Monthly Archives: February 2003

NYCLAW Testimony at NY City Council

NYCLAW Testimony at NY City Council

NY Post, March 5, 2003


They lent their voices – some whiny, some paranoid, others simply clueless or ill-informed – in support of a wildly divisive proposal to have the New York City Council adopt a resolution opposing war with Iraq. . . . After a while, cries for everything from affordable housing to a living wage competed with talk of war. Michael Letwin, of New York City Labor Against the War, seized the opportunity to wield this humdinger: “The threat to the people of the United States is not Iraq, it’s our government.”

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New York City Council
Hearings On An Antiwar Resolution

Testimony of Michael Letwin
Co-Convener, NYC Labor Against the War
Former President, UAW Local 2325/Assn. of Legal Aid Attys.
February 26, 2003

My name is Michael Letwin. I am Co-Convener of NYC Labor Against the War, and Former President of UAW Local 2325/Association of Legal Aid Attorneys.

We are here in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s courageous opposition to the Vietnam War, and we are not alone.

In the United States, unions with at least 5 million members–one-third of organized labor–have come out against the Bush administration’s war on Iraq, and the number grows every day.

In New York City alone, some 30 labor bodies with approximately half a million union members endorsed the massive February 15 antiwar protest in New York City. These included some of the largest unions and labor bodies in the city: 1199SEIU, AFSCME DC 37 and 1707, CWA District 1, PSC-CUNY, TWU Local 100, UAW Region 9A and the Working Families Party With or without UN approval, this war is a weapon of mass distraction–from oil, from U.S. empire, and from a crumbling economy at home.

It will further victimize the Iraqi people, who have suffered horribly through ten years of U.S. war and sanctions.

Working people in this country will pay: with our sons and daughters in uniform; with destruction of our social services; with unprecedented attacks on labor, civil and immigrant rights; with further blowback from terrorist attacks.

The threat to working people isn’t Iraq, but our own government.

Nothing makes this clearer than recent events right here in New York.

The Bush administration’s plan to spend hundreds of billions to control Iraqi oil, together with massive tax cuts for the rich, has nearly bankrupted our state and city. The Bloomberg administration is slashing human services and tells municipal workers–like poorly-paid day care workers–to forget about raises.

One federal court upheld the city’s blatantly unconstitutional denial of a march permit for February 15, and the same week another federal court repealed restrictions on NYPD political spying. These rulings reflect a broad attack on civil liberties, immigrant and labor rights–all under the guise of 9/11.

Labor’s message to this Council is simple: No War–No Way.

Antiwar Protesters Try New Tactics (Boston Globe)

Antiwar protesters try new tactics

Activists to flood political leaders with calls, e-mails

By Tatsha Robertson, Globe Staff, 2/24/2003

As a possible war against Iraq draws closer, antiwar leaders are stepping up their tactics and refocusing their strategy this week toward putting direct pressure on political officeholders in Washington.

Feeling the strength in the large numbers that turned out earlier this month to protest a US-led attack on Iraq, but keenly aware that the Bush administration seems to remain unmoved, protesters are planning other ways to get attention, from clogging senators’ telephone lines and e-mail inboxes to urging voters to lobby congressional members to revoke the authority they gave President Bush to use force against Iraq to using civil disobedience. And today, a group of parents of soldiers who joined with members of Congress in a lawsuit to block an invasion of Iraq will present their arguments in federal court in Boston.

”As we’re coming down to the wire, there are going to be many activities and actions that those of us opposing this rush to war are going to be involved in,” said Nancy Lessin of Jamaica Plain, who is the parent of a Marine and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. While the lawsuit was launched before the recent protests, the magnitude of the worldwide demonstrations drew more plaintiffs to the case.

But while large-scale antiwar protests, such as those held around the world on Feb. 15, can alter public opinion and perhaps catch the attention of important officeholders, many organizers and protesters wonder if those actions are enough to actually stop a possible war in the Persian Gulf.

”I don’t think anybody thinks by itself it will be enough to stop the war, but I think it gave people who witnessed it confidence that there is a large antiwar sentiment around the world,” said Michael Letwin of New York City Labor Against the War.

”It’s a tough moment for the movement because it pulled off a big success. But the real proof of the success is hard to read from the outside,” said Todd Gitlin, professor of sociology at Columbia University, who organized protests against the Vietnam War. ”The only way you will know if you failed is if the war starts. If the war starts, then the antiwar movement has to decide what it wants at that point.”

Letwin and others concede the challenge is to increase the number of people involved in the antiwar movement and to deepen the movement in a relatively short amount of time. One way to do this, Letwin said, is to directly pressure political leaders. So far, 125 cities, the largest being Los Angeles, have passed resolutions against a war in Iraq. In New York, protesters are urging City Council to pass a similar resolution.

”We are not doing this because we think a city council can stop a war, but because it sends out a message,” said Letwin.

In the coming weeks, dozens of demonstrations are planned, but many groups are turning to other methods to make their voices heard. The Iraq Pledge of Resistance, a group of protesters which launched a national campaign of civil disobedience in December, has scheduled an event in Washington, D.C., on March 9.

A delegation of parliamentarians, academics, scientists, and union leaders from Canada, Italy, Denmark, and the United States, trying to draw attention to what they describe as the hypocrisy of US foreign policy, staged its own inspection of the US Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland yesterday. The group – made up of representatives from Global Exchange, Code Pink, The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and International ANSWER – was turned away upon reaching the center.

Jenifer Deal, coordinator for the National Peace Lobby project, said her organization is encouraging Americans to either call or visit their political representative in Washington tomorrow and to lobby them to support the House Joint Resolution 20, a bill authored by Representatives Peter DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon, and Ron Paul, Republican of Texas, that would repeal President Bush’s authorization to use force against Iraq.

On Wednesday, thousands of people from around the country are set to participate in a virtual protest by telephoning or sending e-mail to senators in Washington every minute of the day. As of late last week, more than 8,000 people had signed up for time slots during which to call or send an e-mail, according to Eli Pariser, the international campaign director for, an online political network that is cosponsoring the protest.

”We want to demonstrate just how broad the concern is and the degree to which we are able to organize,” said Pariser. ”The main message that we can send is that this opposition to the war is sophisticated and organized enough that there could be serious repercussions for people that are supporting it.”

But some wonder if political leaders are getting the message. Gitlin, of Columbia University, believes that lobbying Congress to repeal the authority they gave Bush in October will not stop him from using force against Iraq.

”It might send a message to Democrats who voted for the war resolution that they’ve been had and they were gullible since they voted for him to have authority to do as he wished,” Gitlin said. ”But even for the sake of argument that some Democrats retract their approval, it is very hard to imagine having concrete effect.”

Others, like Leslie Cagan, cochair of United for Peace and Justice, said that all of the antiwar actions will have a cumulative effect.

”A lot of the work doesn’t happen in a big splashy way,” she said. ”It’s the day-in-and-day-out things – educational work, knocking on doors, holding community forums. It’s not as glamorous, but it’s critical in strengthening and deepening the movement.”

This story ran on page A2 of the Boston Globe on 2/24/2003.

Millions March Against War (Boston Globe)

Millions march against war
From Athens to New York, a global call for US restraint

By Tatsha Robertson, Globe Staff, 2/16/2003

NEW YORK — Antiwar protesters young and old flooded the East Side of Manhattan yesterday as millions more across America and around the globe rallied against US plans for military action in Iraq.

Organizers estimated that the New York demonstrators numbered 400,000, but Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly estimated the crowd at 100,000.

The demonstrators, a few of whom scuffled with police at barricades not far from the United Nations, filled a section of the city two blocks deep and 20 blocks long.

Across the Atlantic, there were dozens of demonstrations against what was described as US aggression. In the capitals of many of the United States’ traditional allies, marchers pleaded for peace and called on the Bush administration to allow UN weapons inspectors more time to work in Iraq.

In London, 750,000 marched against war, police said. About 660,000 protested in Madrid, and about 1 million marched in Rome, authorities said.

”Let America listen to the rest of the world,” Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa told protesters in New York, who braved temperatures of about 20 degrees. ”The rest of the world is saying `Give the inspectors more time.’ ”

Leaders of America’s growing antiwar movement acknowledge they may not dissuade President Bush from his preparations to strike Iraq, but they believe that with increasingly large rallies across the country, Internet messages, and antiwar ads that speak directly to the public, they are swaying public opinion against the administration’s position toward Baghdad.

”The lesson of Vietnam is that you can’t go to war unless there is overwhelming public support,” said Ben Cohen, cofounder of the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream company who has backed a number of antiwar television and newspaper ads. ”We are trying to make that clear to the administration.”

The crowd in New York included survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack and relatives of soldiers and sailors already stationed in the Persian Gulf. Beating drums and waving flags, they overflowed the designated protest area and tied up traffic. One sign read, ”The World Says No to War.”

Already on high alert for possible terrorist attacks, New York police deployed new security teams with sharpshooters and radiation detectors. For the most part, the day appeared to be free of violence. But there was a clash between police and protesters who weren’t allowed to join the main rally.

The protesters had lost a court battle against the city over their request to march past the UN on First Avenue. An appeals judge sided with the mayor and police chief, who argued that the demonstrators should be penned in behind barricades five blocks north of UN headquarters.

The demonstrators filled First Avenue from 52nd Street to 72nd Street. When police refused to let any more protesters onto the avenue, spontaneous demonstrations broke out on Second Avenue.

Police on horseback and in riot gear broke up the overflow crowd, but it moved another block east to Third Avenue. There at least one handcuffed demonstrator was seen face down on the street as mounted police drove back the crowd.

There were as many as 150 rallies in other towns and cities across the country, from Yakima, Wash., to Detroit, to St. Petersburg, Fla. In Chicago, about 3,000 protesters, including teachers and cab drivers and parents with their children, wore ”No War” buttons and waved bloody battle pictures with the caption ”This is War.”

”I think the administration has to pay attention to the fact that not only the few thousands that are here in Chicago but tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people across the country and millions around the world are standing together against the war,” said Andrea Shapiro, who was at the Chicago rally.

”If they don’t change their minds,” Shapiro said, ”then they will certainly, I would hope, be at least required to slow down, step back, and take into account that the world is not going to let the United States become the imperial master that it wants to be.”

In Philadelphia, demonstrators, including members of the Quaker community, marched to the site of the Liberty Bell. In Los Angeles, actors and directors, including Anjelica Huston, Rob Reiner, and Martin Sheen, joined a crowd that walked down Hollywood Boulevard.

”Can you justify blood for oil?” read a sign held by 14-year-old Marianna Daniels at a rally in Madison, Wis.

The rally in London put additional pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has been a steadfast supporter of Bush’s position.

”What I would say to Mr. Blair is stop toadying up to the Americans and listen to your own people, us, for once,” said Elsie Hinks, 77, who marched in London.

In Madrid, protesters carried a sign that read ”Save the Children” in Spanish, warning of the consequences of warfare for civilians. French sentiment against the United States was stinging: ”They bomb, they exploit, they pollute, enough of this barbarity,” some of the marchers chanted in the southwestern city of Toulouse.

The growing number and size of the demonstrations in the United States, organizers say, have shown the diverse face of the new antiwar movement: Church leaders, labor union workers, military families, and local officials joined with college students and liberal activists in hopes of altering the course of history.

”The movement is broad and deep,” said Charley Richardson of Jamaica Plain, who was in New York with his wife, Nancy Lessin. Richardson’s son, a Marine, is stationed in the Persian Gulf region.

Richardson held up a poster of his son, Joe.

”When he volunteered, one of our concerns was that he could end up in the position that he is in today,” Richardson said. ”The decision to go to war is being made for the wrong reasons, and he is the one that would have to carry that decision out. We’re terrified.

”The hardest thing would be for someone to tell us that our son has been killed in an unjust war,” he said.

Demonstrators said they are anxious that time is running out to stop an attack on Iraq, but they said they hoped the massive rallies coming on the heels of a rebuff of the US position at the United Nations on Friday will make things particularly uncomfortable for the Bush administration.

”Public opinion is what prevents the worst mistakes and makes possible the best,” said Bob Wing, of United for Peace and Justice, the national group organizing the New York protest. ”This antiwar movement has a broad opposition to [Bush’s] whole foreign policy and main elements of the domestic security policy.”

What has surprised Vietnam-era protesters and scholars is how fast the new movement has galvanized supporters. The Vietnam War was well underway before hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, said Richardson, a former Vietnam-era activist. ”There are no body bags coming home, and yet there is still an antiwar movement.”

”We haven’t seen much widespread opposition like this to any American war at its beginning. I think you probably will have to go back to the end of Vietnam, when there were massive protests, and before that it was World War II,” said Michael Letwin, of New York City Labor Against the War. ”Does that mean Bush will pay attention? They don’t want to listen to anybody. . . . Nonetheless, I think they may not have a choice.”

Organizers credit the Internet with helping to mobilize activists quickly in comparison to antiwar campaigns of the past.

”We e-mail a list of 400,000 people, and a lot of them very quickly respond to those e-mails, and when they respond they often tell their friends, and so what you get is a snowball effect,” said Eli Pariser, the international director for New York’s, an antiwar organization. ”The president has made it clear that he doesn’t want to pay attention to what Americans think about this,” he said. ”So what we are trying to do is show a clear sentiment that he really can’t ignore.”

Globe correspondents Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz and Joe Lauria contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 2/16/2003.

Antiwar Labor at NYC Protest

Antiwar Labor at NYC Protest

The estimated 500,000+ people who participated in yesterday’s New York City protest included the largest labor antiwar presence to date.

At 11 a.m., 1,000 or more trade unionists held a brief rally at 59 St. and Fifth Ave. Then, along with thousands of other protesters, they defied the city’s refusal to grant a permit by marching in the streets to the main rally on First Ave.

Meanwhile, a large 1199SEIU contingent gathered on First Ave., while many other union members arrived at the rally site in smaller groups.

Labor speakers at the main rally were Dennis Rivera, President of 1199SEIU; Larry Cohen, Executive Vice-President of CWA; and Brenda Stokely, NYCLAW Co-Convener and President of AFSCME DC 1707.

Below are media reports of antiwar labor’s participation in the massive protest.


**Washington Post, Feb. 16, 2003

Labor unions, too, took a big role. Five major national unions oppose the war.

“We are going to stop this war,” said Dennis Rivera, leader of SEIU 1199, a powerful health-care workers union that brought thousands of mostly black and Latino workers to the rally. “If they can march in Rome and Barcelona and London, we can march in New York, too.”

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Boston Globe, Feb. 16, 2002

“We haven’t seen much widespread opposition like this to any American war at its beginning. I think you probably will have to go back to the end of Vietnam, when there were massive protests, and before that it was World War I,” said Michael Letwin, of New York City Labor Against the War. “Does that mean Bush will pay attention? They don’t want to listen to anybody. . . . Nonetheless, I think they may not have a choice.”

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**NY1, Feb. 15, 2003

Thousands of union members from across the city also joined in with the crowds to oppose a war with Iraq.

“Union members are coming out by the thousands today because they are opposed to this war, as most Americans appear to be,” said Michael Letwin of the organization New York City Labor Against War. “Workers, I think, in particular know that it’s working people and poor people at home who are going to pay for the war. They’ll pay for it with their children in uniform, being the ones that die on the front lines. They’ll pay for it in terms of cuts in our social services and all the government spending that could go to union services at home but are going to war instead.”

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**Village Voice, Feb. 15, 2003

For Millicent Petersen, a unit clerk in a Long Island hospital who rallied with her union sisters and brothers from 1199-SEIU, “there’s just no purpose to this war that makes sense.”

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NYC labor bodies endorsing the protest were:

**AFM L.1000
**AFSCME DC 1707
**AFT Local 3882
**APWU NY-Metro/Local 10
**Bergen Co. (NJ) CTLC
**CWA District 1
**CWA Local 1180
**Federation of Union Reps.
**IAM Lodge 340
**NJ Labor Against the War
**NJ Industrial Union Council
**NY Taxi Workers Alliance
**NY Teachers Against the War
**NYC Labor Against the War
**NWU/UAW Local 1981
**Org. of Staff Analysts
**PACE Local 1-149
**PSC-CUNY/AFT Local 2334
**TWU Local 100
**UAW Region 9A NYC
**UNITE Local 169
**UUP/AFT Local 2190
**Working Families Party

Campuses Say No To War!!

Relocated to larger space due to overwhelming demand…
Campuses Say No To War!!

Tickets Now Available – $5 ($10-$20 Solidarity)

February 15th at 8pm Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers (21st & 12th Avenue-M23 bus or A,C,E trains)

Speakers : Scott Ritter (former weapons inspector), Medea Benjamin (Global Exchange), Amy Goodman (Democracy Now), Anthony Arnove (editor of Iraq Under Siege), Michael Letwin (NYC Labor Against the War), Mike Marquesee (British Stop the War Coalition), Rania Masri (Southern Peace Action), Dhalia Hashad (ACLU), Ahmed Shawki (editor of International Socialist Review), Marla Brettschneider (Jews for Racial and Economic Justice), Hany Khalil (Racial Justice 9-11), Nelly Bailey (Harlem Tenants Association), Youth Bloc, Minou Arjomand (Campus Antiwar Network), Hamid Dabashi (Professor), Monica Tarazi (Arab Anti-Discrimination Center), David Cline (Veterans for Peace)

Peformers: Def Poetry Jam, Welfare Poets, Alvin Ailey Dancer, VTek, Performers from the Broadway Musical Rent, Stephan Smith, Captain Deathwhistle and the Thumpists

Due to overwhelming demand, the evening student event “Campuses Say No to War” has been relocated from Barnard College to Pier Sixty at the Chelsea Piers. Pier Sixty is located at 21st Street & 12th Avenue in Manhattan and can accomodate 1,750 people. Therefore, tickets are now available for this previously sold-out event. However, we expect tickets to continue to sell quickly, so reserve as soon as possible by emailing: The event will be held at 8pm but we are asking people to begin arriving by 7:15 in order to guarantee space. Housing can be reserved for students coming in from out of town by emailing:

This event is to help build connections and networking among student anti-war groups. It will be educational, inspirational and fun. It is also a fundraiser for the first national conference of the Campus Anti-War Network to be held in Chicago from February 22nd-23rd. Therefore, we are asking people to pay between $5 and $20 for tickets to defray the costs of the event as well as sponsor a bus to Chicago.

We look forward to seeing you at this amazing event!

In solidarity, Jennifer Roesch On behalf of the Columbia Anti-War Coalition Endorsed by: Campus Anti-War Network, United for Peace and Justice, Peace Action, NJ Independent Alliance, Columbia University Student Governing Board, Turath, Muslim Students Association, Columbia University Sikh Society, International Socialist Organization, Columbia Student Solidarity Network, Columbia Queer Alliance, Columbia UNICEF, United Students of Color Council