By Duncan McFarland
UFPJ held its first national conference in over three years in Philadelphia on Feb. 25-26, 2012. The working conference was well attended, with 80 people representing/members of about 25 organizations. The basic goal was accomplished: re-energize the network and begin to again take up coalition work. UFPJ’s charge, as clearly put by national co-conveners Michael McPhearson and Lisa Fithian, is to both do peace and antiwar work, and make connections and build bridges across issues. The horizontal facilitation skillfully maximized spirited participation and working together, yet resulted in important new initiatives: working groups on the Iran war danger and confronting corporate power.
On Saturday morning, McPhearson outlined the goals: reconnecting, finding synergies and strategies, ways of collaboration, and getting organized to do the work. He asked that obstacles to cooperation be identified and considered as opportunities. The conference was seen as the beginning of a discussion with a decision-making conference possibly projected for after the elections.
A brief look at UFPJ’s history begin with a reading of the original unity statement, adopted at the founding June 2003 conference. People were amazed (and perhaps a bit saddened) at how accurate the statement still seemed. UFPJ primarily served as a mobilizing mechanism to oppose the Iraq War, putting together several massive national demonstrations. Today other activities will need to be emphasized as well, such as doing more coalition work. UFPJ occupies a particular political space with all the “tools in the toolbox,” including both mobilizing for street protests and legislative work. The debt that was $60,000 has been paid off and the organization is now in the black with part-time staffing. Three working groups function: Afghanistan/Pakistan; Legislative; Nuclear Weapons and Power/Redefining Security — as well as an International task force. The coordinating committee is the main national steering group.
Participants joined in to list the many activities in UFPJ’s rich history and then envision where to be 10 years from now — an exercise that produced a wide variety of visions. McPhearson looked forward to public dialogue where international and domestic issues would be seen as the same. Breakouts sessions addressed Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, drones, and nuclear weapons; I was in the group discussing domestic connections, which interestingly was by far the best attended.
On Sunday there was spirited political discussion on Iran and the Middle East and confronting corporate power. The Iran discussion brought forth many points: the importance of the overall Middle East context including Israel, Palestine, Syria and Iraq as all relating to the situation concerning Iran; the importance of putting forth a positive vision such as a nuclear free zone in the Middle East; and ongoing discussion about how American activists can express solidarity with the democracy movement in Iran while avoiding involvement in internal struggles. A pledge of resistance tactic was suggested, which was very effective in the 1980s in opposing war in Central America. A working group was formed on to work on the Pledge and to hold a national conference call to prepare action steps for UFPJ.
Lisa Fithian led the discussion on a new line of work, confronting corporate power. This could connect with the Occupy Movement, Labor, Global Justice movements and be a real way to strengthen ties with allies. Actions at shareholders meetings, such as Bank of America, were suggested, and the opportunity for the peace movement to engage with a new coalition, Confront Corporate Power
. The opportunities for local work abound as the military industrial complex is everywhere but much research is needed to dig up the information, which is often deliberately obscured and the militarists prefer a low profile.
Chicago in May will be the site of many activist activities especially at the NATO/G8 meetings May 17-19. Lisa pointed out that UPFJ originated G8 protests at Brunswick, Georgia in 2004. UFPJ plans to participate in the counter-summit
and signed on to the UNAC Sun Times ad defending the first amendment right to protest, in face of Mayor Emanuel’s repressive restrictions on the Saturday march. UFPJ will try to produce a tabloid on its issues to be widely distributed in Chicago.
The meeting also discussed UFPJ infrastructure and people volunteered for the fundraising group and communications team. The conference closed with an uplifting spirit of coming together and looking ahead