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EVALUATION OF THE JUNE 28-29, 2008, NATIONAL ASSEMBLY TO END THE IRAQ WAR


EVALUATION OF THE JUNE 28-29, 2008, NATIONAL ASSEMBLY TO END THE IRAQ WAR
AND OCCUPATION
By Jerry Gordon, Marilyn Levin and Jeff Mackler

Members of the Administrative Committee of the Assembly’s 50-Member
Coordinating Committee

Our overall assessment is that the conference was an overwhelming success.
Over 400 people from many parts of the country and Canada attended,
including a bus of 44 -- mostly youth -- from Connecticut (see breakdown
by states below). The conference met its main objective, which was to
urge united and massive mobilizations in the spring to “Bring the Troops
Home Now,” as well as supporting actions that build towards that date. It
also provided a prototype for how an antiwar movement can function
effectively and democratically. The one person-one vote voting formula
made everyone feel involved, able to have a voice, and capable of
influencing decisions on critical issues. People left the conference sky
high, and with renewed energy and determination to build the movement.

Conference highlights included the following:

1. Ensured that it was action-oriented by urging support for
demonstrations at the Republican and Democratic Party conventions
(September 1-4, 2008 and August 25-28, 2008 respectively), other actions
preceding the elections -- especially those called for October 11 -- and
proposing December 9-14 as dates for local actions across the country
demanding the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
These December actions provide the best potential for uniting the entire
movement in the months ahead. ANSWER and the Troops Out Now Coalition
have endorsed them and the hope is that UFPJ will do the same. The need
now is to take these proposed dates to local antiwar coalitions; labor
groups, especially U.S. Labor Against the War; veterans and military
families organizations: the faith community; Black, Hispanic, Asian,
Arab, Muslim and other nationalities, racial and ethnic groups; students;
women’s peace organizations; the Moratorium; and all other social forces
that can be drawn into antiwar activities. All actions are viewed as
springboards for building massive, united, independent and bi-coastal
Spring 2009 demonstrations against the war.

2. Expressed its strong opposition to attacks against Iran, as well as
sanctions and other forms of intervention into that country’s internal
affairs; registered determination to join other antiwar forces in massive
united, protest actions in the event that the U.S. or its proxy, Israel,
bombs Iran; and urged that if this occurs an emergency meeting of all the
major antiwar forces be called to plan such actions.

3. Added Afghanistan to the name of the Assembly because the U.S. is
fighting two unjust, illegal, and brutal wars simultaneously and both must
be opposed. We are now the National Assembly to End the Iraq and
Afghanistan Wars and Occupations.

4. Voted to integrate the issue of Palestine into the broader antiwar
struggle and to challenge U.S. support for the Israeli occupation.

5. Included in the conference program and agenda a number of workshops of
interest to attendees, with the workshops designed to show the
interconnection between the wars and occupations and other issues of
concern. Here is the list of workshops: The Cost of the War and the
Deepening Economic Crisis; War Rages While Racism, Anti-Immigrant Attacks
and the War at Home Escalate; Building the Antiwar Movement in Labor
Organizations: International Solidarity and the Common Needs of U.S. and
Iraqi Workers; Lessons From the Vietnam Antiwar Movement; Students, the
Economic Draft and Military Recruitment in Our Schools; Confronting the
Assault on Civil Liberties and the U.S. Constitution: the War on Terror --
Today’s Justification for Washington’s Wars at Home and Abroad; Palestine,
the Middle East and Iraq: Drawing the Connections; The Critical Role of
Veterans and Military Families Opposed to the War; Latin America and the
Caribbean: the Next U.S. War of Intervention?; The Next Oil Wars: Africa
Command (AFRICOM) and the Expansion of U.S. Military Intervention in
Africa; This is What Democracy Looks Like: Effective Lobbying to End the
Occupation; Local Organizing and the Iraq Moratorium; Nonviolent Direct
Action: Is It Effective?; Outsourcing Our Sovereignty: Blackwater and the
Privatization of War with Public Money; War, Militarism, Violence Against
Women, and Women’s Resistance; The St. Paul Republican National Convention
Protest; and the Movement and the Media.

6. Attracted a broad range of movement activists as well as the
leadership of the nation’s most prominent antiwar coalitions -- UFPJ,
ANSWER and TONC -- as well as leaders and representatives of U.S. Labor
Against the War, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, and
Military Families Speak Out.

7. Featured an impressive array of speakers representing critical
constituencies, several of whom pledged future collaboration. These
included: Donna Dewitt, President of the South Carolina AFL-CIO and
Co-Chair, South Carolina Progressive Network; Fred Mason, President,
Maryland AFL-CIO and Co-Convenor, U.S. Labor Against the War; Cindy
Sheehan, Gold Star Families for Peace (by video tape); Jonathon Hutto,
Navy Petty Officer, Author of Anti-War Soldier and Co-Founder of Appeal
for Redress; Elliott Adams, President, Veterans for Peace; Beth Lerman,
Coordinator of Military Families Speak Out in Ohio; Leslie Cagan, National
Coordinator, United for Peace and Justice; Jesse Diaz, Organizer of the
May 1, 2006 immigrant rights boycott; Marilyn Levin, Boston United for
Justice with Peace, New England United, and Middle East Crisis Coalition;
Brian Becker, National Coordinator, A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition; Colia
Lafayette Clark, Richard Wright Centennial Committee; Jorge Mujica,
Chicago March 10 Coalition; Jeremy Scahill, Author, of “Blackwater: The
Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army;” Clarence Thomas,
Executive Board Member, ILWU Local 10, the trade union that initiated the
May 1 one-day antiwar strike that closed all U.S. West Coast ports from
Canada to Mexico; Riham Barghouti, Adalah, New York City; Lynne Stewart,
attorney and 30-year veteran of civil liberties and civil rights defense
work; Josh Davidson, Shaker Heights High School Students for a Democratic
Society (SDS); Larry Holmes, Coordinator, Troops Out Now Coalition; Jeff
Mackler, Coordinating Committee, National Assembly to End the Iraq War and
Occupation; and Jerry Gordon, Steering Committee, U.S. Labor Against the
War and Co-Coordinator of the Vietnam-era National Peace Action Coalition.
Saturday Night Performer: Son of Nun.

8. Projected an atmosphere where spirited and sometimes sharp debate
could take place in a civil manner on substantive issues. The few
attempts to deprecate groups or individuals encountered a strong negative
response.

9. Voted to maintain the Assembly as a network with its mission intact
and continuing: to be a catalyst and unifier, striving always to unite the
movement in the streets. Our abiding conviction is that a united movement
is a stronger movement and one better able to reach out to and involve the
broader forces that must be won if we are to put an end to the wars and
occupations.

10. Elected a 13-member Administrative Body (AB), composed of Zaineb
Alani, Colia Clark, Greg Coleridge, Donna Dewitt, Jamilla El-Shafei, Mike
Ferner, Jerry Gordon, Jonathan Hutto, Marilyn Levin, Jeff Mackler, Fred
Mason, Mary Nichols-Rhodes and Lynne Stewart.

11. Raised enough money to pay all the bills for what was a very expensive
undertaking, with the total cost being an estimated $23,500.

HITCHES ALONG THE WAY

Of course, there were flaws in the planning and preparation for the
conference and, in retrospect, there were things we would have done
differently. The most serious problem was not making it clear beforehand
what was meant by an action proposal as differentiated from requests for
endorsements of events, minor word changes, and proposals outside the
realistic scope of the conference. This resulted in an avalanche of
proposals and later of amendments to the action proposal the conference
voted to focus on. Because all of these amendments could not be taken up
in the allotted time, many were referred to the incoming Administrative
Body.

Then, too, the Saturday night program lasted too long and the concluding
speakers, as well as Son of Nun, who performed magnificently at the end,
were heard by dwindling numbers. We also underestimated the turnout and
although we prepared 400 kits going into the conference at a time when
registrations totaled about 300, there were not enough kits to go around
(especially since a number of people took more than one so they could pass
them along to activists back home).

We will learn from all this and make the necessary changes the next time
around. After all, this was the Assembly’s founding conference. We are
confident the next one will be bigger and better.

WHERE DOES THE ASSEMBLY GO FROM HERE?

As we see it, the immediate priorities are completing work on the action
and structure proposals and posting them on the Assembly website;
circulating them widely throughout the movement; securing endorsements for
the December 9-14 actions and acting as a clearinghouse for listing and
promoting the December actions; encouraging groups which are in agreement
with the five points that unite us -- “Out Now!” as the movement’s
unifying demand, mass action as the central strategy, unity of the
movement, democratic decision making, and independence from all political
parties -- to elect representatives to the Assembly’s Continuations Body
and help guide us as we move forward; and preparing a DVD featuring
highlights of the conference for distribution and sale.

Was the conference a success? This will be determined less by what we
discussed and voted upon there and more by what conference attendees do in
the aftermath. If those who went through the experience of the conference
are vocal and assertive in not only pressing for united actions in the
future but demanding them and if, as a result, our fractured antiwar
movement at last comes together in the streets, and stays there until the
U.S. stops waging war on the peoples of the Middle East, as well as
Afghanistan, then it may truly be said that the June 28-29 conference held
in Cleveland, Ohio was, indeed, an historic event.

*Conference attendance: 417 people registered, 12 who did register did
not come, so the total attendance was 405. One person came from Arizona,
29 from California, one from Colorado, 41 from Connecticut, 7 from
Washington, D.C., 2 from Florida, 27 from Illinois, one from Indiana, 16
from Massachusetts, 5 from Maryland, 17 from Michigan, 14 from Minnesota,
6 from Missouri, 1 from North Carolina, 10 from New Jersey, 39 from New
York, 140 from Ohio, 1 from Oregon, 21 from Pennsylvania, 6 from Rhode
Island, 2 from South Carolina, 1 from Texas, 1 from Utah, 4 from Virginia,
3 from Washington State, 6 from Wisconsin, 4 from Ontario, Canada

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