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News ::
9/25 Forum on the Global Justice Movement and 9/11
30 Sep 2001
Modified: 08 Oct 2001
On Tuesday, September 25, Boston’s main global justice coalition, the Boston Global Action Network (BGAN), sponsored a forum where activists could explore what direction the global justice movement should take in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11.
(Sorry this got posted so late after the event, but I didn't have time to write up my notes till now.)

9/25 Forum Explores the Direction of the Global Justice Movement in the Aftermath of 9/11

by Matthew Williams

Tuesday, September 25, 2001; Cambridge, MA, USA--Boston’s main global justice coalition, the Boston Global Action Network (BGAN), sponsored a forum today where activists could explore what direction the global justice movement should take in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11. Three panelists who are active with BGAN spoke, and then members of the audience had a chance to voice their concerns and ideas.

The forum started with Grace Ross, a nonviolence trainer, leading an exercise to help people get in touch with their emotions about the terrorist attacks. She said that most people were probably still feeling trauma from the attacks, common signs of which are shock, anger, and feelings of isolation. She also cautioned everyone that most activists probably have a mild case of trauma compared to more mainstream Americans, who--unfamiliar with the brutality of US foreign policy--have little way of understanding why the terrorist attacks happened.

The first panelist was Payal Parekh, an immigrant from India who is currently organizing with the South Asian community and with church groups. She focused on the connection between peace, global justice, and anti-racist organizing. She said that both nationally and globally, “People of color suffer the most from global economic injustice.” Since the terrorist attacks, there has been a wave of hate crimes against people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent. It is those who are working class who are most vulnerable--“South Asians who work in convenience shops and gas stations, which anyone can walk into, have had horrible things said to them and been threatened.” Because of this, “The people who are most affected by hate crimes are also the most affected by global economic injustice.”

Parekh also stressed that, “Organizing around global justice issues has alienated a lot of non-white people. We have to think about issues around culture. Those who come from backgrounds that have historically oppressed others have to be willing to step back and encourage other voices.” The white left may have to change the way it does things: “If we want to do anti-war organizing that’s meaningful, it has to be multicultural and we have to include people of color from the beginning, from the bottom up. We have to be open to different ways of running meetings and organizing events.”

The next panelist was Russ Davis of Jobs with Justice, a progressive labor group. Davis became active opposing the Vietnam War while working in a GE factory; he remained there for twenty years--opposing US wars all the while--before he began working for Jobs with Justice. Davis said, “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen it--including Vietnam--in terms of popular willingness to support a war.” While most people in the labor movement support military action, they are not aware that this will probably involve killing innocent people. Davis stressed the need for realism: “We have to start where people are at, not where we want them to be.”

Looking at the political landscape, Davis said, “The US government will take people’s justified anger and desire to see justice done to repress many groups, including the global justice movement and the working class.” As an example, he pointed out that, “Bush is trying to get fast track under the guise that free trade is one of the freedoms that we’re fighting for around the world.”

Speaking of how his own organization would deal with the times ahead, Davis said, “Jobs with Justice will not be leading the anti-war movement. We will still be a coalition where different people can come together. We will be fighting racist attacks at work. We’ve already reached out to the Arab and Muslim communities. These are issues we can work on to keep people’s minds open.” And he believed that it was possible to turn things around: “Because of the work people in the global justice movement have done, many people have a more nuanced understanding than they used to. A lot of these people support military action but are aware of the corporate agenda.”

The third panelist was Rajiv Rawat, a member of BGAN’s AIDS Task Force and the administrator for many of BGAN’s e-mail lists. Rawat started by expressing ambiguous feelings about the anti-war movement. “I do not believe in absolute non-retaliation.” Given the way they oppress others, Rawat would be happy to see Osama bin Laden and the Taliban taken out. However, he recognized that, “History tells us that retaliation by the US government will not result in anything good for the people of Afghanistan.”

Speaking of organizing in the current atmosphere, he said, “I think this is an extremely sensitive time and we have to be able to reach out to people who believe in military retaliation because they are the majority. We have to understand people’s legitimate anger at the terrorists and help them see the roots of terrorism in global economic injustice.” He emphasized that although the terrorists fed off poverty to build their movement, they were oppressors themselves.

Some members of the audience shared Rawat’s ambiguous feelings about the war effort. One man spoke quite emphatically of the need for war, arguing that the terrorists had come very close to destroying both the White House and Congress. Another said that he thought the need for international coalition-building was restraining the Bush administration; he argued that the US government would probably only engage in a limited police action, which he would support.

The vast majority of the people in the audience were firmly anti-war though. Although a few audience members tried raising issues relating to organizing and protest tactics, most had other concerns. People’s primary concern was the simple ability of progressives to do outreach in the current climate. One person said, “We’ve lost our sense of invulnerability that we’ve had as Americans. People are going berserk--they won’t work in the Prudential, they won’t go on airplanes. There’s a chilling effect on free speech that might affect our ability to do public education.” Another, “I don’t know how to reach people. How do you talk to people with such different worldviews?”

Suggestions in response included: “People will listen to justice for other people and not killing innocent people. People want to proceed carefully. Humanize it.” “We need to talk to people in minority groups and lower class neighborhoods. People are happy to hear about alternatives to sending their sons to war.”

Others were even cautiously optimistic about the left’s prospects: “If you listen to the radio, there’s a change in the way things are being said. Howard Zinn was on NPR. Voices like ours are getting heard. If we listen to where the public dialogue is, we can build some common ground.” “There’s a different crowd out there at protests, people who haven’t been politically active before. They’re saying proceed carefully and protect American Muslims.” “We’re in a different place now than we were in 1962. We have the history of the anti-Vietnam War movement and the global justice movement. There are vigils and protests all over the country--there’s some hope in that.”

After the audience had had a chance to speak, the two remaining panel members (Parekh had had to leave early) made some closing remarks.

Rawat said, “The anti-globalization movement emerged during a time of peace and economic expansion for college students, who are one of its main bases of support. We now have a war and a deep economic recession. This is a test of the movement. It could disappear or it could get deeper. I’m feeling some optimism.”

Davis said, “The day before September 11th, we had an economy dominated by a wealthy few exploiting workers. The day after September 11th, we had an economy dominated by a wealthy few exploiting workers and the beginning of a deep recession. ‘America, united we stand’ stops at the time clock. We have a lot of work to do. People will sort out how they feel on the issues. We may find ourselves in the majority again.”
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reaching people
08 Oct 2001
The United States is going into a long recession, the inevitable result of 10 years of hedonistic expansion at the expense of the state and citizen's democratic rights to exercise some measure of control over their economic destinies. On top of that - we have a war, and it's not one that's going to revive the economy.

Hundreds of thousands are being laid off, and will be laid off, with no health insurance and few prospects.

Instead of wasting all this effort on protesting a war - which by all indications, will be small-scale, limited in scope, and may well give Afghanis a better government than the one they've got - why not just focus on issues that the American middle-class will actually listen to the left on? No one likes insecurity, physical or economic. Stop wasting breath on anti-war efforts - no one's listening, and hell, you're just wrong this time. Fundamentalist won't just vanish if you ignore them. (I'll except pure pacifists, but if you're a pacifist of the fundamentalist sort, you're no different than a fundamentalist Christian or Muslim - incapable of rational thought.)

Now is the time to strike, demand health insurance, more vacation time, better wages for everyone, better schools, national day care programs and so on. If Americans are willing to let the government take things into its hands as far as their physical security is concerned, why not capitalize on this rare moment of trust in government and willingness to reach into the pocketbook and try to dig ourselves out of the heaving avalanche of insecurity and economic precariousness that is the result of 30 years of ultra laissez-faire economic policies?

Then, and only then, bring out your anti-corporate rhetoric, your Ralph Nader handouts, your critiques of IMF stablization programs, etc. We know there is a them, and there is an us. But most Americans don't see things that way - but they do know that going into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt because you don't have health insurance isn't just or right.