UFPJ and Going Forward
By Michael Albert at Dec 23, 2008
The United for Peace and Justice Organization/Coalition, born in 2001, held its fourth national assembly in mid December. I wasn't there so I am commenting, hesitantly, based only on seeing a few accounts, and examining documents on the UFPJ website http://www.unitedforpeace.org/index.php
UFPJ is not a membership organization with a shared ideology and singular program. It is not an explicit conduit for and creator of revolutionary inclinations and insights. To judge it by standards that would apply to such an undertaking would be silly. Those of us who would like to see such an inspiring and growing organization have a responsibility to make it happen, not to carp at another undertaking for not being what it has no intention of being.
UFPJ is a massive coalition including over 1400 member groups, born to oppose the war in Iraq and war more generally, aimed at progressive and radical policy victories, whose agenda, rarely extending beyond a few months into the future, must be shared and agreed to by a wide array of participants from many backgrounds who often hold conflicting analyses and priorities.
The newly-minted mission statement of this massive coalition indicates that it is unified in its "commitment to overwhelm war with peace and oppression with justice" and to serve as "a national, movement-building coalition." The statement singles out for opposition "U.S. policy in Iraq," "U.S. military presence to every corner of the earth," and "neo-liberal free trade policies that concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few." It advocates that "sovereign nations, including indigenous people, have the right to determine their own future, free from the threat of preemptive attacks and regime change, military occupation, and outside control of their economic and natural resources." It reiterates that "without peace there will be no justice, and the denial of justice undermines peace." It challenges "the idea of good wars and so called humanitarian interventions."
UFPJ presents its current priorities in its newly posted, newly agreed, national assembly documents. It seeks "cuts in military spending, comprehensive care of our veterans, and commitments to health care and education for all... while rebuilding the Gulf Coast and the entire national infrastructure." It is "committed to defending and extending democratic freedoms to everyone" including "vigorously combating all discrimination based on race, nationality, religion, gender, immigration statues, sexual orientation, age or physical ability."
UFPJ advocates expanding the "fight against global warming" including "breaking dependence on fossil fuels, shelving plans for offshore oil drilling and new nuclear power plants and instead investing in the development of safe, renewable sources of energy and a green job economy."
UFPJ seeks "the worldwide elimination of all weapons of mass destruction, including the U.S. massive stockpile of nuclear weapons" and is "committed to ending the illegal and immoral `pre-emptive' wars and on-going occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan," also opposing "war or other aggressive acts ... against the people of Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Colombia and other nations."
UFPJ wants to end torture, enforce international laws, defend "human and labor rights," "protect dissent," and "end U.S. political, economic, and military aid fueling Israel's rise as an unchallengeable regional military power." It opposes "Israel's illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem and its denial of equal rights to Palestinians."
Indeed, UFPJ opposes "increasing U.S. military involvement anywhere in the world, reflected in the expansion of a massive network of military bases stretching to every corner of the planet and the precipitous increase in U.S. weapons sales (large and small)" including wanting to call government officials to account for their crimes.
The newly minted mission statement also clarifies some of UFPJ's internal priorities.
Thus, UFPJ "coordinates and supports the work of existing peace and justice groups and builds linkages, solidarity and unity where none or little exists." It links "foreign policy concerns to realities here at home, and U.S. militarism to the corporate economic interests it serves."
Further, "UFPJ struggles against racism, white supremacy and all forms of oppression" and is "pro-active in addressing
power dynamics within our movement, especially regarding issues of race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, nationality, disability, cultural heritage, or ethnicity."
Finally, UFPJ seeks "international alliances," favors "nonviolent means," and "strives to embody in our day-to-day work the values
we espouse and the world we seek to build: a world rooted in respect and dignity for all life, where cooperation, generosity, honesty, true democracy and sustainable practices are the foundations of our culture."
That's the up side of UFPJ. It speaks for itself. The positive bottom line, if we look at UFPJ's self description as of 2009, is that UFPJ is a massive compendium of progressive organizations, projects, and movements, about seven years young, with wonderful aspirations and energy.
What makes me worry about UFPJ, however, are two broad possibilities.
In general, if a political organization is not growing - then most typically it is declining. Plateaus don't last long and don't win much. If from year to year, UFPJ is not becoming ever more insightfu, coherent, ambitious, and exciting, it is likely becoming more confuse, disparate, tentative, and even passive. My first worry, then, is that as years go by there is not enough progress in UFPJ principles and analyses, and not enough growth in its coherence and breadth to sustain aggressive allegiance. Typically, insufficient innovation generates insufficient inspiration generates dissolution of commitment for political organizations. Is this the case for UFPJ too?
When I look at UFPJ historically, comparing now to earlier, I fear there is not enough growth and development to keep UFPJ's sinews strengthening. Declining numbers of events, numbers of participants, and levels of militance, are very troubling, particularly when one realizes that the country as a whole - in part due to UFPJ - is far more antiwar and far more receptive to a progressive agenda than in past years. A set of demands and views, and underlying analyses and aims that is also not growing too much, is equally worrisome. As to why a fall off in program or a lack of growth in insight, I worry that perhaps UFPJ has been so concerned to maintain its existing organizational membership list, however formal many of those members are, that it hasn't sufficiently challenged its actual individual members to grow in numbers and especially in commitment and to do more together, even at risk of losing some organizational support. I worry, in other words, that UFPJ hasn't provided its members sufficient excitement and sense of achievement and called upon them for sufficient creativity to engender growing involvement.
All too often, left groups, and probably all kinds of groups, look at themselves in the immediate moment, without comparing the present to the past. We look at the current condition, and say, hey, that's pretty good - not even noticing that the trajectory isn't so good. If fewer events, smaller events, less audacity of events, less inspiration in the ranks, marks the UFPJ trend from past years to this year, even alongside a steadily more receptive broad population, then it would imply a priority need to fix the internal problem undermining advance, not to celebrate current virtues.
Maybe UFPJ should seek more of a shared foundation of values and aims among its members, or perhaps it should promote more interactivity among constituencies and especially more mutual support for their separate agendas, or perhaps it should work toward sharing more inspiring and even audacious mid term and longer term goals. Maybe, after seven years, it should aspire to be more like a (miniature) good society than a (massive) coalition of barely connected components, more of a community of mutually respectful citizens with a greatest common sum agenda rather than a patchwork of constituencies with a least common denominator approach.
In any event, getting a yearly document that people can agree on is very good and very important, of course. But getting such a document, by whatever means, to continually reflect and communicate a growing level of coherence, commitment, insight, vision, and understanding, would be better still. And getting members to take such steadily evolving "paper" comitments seriously and to act on them in growing numbers, with growing passion, and in unity with one another, well, that's the real task, of course. Is that happening, as the years go by? I don't know, but I admit I don't think so - from out here beyond the inner walls of the coalition, it doesn't seem like it - and, in any case, whether it is happening or not is what I would like to know - a report on that is the kind of report I would like to read - and the kind of report I would hope members would want to see too, in order to plan how to proceed.
My second UFPJ concern is more specific to our current times and, again, by no means confined to only them. Of course many progressives hope, even against all odds, that Obama will seek to win just changes rather than only to resurrect a rickety empire. There is nothing immoral about what we might call "Obama hope" - even if that hope turns out, as i expect it will, to have been unwarranted. The problem arises when "Obama hope" leads to "Obama obedience" and especially to "Obama recalcitrance."
How is it that we so often lose track, in our desire for good news, of the obvious? If Obama is a real tribune of the people, or even if he is just a quarterback for just causes (as some speakers at the UFPJ conference very peculiarly labelled him), then the implication for UFPJ is no different than if Obama is Clinton 2, or even Bush 3, which is to say overwhelmingly a conduit for elite gains. Whatever Obama's personal predisposition may be, change will be won, if at all, by powerful social movements demanding extensive improvements and raising costs for elites until they implement those improvements. Even if (against all evidence and reason) Obama were to turn out to be more radical than Chavez and equally aggressive about change, or, if you prefer, if he turned out to be more radical than UFPJ and more aggressive about change, still, popular militant movements would be essential to any progressive success. Given that obvious truth, it follows that curtailing innovation and activism to not irritate Obama, or to not appear to be opposing him, would be suicide. In fact, ironically, one could even make a good case that those who claim to expect a big "Obama benefit" for justice ought to be clamoring most loudly for an even more aggressive, more radically insightful UFPJ than those who think Obama will be a typical elite-serving president, since if Obama were to turn out profoundly progressive, UFPJ becoming even more militant and far reaching in its aims would be both needed and possible.
In other words, unless I am missing something central here, I can see only one reason why even a belief in very large scale "Obama benefit," should cause someone to think the appropriate course of action for UFPJ would be to back off on issues and on militance rather than pursue its own stance right into militant opposition - and that would be literally currying "Obama favor," literally worrying more about getting an "Obama smile," or even an "Obama position," than about seeking change itself.
Whether Obama is same old same old, or is just a little better then what has preceeded, or is a really big opening for justice - just doesn't matter vis a vis the need for UFPJ to become stronger, more militant, broader, and deeper. It ought to be obvious, but I worry that it isn't, in the hurly burly of daily operations, that the breadth, depth, and militance of UFPJ is its lifeblood, if its purpose is to win change.
Finely, regarding my own view, I wrote back in November when Obama won indicating what it might look like if Obama were really an ally of progressive change, and so far there is at most a minuscule sign or two pointing that way - among an avalanche of horrible appointments and utterances pointing the other way. Couple the current overwhelming evidence of overwhelmingly business as usual with decades upon decades of historical precedent for overwhelmingly business as usual, and while I have nothing against someone still hoping for "Obama benefit" - hell, I do too, why not? - I must admit I am wondering how anyone remotely informed can stand up, at this point, and talk as if Obama being a seriously positive force for real change beyond what system maintenance demands is a virtually sure thing.
In other words, if someone wants to hope that Obama is going to be a quarterback for progressive change, okay. If someone wants to hope even more, that like Chavez in Venezuela, Obama will try to act on his desires to help society's worst off, as a result encountering immense elite resistance, and then, most crucially, not give in to it, but instead become revolutionary, okay. I hope all these things too. But to say that any of that is likely, much less to currently believe it is inevitable based on what we have seen so far, well, that doesn't bode well for our objectivity, and perhaps even our motives, I fear.
I guess is the point of this last concern of mine is that self delusion does not build movements.