January 23, 2003
The A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition is serious about creating a genuinely multi-racial movement against the pirates who control the U.S. government. Of the 30 or so speakers that addressed hundreds of thousands of anti-war protesters in Washington, January 18, at least 17 were African Americans. Native-born whites were a distinct minority on the microphone, also sharing the historic moment with an international cast of activists from Latin America, Asia, the Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.
A.N.S.W.E.R. is the acronym for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. Folks with experience in coalition building understand that nothing, nothing is more politically sensitive than compiling a speakers list for a tightly scheduled event. It is the public face of the movement – or the movement that is envisioned – an irreducible statement. A.N.S.W.E.R. stated plainly, for all the world to see, that anti-racism is a core principle of the movement they seek to build.
The crowd, which organizers numbered at 200,000 by noon, before many contingents had even arrived, was predominantly white, although otherwise quite varied by age, region and lifestyle. We at have no problem with the preponderance of white marchers. After all, there are a lot more of them. Blacks ushered in the modern era of Washington mega-demonstrations in 1963 and held the nation’s capitol as if we owned it in the 1995 Million Man March. African Americans are the most consistently anti-war demographic, by far. African American representatives comprise the core of the Peace Party in the U.S. Congress. Ten thousand Colin Powells could not alter the anti-war character of Black America.
What is most important – and what the anti-war movement of a previous generation failed to fully understand – is that white people who seek to build a movement must be prepared to accept leadership from the ranks of those who have always been in motion. There can be no hint of privilege in the struggle against Power.
The Black contingent – a majority on the speakers platform – was, itself, a coalition, comprised of politicians, religious leaders, union activists, students, scholars – veterans of a thousand marches against a multitude of grievances, a non-sectarian reflection of Black America as a whole.
George Bush was elsewhere, shielded from the bitter cold, but his ears must have burned red. “You can’t rob us of health care, by spending billions of dollars on this dumb war in Iraq,” declared Mahdi Bray, of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation.
“We must fight the terrorism of lack of economic development in our communities,” said Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron.
Everywhere, placards like “Money for Jobs, Not War” proclaimed the class issue. So did 18 year old A.N.S.W.E.R. Youth and Student Coordinator and Howard University freshman Peta Lindsay: “We are not the executives of Exxon and Mobile, and this war is not in our interests.”
Black labor grapples with issues of race and class, daily. “Workers and working people want jobs, but we want jobs in an economy that is built on peace, not war,” said Fred Mason, AFL-CIO statewide president for Maryland and Washington, DC.
New York City Labor Against War co-convener Brenda Stokely sees the connections, clearly. “Our fight for justice in the workplace has to be part of our fight for justice in the world.”
Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, displaced from her seat by a Hard Right cash juggernaut last summer, denounced the Bush family war on domestic democracy. “We won’t forget that your brother trampled on the voting rights of the poor and people of color” in Florida, said McKinney. “Dr. King warned us that we have guided missiles and misguided men.”
King was omnipresent, universally invoked. Rev. Jesse Jackson recalled a meeting on the civil rights leader’s last birthday, January 15, 1968. At the top of the day’s agenda were two items: civil rights enforcement and an end to the war in Vietnam. “Today we have come full circle,” said Rev. Jackson. “We’re not fighting about security. We’re fighting about hegemony and oil and defense contracts.”
Bill Fletcher, the scholarly president of TransAfrica Forum, senses madness in the air. “We stand on the edge of a precipice of catastrophe, and if it were not so serious it could be a skit on Saturday Night Live,” said Fletcher, also co-chair of United for Peace. Bush is enflaming the world. “What will he do when the hordes of the dispossessed are at the gates of the United States?”
Presidential candidate Rev. Al Sharpton scoped the game in Bush’s plan. “Are we talking about weapons of mass destruction, or a political game of mass distraction?” Deficits rising, child care disappearing. “You can’t fight in our name. We will stand up, we will not back down, we will fight the fight.”
Detroit’s John Conyers, dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, was the sole U.S. representative on-site. “You are the truest patriots in this country, here today,” Conyers told the crowd, by now at least half as large as the population of a congressional district. “Only American citizens can stop this war, now. There is still time, brothers and sisters, but not much.”
Pam Parker and Lucy Murphy, introduced as “cultural workers,” sang their own composition, “Mothers Day,” with the moving refrain
You take our money You think I don’t see You use it to fire On women like me
Other African American speakers included: Larry Holmes, International Action Center; Rev. Graylan Hagler, Plymouth Congregational Church, United for Peace; Rev. Herbert Daughtry, House of the Lord, Brooklyn; Viola Plummer, December 12 Movement; Damu Smith, Black Voices for Peace; Imam Mousa, Masjid Al-Islam; and the Reverend Lucius Walker, who read an anti-war statement from Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY).
Organizers put the crowd at half a million. DC police say they no longer do estimates.
San Francisco A.N.S.W.E.R. headcounters claim 200,000 took to the streets on Saturday – most of whom seemed to know the local Black Congresswoman by name. “Barbara, Barbara,” chanted the crowd as Rep. Barbara Lee took the microphone. “The silent minority has become the vocal majority because of you,” said Lee, the only member of the House to vote against giving Bush sweeping anti-terrorism powers in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001. “It’s not too late for the administration to heed our call. It takes leadership to resolve conflicts peacefully. It does not take leadership to drop bombs.”
Chicago landslide for peace
By a vote of 46 to one, the Chicago City Council last week went on record against a unilateral strike on Iraq. Alderman Joseph Moore, chief sponsor of the “Resolution Opposing Pre-emptive U.S. Military Strikes on Iraq,” said foreign adventure is a domestic concern. “The cost of the war will dry up federal funding for domestic programs for a war that has yet to be justified,” Moore argued.
The resolution reads:
NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the members of the City Council of the City of Chicago, oppose a pre-emptive U.S. military attack on Iraq unless it is demonstrated that Iraq poses a real and imminent threat to the security and safety of the United States; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we support a return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq, enhanced by sufficient police support to guarantee unfettered access to all targeted sites; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we urge the U.S. to work through the U.N. Security Council and reaffirm our nation’s commitment to the rule of law in all international relationships; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be forwarded to the Illinois congressional delegation and the President of the United States.
World applauds Illinois Governor
George Ryan’s last major act as Governor of Illinois was to spare the lives of 167 death row inmates, earning him the eternal enmity of much of the American public and most of his own, Republican Party. Whatever popularity the former pharmacist lost in the U.S., he has more than recouped abroad, according to the January 18 Washington Post. Ryan has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (by international lawyer Peter Boyle), glowingly editorialized in newspapers across Europe (whose 44 nations have abolished capital punishment), and received phone calls from a current and former head of state.
Mexico’s Vicente Fox was grateful that three of his nationals were among those spared by Ryan’s commutation. More than 50 Mexicans citizens await execution in the U.S. This month, Mexico asked the International Court of Justice at The Hague to intervene, charging that the men were denied their right to consult with the Mexican embassy.
Nelson Mandela phoned Ryan with congratulations. The former South African President was condemned to death by the apartheid regime in 1961 for his role in the armed wing of the African National Congress. The sentence was later changed to life in prison.
Said Amnesty International: “The U.S.A. is on the wrong side of history on this fundamental human rights issue. Governor Ryan has shown that change is possible and that principled human rights leadership is crucial.”
Bush’s Confederate heart
When Woodrow Wilson walked into the White House in 1913, he brought segregation with him, establishing separation of the races throughout Washington’s federal bureaucracy. Although often described as a liberal because of his support for the League of Nations, Wilson was a hard-core Dixiecrat. Born in Staunton, Virginia, in 1856, Wilson viewed African Americans as an “ignorant and inferior race.” (See “Bush’s Ugly America,” in this issue.) During Wilson’s two terms, the Klan thrived, North and South, with membership in the millions by the time of Wilson’s death in 1924.
Wilson began a White House tradition of sending a wreath to the Confederate Memorial at Arlington Cemetery each Memorial Day, in honor of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. President George Herbert Bush called a halt to the practice in 1990.
Time Magazine reports in this week’s issue that the White House is once again paying homage to the Slave Nation President, payback to Sons of Confederate Veterans official Richard T. Hines, of South Carolina. Hines financed a mass mailing on Bush’s behalf during the 2000 Republican primary, railing against Bush opponent John McCain’s failure to support the fight to keep the Confederate Flag flying atop the state capitol in Columbia. Bush won the primary, and the wreaths began arriving again the Memorial Day after he took office.
Affirmative action, anyone?