Leslie being interviewed by a TV crew. The media frenzy at Times Square was in part orchestrated by Bill Dobbs, UFPJ’s masterful media person (Bill has an acerbic wit and is as likeable for his candor as he is valuable for his skill). Sitting at the Seventh Precinct I had time to reflect on my being in a dingy little cell with 3 other comrades and Leslie being on TV, speaking about OUR action – which got almost no support from UFPJ other than from Bill. Despite my gratitude for Leslie coming to our CD I was simultaneously angered that UFPJ would, perhaps unintentionally, co-opt it…while doing little to help build it. I had tried several times to post our call to action on the UFPJ NYC listserv and although no posts were bounced, none appeared on the list – this sort of thing is common in UFPJ as the centralization and hoarding of all resources, including information, is clearly a serious issue for anti-authoritarians concerned with democratic process. UFPJ’s co-optation of the action was, in my view, very similar to what they often accuse ANSWER of doing. (UFPJ’s criticisms of ANSWER, which we took at face value in CC meetings, was that they are impossible to work with as they argue over everything from major issues down to font size on fliers – and that they take credit for the actions of others).

The weekend of activities UFPJ had planned for the second anniversary of the war included, in addition to the Friday sendoff: the demonstration in Fayetteville; marginally the War Resisters action, and; a large interfaith service at Riverside Church on March 20. I attended the interfaith event as a representative of the atheist caucus of UFPJ (tongue firmly in cheek, it is a caucus of one). This was the kickoff of the Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq initiative and I wanted to support Reverend Sekou who was the point person in the CALC-I working group. It was a very successful event and I was duly impressed…Sekou had managed to assemble a truly inspiring set of diverse clerics who demanded of the audience, god forbid, action.

WRL Protestors outside the IRS on Tax Day (NYC)

(Photo: TM Good)

April Actions: Tax Day at the IRS

During the month of April, UFPJ began to plan for a large New York City demonstration for disarmament to take place on May first. At a “Citywide Meeting” for the May Day demo, co-sponsored by Abolition Now and UFPJ, things came to a head in terms of process issues. Several of us who were working on a Tax Day action (still a week or so away) had asked to be allowed to announce our upcoming action. Despite assurances from Leslie and Judith that we would be allowed our two minutes at the podium (all speakers were to get two minutes for announcements), we watched in amazement as a rep from Abolition Now rambled on for over ten minutes. We waited patiently for our turn which never came as the moderator (Leslie Kielson, a member of the admin committee) said we were out of time and needed to form breakout groups immediately. Leslie C and Judith looked dismayed but said nothing. We never made our announcements. Instead we gritted our teeth and went home, grumbling…

Our WRL April Action was a Tax Day vigil outside the Internal Revenue Service. It was another successful action, again with no visible UFPJ presence…despite my agitating for assistance in the context of our weekly NYC CC meetings. Again, no listserv announcements made it through, no announcements at the citywide pass the hat meeting reached our friends in the Movement and yet the action was a success. I began to wonder what I was doing suffering through the UFPJ meetings at which I had little input and was simply there to be assigned a task for an upcoming UFPJ meeting or event…on some occasions the meetings were indeed hard to sit through. One of the issues confronting UFPJ is the lack of diversity, in terms of racial composition, in its officers and constituents. Obviously, UFPJ appeals to middle America with its focus on legislative action and attempts to find a lowest common denominator in terms of positions. This has an impact on diversity. Yet this fact seems to elude UFPJ officers. In fact, there is a strange myopia at work here…

• Visual Acuity And Lack Thereof •

During one of the last UFPJ NYC CC meetings I attended, Judith was center stage complaining about the lack of diversity in the assembled activists. She pointed out more than once that she was the “only person of color in the room” and that this had to change, we had to reach out to communities of color. Unfortunately, she did not indicate that UFPJ was going to take political positions (e.g. on Palestine) that would allow us to attract a more diverse group. Judith was again stating she was “the only person of color here” when Sam Morales spoke, reminding Judith that he was Puerto Rican and knew all about discrimination from firsthand experience. Judith didn’t miss a beat, continuing on to her next point. I was left wondering if her idea of outreach to communities of color consisted solely of getting big names like Danny Glover to speak at UFPJ fundraisers (Danny spoke eloquently at the National Assembly but UFPJ’s celeb envy is highly problematic). What struck me was that Sam, the rank and file organizer, was almost invisible to Judith. I was dismayed by this as I believe that the myopic view she espoused is not an isolated phenomenon: there is an authoritarian hierarchy within UFPJ wherein steering committee members alone have the right to lecture the faithful on the evils of white supremacy (which none of the rank and file dispute and in fact address in our political work) even when their own political positions reinforce it.

WRL May Day Marchers Matt Daloisio (Catholic Worker), Tom, Frida and Nat

(Photo: Ed Hedemann)

May Day March: UFPJ, Abolition Now and Us

May Day rolled around and it was a low key affair for most of us in the War Resisters League. We were in between actions, having completed the Tax Day vigil and just starting to think about our Fleet Week protests that were scheduled for late May. We decided to march in UFPJ and Abolition Now’s anti-nuke demonstration taking place on May 1, 2005. Our (WRL) local fielded a good size contingent that was fairly ecumenical: we had IWW, WRL, Catholic Worker, Direct Action Tendency (Socialist Party), Kiaros Community, Green Party, Not In Our Name, CodePINK and No Police State Coalition all well represented. The march was a pleasant way to spend the day and we all wound up in Central Park at day’s end.

Carrying coffins through Times Square (Fleet Week – May 28, 2005)

(Photo: TM Good)

Fleet Week: UFPJ Forgets About Memorial Day

Despite my misgivings I attended one or two more meetings, albeit without Sam who had become so disillusioned that he returned to IWW organizing which is his first love. I had inherited the point position on a War Resister’s Fleet Week/Memorial Day protest after a WRL colleague was unable to continue. I urged UFPJ to support this and received assurances that they would turn people out. In point of fact a very dedicated lower east side organizer named Ted Auerbach did turn out, as did Sekou. But the large numbers of UFPJ faithful did not appear. Again, no effort was made by UFPJ to promote our action. Despite this it was very successful and garnered a lot of media attention. I was relieved when it was over – it had been a hell of a lot of responsibility for one organizer – and without realizing it I simply stopped going to NYC CC meetings, coming up with one “valid” rationale after another. I was in limbo in as much as I wanted to see CALC succeed and I wanted to see UFPJ embrace direct action but I couldn’t bring myself to waste any more time in CC meetings. An uncomfortable position to be sure…

Gordon Clark speaking at the UFPJ Second National Assembly

(Photo: TM Good)

• NVDA and CALC-I •

A short time later I spoke with my friend Gordon Clark, author of the original Non-Violent Direct Action working group (NVDA) proposal. He told me that the the working group had indeed been created by Cagan and UFPJ’s Steering Committee and that their first action would be a civil disobedience at the White House. I asked if he had heard that CALC-I was also planning a civil disobedience at the White House on the same date, the weekend of September 24-26th. Gordon was not aware of any CALC initiated mass action on this date (the weekend UFPJ had called for their Fall Mobilization) but he invited me to join the NVDA teleconferences and help organize the mobilization. I began working with NVDA and corresponding with Reverend Sekou as well as I wondered if the two proposals for CD (the Iraq Pledge of Resistance plan submitted to the NVDA by Gordon and Steve Cleghorn and the CALC plan) weren’t really complementary. Meanwhile, in the WRL, we had decided to draft a plan for a direct action at the Pentagon and put that in the hopper along with the other proposals. Unfortunately, many members of the NVDA felt that only one mass action was doable and so the WRL Pentagon proposal, the CALC proposal and the IPOR proposal were seen as being in competition. The WRL was not looking to create conflict but the prospect of an action that centered on a CALC pray in at the White House or involved a coordinated legislative action (the IPOR action was to complement a “Lobby Day” effort) turned off a lot of WRLers who favored a secular action that was not connected with lobbying politicians – myself included. We had hoped that there could be at least two mass actions. Several NVDA teleconferences wrestled with these issues. The teleconferences were heated at times and on the day we voted on which proposal for a main action would go forward we reached an impasse. (There was also a lot of frustration as the issue of which organizational model should be used, centralized or autonomous, the substance of two other proposals, never got discussed). The vote count indicated that we were deadlocked. That week I worked on a unity proposal. I scaled down the Pentagon proposal (research had indicated that it might not be an ideal location for a mass action, although this conclusion was not shared by every member of my WRL local) and argued for a fusion of the CALC-I and IPOR CD’s. The gist was that we would have one mass CD at the White House, organized centrally by UFPJ/NVDA/CALC and one smaller scale action at the Pentagon organized in an autonomous way by a sub working group. It turned out that some of these ideas were acceptable to IPOR and so Steve Cleghorn began to work with me on the “Unified Unity Proposal”. We added in a late entry CodePINK proposal for their own action at the White House and I worked in ideas from the decentralized direct action caucus of which I was now a member.

Co-Conspirators: Jim Macdonald (left) and Tom Good

Washington DC, August 2005

(Photo: Donyal Svilar)

• At Your Birthday Party •

The decentralized, autonomous action caucus of NVDA had begun meeting in our own teleconferences just prior to my beginning work on the Unity Proposal. We christened ourselves September Action and registered a website in order to help promote any autonomous actions that might occur during the September Mobilization. Our birthday was July 24, 2005 and we began life feeling a bit uncertain about our relationship to NVDA. There was a fair amount of distrust between some NVDAers who didn’t see the need for autonomous actions and those of us who in September Action felt that the White House civil disobedience should not be the only act of resistance taking place during the Mobilization. Although we still sought some form of recognition, whether as an ad hoc working group or a sub working group of UFPJ, many of us had reconciled ourselves to the fact that this would not happen.

• Criticism – Self-Criticism, UFPJ Style •

Steve and I posted our Unity Proposal to the NVDA working group email listserv feeling cautiously optimistic. To my dismay, Leslie Cagan immediately wrote in essentially saying that UFPJ had agreed to direct action, this was a big step and why did we have to have an autonomous component? {5} My response to her note was to indicate that I did not feel it appropriate that the national coordinator of a very hierarchical organization should use her position to kill off a democratic initiative that was an attempt to find common ground. (Shades of St. Louis…) Leslie replied, arguing that her power had been overstated in my note. {6} I had some difficulty accepting this assertion, however, it did not surprise me. UFPJ has never been big on self criticism. And all of this was occurring at a time when: UFPJ was under fire for refusing to include support of the (Palestinian) right of return in their Mobilization slogans (from Mahdi Brae and others) and from some of its conservative members for even considering this; ANSWER and UFPJ were both organizing separate marches on the same day in DC; CALC had a minor controversy (Sekou had invited the Dalai Lama to speak at the Mobe without consulting the CALC rank and file), and; anti-authoritarian members of the coalition were decrying the lack of democracy within UFPJ (rumblings in DAWN and other concerned parties were getting louder).

Eugene Lerner (left): one of 8 wobblies participating in the WRL Hiroshima march

(Photo: TM Good)

Hiroshima and Nagasaki 60th Anniversary March

With the struggle in the NVDA as a backdrop, the WRL continued its work. We planned a large march from the East Village (Tompkins Square Park) to the Hudson River on the West Side. The march, called to mark the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima, occurred on August 6, 2005. It started in Tompkins Square Park where we had held an exhibit about the horrors of nuclear war all day. At dusk we had a brief ceremony and formed up into a single file contingent under the watchful eye of the NYPD. It’s worth noting that this march was typical, in terms of composition, of the recent WRL events. Beginning on March 19, I had been struggling, as an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizer, to involve labor more in the WRL’s peace work. Daniel Gross, the Starbucks Union (IWW) organizer had spoken at the March 19th rally before the civil disobedience. Three wobblies were arrested with the WRL in the CD at Times Square on M19. This trend continued in the Hiroshima/Nagasaki 60th anniversary exhibit and march. Our contingent was joined by eight wobblies, including Daniel Gross and Eugene Lerner. (Lerner and I had shared a jail cell on M19). The Hiroshima Day march was solemn and dignified as well as unpermitted. We trekked across town, reaching the Hudson at about eleven o’clock. A spectator approached me and asked what the “Never Again” slogan on my sign referred to. I said: “We are urging the government to stop killing people.” The impromptu hug I received told me we were among friends.

It was always true throughout the Sixties that we were small and marginalized.

- Bernardine Dohrn {7}

• The Unity Proposal Revisited •

The NVDA ultimately voted to accept a streamlined version of the unity proposal drafted by Gordon Clark after we all received Cagan’s letter bomb . It removed specific UFPJ responsibilities to the autonomous action organizers that I had included after discussion with my colleagues. This surgery worked for Cagan and the admin committee but would cause logistical headaches for September Action later. Leslie C and Judith spoke in favor of this lesser of two evils proposal and it was indeed a way of disposing of the autonomous actions question without UPFJ taking on any financial or other support commitments. Recognizing that we hadn’t won much of a victory – we were not an officially sanctioned working group and had no commitments from UFPJ – we nonetheless began organizing under our own name. Composed of anti-authoritarian direct action types from several different anti-war and labor groups, we began organizing under the banner: “Shutdown The War Machine, Four Days of Direct Action” and “People Power”. Doubtless viewed with some suspicion by our colleagues in UFPJ’s upper echelon, our request for money to rent a convergence space were met with “absolutely not”. {8} A last minute appeal for funds for housing space that went out to Leslie Cagan did not even produce a response. Some might argue that Cagan supported the unity proposal in order to marginalize and isolate September Action…to many of us in the Collective it certainly felt that way. Despite noble attempts by NVDAers Gordon Clark and Pete Perry to get us funding none appeared.

Anti-IMF Protestors gather at Dupont Circle (DC), September 24, 2005

(Photo: Donyal Svilar)

People Power

As UFPJ and ANSWER finally came to terms on a joint rally and march, September Action carried on – running consultas in DC, Cleveland and New York and helping to promote a schedule of autonomous actions occurring during the weekend of the September Mobilization in Washington, DC. Despite the lack of support from UFPJ the autonomous actions were very successful. The CodePINK vigil at Walter Reed hospital (Friday, September 23) we endorsed was much larger than usual. (Not that September Action can take credit for the increased numbers as all we did was help promote the event – we did not send a sizable contingent. Most likely the promotion and the presence of so many activists in DC helped our friends in CodePINK). Saturday’s (S24) Mobilization for Global Justice feeder march that originated at Dupont Circle and targeted the IMF and World Bank was three times larger than the anti-IMF demo that took place the previous April and was very spirited as well. Sunday’s “Adopt An Intersection” action was hugely successful in that 70-100 activists blockaded intersections around the Mayflower Hotel for four hours, thus preventing IMF delegates from getting to the Sunday meetings. There were only two arrests and one report of an injured protester. One affinity group, composed of DAWN and September Action organizers, was called the Monkeypants Collective. This creative caucus dressed in clown regalia and occupied the pivotal intersection of Connecticut and Desales where they blocked IMFers while identifying themselves as “Neo-Clowns”. The WRL Pentagon direct action was also a great success. 45* arrestees had managed to shutdown the Metro entrance to the Pentagon and even the Metro itself for a brief period. This action was seen as disruptive rather than symbolic by many observers and as a participant I have been complemented repeatedly by those who thought this action was special. I am touched by this and grateful to all who supported us. (* 45 were arrested but only 41 were charged as the arresting officers for four of our number did not come to the processing center to fill out the proper forms – sometimes bureaucracy has its upside).

Elliott Adams of Vets for Peace at the CodePINK vigil, September 23, 2005

(Photo: TM Good)

UFPJ’s Civil Disobedience also went well with 370 participants being arrested. However, it should be noted that Cindy Sheehan being arrested at this action caused some in the media to depict the CD as the arrest of Cindy Sheehan and her supporting cast. This is not fair to those who worked hard on this action although I doubt it diminished their spirits – and rightly so. Although this was a largely symbolic civil disobedience, it is significant that: a) it occurred under the auspices of UFPJ (with the Iraq Pledge of Resistance, the National Call for Nonviolent Resistance and Clergy and Laity Concerned taking on much of the logistical work), and; b) many who participated had never been arrested before – perhaps indicating the long overdue move from protest to resistance is underway. For the above reasons, I found the action inspiring.

My only critique of the White House action is that it might have been nice to not involve celebrity. The image of Cindy Sheehan asking for a meeting with a President (whom she knew in advance was not there – he was once again on vacation) might work as a photo op but it diminishes to a degree the importance of those rank and file who committed civil disobedience, in many cases their first CD. UFPJ celebrity envy is highly problematic, especially when contrasted with the idea of real People Power where ordinary people can make a difference. Unfortunately UFPJ functions as a kind of paparazzi of the Left – it seems clear that their agenda is to co-opt celebrities, and indeed the peace movement itself, whenever possible – their jumping on the Cindy Sheehan/Camp Casey bandwagon is evidence of this. UFPJ completely co-opted the post “Camp Casey” bus tour organized by Veterans For Peace (VFP) and once there, they became territorial, throwing two DAWN organizers off of a tour teleconference. {9}

Father and son vigiling under the September Action Collective banner

(Photo: Donyal Svilar)

• Should I Stay Or Should I Go •

After the Mobilization, many of us in September Action, the NVDA caucus turned autonomous collective, struggled with the issue of whether to work with United for Peace and Justice. I have come to accept the position of Jim Macdonald, a DAWN organizer and fellow founding member of September Action. Jim has argued that we must work with UFPJ, continuing to speak truth to power even though this promises to be a very difficult task. {10} Believing that Jim’s analysis is correct, I have resigned myself to the fact that, just as the IWW seeks to build a new society in the shell of the old {11}, we must seek to democratize the Old Left by building the Next Left in its corridors. And so, grumbling all the way, I will continue to agitate for reform within UFPJ, this time from the outside, while simultaneously looking to build a new organizational model external to UFPJ wherein participatory democracy and direct action inform our approach. Each member of September Action will have to decide this question individually, as a matter of conscience. The collective has no stated position on this issue. It is my personal conviction that the struggle to define a new organizing model and the struggle for democratization of the organization that claims to speak for the mainstream anti-war movement are both essential components of a dialectic whose synthesis holds out the promise of a stronger movement for peace and progress.

III – Analysis

• Social Democratic Centralism •

Anti-authoritarians who have spent long hours building the UFPJ coalition and its actions now feel trapped in what has become an entrenched system. In private conversation with other activists on the libertarian Left I have called this system Social Democratic Centralism. This treacherous pun encapsulates the following alleged attributes of UFPJ: a corporate liberal agenda; an anti-democratic (Leninist) organizational model, and; the careerist impulse of an upper echelon preoccupied with self preservation and self promotion. It is my belief that United for Peace and Justice must perform a serious self examination prior to the next National Assembly if it is to survive peace in Iraq. The American war in Viet Nam also seemed never ending to those resisting it but 30 years ago it did come to a close and the peace movement stumbled badly – this mistake should not be repeated. The intensely bureaucratic organizational model of UFPJ stifles creativity, simultaneously hoards and squanders resources, and alienates anti-authoritarian activists and people of color. UFPJ needs to look at why this is so and to explore possible corrective action in order to redefine itself as an organization that embraces participatory democracy and has an agenda that ensures the struggle for justice will continue after the Iraq War is ended.

• The Peace Bureaucrats •

United for Peace and Justice regards itself as the voice of the anti-war movement, the coalition that represents the mainstream peace community. Their character foil is Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.). UFPJ likes to be perceived as a democratic, inclusive and open organization. In my experience, many of its leadership regard ANSWER as an ultraleft, divisive organization which is a front group for the Workers World Party. Many in the mainstream peace movement who support UFPJ accept these views as a given. ANSWER members are equally certain their take on UFPJ is correct. ANSWER accuses UFPJ of being unconcerned with issues that affect communities of color. ANSWER is accused in turn of being divisive: argumentative in negotiations, guilty of Trotskyist tailing (co-opting) UFPJ actions and being gratuitously inflammatory in its slogans which include statements such as Support The Iraqi Resistance. The litany of accusations and counter-accusations is seemingly endless (and may well serve as a surrogate for more meaningful activity). Despite this, it is my view that UFPJ and ANSWER share a common, bureaucratic, organizational model, albeit each with its own unique features. Both organizations are administered by what I would term Peace Bureaucrats: for all of their assertions to the contrary, in its internal functioning UFPJ is not that dissimilar from ANSWER – it is top down and the administrative committee can overrule decisions made at the level of the steering committee. The national coordinator wields influence not unlike a Leninist general secretary or chair and, armed with “name recognition” (the net result of celebrity envy), is certainly equipped to use the cult of personality as necessary to influence decisions. {12} (Whether or not this occurs is arguable. I witnessed what seemed to be unilateral administrative decisions overruling plenary votes in St. Louis and an attempt to quash a motion on the NVDA listserv. It is my opinion this sort of thing does go on and the office of national coordinator should be abolished or its power curtailed by some rudimentary sanity checks).

• Shadow Play •

In speaking with various steering committee members, and based on my experiences working within UFPJ, it has become clear that, contrary to UFPJ’s Structure and Functioning document, which defines the Steering Committee as the highest decision making body, the real power resides in the Administrative Committee. Within the Administrative Committee, the national coordinator and co-chairs make the lion’s share of decisions. Thus what I’ve experienced at the level of the NYC CC appears to be true of the steering committee as well: power is concentrated in a very small number of hands; decisions arrived at by democratic process (voted on at the National Assembly) appear to be discarded or overturned; no minutes from Steering or Admin Committees are published on the UFPJ website or distributed to member groups. There is precious little transparency or accountability to member groups. The fact that the national coordinator and a co-chair are officers of organizations with Leninist organizational models is possibly a factor. In any case, it is a suffocating reality as the end product is a bureaucracy that has grown adept at manipulating a constituency that needs to believe the organization is delivering the goods. I take exception to that view. In my estimation the sub rosa government which is the admin committee and national coordinator has created a situation wherein no mechanisms exist to prevent administrative exigencies, red tape, leadership hierarchies and clogged channels of communication from destroying any sense of meaningful participation on the part of the rank and file – and decreasing the efficiency of the organization. It is time to desanctify and demystify the grand coalition: bureaucracy does not equate to efficiency. And it is the death of participatory democracy.

Never The Rose Without The Prick. – Tom Verlaine

• Infinite Regression •

The democratization of UFPJ is an interesting puzzle because, although UFPJ is run in what appears to be a highly bureaucratic, centralized manner, its constituents would be appalled to be called either “communist” or “democratic centralist”. What’s more, despite the fact that many affiliates willingly submit to an arguably anti-democratic organizational model, they voice objections to many of its decisions if not its overall direction (or lack thereof). This is not unlike the American electoral system which UFPJ is, superficially at least, wedded to: many Americans appear to regard democratizing “democracy” as impossible and decline to challenge the apparently immovable bureaucracy. And so it is in UFPJ as well: the members rarely challenge the bureaucracy which clings to a corporate liberal agenda which in turn fails to challenge the war machine head on. A bit of infinite regress not without historical precedent. The peace bureaucrats of UFPJ’s upper echelon appear to have much in common with the “peace utopians” Rosa Luxemburg described in 1911:

…the roses of capitalist profit making and class domination also have thorns for the bourgeoisie which it prefers to wear as long as possible round its suffering head, in spite of all pain and woe, rather than get rid of it…{13}

• Corporate Liberalism v. Stirring Rhetoric •

The disinclination to take a principled stand until shamed into doing so (or feigning compliance by passing meaningless legislation) is a standard tactic of the bourgeois State. Unfortunately, this malady also appears to afflict the UFPJ hierarchy…probably for similar reasons. There is some, at least stated, anxiety within UFPJ over alienating the base which is presumed to be centrist. There is a feeling among the libertarian Left wing of UFPJ that the organization’s desire to be a one size fits all coalition is at the root of the diversity issue identified by ANSWER. UFPJ’s hesitation to take a principled stand out of concern that it might anger centrists (and their corporate liberal friends in Congress) doubtless alienates marginalized groups that will not join a coalition that refuses to even pay lip service to their concerns.

When looking at the UFPJ/ANSWER duality it is interesting to read the memorandum of understanding between UFPJ and ANSWER issued prior to the joint rally and march that occurred on September 24, 2005. In the document, specific slogans to be borne on banners in the march’s lead contingent are described in detail. ANSWER announced its intent to use “anti-imperialist” slogans on their banners while UFPJ planned to use slogans that “address the war in Iraq and issues connected to that war”. {14} ANSWER throws out the usual revolutionary slogans and other stirring rhetoric but is hampered in terms of PR by its symbiotic relationship with the Workers World Party which continues to defend the Soviet model. Meanwhile, UFPJ offers a familiar corporate liberalism, with demands that won’t frighten its corporate apologist friends in Congress. Hence the lack of any slogans that go beyond “bring the troops home”. It is my view that ANSWER will not be reformed. While there are doubtless many members of the coalition that are not Workers World cadre the organization is routinely referred to as a front group by independent leftists and I believe this is an accurate description although I will surely be called sectarian for saying publicly what many believe privately. That leaves one large coalition left to speak for the peace community that is not willing to be identified with vanguardist front groups. Unfortunately, this coalition speaks the language of corporate liberalism which many, myself included, regard as a dead end. To serve the peace community well we must get away from self defeating rhetoric, thinking and agendas. Here is (then) SDS president Carl Oglesby, speaking in 1965:

Let me then speak directly to humanist liberals…Corporatism or humanism: which? For it has come to that. Will you let your dreams be used? Will you be a grudging apologist for the corporate state? Or will you help try to change it – not in the name of this or that blueprint or ism, but in the name of simple human decency and democracy and the vision that wise and brave men saw in the time of our own Revolution?

And if your commitment to human values is unconditional, then disabuse yourselves of the notion that statements will bring change, if only the right statements can be written, or that interviews with the mighty will bring change if only the mighty can be reached, or that marches will bring change if only we can make them massive enough, or that policy proposals will bring change if only we can make them responsible enough. {15}

• Welcome To The Machine •

Describing the generation gap from a young person’s point of view, pop singer Robyn Hitchcock said that old people “cling onto life like some kind of disease.” {16} UFPJ resembles this remark. Those in the hierarchy look to remain there, probably in response to a belief that they are essential to the survival of the organization. UFPJ as the permanent anti-war movement – the loyal opposition to the permanent war. The bloated organizational budget is not questioned as all available energies are put into maintaining it. Publicly, UFPJ often appears focused more on fundraising than on mission. All of this contributes to a perception of the part of activists that, within UFPJ, self preservation has become the reason for being and UFPJ has become about as revolutionary as the March of Dimes. The primacy of chant and ritual has replaced any sense of urgency and consequently, urgency is periodically manufactured in various committees and issued via the email listservs. But not many recipients believe the urgent appeals as they are generally little more than a request for donations (“How Can You Help? Donate!) The endless streams of email appeals to one’s wallet appear to have been born in a manufactory of echoes…the other day, as I walked through the East Village, I saw an oversize yellow ribbon magnet that said simply: support the magnetic ribbon industry. Touche. Anti-war sentiment drained of meaning, pre-packaged, sanitized and relentlessly marketed. I have been guilty of saying in jest that the war can’t end quite yet, UFPJ has an overstock of ribbons. The mass marketing of a bumper sticker mentality may keep UFPJ in the black but at what cost? We have built a machine when we desperately need a movement.

The chief enemy of creativity is “good” sense

— Pablo Picasso

• Don’t Step On The Grass •

There are not many grassroots efforts that UFPJ supports beyond lip service and in my view this is a serious strategic blunder. It is my contention that not only is it time to move from mass protest to people powered, decentralized, resistance in general – it is time for UFPJ to pay a lot more attention to local initiatives and to let the membership hear of these efforts so that community organizers can get support from UFPJ affiliates. Currently hoarded UFPJ information and communications resources should be used by and for the member groups who are undertaking local actions – without the affiliates having to ask permission to use the resources they have helped pay for. The affiliates also need to step up and demand more from the national office – UFPJ organizes two mass mobilizations a year. Is this cost-effective? What if one of these were a mass civil disobedience? One that is not celebrity based, but is people powered. One that is disruptive, not symbolic. What if, in addition to mass actions, UFPJ supported resistance on a regular basis, say counter-recruitment CD actions, at a grassroots level? In the organizations I work for (War Resisters League, Industrial Workers of the World and Socialist Party) we do a lot of work with a lot less money than UFPJ spends on fundraising alone ($35,000 in 2004). Simply put, UFPJ must find a way to support grassroots organizing and civil resistance as well as large marches – and do so within the current budget. Let’s eliminate the institutionalized disorganization which is the primary block (by design?) to affiliates using the national resources. Open up the channels of communication. Decentralize command and control. Democratize the organization and RESPOND to affiliates rather than crying poverty or playing the corporate liberal game of saying: “if we support you then we have to deny the request of this other group” (pluralism)…bring the two groups together and let them find a way. As an organization UFPJ should facilitate problem solving discussions where resources for grassroots campaigns are scant and let the affected groups set the priorities. UFPJ should facilitate cooperation – and get out of the way so that discussion is fruitful.

• Diversity, Not Tokenism •

In terms of building an insurgent culture within the heartless heart of the oppressor nation, so as to carry forward the anti-imperialist struggle, we need to attract the anti-organizational youth and students, i.e., those anarchists who resist participating in any organizational structure. We need to attract people of color led organizations. But we appeal to neither with our intensely bureaucratic/centralized hierarchical organization and its corporate liberal agenda. Handwringing about how to bring in individual people of color is no substitute for reaching out to people of color led organizations, embracing their issues, and bringing them into the coalition. Here is a concrete example of one way to prove our intent is genuine, not lip service, to POC issues: cease the celeb envy and get serious about supporting political prisoners and prisoners of class war, the overwhelming majority of whom are people of color. We must move beyond paying lip service to the anti-imperialist struggle by recognizing that the US has internal colonies and those colonized who dare fight back are locked up, murdered, and/or placed on death row – e.g. Mumia. We must embrace real issues that concern people of color, if we are to move beyond tokenism and add POC led organizations to our collective. In addition to opposing the war in Iraq we must fight for the environment and animal rights, we must demand independence for Puerto Rico, demand the closure of the IMF and World Bank (and reparations for their victims). We must point out that the fascism that has infested Central and South America was manufactured in the US and selectively applied to people of color in this country by liberals and conservatives working in concert to preserve the status quo and their privileged place in it. We need to seriously rethink the entire notion that going to elected officials on bended knee to beg for table scraps is a viable strategy. UFPJ, as an organization, must be honest with itself and its constituents and recognize that militancy is the only strategy that has any chance of long term success in the anti-war and anti-imperialist struggle.

• Beyond Liberal Leninism •

Within UFPJ, moving from liberal Leninism to democracy will require sustained struggle. New ideas and approaches are viewed with distrust by the leadership. Pluralism remains the model of group organization and pluralism for UFPJ mirrors its counterpart in corporate America: the ruling bodies (some elected, some not) skillfully play groups off against one another rather than seeking a harmonization of values and educating and perhaps radicalizing constituents. Currently UFPJ’s overarching ideology (corporate liberalism) is imposed from above and personified in a national coordinator who tends to monopolize photo ops. The result is a manufactured organizational identity – rather than developing identity in an experiential way it is defined by the administrative committee and the national coordinator. The triumph of form over content.

The synthesis of individual need with social purpose in a group context is what develops group synergy. UFPJ has turned this on its head. The bureaucratic approach that permeates UFPJ alienates organizers who leave the coalition embittered when they come to feel that their identity and needs have perverted into a form that best serves the needs of the organization’s hierarchy. The departure of skilled organizers has not gone unnoticed but it has prompted no self-examination. In meetings I attended, UFPJ New York’s officers exhorted the membership to recruit from their communities, to animate groups not yet involved in the struggle and to attempt to reanimate those that have fallen by the wayside. The leadership itself has invited no criticism nor has it engaged in any public self-criticism on the subject of poor attendance at coordinating committee meetings. In fact, organizers willing to suffer through UFPJ meetings all too often function as go-fers, being assigned menial tasks. (This is certainly the case in UFPJ-NYC meetings and was also my experience at the National Assembly: “Can you go to Kinkos and make copies? Nevermind that you’ll miss the next plenary vote…”) This is alienating and counter-productive. Effective organizers regard themselves as empowered agents of change. They develop their skills and confidence in struggle, not making copies for administrative committee members. In coordinating committees, organizers should help decide more than who will bring the signs to the next march. At the local level, the skill set of an organizer is best acquired in meaningful work. Fundraising in response to cries of poverty that elevate the magnet campaign to a raison d’etre is no substitute for community organizing around genuine issues.

Effective organizing requires the development of principled messages that are the result of self-education and group discussion. This is something UFPJ must promote. However, the national office should not be developing a curriculum. On the contrary its function should be to facilitate local efforts in this direction.

Over-centralization in UFPJ is a huge problem. All resources, including information and decision making authority, are hoarded. Yet,the members are the backbone of the coalition. They are its street presence and contribute in numerous ways to the $800k annual budget {17} As the front line staff of UFPJ, its organizers and affiliate groups deserve, and should demand, more than an authoritarian hierarchy, two mass mobilizations a year and official listservs that are strictly moderated and where posts often languish for days. The fact that UFPJ is doing far less than many national groups, run on a volunteer basis with shoestring budgets, speaks volumes about the need for change.

United For Peace and Justice has had only one national coordinator since its inception. A national coordinator who not only invites celebrities to UFPJ functions, but has become a celebrity as well. The paid staff of UFPJ are her functionaries, not given a vote in UFPJ decisions. They execute the will of the national coordinator, who, it appears, is not above using the cult of personality to influence decisions (my experience of this at the National Assembly was truly startling – this officer has no vote on the Steering Committee yet offered to overturn a plenary vote without first consulting the Steering Committee…and did this in an attempt to block any scrutiny of alleged voting irregularities). Having a national coordinator who is regarded, and regards herself, as a celebrity is not conducive to internal democracy. If UFPJ needs an top level officer (and I am not convinced of this) this officer should be selected by a national council, not appointed by the steering or administrative committee. The office itself should be more secretarial than executive and safeguards to prevent abuse of power should be installed. UFPJ states that the Steering Committee is the highest decision making body. The Administrative Committee should be abolished. And the Steering Committee, or preferably, a national council, should function in a purely coordinative and administrative manner.

IV – Conclusion: Where Do We Go From Here?

Frida reminds us what it’s all about…

(Photo: Nathaniel Good)

• Peace and Justice: The Struggle Continues •

I have described a system that I assert has entrenched itself in our own ranks: a curious beast I call Social Democratic Centralism for lack of a better term. I have described it attributes: a corporate liberal agenda and approach married to an anti-democratic organizational model that stifles creativity, squanders resources and is primarily concerned with self preservation and self promotion. I believe that we have all contributed to the building of a machine when what we need is a movement. The war in Iraq will end. When it does, if we are to be prepared to tackle what will not end: ongoing covert warfare, globalization, internal colonization of people of color, destruction of the environment, erosion of civil rights, etc., we must examine what we have constructed and find a way to reshape it into a form that is capable of carrying on the struggle for justice after US forces have been withdrawn from Iraq.

What follows is not a fully fleshed out program. It is the bare bones, kernel of an idea called participatory democracy. I urge all friends of peace and progress to expand on it, to flesh it out – and more importantly, to demand its implementation.

1) UFPJ is too large and too bureaucratic…the organization should be broken up: local, regional and national councils should replace the steering and administrative committees. Anyone who attends a local meeting should have a vote and be eligible to be selected as a delegate by the local council (local assembly of member groups). Delegates to the regional councils should be mandated by local councils. Delegates to the national council should be mandated by regional councils. Delegates to the regional and national councils should be subject to immediate recall by their constituents.

2) Anyone who joins a regional or national working group should have a vote in all of its decisions.

3) Ideally, the office of national coordinator should be abolished. Term limits must be enforced if the office of national coordinator is to be continued. All national officers should be mandated by the national council (or assembly) and should be subject to immediate recall.

4) Commissions should be established to explore complex issues and they should facilitate discussion and ongoing education within the local councils on the issues of the day. All members/affiliates should be urged to communicate their ideas and concerns on various issues to their regional or national delegates. Official positions should be decided in the context of the national council, based on information brought back to the NC by local and regional delegates. A harmonization (consensus) on positions should be sought in the national council and communicated back to the local councils.

5) Minutes should be kept at every meeting and published on the national website as well as emailed (or snail mailed) to all members.

6) Access to unmoderated posting on all UFPJ listservs should be available to council delegates.

7) Accountability of paid staff must be ensured by some mechanism (unreturned calls and emails are a chronic problem as staff priorities are set by the national coordinator).

8) Paid staff/organizers should have a union, an IWW Industrial Union Branch (IUB). All paid staff should sign “red cards” (Industrial Workers of the World membership cards).

9) There should be a strict, PUBLIC, accounting of every aspect of the UFPJ budget.

To the activists reading this: I urge all of my sisters and brothers still working within UFPJ to demand democracy. To insist on change. To demand action. To “be certain enough to act and to doubt simultaneously”. {18}

You may think that I’m out of hand
That I’m naive, I’ll understand
On this occasion, it’s not true
Look at me, I’m not you

I would like a place I could call my own
Have a conversation on the telephone
Wake up every day that would be a start
I would not complain of my wounded heart

- Bernard Sumner


{1} New York 1 newscast – The Road To City Hall. Host Dominic Carter was obviously caught off guard by Reverend Jackson’s remark. Expecting (and receiving) pablum from NY1 most of the time I was equally taken aback.

{2} Good, Thomas. Report Back to WRL National Committee 2005.

(see Appendix A)

{3} Good, Thomas. Brian Flanagan Speaks (Next Left Notes) 2005. Brian, the ex-Weatherman and former Jeopardy! champion, spoke at a screening of the Weather Underground film at Bluestockings in NYC. (see Brian is the quintessential New Yorker, a nice guy and recently married (congrats Brian).

{4} United for Peace and Justice, Annual Financial Report (2003-2004).
Essential reading.

{5} Good, Thomas. Letter to Leslie Cagan (see Appendix B).

{6} ibid.

{7} Good, Thomas. From SDS to NCOR: Socialism, Anarchism and Bernardine Dohrn. Dohrn spoke at the 2005 National Conference on Organized Resistance. NCOR is an annual, largely anarchist, conference held at American University in Washington DC. (see )

{8} Conversation with a May Day DC organizer named Emily who joined Sept Action after the group was formed and was a key player in the Adopt An Intersection action. She is fearlessly devoted to participatory democracy and we love her for it.

{9} Perry, Pete. DAWN listserv post. (see Appendix C) Pete is an extraordinarily gifted organizer and generous person – he fought the UFPJ brass repeatedly on behalf of September Action. Thanks Pete!

{10} UFPJ (in DC)…That Horrible Sinking Feeling by Jim Macdonald. (see ) I like to joke privately that September Action is UFPJ’s love child. We are illegitimate in the eyes of the hierarachy and many of us believe that Love Is The One Great Surreal Moment as Andre Breton put it – and of course love is a subversive language. (We are that odd synthesis of “lifestyle” AND “workerist” anarchist from which most doctrinaire types would recoil in horror).

{11} Preamble to the Constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World. (see )

{12} The CPUSA (where Judith LeBlanc is Vice Chair) and CCDS (where Leslie Cagan is Co-Chair) are both Leninist organizations, one with a self described democratic centralist model (CP) and one with a de facto democratic centralist structure (CCDS). This should surprise no one familiar with the history of the US Left as CCDS was formed via a split (the CP members who signed Angela Davis’ letter – the “Initiative” – were expelled from the CP in 1991 and went on to found CCDS).

{13} Luxemburg, Rosa. Peace Utopias (reprinted in The Labour Monthly, 1926) Rosa coined a great phrase with “Peace Utopias”. Phil Berrigan also contributed to the Left’s lexicon with “Peace Bureaucrats”. (Thanks to FDB for sharing this).

{14} Cagan, Leslie. Memorandum of Understanding between United for Peace and Justice and the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition (emailed out to membership on 09 Sept 2005 – see Appendix D)

{15} Oglesby, Carl. Let Us Shape The Future (speech presented at the March on Washington, 1965). A pivotal moment – this speech marked SDS’s break with liberalism. I am still amazed each time I read it.

{16} Hitchcock, Robyn. Young People Scream (Groovy Decoy), 1986. Hitchcock is a surrealist painter, poet and songwriter concerned with social issues. He has toured with socialist cockney folk singer Billy Bragg – who in turn was one of Abbie Hoffman’s favorite performers.

{17} United for Peace and Justice, Annual Financial Report (2003-2004).

{18} Good, Thomas, From SDS to NCOR: Socialism, Anarchism and Bernardine Dohrn.
(see )

Posted by Paul Buhle - | NLN Archive

SDS: Why now (again)?

By Paul Buhle

It is fascinating for me to think about SDS, in fact it’s downright compulsory. I am gathering stories and pictures, trying to weave them into a script for an artist to make into a visual (or comic-book) history, mostly “from the bottom up,” i.e., the chapter standpoint. So I naturally think of SDS, as a new/renewed movement, from the same angle. Sometimes the national leaders were good, sometimes they were terrible, but what happened at the base is the vital story, from the historic moment when SDS became a real social movement.

Why SDS then? The arguments are familiar and I won’t try to rehearse most of them. But the Old Left had come to a standstill, while the Empire pushed ever onward, and–as I encountered SDS in the flesh for the first time had badly overextended itself in Vietnam. Liberalism had flopped or rather had become part of the war machine, had always been part of the war machine. It could be pulled leftward but not far. And not mainly by young people joining the Campus Democrats, hoping to become powerful politicians and speechwriters someday. At best to do anything good at all the Democrats needed a fire to be set under them. And a larger vision to be set out independently, something vastly beyond their compromised and bureaucratic grasp.

Of course, The Port Huron Statement was already on hand, and a splendid document it was. I got my fifty cent copy of the booklet from the same table where I paid my $5 membership and got my card. I was already a Marxist of some sort. But I could see that the PHS offered a vision in a new key, much as Paul Potter had called upon us to “name the system” in the previous Spring’s Washington demonstration that put SDS on the map.

SDS outstripped the other leftwing organizations on campus and also abandoned its social democratic roots because it presented the empowerment of students IN THEIR OWN NAME, urged them forward, gave them watchwords, rather than directing them only outward, to constituencies off campus. It had never been done effectively before, and has not been done effectively since.

So, why now? The reasons should be pretty obvious. The empire has overextended itself again. The Democrats have never changed much (and for the most part, didn’t really want those idealists brought in with George McGovern and afterward; at least not to challenge the basic tenets and power centers), certainly not at the top. If individuals can sometimes be brought over to useful positions, on various issues, it will happen only through building a movement not dependent upon them.

That movement has advantages now that none has had since the sixties, and not only in the fact of imperial over-reach. To take an obvious example: the movements in Central America of the eighties were drowned in blood, but the new movements percolating out from Venezuela will not so easily be overwhelmed. Nor has the US economy been up to its eyeballs in global debt until our current era.

There are a thousand things going against the prospects of a successful new SDS, of course. Administrators and the majority of professors won’t like the new SDSers very much, because “business as usual” is more comfortable and more corporate-friendly. Various existing leftwing organizations will probably resent the competition and gripe, or infiltrate. (No statutory standard can keep them from doing so, in my view, and all efforts to restrict membership will be counterproductive.)

But this is the time. The vacuum is there. The imperial crisis is escalating, without any sign of resolution. Most important, millions of college students have no particular political orientation and little understanding. Some of the best, most effective SDSers grew up as young Republicans, anti-staters who might have been called “libertarians” if the word had been popular, young people from Texas, Oklahoma, rural parts of the Midwest…and of course, joined with them, the descendents of Jewish (as well as other) leftwingers from generations past. Experiences of every background counted. And today, students of all backgrounds can be shown the need to mobilize, to help prevent the ongoing devastation of our world, to help empower the lowly as students learn to empower themselves, and to set out a vision of a really democratic society.

There’s the key. The Industrial Workers of the World had it long before. Decentralized democracy, democratic decision-making at all levels is the most radical idea ever hatched in North America and the only one with real lasting appeal. It makes sense to demand more democracy on campus, including transparency of where the money comes from and what the corporations or government agencies get in return. It makes sense to resist the re-militarization of campus. It makes sense to reach out to a multitude of others, including antiwar GIs, who come from a different place but share a lot of resentments and positive values.

But students need to speak for themselves, their generation, the world they are already inhabiting and will continue to inhabit. That’s the vision that made SDS great and made it most useful to liberation movements elsewhere on earth. With a great deal of cooperation and energetic effort from students of all kinds, SDS can become great again. Building it, growing personally while sharing the project with old friends and those not discovered yet, can be the most rewarding experience imaginable.

Founder and publisher of RADICAL AMERICA, Paul Buhle was active in Champaign-Urbana, Storrs and Madison SDS chapters, 1965-1969. He hasn’t been all that happy since, but he teaches at Brown.

A founding member of the new Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Buhle sees the struggle for Participatory Democracy as essential for peace and progress. For more about SDS today visit

Posted by Frida Berrigan - | NLN Archive

Walking to Guantánamo
Peace marchers aim to keep the abuse of ‘enemy combatants’ visible

It was tough getting used to being a spectacle, but that is exactly what we were – a motley gaggle of gringos walking through Cuba in short pants and matching gray T-shirts that read “Witness Against Torture: A March to Visit the Prisoners at Guantánamo.” Wearing straw hats and sunglasses, we trailed clouds of sunscreen and bug spray.

Our journey did not start on a Cuban road. We had met and prepared for months to get to this point. Our conversations started as an exploration of ways to resist the “war on terrorism” and respond to the suffering of its victims – and ways to do that as Christians in the tradition of the Catholic Worker movement. Dorothy Day, one of its founders, is famous for having called privileged Catholics out of their church pews and into the streets, where they put the works of mercy – feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, visiting the prisoners – into action. Day also emphasized resisting what she called the “filthy rotten system” of war and injustice that keeps people poor and homeless.

When men imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay Naval Station went on a hunger strike this summer, we knew what to do: walk from Santiago – Cuba’s second largest city – to the U.S. base with the intention of visiting the prisoners. We figured we were only taking up an invitation President Bush made to European Union leaders last year in response to allegations of torture and human rights abuses there. “You’re welcome to go down yourselves … and take a look at the conditions,” Bush said.

By walking, we would deal transparently and openly with the Cuban government and we would draw strength from the rich history of nonviolent marches for social and political change – from Gandhi’s salt march to the Selma-Montgomery March to the Continental Peace March.

Of course, it was illegal for us to go to Cuba and Cubans themselves cannot march in protest without permission from their government. But it is no coincidence that the torture and abuse at the U.S. prison camp are hidden in a far corner of a foreign territory. The site was chosen with the cynical expectation that the prisoners would be beyond the reach of international law and investigation. Behind borders, and fences and oceans, their suffering would also be muted and remote. So, we went.

Our walk began in Santiago de Cuba on December 7 and over five days we walked about 70 miles, camping on the side of the road at night. Sometimes we walked in silence, meditating on the stories of prisoners in Guantánamo. I walked, thinking about Mohamed and Murat.

Mohamed el Gharani was 14 when he was arrested in an October 2001 raid on a religious school in Pakistan. Transferred to Guantánamo a few months later, he was subjected to routine and terrible abuse. According to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, the Chad-born teenager had been singled out for mistreatment because he vocally objected to being called “nigger.” Mohamed is not the only juvenile imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay. Eight more teenagers are detained and five others have been released.

Murat Kurnaz was born to a Turkish family in Bremen, Germany. After September 11, 2001, he traveled to learn more about Islam in Pakistan, where he was arrested. He was eventually sent to Guantánamo where he remains in legal limbo. As the son of “guest-workers,” Kurnaz does not have German citizenship, even though he was born there. For a long time, Turkish officials maintained that Kurnaz was German and not their problem. Even after conceding their responsibility, Ankara has not pressured Washington to release Kurnaz. His mother begs “for a sign that my son is alive, that he is being treated justly, that he has not been tortured.”

After reflecting on the nightmares Mohammed and Murat have lived for more than four years now, I would resurface to marvel at the beauty of the countryside. As we walked, Cubans shared greetings, encouragement and most often incredulous exclamations like “a Guantánamo, caminando? A pied? Es bien lejos!” “Walking to Guantánamo? On foot? It is really far!”

On Sunday, December 11, after a long day’s walk on a busy road, we came to La Glorieta, a dusty little town near the end of our journey – the Cuban military checkpoint. The road forked and we were not sure which way to go. To the right, we could see the road blocked by a gate guarded by uniformed men. With Cuban television cameras rolling and the whole town out to watch us go by, we regrouped, forming two lines for our walk to the checkpoint.

I tried to be solemn as we approached the gate, but it seemed rude not to acknowledge all the people who had gathered. But as we got closer, I grew more serious. We planned to make a formal request to the Cuban military to be allowed to proceed through their checkpoint to the military territory it protected so we could hold our vigil closer to the American security perimeter.

It was an enormous and improbable request. The U.S. base at Guantánamo is a source of anger and fear for the Cuban people and their government. The United States annexed the 45-square-mile territory during the Spanish-American War and has held it ever since. Even if the Cuban military allowed us through their gate, there was still a mined no man’s land between us and the American naval base.

As we got closer to the gate to make our formal request, we saw a big sign next to the gate that says “Jao Sal.” It was a salt refining complex, not the military checkpoint. Oops. The serious, intrepid American activists who had come so far had to parade through the whole town again as we tried to find the real military checkpoint.

A half-mile farther down the road, we found a sturdy fence guarded by soldiers, men and women dressed in dark camouflage, their faces hidden below brimmed hats. We walked to the line of soldiers and read out loud an account of the hunger strike at Guantánamo from The Independent. We requested entry to address the crimes of our own government. The captain firmly refused to allow us through, but invited us to cross the white line separating civilian and military territory “as a gesture of solidarity with your cause.”

Inside the huge base, which straddles both sides of the Guantánamo bay, is Cuba’s only McDonald’s, a state-of-the-art recreation and sports facilities for American soldiers and their families, two airstrips, and a desalinization plant, because Cuba had cut off the base’s water supply. Somewhere in this far-flung slice of stripmall Americana are Camp Delta, Camp Echo, Camp Iguana and Camp V, where Murat, Mohammed and 500 other men are imprisoned.

We set up our camp along the Cuba fence, five miles from the prison, closer than Mohamed’s father or Murat’s mother have been to their sons in years. The dust and scrub brush next to the fence was our home for the next four days as we prayed and fasted. There, I thought of the scores of men on hunger strike. The only way to draw attention to their plight is to deepen their own suffering. Our fast was not a hunger strike, but it was long enough that cravings for food turned to actual hunger, and hunger turned into a peculiar light-headedness and clarity. It was long enough to realize that hunger is a violent act against biology, to reflect on the depth of powerlessness and despair – as well as the intensity of will and defiance – that informs the decision to fast to death. The authorities at Guantánamo reported that on Christmas the number of men refusing to eat had doubled to 84.

Our principal aim in going to Guantánamo – walking, vigiling and fasting – was to let the prisoners know that they were not alone. Despite the reflexive fear Americans have been inculcated to have toward the so-called “worst of the worst” held in Guantánamo, coverage of our witness in the U.S. press was positive and extensive. Our march and fast received widespread attention in the international press, including Arabic language outlets. All of that, combined with a network of lawyers representing prisoners who brought news of our proximity and solidarity to the men, means they knew we had tried, and are still trying.

While we await notice from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the agency responsible for violations of the ban on travel to Cuba, we will not be idle. On March 1, those of us who marched to Guantánamo are organizing an action in Washington, D.C., to make the prison and its victims visible to those who are responsible for the torture and abuse. We continue to meet and plan, working to build a campaign to close Guantánamo, free those prisoners who are innocent of any crime and bring the United States back into accordance with international law. Join us.

Frida Berrigan is a senior research associate with the Arms Trade Resource Center, a project of the World Policy Institute. She is also a member of the New York City War Resisters League (WRL).

Posted by Next Left Notes - | NLN Archive

New London CT: CCLeft SDS May Day 2006 Report back

By Daniel Meltzer

CC Left contingent on May Day 2006

In preparation for the Mayday activities, CCLeft SDS cancelled its planned demonstration at the recruitment centers, and consensed to join the march for immigrant rights. This march had been organized by the Centro de La Comunidad, New London’s Latino community center, through local churches. CCLeft SDS prepared with flyers put up all over campus in English and Spanish , a campus-wide voicemail, mass invitations to a event, and a banner dropped off of the front of the student center. A concert by campus band Township Rebellion (a Rage Against the Machine coverband) played in front of our banner, and made announcements for Monday’s event. Students who wished to be involved emailed their professors to cancel class in support of the general strike. Some professors did just that, but the others found the student emailers absent that Monday.

We also linked up with the Office of Volunteer and Community Service (OVCS) to have them provide shuttles from campus to the site of the protest. Students would meet in front of the student center at 2:45 and one of a number of vans would take them into New London to march. We prepared signs and an enormous banner for the march and arrived at the student center, only to be overwhelmed by the amount of students who wanted to participate in the march. For many of them, it was their first protest, and they were giddy with excitement. We arrived, slowly, with 4 vans making at least 3 stops at the college to pick up more students. The total student turnout was between 80 and 90, the largest turnout for an off-campus event since I’ve been at Connecticut College. College professors also attended, and many complimented us on our banner, which read “Un Mundo Sin Fronteras” (A World Without Borders) and “Si Se Puede” (It can happen) with a barbed wired brick wall being smashed by a red fist, and said, across the bottom: SDS – Connecticut College – CCLeft.

The community members were mostly from church groups, and were encouraged to bring Americans flags, so there was a little confusion when they saw our red and black flags. A nun asked me about my flag in Spanish, and I replied that I am an anarchist, that the flag of the United States and indeed all other flags to me represent slavery and war, and so I carry a black flag, a flag that is no flag, in protest. She seemed understanding, if taken aback.

During the rally to start the march, we hung out at the park engaging the people around us in discussions about racist politicians and the Iraq war, before some church leaders led the group in song: This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie.

We set out to march, but many were nervous: it was their first protest march. CCLeft, a little more experienced in this regard than our peers, began chanting, loudly and energetically.

“El pueblo, unido jamas sera vencido!” (the people united will never be defeated) and “Si Se Puede” were easily recognizable, but CCLeft SDS had made up some chants for that day as well: “Si que si, no que no! Inmigrantes somos todos!” (hey hey ho ho, we are all immigrants) “No que no, si que si! Inmigrantes se quedaran aqui!” (hey hey ho ho, immigrants are staying here). Keeping in mind that the day was not only to protest for immigrants rights, but to highlight that it was Mayday, International Worker’s Day, we chanted: “La Clase Obrera, No tiene frontera” (the working class has no border), to amazing amounts of support.

Throughout, we recieved compliments on our banner, and on the turnout, and curious questions about CCLeft and SDS. Luckily, we had plenty of (anti-)business cards to hand out that had information about CCLeft and SDS. We handed about 30 out to people who looked on interestedly and offered our support for future endeavors that we could undertake together.

CCLeft SDS continued to participate actively by starting other chants: “Zapata Vive! La lucha sigue!” (zapata lives, the struggle continues) and “No pare, sigue sigue” (don’t stop, go on, go on), and taking the first steps away from the sidewalk and into the street. CCLeft, behind its banner, opened up the street by ignoring the visibly nervous police (about 5 of them)and pushing into first the left lane and then the right lane.

One woman turned to me, laughing, when a cop car had stopped in the middle of the road, to tell me in Spanish that we should be walking over the car, not around. The march filled the streets, and the excitement was high, as the crowd realized its immense strength and power.

We stopped for several speeches by church leaders at City Hall, before we continued down the street. The march ended at the soldiers and sailors monument, where we listened to a number of speakers and community leaders.

CCLeft SDS’er and author of this summary Daniel Meltzer spoke over the loudspeaker to praise the crowd on their numbers, their hard work, and their beauty, and to insist that they deserved much more than the McCain/Kennedy compromise. I also brought up the fact that we were not alone, that millions of workers all over the planet that day were also standing up for their rights, and that perhaps after that day a new chapter of history was underway between the community of New London and Connecticut College.

The march ended after this rally, and hoarse and excited, we took the shuttles back home.

This was the best turnout of a Mayday event in recent memory in the Southeastern CT area. The movement for the civil rights of immigrants will become more and more important as allies become more involved in their struggle, and as immigrant communitues realize how much this struggle overlaps with class struggle, our struggle too will become more important. NAFTA, CAFTA, FTAA, and the spread of neoliberal global capitalist hegemony is making countries outside of the US unlivable and driving people from their respective countries into the US so that they can survive. In our struggle against capitalism, we recognize economic refugees as such, and must fight alongside of them in their struggle for rights to free movement in a world without borders. Our struggles are enriched by the other’s experience, and we have a lot to learn. This Mayday was a huge leap in that direction, and the bond can only strengthen after this.

• SDS •

Growing up during the Sixties and early Seventies I was an admirer of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Participatory democracy as an internal structure for a political organization and as a model for deepening democracy in the United States had tremendous appeal. Despite being a few years too young to participate in SDS I nonetheless felt a part of the Movement and a personal regard for Bernardine Dohrn: “La Pasionara of the Lunatic Left” as she was called by J. Edgar Hoover. She was attractive, flambuoyant and brilliant as the spokesperson for the resistance. I was impressed with her revolutionary fervor and, being an adolescent, smitten as well.

Bernardine Dohrn

Photo: Bernardine Dohrn (TM Good)

However, SDS fractured in 1969 and in 1970 the leadership (the Weatherman faction) went underground to pursue Armed Propaganda as a means of conveying their revolutionary message. When Vietnam ended in 1975 the Weather Underground Organization (WUO) lost alot of their impetus and the peace movement itself seemed to grind to a halt. Many activists, myself included, joined socialist organizations in order to continue the struggle. Although The War had ended, the Empire was not dismantled and it used various lethal methods to continue State policy by other means. It had to be resisted, even with our depleted numbers.

Over the next two decades the Soviet Union collapsed and many struggles for national liberation faltered, some being impaled on the sword of US imperialism. Things seemed grim and neoliberal aggression continued, unchecked for the most part, both at home and abroad. Then came Seattle. The anti-globalization struggle rocked the complacent corporate rulers of the US and animated the Left. The emergence of a militant opposition to business as usual was not led by the Old Left (the socialist parties) nor by the New Left leaders of the Sixties. The resistance was populated by activists who identified as anarchist.

After the seizure of power by the Bush forces in 2000 and the flagrant violation of international law embodied in the invasion and annexation of Iraq, the Old Left, many New Leftists and the Anarchist Resistance took to the streets. In my own experience, as we all sat together in jail, during the 2004 Republican National Convention, solidarity was very evident. In the grime of Pier 57 sat 70 year old Quakers, middleaged New Leftists, Old Left socialists, and large numbers of young anarchists. In this climate I witnessed the beginnings of a dialogue between the old and new guard.

• NCOR •

Since 1998, American University in Washington, D.C. has been the site of the National Conference on Organized Resistance (NCOR), an event designed to “provide a space for activists to meet each other, have in-depth discussions, analyze our strategies, tactics, beliefs, learn a few new skills, and give everyone a lot to think about”. {1}

Myself and one other member of the Direct Action Tendency (a formalized tendency within the Socialist Party USA which is often called the “anarchist wing” of the Party due to our emphasis on non-sectarian, non-hierarchical – read participatory democracy – and activist oriented political mass work) journeyed to the 2005 NCOR. We intended to table there as a means of building our upcoming direct actions. {2} But we were also keenly interested in attending a workshop entitled: “Comparing Radical Traditions: A Democratic Socialist-Anarchist Dialogue. The workshop was being led by Lucas Shapiro, a Young Democratic Socialists leader with an impressive resume. I was personally hopeful that the dialogue I witnessed at Pier 57 could be replicated on a much larger scale…

Sam and I arrived in DC on Saturday morning and found American University without difficulty. We setup our table, did a fair amount of chatting about upcoming actions with passersby and a little shopping for Lefty kitsch before heading off to our “dialogues” workshop.

The workshop was a very big draw, much to the surprise of the presenters. Sitting crosslegged on the floor, my comrade Sam and I listened as the basic arguments of the YDS folks were laid out. Unfortunately the focus appeared to be on the issue of whether the State was essential to the continuation of various basic services (such as sewage disposal etc.) This narrow focus caused some restlessness within the audience, largely young and anarchist. It also was revealing in the sense that the YDS presenters appeared to be unable to conceptualize a social order that was born of a revolutionary change rather than a series of incremental reforms. More significant was the fact that by zeroing in on anti-Statist versus social democratic viewpoints no dialogue on practical matters (joint organizing) occured. This issue was raised as an obviously heartfelt plea by a young anarchist sister who complained of being tired of rehashing the same old divisive arguements and who clearly wanted to know how the Left could work together. I spoke at this point suggesting that the Direct Action Tendency of the SP was very eager to hear what our friends in the anarchist community had to say and that we are extremely interested in working together. I did not expect much in the way of response, as I’ve been called a “boring old Marxist trying to co-opt direct action” by some (sectarian) anarchists on the NYC Anarchist listserv. To my surprise the response was very positive and several anarchist brothers and sisters requested the url of our website. {4} We left the workshop hopeful that a dialogue between socialists and anarchists is a real possibility. Back at our table we scanned the list of workshops to see what else was of interest and to my shock discovered that Bernardine Dohrn was speaking the following day, giving a report back on the World Social Forum. Having never heard her speak in public I could hardly wait to have that opportunity.

• Bernardine Dohrn •

Sunday morning, after some tabling and conversation with other activists Sam and I located the lecture room where Bernardine was speaking. We got there early (for once) and secured seats in the second row.

Bernardine was introduced as a former SDS/WUO leader, a professor of law at Northwestern University and child’s rights activist, a mother of three and lastly, a grandmother – at which point she smiled and raised both fists in the air in celebration. She began her talk with some obviously sincere praise for the activists in the room: “You’re doing great! We are hoping to join you (in the struggle)”. Although the presentation was meant to be a report back from the recent World Social Forum in Brazil it covered alot more ground that this and started with a question: “We are living with a permanent war…and a…national security state. How do we go towards building a radical movement?”, she asked. “Today the US spends as much (on the military) as all of the other countries of the world combined. Why? There are three reasons: to control the world’s resources; to police unfriendly or terrorist regimes (and); to dominate markets”.

Addressing how to identify the key issues around which to build a radical movement, Dohrn urged the audience to read the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Not the pablum Dr. King, but the radical… read the speeches of the last two years of his life…he argued that the three greatest dangers are racism, militarism and consumerism.” “We should add one”, Dohrn said, “Importation of religious language into politics. It justifies everything”. She added that it reduced complex issues into a fantasy good v. evil polarity in order to obscure the real issues including the insatiable US lust for oil: “If the rest of the world consumed oil at the rate the US does all of the world’s oil would be depleted in 19 days.”

Dohrn spoke about the World Social Forum where the idea that the US and it’s ideology of consumerism, it’s belief that “this is the only game in town, that this is the dominant ideology” was effectively challenged. Bernardine urged the activists present to reject this ideology and to work to overcome the geographic illiteracy that afflicts all Americans, and to overcome the memory loss this illiteracy facilitates: “We have a kind of amnesia about the rest of the world”. Dohrn spoke about her own ignorance regarding what had gone on in Rwanda, or even where it was on a map, until one of her students proposed going there. After a class outing to Rwanda and digestion of ten books on the genocide that had occured there Bernardine and her students felt they knew “a little” about the subject…but still felt as Americans they needed to learn more. Dohrn put a question to the audience: “Can you name the six nations that border Iraq?” No one activist could do it but working together the audience was able to name these countries. Dohrn saluted this…and spoke about the Iraq invasion: “This incredible, illegal, immoral war in Iraq (has produced) over 1100 US dead”. Returning to US amnesia and ignorance of other cultures Dohrn spoke about the fact that the Vietnam and Iraq wars, despite many differences, “in some ways are eerily similar”. Both nations are “countries with an ancient civilization”. Iraq she added, “is the cradle of civilization”, a fact completely devalued and ignored by the US. This myopia has lethal consequences: “the bombing and devastation in Fallujah is the Guernica of our time”, Dohrn said. This cannot stand, she argued, urging a redefinition of ‘terrorism’ from a “humanist” point of view: Terrorism is systemic violence against civilians.” Further strippng away any mystification, Dohrn noted that, from the US point of view: “Terrorism means any opposition to the US government.”

Turning to what is going on internally, Bernardine noted that the unlawful detention of political prisoners of Arab descent in the US has produced “show trials of Arabs (which) have produced nothing”. Yet no one here speaks up, none question these arrests either in the US or in the “little puppy dog of the United States, England”. Alluding to a solution to this dilemma Dohrn urged the crowd to recognize the power of a few dedicated people to change the world. She listed the two ingredients that produce a dialectic of change: “the synthesis of civil rights and anti-war” struggle produced the sixties. “But it really happened in the seventies”, she noted, laughing.

Bernardine, apparently somewhat constrained by the podium between her and the activist audience, hugged the lecturn, leaning forward, gripping the small microphone. “We need to know what is happening in Mosul, in San Quention, Attica…” she intoned. She spoke about struggling to free political prisoners who had challenged US ideology and been jailed for it. She spoke of the plight of all political prisoners and prisoners of (class) war here in the US who have been “excluded, marginalized”. “In prison we have the modern day equivalent of slavery”, she noted. She urged intensifying efforts to free some prominent political prisoners like Leonard Peltier and David Gilbert.

Tying together the threads of working for change and working to free political prisoners, Dohrn argued forcefully for a world view based on compassion: “A world of reciprocal recognition is at the heart of humanism”. Returning to the idea that a few dedicated people can change the world, she jokingly referred to the “non-existent sixties” wherein no one really felt they were making a difference. “We went to Ann Arbor…they said: we’re so disorganized, it’s not happening here, it’s happening in Columbia. We went to Columbia… they said: we’re so disorganized it’s not happening here, it’s happening in France…” Laughing with the audience Dohrn continued: “It was always true throughout the Sixties that we were small and marginalized.” Arguing that since we had put to rest the myth of the “nonexistent Sixties” and that the corporate media had declared it legally dead: “now it really is, let’s bury it!” And just as the myth of the Sixties implied an irresistable force so, Dohrn argues, the myth of Empire posits itself as the only thing possible. “But that notion is obviously completely wrong. There is nothing invincible about Imperialism…they resort to force AS THE FIRST OPTION”, demonstrating their weakness. She spoke about Bush, comparing his re-election to that of Nixon: “After his second election, Nixon was out within a year.”

Speaking about the need for unity and reconciliation within the Left, Dohrn pointed out that one glaring failure of the Sixties was the ostracizing of veterans. She noted that Black vets in particular had alot to offer in terms of educating those youth who might be lured into military service.

Turning to alternative models of development in the world, Dohrn spoke about Venezuela as a counterpoint to US cultural hegemony. In Venezuela she pointed out a “Democratic, Peaceful, Bolivarian, Revolutionary” government is feeding the people and providing healthcare, thanks to the presence of Cuban doctors. Noting that we must all struggle together towards this and other anti-imperialist, anti-consumerist models of development Dohrn stated that “under one big tent” is how we must carry the struggle forward. We must remember that “the Black freedom movement” is the cornerstone of our struggle, she insisted. With Her revolutionary passion still intact after years of struggle, her charm and natural manner still readily apparent, she revealed the source of her strength: “We need our humor!” Humor is an essential ingredient for staying power. She also noted that “we need three things: organizing, activism and education”. All three must be present for us to be effective she added.

Concluding her remarks, Bernardine emphasized that the young are the hope and expressed gratitude that the Sixties generation might be allowed to play a role in the struggle by “riding on your coattails”. Dohrn mentioned a tidal wave of change that will yet bring about a better world. She leaned forward and said: “You’re part of that tidal wave, I thank you!”

In a quiet tone Dohrn mentioned that her own interest in the youth and “children’s rights is due to having three sons” and that her ability to see the world in terms of its children causes her to frame the struggle in terms of providing a better world for these children.

After sustained applause and a word from the moderator, Dohrn returned to the microphone to take questions. Responding to a question about the nature of US imperialism and how to combat it she replied: “The US invented modern day terrorism…for me nonviolence isn’t a worldview, it’s a tactic.”

A committed radical and revolutionary at 63, Dohrn offered this insight: “The difference between reform and revolutionary struggles is linking the issues…” Addressing the entire audience she offered an apology: “I’m deeply sorry, we never thought we’d leave you this world.” Offering one last bit of advice on how to rectify the current state of affairs Bernardine said: “Be certain enough to act and to doubt simultaneously”.

Regarding the current situation she said at least twice: “I’m extremely hopeful”.

After the talk ended Bernardine remained at the podium to talk one on one with activists. I approached her and mentioned our work on the March 19th direct actions. She asked to confirm the date and then said “great!” when I emphasized that the actions would be at recruiting centers. As a parting gift from an old admirer I gave her a Direct Action Tendency button, pointing out that the logo is based on the old SDS Days of Rage raised fist. She looked at the button, laughed and pinned it to her jacket. It was a very special moment for this New Leftist.

Bernardine Dohrn

Photo: Bernardine with DAT badge (Sam Morales )

• Aftermath •

Journeying home, Sam and I discussed our direct actions upcoming and also the need to continue the dialogue between socialists and anarchists. Thinking about Bernardine’s advice on the subject we made a note to incorporate equal parts humanism and humor in our organizing and to remember to thank our young anarchist brothers and sisters for allowing us to be a part of the struggle for their future.


  • {1} (NCOR home page)
  • {2} (Counter-recruitment actions
    taking place on the second anniversary of the Iraq invasion).
  • {3} Direct Action Tendency