Saturday, December 13, 2008

UFPJ - Big Kick Off with TOM HAYDEN, Antonio Juhasz and more...

Yesterday, UFPJ (United for Peace & Justice) kicked off its 4th National Assembly with enormous energy, unleashed by the Friday night speaker trio of Tom Hayden, USAction/True Majority President William McNary, and writer-activist Antonio Juhasz, as well as a visit by a leader of the union from the victorious Republic Windows struggle. Hundreds of delegates from UFPJ member groups have now descended on Chicago, IL, to take part in the largest antiwar coalition's National Assembly and to make effective organizing plans and strategies for the year ahead.

Afternoon skill straining sessions and educational seminars laid the foundation for a powerful evening which began with a detailed explanation of the events at Republic Windows and Doors by Armando Robles, the president of the local United Electrical Workers. His comments reminded everyone that when people act collectively and boldly in the face of great obstacles they can succeed. The collection after his talk raised more than $2,000 for the fund being created to help the workers and their families during this difficult period.

Next came an eloquent and insightful speech by UFPJ National Coordinator Leslie Cagan. Noting the changed political environment -- one imbued with enormous public energy and excitement following the Obama campaign -- Cagan stressed the need to make sense of the new circumstances in which the peace and justice movement will work, to take stock of what needs to be done to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as we connect to the struggles brought on by the economic crisis, and to start organizing with the fervor and energy that the times demand of us. She highlighted our movement's successes in turning public opinion strongly against the war in Iraq and in keeping public activism alive during the difficult Bush years, as well as the shortcomings thus far in actually ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Finally, long-time activist Tom Hayden took the stage to share his experiences in the antiwar movement and the dire need -- now more than ever -- to truly unite the various progressive movements to end foreign aggression and to start refocusing our resources on local community needs. Hayden warned of the danger that the antiwar movement has long found itself -- being fractured from other progressive groups focused on domestic concerns -- and stated clearly that we must learn from past mistakes and see how interconnected military spending and aggression and community deprivation truly are.

Hayden's plea for progressive unity was followed by USAction/True Majority President William McNary's stirring and stimulating speech, as he pounded on the podium demanding that us 'passionate progressives' organize the most inclusive movement possible, one that invites all to participate besides those who advocate racism, sexism, homophobia, and economic exploitation. McNary inflamed the delegates, bringing everyone to their feet, infusing the Assembly with the hope and energy needed to sustain the movement in the year ahead. Concluding his short sermon, McNary said the movement must engage in three important things, 'Organize! Organize! Organize!'

Antonio Juhasz closed the session with a focused analysis of the central role of the oil industry in setting this country's military and economic agendas. She implored the Assembly participants, and our movement more generally, to develop organizing plans aimed at directly challenging the massive power of the biggest industry of our country. Her talk pointed to the urgent need to connect the antiwar movement with the movements to save the environment and to challenge corporate control, and she included a passionate reminder that we can take on even the largest of corporate interests.

Today, Saturday, delegates from UFPJ member groups will work to re-envision the purpose and goals of the coalition for the year ahead and to plan effective and coordinated action in this new political and economic environment. With Friday night's energy, the hope is strong that UFPJ will create a strategic organizing plan for this next year and implement it with a spirit of fervor and excitement -- creating the change we need by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and refocusing our resources back towards the needs of people, the communities they live in, and the hopes they carry with them.

Please stay tuned for further reports from the UFPJ National Assembly.

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