Jackie Cabasso

The April 29 March for Peace, Justice and Democracy was a huge success! Initiated by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), and with 8 major co-endorsing organizations forming an unprecedented coalition*, the organizers estimate that 350,000 people participated. Equally important was the tone of the day - spirited yet serious, and focused simultaneously on many issues of concern to the peace and justice movement.The morning started out rather dramatically for the Nuclear Disarmament tent at the Peace and Justice Festival site. Our set-up crew arrived at Foley Square, loaded down with boxes of literature and displays, to find - to our dismay - that tent assembly was running way behind schedule, and that only about half of the tents had been set up. Ours was not one of them. We also discovered that our location, in front of the Federal Courthouse, was located in a wind tunnel and shaded from the sun by the surrounding buildings.

As we huddled together in the cold, we watched our huge tent (something like 20 x 40 feet) being assembled. We were given the go ahead to start moving tables and chairs into the space when a sudden gust of wind literally blew the frame apart and the upended the tent on the courthouse steps! Fortunately no one was hurt, but the tent landed with such an impact that it literally ripped a street sign out of the concrete sidewalk. We couldn’t resist darkly joking among ourselves that the upside down shredded tent looked like the aftermath of a nuclear blast. The Police immediately told us we couldn’t have a tent in that location.

Leaving Monika Sysmurska and MacGregor Eddy in charge, John Burroughs and I took the subway to the starting point of the march, at 20th and Broadway, where we observed the press conference, featuring representatives from the sponsoring organizations and prominent personalities including Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Susan Sarandon and Cindy Sheehan. We were delighted to discover our that colleague Ibrahim Ramey, who in his Fellowship of Reconciliation hat works with the UFPJ Nuclear Disarmament/Redefining Security Working group, was speaking on behalf of the Climate Crisis Coalition, a network of more than 70 local and national peace, social justice, labor, faith-based groups deeply concerned with global warming and environmental destruction. Ibrahim made a compelling case that peace and justice are inextricably linked with environmental sustainability.

“We undertake our advocacy and action with the firm conviction that massive national and global action is needed to address the threat of global warming that threatens all human life on earth.

This collective struggle today must be a struggle for the eradication of war. But we bring to this movement the understanding that ending the war against the environment itself must be a central element of our work for peace and justice. The Climate Crisis Coalition realizes that unhealthy oil-driven economy is an engine that propels both resource wars and the unintelligent attack on the environment itself.

Our call is for rational and intelligent civil actions, responsible consumption, and national and corporate policies required to create a sustainable environment, and from this a sustainable future for all of us.

We urge all of you who are gathered here to recognize that the issues of peace, justice and environmental sustainability are inextricably bound together in the web of mutuality that Dr. King talked about. We will work for peace and justice with the deep and firm understanding that there can be neither peace nor justice until our planet itself survives.”

Ibrahim was followed by Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg who powerfully warned about the growing dangers of a U.S. military strike on Iran, including the potential use of nuclear weapons, and challenged government officials with access to war plans to leak them to the public before another war starts.

“I’m here today because I don’t think George Bush is stupid. I think he’s dangerous. He’s endangering our security; he’s endangering our Constitution. Of course he’s not alone in that. I don’t think just getting rid of Don Rumsfeld, as the Generals want to do, will make us a lot better off. When it comes to people with really bad judgment, this team has depth.

The question is, what do we do about it? What do we do about it even before November, to prevent an attack on Iran, which would as great a catastrophe as the attack on Iraq, or [use of] nuclear weapons, which would be still beyond history in terms of catastrophe?

Sy Hersh tells us that the Administration is filled with people, and the military ranks are filled with people, who are doing operational plans for the use of nuclear weapons against Iran, either initially, or as that conflict escalates, as it would. I was in that position myself in the Pentagon 35 and more years ago.

What should a patriotic official do when he knows that his Commander-in-Chief is leading the country over the cliff; is acting wrongly? I have advice for them.

Sy Hersh says a number of them are so appalled they’re considering resigning. When I read that in the New Yorker April 17th issue, I thought to myself, resigning after the attack, or before it? Even before it would not make any difference. I have a better. . . thing for them to do than to resign - leak. Put out unauthorized disclosure of those criminal plans. . . Don’t wait for the Joint Chiefs to do it.

The officials who know that can, at the risk of their freedom, the risk of prosecution - I was facing 115 years in prison, possibly, and that was certainly worth it - they can put that out. And my word to them is, don’t do what I did. Don’t wait till the new war has started. Don’t wait till that nuclear bomb has fallen before you go to the press and the public with what they need to know to stop it.”

As the lead contingent stepped off, John and I worked our way back through several crowded blocks and - through the magic of cell phones - were able to find our Nuclear Abolition contingent. Another miracle - 17 people were lined up holding the giant NO NUKES! NO WARS! banner, including a group from Connecticut. This had been the lead banner from May 1, 2005, which, in addition, reads: “End the War on Iraq! Abolish all Nuclear Weapons! United for Peace & Justice and Abolition Now!” For April 29, I had added the words: “No War on Iran!” with stick-on letters. This really long banner stretched all the way across Broadway! Just behind it, four more of our folks were carrying the beautiful new Abolition 2000 banner. The two dramatic banners gave our contingent a tremendous visual impact. With Kathleen Sullivan and some young friends as our “choreographers,” we were able to move forward in a straight line, keeping a space in front of the banner so it could be easily read and photographed.

The march took several hours. At Union Square, John and I jumped back on the subway to see how things were going at Foley Square. When we got there we found our folks still setting up, in a different location, sharing the “No Pre-Emptive War” tent. Unfortunately, we were never able to locate the Hiroshima-Nagasaki photo exhibit that AFSC had sent (it was located after the fact), but we were able to make good use of sections of the giant “nuclear test banner” that I had carried from California, as well as the colorful Abolition 2000 banner.

It was a little chaotic at first, but there was lots of interest in our materials. We had a good selection of literature from many groups, addressing various aspects of nuclear weapons and power, and a variety of action items. In particular, we were featuring a letter for people to sign to their Congressional Representatives and Senators, calling for no military action against Iran (the same letter as on the UFPJ website), and the letter to members of the Security Council, turned into a petition. And I turned the Iran material on the UFPJ website into an attractive two-page flier. Even though we were at the cold and windy end of Foley Square, we had plenty of visitors. Among our other accomplishments we collected 237 signatures on the petition to the Security Council - 20 pages worth - which I faxed individually, with a cover letter, to all 15 members of the Security Council, when I got home.

Meanwhile, the warm and sunny end of Foley Square (the other end) was so packed with people that it was hard to move. In all there were some 20 tents, colorfully and creatively addressing themes ranging from “Legislative Action” to “Nonviolent Direct Action,” including “End the War,” “Counter-recruitment,” “Women’s Issues,” “Immigrants Rights,” “Racial Justice/Gulf Coast,” and more. Speakers and musicians were scattered throughout the tents, and many creative approaches were in evidence. For example, Middle Eastern food was served in the “Palestine” tent, while outside the “Nonviolent Direction Action” tent, hooded actors in a cage, portrayed torture victims at Guantanamo.

It is worth noting that the Peace and Justice Festival was the outgrowth of an idea for an interactive, action-oriented fair, generated by the UFPJ Nuclear Disarmament/Redefining Security Working Group, and successfully “road-tested” at the May 1, 2005 No Nukes! No Wars! rally in Central Park. UFPJ organized a second, larger, Peace and Justice Festival on the grounds of the Washington Monument as part of last September’s mass anti-war mobilization in Washington, DC. Best of all, the Peace and Justice Festival proved that it is possible to create a space where many thousands of people can interact on a “human” scale, facilitating connections that can help to build a peace and justice movement for the longer term - even in the context of a mass mobilization. There was no “rally” of the kind we’re all used to - with too many speakers, yelling at us, one after another. Instead, one of the New York TV news reports I saw described the Peace and Justice Festival as a “rally.” A major improvement from my point of view!

Click here to see my photos, which accompany and illustrate this narrative. Reports, photographs and media coverage of the April 29 March for Peace, Justice and Democracy, including audio of the press conference quoted from above, can be found on the UFPJ website.

*Initial co-sponsors: UFPJ, National Organization of Women; RainbowPUSH Coalition; U.S. Labor Against the War; Friends of the Earth; National Youth and Student Peace Coalition; Climate Crisis Coalition; Peoples’ Hurricane Relief Fund; and Veterans for Peace.

**Groups participating in the April 29, 2006 Nuclear Abolition tent, coordinated by the UFPJ Nuclear Disarmament/Redefining Security Working Group included: Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons; Abolition 2000 New York Metro; Alliance for Nuclear Accountability; American Friends Service Committee; Fellowship of Reconciliation; Institute for Policy Studies, DC; Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, NY; Nuclear Resister; Peace Action; Physicians for Social Responsibility, Los Angeles, CA; Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, CO; SANITY (Students Against Nuclear Insanity and for Tomorrow’s Youth); Think Outside the Bomb (national student and youth network); Tri-Valley CAREs (Communities Against a Radioactive Environment), Livermore, CA; United for Peace and Justice; U.S. Peace Council; Vancouver Peace Forum; Western Shoshone Defense Project, NV; Western States Legal Foundation, CA; Womens’ International League for Peace and Freedom/Reaching Critical Will.