Demonstrators Regroup, Plan MLK Day Actions

Activists Focus on the Mounting Costs of War

While White House strategists and military leaders tear each other apart over a flawed military strategy and rosy-hued "liberation" plan, the broad array of protest groups that fought to prevent the Iraq debacle are retrenching their opposition. Unlike the antiwar forces that folded with the first Gulf conflict's quick resolution, organizers this time say they're in it for the long haul.

Organizers with United for Peace and Justice, the national coalition that organized last month's massive peace march in New York, say it's time to regroup support on the local level. They're calling for an "extended weekend" of local, decentralized actions—everything from educational forums and rallies to nonviolent civil disobedience—starting Friday, April 4, and continuing through Monday.

Many of the events will commemorate the assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968. Exactly one year before, on April 4, 1967, King argued from the pulpit of New York's Riverside Church that the campaign for civil rights could not be fought without opposing the Vietnam War.

Following in King's footsteps, organizers aim to dramatize the costs this war will place on states already facing the worst budget crisis since World War II. "We think it's an appropriate time for the peace movement to start focusing on the social justice part of this war—where is the money coming from?" says Leslie Cagan of United for Peace. "The money being used to bomb people in Baghdad is robbing our schools, housing, health care, and social security. How dare they say they support the troops when they're slashing billions in veterans benefits," she adds, pointing to the $14 billion in cuts proposed by the House of Representatives.

Actions in New York include a funeral procession on Friday from Riverside Church, led by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders, to honor Dr. King and the "dead and not yet dead" of this war. Participants will gather at 9:30 a.m. at Grant's Tomb, 122nd Street and Riverside Drive, and march down Broadway to Bryant Park. Speakers include Reverend Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches, Imam Madhi Bray of the Muslim American Society, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, and Ron Daniels of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

On Saturday, the recently formed Black Solidarity Against the War Coalition (blacksagainstwar.com) is hosting a permitted march through Harlem. Participants will gather at Marcus Garvey Park (Fifth Avenue and 124th Street) at 11 a.m., then circle the neighborhood and arrive at the Harlem State Office Building at 125th Street and 7th Avenue.

"We want to give voice and visibility to the large percentage of African Americans who are against this war, and who have been largely overshadowed by the so-called mainstream peace movement," says Nellie Hester Bailey, a longtime tenant organizer from Harlem who is helping to spearhead the group. "We're the ones facing the brunt of the budget cuts, and now they want our sons and daughters to go over there and die for U.S. hegemony and oil," she adds.

The coalition has also put out a call for a national "Black Day of Absence" on April 4—encouraging people to stay home from work in honor of King's memory—along with a nationwide black boycott of Exxon/Mobil as one of the big oil companies standing to profit from the war.

"We picked Exxon because they have gas stations in every state where black people live," says organizer Sam Anderson. "And its board has given millions to Bush's presidential campaign." Similar boycotts are already under way in Europe, where folks are shunning McDonalds, Coca-Cola, and Marlboro cigarettes.

United for Peace is also backing the call for a nationwide day of civil disobedience this Monday put out by Direct Action to Stop the War (actagainstwar.org). The Bay Area group coordinated the thousands-strong street blockades that shut down the financial district in San Francisco for several days last month. Now its members are honing their tactics, moving from a strategy of widespread disruptions on the day the bombing started to protests that specifically target "war makers and war profiteers." In California, affinity groups plan to go after Lockheed Martin in Palo Alto, Halliburton offices in Bakersfield, and shipping lines used to ferry munitions from Oakland docks.

In New York, members of the M27 Coalition (m27coalition.org), which staged last week's die-in on Fifth Avenue, are also targeting specific corporations with ties to the war. While plans are still in flux, the group agreed on Sunday to target the midtown offices of the Carlyle Group (58th Street and Fifth Avenue), a heavyweight investment firm with strong ties to the defense industry. One of its holdings is United Defense Industries, a maker of armored vehicles, missile launchers, and other advanced weaponry. Media firms and other companies may also be targeted on Monday.

Some organizers question whether calling for these kinds of direct actions in New York is a self-defeating strategy for a city under heightened wartime security, with the largest police force in the U.S. It took a court order to get police to release the bulk of the 215 protesters arrested last Thursday; many were held for more than 20 hours for minor offenses that normally warrant no more than a desk-appearance ticket.

Others say more civil disobedience is crucial, but the actions need to be large, disciplined, like those of the civil rights era. "The movement has to raise the stakes," says Stephen Bronner, a political science professor at Rutgers University who recently returned from a peace delegation to Iraq. "We need to keep ratcheting up the pressure in order to prevent more massive aerial bombings, because that's going to become ever more tempting as the war goes on and the quagmire deepens."

Cheree Dillon of the M27 Coaliton says her group won't bow down. "We've done marching and prayer vigils and petitions to the UN," she says. "We can't just sit by and watch these major players make money off of what is an unjust war."

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