national organizing challenges

colist at colist at
Thu Dec 15 21:40:23 CST 2005

[ed: the message below, which illustrates some of the challenges of 
going beyond the local, is reposted with permission. Discussion is 

From: Larry Yates <lamaryates at>

I share this with comm-org folk not to take sides, but to share a 
fascinating inside look at a major organizing problem -- building 
national coalitions and relationships. Whatever your opinion about the 
war or the anti-war movement, surely all organizers hope that ultimately 
our work wil lead us to making decisions at the national level.

Larry Yates

Ending the War in Iraq, Building a Broad Movement for Peace and Justice, 
And Our Experience with A.N.S.W.E.R.

 From the Steering Committee, United for Peace and Justice
December 12, 2005

United for Peace and Justice aims to build the broadest, most diverse 
movement for an immediate and complete end to the U.S. occupation of 
Iraq. We see this as our immediate priority in the long-term effort to 
build a durable peace and justice movement that connects domestic and 
international issues. We are committed to working in a way that makes it 
possible for the widest array of people to come together around common 
aims, including communities of color, military families, Iraq war 
veterans and other veterans, the labor movement, youth, religious 
community, the women’s and lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender movements, 
professional organizations and community groups.

As our coalition moves forward, we try to evaluate our experiences in 
order to strengthen our efforts and overcome our shortcomings. In recent 
months, a difficult and controversial aspect of our work has been our 
engagement with International A.N.S.W.E.R in co-sponsoring the September 
24, 2005 Washington, D.C. Rally and March. Following this experience, 
and after thorough discussion, the national steering committee of United 
for Peace and Justice has decided not to coordinate work with ANSWER 
again on a national level. Here we want to share with all UFPJ member 
groups our summary of this experience and the decisions we have made as 
a result.

In spring 2005, based on previous experiences, UFPJ did not believe it 
would be productive to make coordination with ANSWER a centerpiece of 
our September 24 efforts. (See memo dated May 23rd – click here: We had a particular 
vision for this specific action:

(1) its central demands would hone in on ending the war in Iraq, thus 
sending a focused message to the U.S. public and providing an entryway 
into the antiwar movement for the expanding number of people prepared to 
turn out for a protest demonstration; and
(2) the connections between the Iraq war and Washington’s overall empire 
building, the U.S. support of the illegal occupation of Palestinian 
land, racism, repression and injustice at home would be articulated in 
accessible and creative ways, not only via rally speakers, but also at 
an interactive two day peace and justice festival, and throughout a 12 
hour concert.

We did not believe ANSWER shared this perspective on the September 24 
activities. Therefore we decided that working with them would hinder 
rather than help in maximizing the breadth and impact of such a 
demonstration at an urgent political moment.

As September 24 came closer and some circumstances changed, we changed 
our perspective. Regarding the weekend in general, the spotlight 
Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath put on racism and class inequities led us 
to highlight the demand for Funding Full and Just Recovery in the Gulf 
Coast. Regarding our relations with ANSWER, our concerns grew about the 
potential confusion of having two totally separate demonstrations in the 
same city on the same day. We seriously considered the thoughtful 
concerns expressed by some anti-war groups and activists that an 
agreement for a joint UFPJ-ANSWER action needed to be worked out. As a 
result, after much reflection and without unanimity among us, we 
reversed our earlier decision. With the help of mediation by U.S. Labor 
Against the War, we worked out an agreement with ANSWER for joint 
sponsorship of the September 24 Rally and March (but not other weekend 
activities). (See the text of the agreement, click here:

There were two positive results of this agreement. First, we avoided the 
problem of two completely separate demonstrations in Washington, DC on 
September 24. Second, the rancorous public dispute over the whos, hows 
and whys of September 24 was largely ended for the important period 
immediately preceding the action.

But there were many negative results as well.

First, ANSWER violated the terms of our agreement in ways that 
substantially and negatively impacted September 24’s message and impact:

(1) ANSWER did not honor the agreed-upon time limits for its sections of 
the pre-march Rally, going more than an hour over in one section. The 
time was to be evenly divided in 30 minutes segments alternating between 
the two coalitions. Besides the impact in terms of disrespect to other 
speakers and the attendees in Washington, DC, this meant that the C-SPAN 
broadcast of the rally presented a one-sided picture of the antiwar 
movement to the U.S. public. In the extended ANSWER section broadcast on 
C-SPAN, there was in fact very little focus on, or explanation of, the 
central demand motivating hundreds of thousands of people to attend the 
demonstration: U.S. Out of Iraq Now.

(2) ANSWER delayed the start of the March for an hour past the agreed 
upon time. We learned that morning that while our agreement with ANSWER 
was to begin the march at 12:30, the permit ANSWER had negotiated with 
the police had the march starting at 1:30. This led to confusion, which 
in turn prevented the agreed-upon lead contingent carrying the 
agreed-upon lead banner (“End the War in Iraq, Bring the Troops Home 
Now, Justice for Hurricane Victims”) from actually leading the March. 
This diluted the March’s message – especially in terms of media images 
of the March’s front rank. It also jeopardized relationships between 
UFPJ and the representatives of several organizations whom we asked be 
part of the lead contingent of the March. An antiwar movement still not 
as strong as we need to be when compared to the tasks before us, in 
which developing relationships of mutual trust and accountability is of 
vital importance, can ill afford such short-sighted and narrow-minded 

(3) ANSWER did not turn out many volunteers to provide for fundraising, 
security and media operations for the March and Rally. UFPJ was also 
short of volunteers, but the much smaller numbers from ANSWER meant that 
many of the practical burdens of attending to the needs of the crowd 
fell on UFPJ, while ANSWER concentrated its attention on extending the 
time their speakers were on the stage.

In our view, it was because we had insisted (against ANSWER’s 
objections) that the terms of our agreement be made public; and through 
the costly expenditure of time and energy to deal with one issue after 
another in the weeks just before September 24, that additional problems 
were avoided. However, the interactions required to accomplish this were 
tremendously difficult and stressful, taking a major human toll on the 
UFPJ representatives participating in meetings with ANSWER. UFPJ has 
made our share of mistakes and no doubt some of us may have made 
intemperate and inappropriate remarks in the heat of political 
difficulty. We also see that while our agreement with ANSWER did not 
require us to do so, the fact that we did not inform them about the 
plans to include speakers during the late afternoon/evening concert 
might have contributed to the tension. But the souring of the political 
atmosphere is largely due to ANSWER, which, in our experience, 
consistently substitutes labels (“racist”, “anti-unity”) and 
mischaracterization of others’ views for substantive political debate or 
problem solving – both in written polemics and direct face-to-face 

Beyond all this, the priority given to negotiating and then trying to 
carry out an agreement with ANSWER hurt rather than helped galvanize the 
participation of many other groups and individuals in the September 24 
activities. In part this is simply a question of where time and 
resources were directed. But it also stems from the bridges ANSWER has 
burned over the years with other broader forces in the progressive 
movement. Many longtime antiwar and social movement activists – and many 
groups only recently embracing mass action against the war - have had 
the same kind of negative experiences with ANSWER that we did in the 
run-up to, and on September 24. Some people, and some UFPJ member 
groups, believe this stems from ANSWER’s political and strategic 
perspectives. Others attribute the problems to what is often called 
style of work, or to issues about democracy, decision making and 
control. Whatever the case on this level, co-sponsorship with ANSWER on 
September 24 was welcomed by some in the antiwar movement but limited or 
prevented completely the participation of others.

This is not surprising: “unity in the movement” doesn’t happen in the 
abstract. Especially when up-close coordination is involved, unity takes 
place between specifics groups and individuals, and choices to work in 
close cooperation with certain groups with certain approaches 
simultaneously means choosing not to work in the same fashion with other 
groups. Of course we all dream of a situation where everyone gets 
together as one cooperative movement family. But we still must deal with 
politics as they are, not as we wish them to be. Sometimes it is 
necessary for groups with extremely bitter relations to cooperate for a 
common aim. But there are many circumstances when effective movement 
building and the long-range process of developing unity is better served 
by different groups pursuing different courses, until conditions change 
or the groups themselves evolve and transform.

In terms of UFPJ’s relationship with ANSWER, our national steering 
committee has concluded that the latter path is best for the foreseeable 
future. We did not have consensus. But by a more than two thirds 
supermajority we voted on December 4 not to coordinate work with ANSWER 
again on a national level. We simultaneously recognized that other 
settings and situations may be different. We make no recommendations or 
mandates on this issue to UFPJ member groups in local or 
constituency-based areas, who will continue to decide whether and/or how 
much to coordinate efforts with ANSWER based on their own experiences, 
conditions and judgments.

The tasks in front of the anti-Iraq war movement and all of us who are 
struggling for peace and justice are immense. Yet this is a moment of 
great opportunity, as popular anger at Bush’s wars against people abroad 
and at home grows, and as an expanding number of organizations – many 
with massive constituencies among poor, working and oppressed peoples – 
are willing to consider taking up aggressive protest mobilizations. 
United for Peace and Justice will redouble our efforts to push forward 
the antiwar movement and to bring the broadest and most diverse array of 
people and groups into the struggle for peace and justice.

UFPJ mailing list

Post: UFPJ at
List info:
Larry Yates
VOP Valley Organizer
P.O. Box 245
Maurertown VA 22644
540 436 3432
llyates at

"Some people are allowed a chance over and over again; then there are 
others who are allowed little chance, some no chance at all."

from the final letter of Virginia sharecropper Odell Waller before his 
unjust execution, July 3, 1942

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