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Anti-war Network Founding Conference a Success

After a few years of a nascent anti-war movement in Virginia, more than 20 progressive activist groups came together in Richmond on Jan. 8 to formally endorse a statewide network opposed to the U.S. war on Iraq and the oppressions intertwined with U.S. war abroad and the daily experiences of marginalized people at home.
After a few years of a nascent anti-war movement in Virginia, more than 20 progressive activist groups came together in Richmond on Jan. 8 to formally endorse a statewide network opposed to the U.S. war on Iraq and the oppressions intertwined with U.S. war abroad and the daily experiences of marginalized people at home.

Folks from Blacksburg, Waynesboro, Charlottesville, Fredericksburg, Richmond,
Newport News, Williamsburg and Norfolk gathered with struggle on their minds at Asbury United Methodist Church in Church Hill for a long day of discussion and introductions. At the end, people emerged with an unnamed network, a steering committee, plans for joining together for regional and national mobilizations and the beginnings of a coordinated program.

Junaid Ahmed a student from Old Dominion University and member of Hampton Roads Amnesty International said that Virginia’s large geographic size allowed for groups in different areas to feel isolated in their activism.

“One of our primary objectives was to network and to coordinate between the various groups involved in Virginia. For those groups to feel and know that there are other groups in the state working on similar issues will help the movement expand,? Ahmed said. “I think we can look forward to increased amount of activism and solidarity and support from all of the groups.?

Some of the groups represented at the conference were: the Augusta Coalition for Peace and Justice, Hampton Roads Amnesty International, the Defenders for Freedom Justice and Equality, the People’s Alliance for Clean Energy, the United Electrical Workers Union Local 160, the Tidewater Labor Support Committee, Pax Christi Richmond, Charlottesville and Richmond Food Not Bombs and Richmond Indymedia.

The conference’s morning session involved introductions of the various groups present and short speeches that highlighted the need for a progressive movement in the state.

Tiamba Wilkerson from the Defenders connected the Iraqi people’s right for self-determination with the struggle of the African American community’s survival in the U.S.

“The struggle for self-determination — the struggle for the right of historically oppressed nations and peoples to decide for themselves their relationship to the global society, particularly its relationship to the oppressor nations of the world — is not just the fight of Iraqis, Palestinians, Afghans, etc. Domestically, African-Americans have been and are still actively engaged in this battle,? she said.

“It is imperative to our liberation that people of African descent determine for ourselves our relationship to the American political system — a system that excludes us and ignores our issues — and to the American economic system, which was developed based on our enslavement and perpetual second-class citizenship — and to the American social structure, which renders us invisible or promotes an image of us as deviant, animalistic and outside, if not actually detrimental to the American mainstream.?

In their speech, members of the Richmond Queer Space Project stressed the importance of why fighting gender oppression must be part of the anti-war movement.

“We allowed for sanctions that killed 500,000 Iraqis and have attacked the country twice without mush moral qualms about killing vast numbers of Iraqis, mainly because, many believe, they are darker-skinned and thus the U.S. sees them as less important,? read RQSP member Trouble from a statement written by another RQSP member.

“It does not take a great leap of thought to see how the oppression of people based on their skin is similar to oppression of people based on other aspects of their body, whether it be ability, intelligence, sexual expression or gender expression.?

The groups agreed to gather under three demands brought from the July 3 2004 march in Richmond that called for: real sovereignty for the people of Iraq, bring the troops home now; end the occupations of Iraq, Haiti, Afghanistan and Palestine and money for jobs and human needs, not for war. A fourth demand was tacked on to solidify the progressiveness of the network: say no to racism, sexism and the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Organizers of the conference said the demands were used to separate this network from the liberal elements of the anti-war movement by articulating open support for certain endangered communities. Some at the conference argued against the singling out of the LGBT community in the fourth demand and instead wanted to use more ambiguous language.

As discussion ensued, one participant, Garrie Rouse of the Unitarian Universalist Peace and Justice Committee, said, “It seems like this network instead of being a big tent envisions itself as more of a beacon.?

The principles of this network came from the organically fierce resistance Virginians have displayed while protesting the war in Iraq. Statewide mobilizations in Charlottesville and Richmond have turned out thousands of people in the past. Virginian activists have maintained the struggle by engaging in militant activity at home and in D.C. that included several civil disobedience actions where people were arrested.

The conference also endorsed principles of unity that expanded on the demands to serve as a mission statement for the network. The group also decided to organize a statewide tour of Military Families Speak Out, whose dedicated member Larry Syverson, a Richmonder, will speak in different locales on why he became opposed to his two sons serving in Iraq.

The conference was also held to establish a network of likeminded groups who could support each other on the local level as well. Abhaya Thiele from PACE urged conference attendees to come to Louisa County on Jan. 19 to speak out during a Nuclear Regulatory Commission public hearing on plans to install two new nuclear reactors in Virginia, the first since the tragic Three Mile Island meltdown twenty-five years ago.

“Not only is this extremely important to our area but this carries national importance as well,? Thiele said. “If (the government) moves forward with this, then they could build 50 more reactors throughout the country.?

Members of the UE Local 160 appealed for people to support them on Jan. 12 in three rallies in Virginia to demand healthcare workers’ rights. A steering committee comprised of different representatives throughout the state decided to meet again to further coalesce the network and to plan activities for upcoming national mobilizations.

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