Monthly Archives: April 2004

NYCLAW Since 9/11

NYCLAW Since 9/11
                                                                  April 25, 2004

New York City Labor Against the War emerged at “Ground Zero” as the first antiwar labor body established in the U.S. after 9/11. It has been a vital antiwar pole within labor, and labor pole within the antiwar movement.

NYCLAW’s approach has been grounded in cogent, unambiguous opposition to the war; multiracial leadership;[1] participation of both union officers and rank-and-file members; broad alliances; and democratic process.[2]

This approach is reflected in NYCLAW’s founding statement (September 27, 2001), a brief, non-rhetorical, argument for why workers should oppose the war.[3] It has been endorsed by 1500 trade unionists,[4] and accompanied by an announcement listserv.[5]


Labor Antiwar Work in NYC

NYCLAW’s statement and related activities have helped galvanize affiliated labor antiwar caucuses, committees or groupings that successfully brought antiwar resolutions in such unions as 1199SEIU, AFSCME DC 37, AFSCME DC 1707, APWU, NPMHU, PSC-CUNY, TWU Local 100, UAW Region 9A,[6] and the UFT. On October 19, 2002, more than 100 trade unionists participated in a day-long NYCLAW organizing conference.[7]

NYCLAW has built alliances amongst labor, people of color and immigrants home. On December 12, 2001, 100 people attended its forum on civil liberties and immigrant rights.[8] In March and September 2002, sixteen labor bodies and 400 people participated in NYCLAW-initiated demonstrations to free immigrants detained in Brooklyn in the wake of 9/11.[9]

When official top labor officials vocally supported Israel during the Jenin massacre, NYCLAW endorsed Palestinian self-defense, statehood and the Right of Return; picketed the Israeli consul’s speech at the May 21, 2002 AFL-CIO Executive Council;[10] and hosted a December 13, 2002 forum for visiting Palestinian trade unionists.[11]

On February 2, 2004, 250 people attended a USLAW Iraq labor tour meeting sponsored by NYCLAW and other labor activists.[12]


Labor Antiwar Work in the U.S. and Beyond

From its inception, NYCLAW has encouraged and coordinated with labor antiwar organizers elsewhere.

Its founding statement was spontaneously translated into many languages[13] and became a beacon for labor antiwar efforts in the U.S. and other countries.[14] In October 2001, it helped convene an informal labor antiwar network amongst committees in the Bay Area, D.C., Albany and other cities.[15] In 2001-2002, NYCLAW members submitted antiwar resolutions to the national conventions of TWU,[16] AFT[17] and AFSCME.[18] NYCLAW’s October 2002 conference, discussed above, was the first national gathering of labor antiwar activists.

This work helped open space for the wave of labor antiwar resolutions that began to appear in Fall 2002, and for USLAW itself, in whose creation NYCLAW was intimately involved.[19]

Within USLAW, NYCLAW has sought common ground based on broad, unqualified opposition to the war, at home and abroad, rather than mandatory agreement on such issues as UN occupation (which NYCLAW strongly opposes) or electoral politics; prominent opposition to racism; alliance with G.I.s and military families; connections between the war abroad and at home; and a democratic process that ensures meaningful representation for local committees.

Many of these positions have become USLAW policy. The January 11, 2003 founding meeting adopted NYCLAW proposals for the organization’s name and unity statement.[20] The second conference, on October 25-26, 2003, adopted NYCLAW proposals to retain that name and to endorse military families’ demand to “Bring the Troops Home Now!”[21] NYCLAW continues to believe that USLAW must come to grips with the need to support Palestinian rights.


Leadership in the Antiwar Movement

NYCLAW has been a leading labor voice in leadership of the broader antiwar movement. From 9/11 on, it has cosponsored, spoken and/or coordinated labor mobilization at numerous national and international antiwar events, including mass protests on October 7, 2001 (NYC),[22] November 18, 2001 (London),[23] February 2, 2002 (NYC),[24] April 20, 2002 (DC),[25] October 26, 2002 (DC),[26] January 18, 2003 (DC),[27] February 15, 2003 (NYC),[28] Mid‑March 2003 (Invasion of Iraq-NYC),[29] March 15, 2003 (DC),[30] March 22, 2003 (NYC),[31] April 2003 (London),[32] April 29, 2003 (NYC),[33] October 25, 2003 (DC),[34] and March 20, 2004 (NYC).[35] Its representatives have spoken at forums and conferences in the U.S., UK, France and Canada.

NYCLAW has played a particularly effective role in bringing out united action between ANSWER, UFPJ and other coalitions at mass events such as those described above;[36] in UFPJ’s adoption of the demand to “Bring the Troops Home Now!”[37]–without support for UN occupation;[38] and in support of leadership of color, including that of Arab-Muslims and Palestinians.[39]

In March 2004, PSC-CUNY recognized NYCLAW’s work with its “Friend of CUNY Award.”



[1]. NYCLAW’s co-conveners are Larry Adams, former president, Mail Handlers Union Local 300; Ray Laforest, Staff Representative, AFSCME DC 1707; Michael Letwin, former president, UAW Local 2325, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys; and Brenda Stokely, president, AFSCME DC 1707.

[2]. Michael Letwin, “Year One of New York City Labor Against the War,” October 25, 2002, <;; Deidre Mcfadyen, “Some Union Heads Oppose ‘Bush War,’” Chief‑Leader, October 26, 2001, <;; “New York City Labor Against War,” Socialist Worker, November 16, 2001, <;; Judith Le Blanc, “Labor takes a stand for justice, People’s Weekly World,” December 1, 2001, <;; Chris Kutalik and William Johnson, “Beyond Resolutions Within Unions, Anti‑War Forces Mobilize Opposition,” Labor Notes, April 2003, <;; Dianne Feeley, “Labor Speaks Out Against the War,” Against the Current, March‑April 2003, <;; “Peace and Labor‑‑Can We Work Together?,” Peace Newsletter #717, February 2003, <;.

[3]. Press Advisory, October 3, 2001, <;.

[4]. The sixteen endorsing NYC principal union officers are: Larry Adams, Pres., National Postal Mail Handlers Union Local 300; Barbara Bowen, Pres., Professional Staff Congress‑CUNY/AFT Local 2334; Arthur Cheliotes, Pres., CWA Local 1180; Raglan George Sr., Exec. Dir., AFSCME Local 215, DC 1707; Glenn Huff Jr., Pres., AFSCME Local 205, DC 1707; Uma Kutwal, Fmr. Pres., AFSCME Local 375, DC 37; Michael Letwin, Pres., Assn. of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325; Jill Levy, Pres., Council of Supervisors & Administrators, NYSFSA, AFSA Local 1; Kim V. Medina, Pres., AFSCME Local 253; Fmr. Pres., DC 1707; Victoria Mitchell, Pres., AFSCME Local 107; VP, DC 1707; Maida Rosenstein, Pres., UAW Local 2110; Viji Sargis, Pres., AFT Local 6025, Montclair State U.; Joel Schwartz, Pres., AFSCME, Civil Service Employees Assn. Local 446; Judy Sheridan‑Gonzalez, RN, Chair., State Del. Assembly, NY State Nurses Assn.; Brenda Stokely, Pres., AFSCME DC 1707; and Jonathan Tasini, Pres., Nat’l Writers Union/UAW Local 1981. “NYC Labor Against the War ‑‑ Latest Signers,” June 19, 2002, <;.

[5]. NYC Labor Against the War (NYCLAW), <;.

[6]. Notwithstanding UAW Region 9A’s antiwar position, Michael Letwin’s outspoken role as a NYCLAW co-convener resulted in his defeat for reelection in November 2002 after thirteen years as president of UAW Local 2325, the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys. Michael Letwin, “ALAA Antiwar Vote,” April 14, 2003, <;.

[7]. Materials and coverage related to this conference include: Thomas Barton, “More unions pass antiwar resolutions,” Socialist Worker, October 11, 2002, <‑2/425/425_11_LaborAgainstWar.shtml&gt;; Tim Wheeler, “Labor speaks out against Iraq war,” People’s Weekly World, October 12, 2002, <;; “Agenda for 10/19 NYCLAW Organizing Conference,” <;; Tony Pecinovsky, “Anti‑war movement grows in labor ranks,” People’s Weekly World, October 26, 2002, <;; Gary Goff, “Labor and the War,” October 2002, <;; “Building labor’s opposition to the war,” Socialist Worker, October 18, 2002, <‑2/426/426_11_LaborAgainstWar.shtml&gt;; Thomas Barton, “Antiwar unionists meet in NYC,” Socialist Worker, October 25, 2002, <‑2/427/427_15_LaborAgainstWar.shtml&gt;; “Remarks by Michael Eisenscher, Coordinator of the Labor Committee for Peace & Justice, Bay Area at New York Labor Against the War (NYCLAW) Conference,” October 19, 2002, <;; “Union Members Meet, March To Protest Iraq War,” Labor Notes, December 2002, <;; David Moberg, “Unions Against the War, In These Times,” October 6, 2002, <;; Marc Cooper, “Antiwar Labor Pains,” The Nation, November 21, 2002, <;.

[8]. “NYCLAW Worker’s Forum: War on Our Rights,” <;.

[9]. “Report on Labor Protests,” March 25, 2002, <;; Bryan Virasami, “Protesters Seek Release of Immigrant Detainees,” Newsday, June 10, 2002, <;.

[10]. “No Labor Money for Israeli War Crimes!,” May 21, 2002, <;; Laura Durkay, “New York City Labor Against War, Socialist Worker,” May 31, 2002, <‑1/409/409_11_LaborInBrief.shtml&gt;.

[11]. “NYCLAW Presents Palestinian Trade Unionists,” December 12, 2002, <;; “Report on the PGFTU New York visit,” December 22, 2002, <;.

[12]. Michael Letwin and Nancy Romer, “Report on Iraq Labor Rights Tour, NYC,” February 21, 2004, <‑cc/2004‑02/msg00014.html&gt;.

[13]. “Statement in Other Languages,” December 4, 2001, <;.

[14]. See, e.g., “NYCLAW Inspires Netherlands Labor,” October 27, 2001, <;; Dorothy Macedo, “Labour Against the War (England),” October 28, 2001, <;.

[15]. “Labor Antiwar Efforts in Three Cities,” October 17, 2001, <;.

[16]. Mark Daly, “Flyer Outrages TWU Leaders,” The Chief, Oct. 31, 2001, <;; Marty Goodman, “TWU Antiwar Resolution,” October 31, 2001, <;.

[17]. Peter Hogness, “PSC helps shape AFT policy and debate,” Clarion, September 2002, <http://www.psc‑;.

[18]. See footnote 2, above.

[19]. “NYCLAW’s January Activities,” January 1, 2003, <;.

[20]. “Founding of U.S. Labor Against the War,” January 13, 2003, <;; Al Benchich, “Labor Leaders Launch National Anti‑War Effort,” Labor Notes, February 2003, <;; Joann Wypijewski, “Workers Against War,” Counterpunch, January 17, 2003, <;; “Labor Against War,” Socialist Worker, January 17, 2003, <‑1/436/436_15_LaborInBrief.shtml&gt;; Milt Neidenberg, “Labor organizes against the war,” January 23, 2003, <;; “NYCLAW on Radio,” Building Bridges, WBAI, February 10, 2003, <;; Lee Sustar, “The new employers’ offensive: Labor’s war at home,” International Socialist Review, March‑April 2003, <;; Michael Letwin, “Growth of Labor Anti‑War Action Tied to Bush’s Anti‑Worker Moves,” Labor Notes, April 2003, <;.

[21]. Michael Letwin, “NYCLAW Report on October 25 Protests, USLAW,” November 17, 2003, <;.

[22]. “Report on October 10 NYC Labor Against the War Meeting,” October 15, 2001, <;; Judith Le Blanc, “As bombs drop, Americans say: ‘Not in our name,’” People’s Weekly World, October 13, 2001, <;.

[23]. “NYCLAW Joins 100,000 in London Against the War,” November 26, 2001, <;.

[24]. “Tomorrow’s Anti‑WEF Events (NYC),” February 1, 2002,


[25]. “a20 Coalition Statement,” April 25, 2002, <;; “NYCPJ Statement,” April 28, 2002, <;; “A Roundtable Discussion With Some of the Leaders of This Weekend’s A‑20 Mobilization,” Democracy Now, April 19, 2004, <;; “C‑SPAN Coverage,” April 22, 2002, <;; Tim Wheeler, “Speakers denounce Bush war on people,” People’s Weekly World, April 27, 2002, <;; Tim Wheeler, “100,000 demand No war at home or abroad,” People’s Weekly World, April 27, 2002, <;.

[26]. “Rally Against War in Iraq,” C-SPAN, October 26, 2002, <;; “New Location for Trade Union Contingent to Stop the War on Iraq–Defend Labor at Home,” October 23, 2002, <;; “It was time to add our voice,” Socialist Worker, November 1, 2002, <‑2/428/428_06_Protest.shtml&gt;; “Labor Antiwar Potential,” Indypendent, October 29, 2002, <;; Marta Steele, “Another Children’s Crusade: The October 26 National March and Rally to Stop the War Before It Starts,” Words Unlimited, October 27, 2002, <;; “The antiwar movement: A great beginning,” International Socialist Review Issue 26, November–December 2002, <;.

[27]. Labor at Jan. 18 DC Demo, January 21, 2003, <;; “NYCLAW Speech 9/18 in D.C.,” January 22, 2003, <;; “Half a million tell Bush . . . No to war!,” Socialist Worker, January 24, 2003, <;; Elizabeth Schulte, “Labor’s voice against the war on Iraq,” Socialist Worker, February 14, 2003, <‑1/440/440_05_AntiwarLabor.shtml&gt;.

[28]. “2/12/03 NYC Labor Antiwar Press Conference,” February 14, 2003, <;; “Antiwar Labor at NYC Protest,” February 16, 2003, <;; “Report/Supplemental: Antiwar Labor at NYC Protest,” February 16, 2003, <;; Liza Featherstone, “Report From New York,” AlterNet, February 16, 2003, <;; “New York City Protests NYC Held Largest US Anti‑war Protest,” ABC News, February 15, 2003, <;; Tasha Robertson, “Antiwar Protesters Try New Tactics,” Boston Globe, February 24, 2003, <;; “NYCLAW Testimony at NY City Council,” February 26, 2003, <;; “Say no to Bush’s war on Iraq,” Socialist Worker, February 14, 2003, <;; Kristin Lawler, “Antiwar views gain strength in labor, PSC part of biggest protest in world history,” Clarion, March 2003, <http://www.psc‑ >; “Antiwar Around the World,” Nonviolent Activist, March-April 2003, <;.

[29]. “NYC Labor Antiwar Press Conference,” March 19, 2003, <;; “Coverage of 3/20 NYC Labor Antiwar Press Conference,” March 21, 2003, <;.

[30]. “NYCLAW Statement at 3/15 DC Antiwar Rally,” <;; “Labor Speakers at 3/15 DC Antiwar Rally,” March 17, 2003, <;.

[31]. Sarah Ferguson, “In Shock and Awe,” Village Voice, March 19‑25, 2003, <;; “A global fight against war,” International Socialist Review, March‑April 2003, <;; “3/22 NYC Labor Contingent & 4/7 NYCLAW Mtg.,” March 25, 2003, <;; Tasha Robertson, “US activists join anti‑American boycott,” Boston Globe, April 9, 2003, <;; Elizabeth Schulte, Lee Wengraf and Chris Brown, “No war for oil and empire,” Socialist Worker, March 28, 2003, <;.

[32]. “NYCLAW Tour,” March 31, 2003, <;; “The alternative to Bush and Blair,” Socialist Worker, April 11, 2003, <‑1/448/448_11_Arnove.shtml&gt;; “Americans speak out against war,” Share International, May 2003, <;.

[33]. “Antiwar Labor Support For AFSCME DC 37,” April 29, 2003, <;.

[34]. “Natl Antiwar Demo Update,” September 1, 2003, <;; “ANSWER/UFPJ Joint Statement,” September 5, 2003, <;; “NYCLAW Fall Update,” September 16, 2003, <;; Michael Letwin, “NYCLAW Report on October 25 Protests, USLAW,” November 17, 2003, <;.

[35]. “March 20 NYC Unity Statement,” February 6, 2004, <;; “M20 NYC Antiwar Labor Report,” March 22, 2004, <;.

[36]. “Say No to U.S. War and Occupation, Activists set out plans for the future,” Socialist Worker, June 13, 2003, <;.

[37]. “UFPJ/NYC Launches Troops Home Now Campaign,” July 26, 2003, <;; “UFPJ Natl Troops Home Now Campaign!,” July 26, 2003, <;; “New Stickers: ‘Bush Lies ‑ Who Dies?’”, July 29, 2003, <;; “New NYCLAW Antiwar Buttons,” October 11, 2003, <;.

[38]. Alan Maass, “The Future of the Anti‑War Movement, Opposing the Occupation,” Counterpunch, October 23, 2003, <;.

[39]. NYCLAW is a signatory to “An Open Letter from the Arab‑American and Muslim Community to the US Anti‑War Movement,” January 12, 2004, <;.

2004.04.21: Michael Letwin Nomination to USLAW Steering Committee

Michael Letwin Candidacy for USLAW Steering Committee
April 21, 2004

I am co-convener of New York City Labor Against the War, which was the first post-9/11 labor antiwar committee established in the U.S. I am also a member of the UFPJ National Steering Committee and the USLAW Continuations Committee.

Founded in September 2001 by an interracial group of elected local union officers[1] and rank‐and‐file union members, NYCLAW has played a leading role in both labor antiwar activity and within the broad antiwar movement.

NYCLAW’s founding statement was issued on September 27, 2001, just 16 days after 9/11.

Since then, it has been endorsed by some 1500 trade unionists, including scores of union officers, and has been widely circulated in many languages (e.g., English, Arabic, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Turkish),[7] served as a model for similar action elsewhere,[1a] and has been accompanied by a listserv with an equal number of subscribers.


NYCLAW has sought to deepen its local roots through a one-day organizing conference on October 19, 2002, attended by more than 100 trade unionists from NYC and beyond; has established affiliated labor antiwar committees in healthcare, teachers, postal and transit; and has initiated and/or supported antiwar resolutions adopted by AFSCME DC 1707 and DC 37; PSC‐CUNY; 1199SEIU; UAW Region 9A and other unions.

As part of its focus on workers of color, it held a December 12, 2001 forum on civil liberties and immigrant rights attended by about 100 people[8]; in March and September 2002, organized labor solidarity protests in solidarity with immigrant detainees in Brooklyn, that were endorsed by some sixteen labor bodies and attended by nearly 400 people[11]; picketed the May 21, 2002 AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting to protest investment in Israeli bonds[12]; and sponsored NYC Palestinian trade union tour [DATE].


In October 2001, NYCLAW helped convene the earliest labor antiwar network, which included ad hoc committees in the Bay Area, D.C., Albany and elsewhere.[4] In 2001-2002, NYCLAW members brought antiwar resolutions to the international conventions of TWU[5], AFT and AFSCME.

NYCLAW helped build the first USLAW meeting in January 2003, and has been a consistent and persuasive advocate for broad, unqualified opposition to war and occupation – regardless of UN endorsement – and of USLAW representation for ad-hoc antiwar committees.[2a]

At its January 2003 founding meeting, USLAW adopted NYCLAW’s proposals for the organization’s name and for the essence of its unity statement. The October 2003 USLAW conference adopted NYCLAW’s proposal to support the Military Families’ demand to “Bring the Troops Home Now,” and to retain USLAW’s name.

[Iraq labor tour]


NYCLAW has also played a leadership role within the broader antiwar movement. It helped establish the New York Coalition for Peace and Justice, which held a 10,000‐strong protest on October 7, 2001, the day war began in Afghanistan.[3]

Since that time, it has co-sponsored, spoken and/or coordinated labor mobilization at numerous national and international mass antiwar events, including November 18, 2001 (London),[6] February 2, 2002 (NYC)[9], April 20, 2002 (DC)[10], October 26, 2002 (DC), January 18, 2003 (DC), February 15, 2003 (NYC), Mid‐March 2003 (NYC), March 23, 2003 (NYC), April 2003 (London), October 25, 2003 (DC), and March 20, 2004 (NYC). Within the movement, it has successfully advocated for united action between ANSWER, UFPJ and all other major antiwar coalitions; for adoption of “Bring the Troops Home Now” and for full inclusion of Arab-Muslims and Palestinians.

In March 2004, PSC-CUNY honored NYCLAW with a “Friend of CUNY Award.”

Michael Letwin, Growth of Labor Anti?War Action Tied to Bush’s Anti?Worker Moves (Labor Notes, 2003), at:


1. From 1989-2002, I was full‐time president of UAW Local 2325, the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys. After coming under intense attack for my public position on the war and on Palestine, I was defeated for reelection in November 2002. Support for UAW Local 2325 Antiwar Resolution (April ___, 2003), at <Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.

1a. NYCLAW Inspires Netherlands Labor (Oct 27, 2001), at <Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. Dorothy Macedo, Labour Against the War (England)(Oct 28, 2001), at <;

2. Deidre Mcfadyen, Some Union Heads Oppose ‘Bush War,’ Chief‐Leader, October 26, 2001, at <Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. New York City Labor Against War, Socialist Worker, November 16, 2001, at <;; Judith Le Blanc, Labor takes a stand for justice, People’s Weekly World, December 1, 2001, at <;

2a. Founding of U.S. Labor Against the War (NYCLAW, January 13, 2003), at <Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.; Al Benchich, Labor Leaders Launch National Anti‐War Effort (Labor Notes, February 2003), at <Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.

3. Report on October 10 NYC Labor Against the War Meeting (NYCLAW, October 15, 2001), at <Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.; Judith Le Blanc, As bombs drop, Americans say: ‘Not in our name,’ People’s Weekly World, October 13, 2001, at <;

4. Labor Antiwar Efforts in Three Cities (Oct 17, 2001), at <;

5. Mark Daly, Flyer Outrages TWU Leaders, The Chief -Leader, Oct. 31, 2001, at <Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. Marty Goodman, TWU Antiwar Resolution (October 31, 2001), at <Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.

6. NYCLAW Joins 100,000 in London Against the War (November 26, 2001), at <;

7. Statement in Other Languages (December 4, 2001), at <Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.

8. NYCLAW Worker’s Forum: War on Our Rights, at <Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.

9. Tomorrow’s Anti‐WEF Events (NYC)(February 1, 2002), at;

10. a20 Coalition Statement (April 25, 2002), at <Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. NYCPJ Statement (April 28, 2002), at <;; Democracy Now, April 19, 2004, Broadcast of Democracy Now a‐20 roundtable, including NYCLAW Co‐Convener Brenda Stokely and others, at <Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. REPORT (DC‐‐a20) C‐SPAN Coverage (April 22, 2002), at <Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. Tim Wheeler, Speakers denounce Bush war on people, People’s Weekly World, April 27, 2002, at <Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. Tim Wheeler, 100,000 demand No war at home or abroad, People’s Weekly World, April 27, 2002, at <;

11. (3/23‐‐Brooklyn & Oakland): Report on Labor Protests (March 25, 2002), at <;

12. No Labor Money for Israeli War Crimes! (May 21, 2002), at <;

Al-Awda Call for Labor Divestment


Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition Second International Convention
New York, NY, USA
April 16-18, 2004

Until the dismantlement of the exclusionary and racist character of “Israel”, and until all Palestinians are granted the right to return and achieve equality, this Coalition is united in working for and demanding:

1. An end to all US political, military and economic aid to “Israel”

2. The divestment of all public and private entities from all “Israeli” corporations and American corporations with subsidiaries operating within “Israel”


4. The boycott of all “Israeli” products

5. The right to return for all Palestinian refugees to their original towns, villages and lands with compensation for damages inflicted on their property and lives

6. The right for all Palestinian refugees to full restitution of all confiscated and destroyed property

7. The formation of an independent, democratic state for all its citizens in all of Palestine

Full text: <;

Breaching Another Barrier for Palestine—This One in the U.S. Peace Movement (WRMEA)

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April 2004, pages 32-33

Special Report
Breaching Another Barrier for Palestine—This One in the U.S. Peace Movement

By Sara Powell

Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice (l), and Elias Rashmawi of FPA and ANSWER, author of the Arab- and Muslim-American community’s“open letter” to the anti-war movement (staff photos S. Powell).

AS MANY ADVOCATES for Palestinian justice are aware, U.S. activists to the left of center have failed to really push the issue to the forefront of the peace movement. Literally for decades, in fact, activists concerned for Palestinian rights have been consistently marginalized by their peers. From the shameful refusal of anti-nuclear activists to address what was happening in Sabra and Shatila at their million-strong rally in New York City in June 1982, to the two demonstrations held April 20, 2002 in Washington, DC—one the largest demonstration for Palestinian rights ever in the U.S., the other a smaller anti-war demonstration—the organizers of which initially declined to participate in a unified march and rally to include the Palestinian issue. The latter group eventually merged with the larger march against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s vicious assault on the West Bank. Through the decades, however, leading American activists have tried to keep Palestinian voices—and the voices of those supporting them—from being heard.

The post-9/11 U.S. war on Afghanistan, and especially the pre-emptive war on Iraq, led to a renaissance of the peace movement in this country—bringing hundreds of thousands of Americans from all walks of life into the streets, time and again, to challenge U.S. Middle East policy. Two large coalitions—International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and UFPJ (United for Peace and Justice)—took center stage as organizers of the movement. Those who demonstrated heard a variety of messages about colonial domination around the world, the need for equality and justice at home, and the misuse of funds for warfare when so many of their fellow citizens are hungry and homeless. The protestors even heard something about the Israeli occupation of Palestine with U.S. funds, arms, and diplomatic protection.

On Oct 25, 2003, ANSWER and UFPJ cosponsored a large demonstration in Washington, DC demanding to “Bring the troops home now.” Early last November, ANSWER issued a public call for a March 20 protest—to be held on the first anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Soon after, UFPJ followed suit. Both formed coalitions with other like-minded groups, and applied for permits—the work of organizing was underway. By early December ANSWER had approached UFPJ with a proposal for a unified demonstration, and by January an extensive, somewhat detailed, proposition was on the table.

Along with the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (Al Awda), the Muslim Students Association (MSA), the Free Palestine Alliance-USA (FPA), the Muslim American Society, Freedom Foundation (MAS), the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and the Arab Muslim American Federation, ANSWER called for the March 20 mobilization to protest all colonial occupations—specifically including Palestine.

On Jan. 12, the Arab- and Muslim-American community issued an open letter to the anti-war movement. Among the letter’s main points were that the struggle in Palestine was central to any peace and justice mobilization, that the rights of return and self-determination are key anchors of the Palestinian struggle, and that the decades-long marginalization and tokenization of Arab and Muslim voices is racist and unacceptable. “Justice is neither selective, nor partial or conditional,” the letter concluded.

To date almost 300 organizations, as well as many individuals, have signed the letter. Among the signatories are 10 Palestinian refugee camp institutions—including The Forum of Palestinian NGOs Working on Refugee Camps of Lebanon (an umbrella group of 18 non-governmental organizations), The Palestinian NGO Network of 92 Palestinian NGOs based in Palestine, and the Right of Return Congress International—and four South African solidarity groups, including the Anti-War Coalition South Africa, which comprises 70 organizations. (For a complete list of signers see the ANSWER Web site, <>).

Immediately, UFPJ and the other members of its coalition, the March 20 Mobilizing Committee, attempted to reshape the program. Once again, American activists split over the issue of Palestine. This time, however, the March 20 National Coalition, which included ANSWER, Al Awda, MSA, FPA and others, drew a line in the sand and refused to compromise or back down from their insistence that Palestine be a major focus of the demonstration.

In the past, other political differences within and between the various coalitions had proven secondary to the pressing issues of war. The issue of Palestinian rights, however, always had crumbled in the face of supporters of Israel—from hard-line Zionists to sympathizers with Holocaust victims—all apparently unable to acknowledge the injustice perpetrated on the people of Palestine. As ANSWER had stood with Arab and Muslim Americans in April 2002, however, so it was determined to do again on March 20.

Throughout the country, heated meetings took place between the various groups. Al Awda’s Dr. Jess Ghannam, of the University of San Francisco, said that one UFPJ leader, reportedly from Tikkun, told him personally that the group was worried about a Palestinian taking the stage to discuss the Right of Return. The peculiar tendency to embrace all other just causes while pretending (at best) that Palestinians do not exist, or blaming Palestine for its occupation—or even vilifying Palestinians as evil terrorists who have no right to the land they have lived on and cultivated for centuries—was exposed as lying deep within groups whose raison d’etre ostensibly was peace and justice.

During one conference call seeking to create a unified demonstration, the March 20 Mobilizing Committee tried to change the focus of the march while still “allowing” Palestinians to speak. At the conclusion of the call, according to sources, those representing the March 20 National Coalition stated, one by one, that they would not compromise on the demand to include Palestine as an integral focus.

Finally, on Feb. 6, after many tense negotiations, the Mobilizing Committee agreed on Feb. 6 to issue a joint statement with the National Coalition. The call went out for a united demonstration in New York City, to “march for an end to the occupation and corporate control of Iraq and to bring the troops home now [and to]…march for an end to the occupation of Palestine…”

On Feb. 7, ANSWER issued the call on behalf of the National Coalition; several days later, UFPJ issued the call on behalf of the Committee. However, U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), Bring the Troops Home Now—a coalition of Military Families Against the War, and Veterans for Peace no longer are listed on the UFPJ Web page as being among the members of the March 20 Mobilizing Committee. UFPJ’s San Francisco chapter, moreover, declined to be part of the Bay Area demonstration. In contrast, New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW) fought for the inclusion of Palestine.

Nonetheless, it does seem that the Palestinian cause might be on its way to achieving “political correctness” among U.S. activists. One hopes that, as a result, Americans’ realization of Palestinian’s legitimate demands will spread more quickly among those who profess to stand for justice.

Sara Powell is the Washington Report’s administrative and public relations director.