Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Limitations of UFPJ: On Liberal Leninism

Almost all activists I encounter agree that ANSWER is an undemocratic group with bad politics. However, the nature of UFPJ (the other national antiwar group that regularly organizes major demonstrations) is more interesting. Criticism is fairly common but often not specific enough to be productive. Charges of liberalism (as opposed to radicalism) and bureaucratism are frequent enough to have made me suspicious. The activist Brian Dominick (whose writings lead me to respect his opinion) wrote back in 2004 that "UFPJ has proven itself a massive waste of energy and resources."
["Mediocrity on the Left," Brian Dominick, 8/26/2004] My own frustrations are born out of the lack of transparency in UFPJ. How is one to evaluate an organization when meeting notes and discussion listservs are not publicly available online? What follows is an attempt to asses the problems in UFPJ based on what I was able to find on the internet.

A Tendency to be Overly Cautious and Deferential to the Authorities in Planning Protests
Dominick writes:
When NYC turned down the group's march permit for the February 15, 2003 antiwar demonstrations in NYC, and offered a protest pen in exchange, UFPJ rolled over and took it like good collaborators -- with an obedient grin. The group's leadership discouraged wildcat actions and basically relegated the 400,000-strong crowd -- the largest to assemble at a peace demonstration in the US since the Vietnam War, and the largest ever assembled in a pre-war action -- to filing up and down the avenues of the Manhattan's East Side like a bunch of mice (I was one of them -- I vividly recall the feeling). ["Mediocrity on the Left," Brian Dominick, 8/26/2004]

See also:
[Michelle Goldberg, "New York Lockdown," The Guardian, August 12, 2004]

A recent article in Left Turn by Ak Gupta is also of interest in this regard:
Max Uhlenbeck, a former organizer with UFPJ, points to a fear of "strategic militancy" within UFPJ as part of the problem. He argues that on two critical occasions UFPJ had "support for mass direct action and blinked," referring to Feb. 15, 2003 and the massive Republican National Convention protest on Aug. 29, 2004. Both times "UFPJ took the legal route" by letting lawyers negotiate with the city over march routes and plans, and both times the city strung UFPJ along and quashed their desired protest plans.

While it was clear that UFPJ had the widespread support of its base, it chose not to employ a call for mass direct action or rely on a more "people powered strategy," instead haggling with various city bureaucracies. Uhlenbeck adds that on the evening before the historic Feb 15th, 2003 rally a UFPJ staffer told him privately that "they did not want to see a front-page story about how thousands of young people were arrested in the paper the next morning."

Laursen adds that, "at best" direct action proponents "get friendly toleration from UFPJ. It’s an attitude of ‘Please don’t do anything embarrassing.’" He also says that in some ways, having such dominant anti-war groups can be a hindrance. "The Vietnam-era movement had less centralized leadership than now, which was a good thing because it led to more creativity. There was no UFPJ or even ANSWER." [Ak Gupta, "Moving Forward: UFPJ and the Anti-war Movement," Left Turn Magazine #19, Feb/March 2006]

The Left Turn article also notes that:
Since the start of the war, the creative street actions that came out of the global justice movement have been largely absent from the anti-war movement. In the Bay Area, Direct Action to Stop the War (DASW) mobilized an impressive 20,000 people and shut down San Francisco in March 2003. While this showed the possibilities of applying affinity group and direct action strategy to the more traditional protest-oriented anti-war movement, DASW was not able to maintain the infrastructure that it had built up after war began, and eventually disintegrated.

Once it was clear that the war was becoming a prolonged occupation, it became much harder to organize a specific mass action against it. While various pockets of the former "Direct Action Network" have stayed involved, there have been more critiques leveled at the "liberal anti-war movement" than attempts to actually self-organize and build alternatives on the national level.

Liberalism
Here's an account of the February 2005 national assembly where UFPJ's plans for the next 18 months were decided:
Throughout the weekend, no one addressed the elephant in the living room--the decision of leading members and forces in UFPJ to campaign for John Kerry, a pro-war presidential candidate. For most of last year, the antiwar movement was at a standstill--even as the potential audience for antiwar opposition increased, and the U.S. occupation was shaken by the Abu Ghraib torture scandal and a growing Iraqi resistance.
***
...by the narrowest of margins, a proposal for a UFPJ legislative and lobbying strategy passed, garnering 68 percent (a “super-majority” vote of two-thirds was required to adopt a proposal). And a proposal for UFPJ to mobilize demonstrations and direct action against corporate war profiteers, the pro-war mainstream media and the military--dubbed “People Power” by its sponsors--was narrowly defeated, winning only 61 percent support. ["Debating UFPJ’s direction," ERIC RUDER, February 25, 2005]

Gupta writes:
...UFPJ seems to argue privately for political "concessions" to prevent isolating the left in a "corner"—namely its abandonment of anti-imperialist politics. If discussed publicly, this would cause tremendous controversy on the left. Stanley Aronowitz, a labor historian, says precisely the reason such issues are not discussed openly is because if UFPJ leaders had to defend their positions they might very well lose. So, he argues, UFPJ takes a political position of not debating politics.

One longtime volunteer with UFPJ present in Washington in September disagrees with the notion that the group doesn’t grapple with politics. He contends the leadership wrestles with and agonizes over political decisions all the time, but he admits that the group’s decision-making process is not transparent to the broader anti-war movement.

One group that has been noticeably less prominent within the anti-war movement is the global justice movement. Eric Laursen, a veteran direct action activist, says, "I think there was a lot of annoyance and discouragement among anti-authoritarians that UFPJ and ANSWER emerged so quickly and were so conservative in their style of organizing as opposed to the Direct Action Network." DAN, as it was known, gained considerable prominence and support after its role in 1999 Seattle protests, but collapsed after the Sept. 11th attacks.

Hierarchical Organizational Methods
The Mobilization for Global Justice, which worked closely with UFPJ, issued an open letter after the September 2005 demonstration in Washington D.C. making a number of complaints. Among other things, the letter stated that,
We believe there is a connection between the failures of political analysis on the part of UFPJ, and their logistical failures. The connection lies in an elitist mode of organizing that treats the grassroots as a resource to exploit rather than as a source of leadership. The grassroots has no role in determining the political vision of the coalition; the vision and message are driven by the needs of getting on CNN and the New York Times. Yet, the grassroots is expected to do the “grunt work” of arranging for housing, medical support, and legal support, without any help from the so-called "leadership." ["An Open Letter to United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) From the Mobilization for Global Justice," February 9, 2006]

The reply from UFPJ ["United For Peace and Justice letter of response to Mobilization for Global Justice," February 10, 2006] does not address this particular allegation.

Thomas Good spent a year as a national delegate to UFPJ, first for the Socialist Party and then for the War Resisters League. He wrote an article ["UFPJ Diary: The Case For Participatory Democracy,"] in the Fall of 2005 that provides the most substantive critique of UFPJ that I'm aware of and is worth reading in full. I'll excerpt some of the most telling passages:
The WRL, ...partly to point out that no matter who is in the White House the Iraq War would not stop, staged a civil disobedience at the New York Stock Exchange on November 3rd. By this time I had been to several New York City Coordinating Committee meetings at the UFPJ offices on 38th Street and knew Leslie Cagan [head of UFPJ] slightly...I called her and asked if UFPJ would consider supporting our action. I was told that UFPJ's primary concern was the election and that if it was stolen (was there any other possible outcome?) they would need to act quickly and therefore could not support us. We held our CD as scheduled, the day after the election... Although irregularities plagued the election UFPJ did not organize a mass protest. This left some of us in the WRL wondering what it would have cost UFPJ to promote our action - via simple endorsement and perhaps email outreach.
***
We traveled together to St. Louis in February, 2005. At the assembly we listened to speeches by Movement stalwarts Angela Davis and Tom Hayden and voted on a wide variety of proposals. But our primary reason for being in St. Louis was to push the proposal for the creation of a Nonviolent Direct Action Working Group - an idea put forward by the Iraq Pledge of Resistance, the Brandywine Peace Community and the War Resisters League national office. Things went well initially and our proposal made it out of subcommittee...but on the day of the actual vote we were badly burned by a combination of rigid bureaucratic process and the actions of a steering committee member named Lisa Fithian who, in the opinion of many, misused her position to block our initiative by speaking against it as an officer of UFPJ (it is my view that she was responding to a perceived territorial threat as the proposal's primary author was someone with whom she had personal issues). After the vote, Sam and I sat down with a delegate from Madison and drafted a motion of reconsideration citing the irregularities that resulted in our proposal going down to defeat. At the next day's plenary we presented the motion to the appropriate committee, expecting to be tossed aside with a recitation of some arcane procedural rule. This did not happen - to our astonishment an administrative committee member named Judith LeBlanc asked me to meet with Cagan in the hall...this was my first exposure to the extraordinary administrative processes in UFPJ. I quickly found two of the other proposal endorsers and we met with with Leslie outside the plenary. She apologized for the actions of the steering committee member who spoke against our proposal and asked me to withdraw our motion as, at best, it would lengthen the assembly considerably, and at worst, might invalidate the entire affair due to some of the voting irregularities cited in it. She offered us a deal: Fithian would apologize from the podium and we would be guaranteed the working group we had asked for. We took the deal and only later did it occur to me that this sort of thing might be a symptom of a serious problem within UFPJ. {2} I fully believe that Leslie felt she was doing the right thing by all concerned and probably she did - but what troubles me is that she was ABLE to do this, without any process whatsoever. After the Assembly the NVDA proposal was brought to the Steering Committee where there was a vote on it. This provided a post hoc veneer of democratic process. It was a pretty thin veneer. Leslie had made a backroom deal that essentially circumvented the assembly altogether. I think, in retrospect, it was a Faustian bargain for all concerned. Had I been a delegate who voted against the NVDA I would have been very surprised to see it created - despite the proposal being defeated on the floor of the assembly by what was supposed to be a democratic process. The fact that the national coordinator was able to reintroduce a defeated proposal to the steering committee is problematic in terms of process but the fact that she negotiated with me using this as a bargaining chip, guaranteeing its passage, would seem to be an even larger issue. (The fact that this deal was struck in order to prevent public scrutiny of alleged voting irregularities is also an issue worthy of further examination).
***
Even though UFPJ-NYC is not a national body (UFPJ has a Steering Committee which meets monthly via teleconference and presently has 42 members) it is very influential. It meets in the UFPJ national office and 2 members of the Administrative Committee (a subset of the Steering Committee which meets biweekly and is UFPJ's most powerful body) rotate facilitation of the meetings. In addition to this, Leslie Cagan, the national coordinator, frequently sat in on the UFPJ-NYC meetings I attended...

The Communist Party is a major player in UFPJ New York. This is a mixed blessing - on the one hand the administrative expertise and resources are very valuable. On the other hand, the legacy of Gus Hall and the years of democratic centralism being abused by CP leadership (which came to a head in 1991 at the 25th National Convention where 1/3 of the Party was expelled by Gus Hall - the expelled becoming the nucleus of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism) has produced something that those of us who were once in the CPUSA call "CP Style". For the uninitiated, this is an organizational style that is not particularly subtle about being top down. It is my understanding that Sam Webb, the CP's current chair, is invested in making the CP a more democratic organization (and perhaps he has succeeded, I wouldn't know) but they have yet to jettison democratic centralism, i.e., Leninism. Judith LeBlanc, in her capacity as UFPJ admin committee member, once remarked in a UFPJ-NYC meeting that the role of the CP was critical in UFPJ as "when you say Communist Party" people know what you mean - "it has name recognition." Setting aside the issue of whether or not this name recognition is always positive, this is an interesting point as UFPJ is big on name recognition and sucks in a fair number of celebrities which it then husbands as a resource. Brian Flanagan once remarked that the Democratic Party is like "a black hole with an event horizon surrounding it" that sucks in peace activists who are "never to be seen again" {3} - this could well describe UFPJ as it is presently constituted. Indeed, it is my view that organizers as well as celebrities are sucked into UFPJ and become "resources" (in the case of skilled organizers they are all too often treated as go-fers - Jim Crutchfield, a member of the IWW General Executive Board, attended a UFPJ NYC meeting in 2003 where "everybody sat in a big circle and talked for hours, and then four people made all the decisions after the meeting." This is very similar to my experience). Whether or not this approach was influenced by the CP is anyone's guess but there is a striking similarity in terms of the management of human resources between UFPJ today and the CP of the 1980s. It is significant that two of the most influential officers in UFPJ: Judith LeBlanc and Leslie Cagan, are vice-chair of the Communist Party and co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, respectively.

It became clear to Sam and I, as we attended UFPJ NYC CC meetings, that they bore the hallmarks of top down organizational model. In the course of struggling for acceptance of direct action we began to notice that agendas appeared to be preset and that agenda changes were not encouraged due to the ever present urgency of some upcoming meeting or event. We also noticed that no minutes were ever distributed to attendees. There was a weekly email but it did not contain the previous week's minutes - it focused on announcements. Sam and I began to joke that, even though we had not signed enlistment papers, we were becoming foot soldiers in "CP-UFPJ". This was all sort of acceptable until the CC began having "Citywide Mobilization" meetings. These were held at 23rd Street, in the Communist Party's building which once housed the Daily World and the storefront Unity Book Store, now an artists' supply shop. Sam and I attended the meeting but it became obvious that there was little planning happening...this was really an opportunity for UFPJ to pass the hat - my first exposure to just how relentless UFPJ fundraising can be. It is my contention now that they differ little from any capitalist charity in that over one third of the annual revenue ($288,000 of $800,000 in 2004 {4}) goes to payroll. This is an astounding sum for most Leftists used to running their organizations with volunteer staff and a shoestring budget. Why is the budget so large? Clearly, maintaining the budget dictates the need for constant fundraising - but where is the public accounting of where the money goes? The balance sheet available on the UFPJ website is somewhat lacking in terms of specifics.
***
The M19 civil disobedience went well for the War Resisters League. A couple dozen of us were arrested at Times Square. Both Reverend Sekou and Leslie Cagan of UFPJ showed up at Times Square - to urge us on, not to risk arrest. I was pleased to see them, especially Sekou as, although he is a cleric and I have a secular orientation, he is a rank and file organizer, a straight shooter and a very likeable and committed activist. As I was loaded into the police van with my fellow arrestees I saw Leslie being interviewed by a TV crew. The media frenzy at Times Square was in part orchestrated by Bill Dobbs, UFPJ's masterful media person (Bill has an acerbic wit and is as likeable for his candor as he is valuable for his skill). Sitting at the Seventh Precinct I had time to reflect on my being in a dingy little cell with 3 other comrades and Leslie being on TV, speaking about OUR action - which got almost no support from UFPJ other than from Bill. Despite my gratitude for Leslie coming to our CD I was simultaneously angered that UFPJ would, perhaps unintentionally, co-opt it...while doing little to help build it. I had tried several times to post our call to action on the UFPJ NYC listserv and although no posts were bounced, none appeared on the list - this sort of thing is common in UFPJ as the centralization and hoarding of all resources, including information, is clearly a serious issue for anti-authoritarians concerned with democratic process. UFPJ's co-optation of the action was, in my view, very similar to what they often accuse ANSWER of doing. (UFPJ's criticisms of ANSWER, which we took at face value in CC meetings, was that they are impossible to work with as they argue over everything from major issues down to font size on fliers - and that they take credit for the actions of others).
***
Our WRL April Action was a Tax Day vigil outside the Internal Revenue Service. It was another successful action, again with no visible UFPJ presence...despite my agitating for assistance in the context of our weekly NYC CC meetings. Again, no listserv announcements made it through, no announcements at the citywide pass the hat meeting reached our friends in the Movement and yet the action was a success. I began to wonder what I was doing suffering through the UFPJ meetings at which I had little input and was simply there to be assigned a task for an upcoming UFPJ meeting or event...on some occasions the meetings were indeed hard to sit through. One of the issues confronting UFPJ is the lack of diversity, in terms of racial composition, in its officers and constituents. Obviously, UFPJ appeals to middle America with its focus on legislative action and attempts to find a lowest common denominator in terms of positions. This has an impact on diversity. Yet this fact seems to elude UFPJ officers...

During one of the last UFPJ NYC CC meetings I attended, Judith was center stage complaining about the lack of diversity in the assembled activists. She pointed out more than once that she was the "only person of color in the room" and that this had to change, we had to reach out to communities of color. Unfortunately, she did not indicate that UFPJ was going to take political positions (e.g. on Palestine) that would allow us to attract a more diverse group. Judith was again stating she was "the only person of color here" when Sam Morales spoke, reminding Judith that he was Puerto Rican and knew all about discrimination from firsthand experience. Judith didn't miss a beat, continuing on to her next point. I was left wondering if her idea of outreach to communities of color consisted solely of getting big names like Danny Glover to speak at UFPJ fundraisers (Danny spoke eloquently at the National Assembly but UFPJ's celeb envy is highly problematic). What struck me was that Sam, the rank and file organizer, was almost invisible to Judith. I was dismayed by this as I believe that the myopic view she espoused is not an isolated phenomenon: there is an authoritarian hierarchy within UFPJ wherein steering committee members alone have the right to lecture the faithful on the evils of white supremacy (which none of the rank and file dispute and in fact address in our political work) even when their own political positions reinforce it.
***
Steve and I posted our Unity Proposal to the NVDA working group email listserv feeling cautiously optimistic. To my dismay, Leslie Cagan immediately wrote in essentially saying that UFPJ had agreed to direct action, this was a big step and why did we have to have an autonomous component? {5} My response to her note was to indicate that I did not feel it appropriate that the national coordinator of a very hierarchical organization should use her position to kill off a democratic initiative that was an attempt to find common ground. (Shades of St. Louis...) Leslie replied, arguing that her power had been overstated in my note. {6} I had some difficulty accepting this assertion, however, it did not surprise me. UFPJ has never been big on self criticism. And all of this was occurring at a time when: UFPJ was under fire for refusing to include support of the (Palestinian) right of return in their Mobilization slogans (from Mahdi Brae and others) and from some of its conservative members for even considering this; ANSWER and UFPJ were both organizing separate marches on the same day in DC; CALC had a minor controversy (Sekou had invited the Dalai Lama to speak at the Mobe without consulting the CALC rank and file), and; anti-authoritarian members of the coalition were decrying the lack of democracy within UFPJ (rumblings in DAWN and other concerned parties were getting louder).
***
After the Mobilization, many of us in September Action, the NVDA caucus turned autonomous collective, struggled with the issue of whether to work with United for Peace and Justice. I have come to accept the position of Jim Macdonald, a DAWN organizer and fellow founding member of September Action. Jim has argued that we must work with UFPJ, continuing to speak truth to power even though this promises to be a very difficult task. {10} Believing that Jim's analysis is correct, I have resigned myself to the fact that, just as the IWW seeks to build a new society in the shell of the old {11}, we must seek to democratize the Old Left by building the Next Left in its corridors. And so, grumbling all the way, I will continue to agitate for reform within UFPJ, this time from the outside, while simultaneously looking to build a new organizational model external to UFPJ wherein participatory democracy and direct action inform our approach. Each member of September Action will have to decide this question individually, as a matter of conscience. The collective has no stated position on this issue. It is my personal conviction that the struggle to define a new organizing model and the struggle for democratization of the organization that claims to speak for the mainstream anti-war movement are both essential components of a dialectic whose synthesis holds out the promise of a stronger movement for peace and progress.

Anti-authoritarians who have spent long hours building the UFPJ coalition and its actions now feel trapped in what has become an entrenched system. In private conversation with other activists on the libertarian Left I have called this system Social Democratic Centralism. This treacherous pun encapsulates the following alleged attributes of UFPJ: a corporate liberal agenda; an anti-democratic (Leninist) organizational model, and; the careerist impulse of an upper echelon preoccupied with self preservation and self promotion. It is my belief that United for Peace and Justice must perform a serious self examination prior to the next National Assembly if it is to survive peace in Iraq. The American war in Viet Nam also seemed never ending to those resisting it but 30 years ago it did come to a close and the peace movement stumbled badly - this mistake should not be repeated. The intensely bureaucratic organizational model of UFPJ stifles creativity, simultaneously hoards and squanders resources, and alienates anti-authoritarian activists and people of color. UFPJ needs to look at why this is so and to explore possible corrective action in order to redefine itself as an organization that embraces participatory democracy and has an agenda that ensures the struggle for justice will continue after the Iraq War is ended.
***
...it is my view that UFPJ and ANSWER share a common, bureaucratic, organizational model, albeit each with its own unique features. Both organizations are administered by what I would term Peace Bureaucrats: for all of their assertions to the contrary, in its internal functioning UFPJ is not that dissimilar from ANSWER - it is top down and the administrative committee can overrule decisions made at the level of the steering committee. The national coordinator wields influence not unlike a Leninist general secretary or chair and, armed with "name recognition" (the net result of celebrity envy), is certainly equipped to use the cult of personality as necessary to influence decisions. {12}
{12}The CPUSA (where Judith LeBlanc is Vice Chair) and CCDS (where Leslie Cagan is Co-Chair) are both Leninist organizations, one with a self described democratic centralist model (CP) and one with a de facto democratic centralist structure (CCDS). This should surprise no one familiar with the history of the US Left as CCDS was formed via a split (the CP members who signed Angela Davis' letter - the "Initiative" - were expelled from the CP in 1991 and went on to found CCDS).

(Whether or not this occurs is arguable. I witnessed what seemed to be unilateral administrative decisions overruling plenary votes in St. Louis and an attempt to quash a motion on the NVDA listserv. It is my opinion this sort of thing does go on and the office of national coordinator should be abolished or its power curtailed by some rudimentary sanity checks).

In speaking with various steering committee members, and based on my experiences working within UFPJ, it has become clear that, contrary to UFPJ's Structure and Functioning document, which defines the Steering Committee as the highest decision making body, the real power resides in the Administrative Committee. Within the Administrative Committee, the national coordinator and co-chairs make the lion's share of decisions. Thus what I've experienced at the level of the NYC CC appears to be true of the steering committee as well: power is concentrated in a very small number of hands; decisions arrived at by democratic process (voted on at the National Assembly) appear to be discarded or overturned; no minutes from Steering or Admin Committees are published on the UFPJ website or distributed to member groups. There is precious little transparency or accountability to member groups. The fact that the national coordinator and a co-chair are officers of organizations with Leninist organizational models is possibly a factor...

The democratization of UFPJ is an interesting puzzle because, although UFPJ is run in what appears to be a highly bureaucratic, centralized manner, its constituents would be appalled to be called either "communist" or "democratic centralist". What's more, despite the fact that many affiliates willingly submit to an arguably anti-democratic organizational model, they voice objections to many of its decisions if not its overall direction (or lack thereof). This is not unlike the American electoral system which UFPJ is, superficially at least, wedded to: many Americans appear to regard democratizing "democracy" as impossible and decline to challenge the apparently immovable bureaucracy. And so it is in UFPJ as well: the members rarely challenge the bureaucracy which clings to a corporate liberal agenda which in turn fails to challenge the war machine head on.

...There is some, at least stated, anxiety within UFPJ over alienating the base which is presumed to be centrist. There is a feeling among the libertarian Left wing of UFPJ that the organization's desire to be a one size fits all coalition is at the root of the diversity issue identified by ANSWER. UFPJ's hesitation to take a principled stand out of concern that it might anger centrists (and their corporate liberal friends in Congress) doubtless alienates marginalized groups that will not join a coalition that refuses to even pay lip service to their concerns.

When looking at the UFPJ/ANSWER duality it is interesting to read the memorandum of understanding between UFPJ and ANSWER issued prior to the joint rally and march that occurred on September 24, 2005. In the document, specific slogans to be borne on banners in the march's lead contingent are described in detail. ANSWER announced its intent to use "anti-imperialist" slogans on their banners while UFPJ planned to use slogans that "address the war in Iraq and issues connected to that war". {14} ANSWER throws out the usual revolutionary slogans and other stirring rhetoric but is hampered in terms of PR by its symbiotic relationship with the Workers World Party which continues to defend the Soviet model. Meanwhile, UFPJ offers a familiar corporate liberalism, with demands that won't frighten its corporate apologist friends in Congress. Hence the lack of any slogans that go beyond "bring the troops home". It is my view that ANSWER will not be reformed. While there are doubtless many members of the coalition that are not Workers World cadre the organization is routinely referred to as a front group by independent leftists and I believe this is an accurate description although I will surely be called sectarian for saying publicly what many believe privately. That leaves one large coalition left to speak for the peace community that is not willing to be identified with vanguardist front groups. Unfortunately, this coalition speaks the language of corporate liberalism which many, myself included, regard as a dead end.

A Lack of Racial Diversity
Gupta writes:
[Barbara] Epstein points out that, "The problems of the anti-war movement are in many respects very much like the problems of the left as a whole." One of those problems is that the left has virtually no national presence at the moment other than UFPJ, so the anti-war coalition gets saddled with the responsibility of fixing many of the left's shortcomings. And perhaps the most persistent shortcoming is racial representation, which is all too evident within the anti-war movement.

According to a Gallup Poll taken in mid-November an astonishing 95 percent of blacks say the war as a mistake, yet one finds relatively few African Americans in attendance at the major demonstrations. Kamau Karl Franklin of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement argues that "Black people as a racial group are against the war more than any other group, but they’re not out there marching. Their priorities is issues in their community —housing, jobs." Franklin says, "Unless anti-war organizers can connect those issues to the war you’ll never get Black people out there in a meaningful way."

Epstein, somewhat unintentionally, highlights a key contradiction over race within the anti-war movement. She says one of the things "going very well" within UFPJ is that "the role of both women and people of color is improving dramatically. There are now a lot of people of color in the leadership of the organization." But then she admits that "the number of people of color involved" is lacking.

One former steering committee member with UFPJ contends the group tends toward tokenization. The member, who wished to remain anonymous, says there are a fair number of people of color on the steering committee, but "not many of them have ties to actual communities." With quotas for various categories—people of color, women, LGBT—there’s also a tendency in UFPJ to engage in "counting," seeing whether people fit diversity categories rather than if they are really rooted in the communities and the struggles they’re supposed to represent.

I would add that, while it is quite commonly argued among antiwar activists that we must link war abroad with domestic problems, it is far from obvious that opposing the Iraq War should take primacy over struggle against the injustices present within the U.S. It seems to me that strengthening our movement and attracting more lower income folks and people of color requires giving priority to an array of issues confronting U.S. citizens alongside the Iraq War.

Ultimately, however, the best way to demonstrate the flaws of UFPJ and the hierarchical organization models used by so much by the left is through the creation of large organizations that embody participatory democracy. I hope the above analysis of some of the flaws of UFPJ will assist in an understanding of what must be avoided if such groups are to be formed.
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4 Comments:

At March 29, 2006 2:55 PM, Blogger Jim Macdonald said...

This is a great read and good to see you used Tom's excellent piece.

In the DC Anti-War Network, we have recently decided to pull out of what I'd call the neo-feudal governing structure of UFPJ, at least in terms of providing funds. We're likely to pull out completely.

It should be noted that April 29's action, which we do not talk about in DC, we think is in NYC for a couple of reasons: 1) because UFPJ needs money, and it's cheaper to raise money through a mass mobilization in NYC; 2) the local movement in DC won't tolerate being pushed around by NYC any more. We feel we successfully rebutted them and have had time to re-build the local movement around de-centralized people powered actions and are looking forward to a divestment campaign against Halliburton.

There are sprinkles of bottom up organizing happening, but the process is moving very slowly. I think that's good, if only we can keep the mass mobilizations out of DC for awhile.

Anyhow, good work, and thanks for posting.

 
At March 30, 2006 9:58 PM, Blogger Steve Fake said...

An interesting update. Thanks for posting. It'll be interesting to see to what extent a truly democratice movement is able to develop. Unfortunately, it seems that while there are areas where the antiwar movement is more democratic and promising, the experiences and lessons aren't widely known or understood outside of their specific localities.

 
At March 31, 2006 3:03 PM, Blogger Jim Macdonald said...

Yes, that's right. There are a lot of challenges in truly democratic organizing, notably how to use a small group process in a way that is inclusive, capable of growth, and does so without losing its democratic principles.

We talk about these issues all the time at the local level in DAWN. The answer we keep coming to is building parallel infrastructure. Right now, some of us are working on a nationwide logistics hub at http://www.activresistance.org . All you see is a splash page, but the idea is to create a nationwide network along the lines of indymedia but for logistics instead. We're working on what would be a hub of the spoke for the World Bank protests at http://worldbank.activeresistance.org . In the future, such a page would be at dc.activeresistance.org and would include sub pages based on projects. This would faciliate meetings. Where indymedia focuses on reporting actions; this actually focuses on providing necessary infrastructure tools for organizing in a de-centralized manner.

But, to make this work, we need some activists who can dedicate enough time away from local work to help build the hubs and do the necessary outreach. It can happen. The people involved are well-versed in these problems. Tom Good, for instance, and David Meieran (a very disgruntled UFPJ steering committee member), and others like them. The hub of support resonates from DC activists like me and others in the DC Anti-War Network.

The problem in growth has been, of course, that we are local activists, who keep taking action. Just look at DAWN's website at http://www.dawndc.net just to see how much we have been doing, and not everything is reported there. How can a group sustain so much action and yet find time for any activist to work on building a meta-communications structure?

You see, we face problems a UFPJ or an ANSWER doesn't have. Because we refuse to use our actions for fundraisers, because we feel guilty about co-opting anyone, it's very difficult to organize anything of any use outside of our local. It can be done, but it's not at all a simple problem. It can't be solved overnight, either.

Anyhow, I could go on for hours. A lot of those hours are conversations that an increasingly aware group of anti-war anti-authoritarians have been having. Those hours of conversation and dialogue and experience have been condensed into these pieces. Do you think Tom's piece is long? It could have been acres longer.

Anyhow, there are efforts afoot, and I predict you will begin seeing those changes.

 
At April 02, 2006 9:36 PM, Blogger Paramendra Bhagat said...

Bridge Activists

 

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