A Decade of Anti-War Organizing

By Chuck Kaufman

September 14, 2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). As one of ANSWER’s founders, I take great pride in the role I played in helping to motivate the movement that brought to the streets the largest numbers of anti-war demonstrators since the Vietnam War.

Three days earlier, like everyone else we in the Nicaragua Network/Alliance for Global Justice were shocked by the collapse of the Twin Towers, the damage to the Pentagon, and the plane crash in Pennsylvania. With the Nicaragua Network’s reputation as part of the permanent anti-imperialist, anti-war movement, and the Alliance for Global Justice’s newer reputation as a key organization in the anti-capitalist IMF/WB/WTO movement, we decided to scatter on Sept. 11 in case stories about FEMA’s plan to round up left-wing activists in the event of a national emergency were true. I made a quick back-up of our computer files and off we went across Washington, DC.

But we were back at work the next day. One of the things that we had been working on was a Latin America solidarity demonstration on Sept. 29, the day before the Fall meetings of the IMF and World Bank. At the time we were renting the basement office to the International Action Center (IAC) which was planning a Beat Back Bush demo at the White House on the same day. The plan was to join forces at the end of the day and surround the White House. The IMF/WB quickly canceled their meeting and it was obvious from Sept. 12 on that we were in a headlong rush to war because of the attacks.

On Sept. 14, Brian Becker from the IAC came to me and proposed that the Latin America solidarity movement and the IAC join forces to still have a demonstration on Sept. 29 because the Bush White House was beating the war drum to attack Afghanistan and the anti-war movement had to stand up while people were asking “why do they hate us” and some were still open to hearing unpleasant truths. Brian said they had thought of a great name, the ANSWER Coalition!

I said I thought it was a good idea, but if we were going to have a coalition it had to be a real one, with a real steering committee that met and made decisions collectively. I suggested several groups for the steering committee and Brian suggested several groups. By the time we contacted all the groups and put the steering committee together we had something I had never before been part of in the movement. That was that people of color, people on the front-lines of struggle against US militarism and corporate imperialism were representing themselves, not being represented by European-American allies. I learned some important lessons about resistance and solidarity and I think that is true for others in the coalition as well.

Our first demonstration went ahead as planned on Sept. 29, 2001 in Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC. One of the most common refrains we heard was, “Thank you for organizing this. I thought I was the only one who felt this way.” Well, 25,000 people came out that day to say no to war and racism. I chaired the final segment of that rally along with Peta Lindsay, then a DC public high school senior. Peta has long since gone on to college, graduated from Howard University, and still organizes against the wars, now from Los Angeles. In her entire adult life she has known nothing but war. That by itself is evidence that these wars are wrong, they’ve gone on too long, and we have to stop them now.

We went on from Sept. 29, 2001 to organize ever larger protests until we were half a million strong in January of 2003, overflowing the National Mall in DC. I still get goose bumps when I look at the composite photograph that someone made for us showing that vast expanse of humanity unified in its opposition to a US invasion of Iraq.

Because this is a celebratory piece about hopeful beginnings, I do not intend to dissect the flaws in the anti-war movement, the competition, sectarianism, the sell-outs to support candidates rather than oppose the wars. That analysis is for another time or for other people to do. For me, Sept. 14 will be a day when I celebrate the birth of the modern anti-war movement.

Happy Birthday ANSWER!