Below is a talk given by Joe Lombardo at the Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO) pblic forum "Building the Antiwar Movement in Canada," marking 13 years since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Joe spoke through videoconference at the forum held on March 18, 2016 in Vancouver, Canada.
Joe Lombardo is the Co-chair of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), an antiwar and social justice coalition in the United States that organizes against imperialist war and occupation, and against the war on oppressed people at home.
You all look great! Thank you for having me, it is late here, actually its approaching midnight I guess and it was a long day, but I am really glad that you invited me to speak to you tonight, and I am glad that you are recognizing the 13th anniversary of the horrendous invasion and occupation of Iraq. We have been doing the same thing in the United States. I believe today one of the UNAC groups in Minneapolis is doing an action, we had an action last Sunday in New York City and there have been a number of others that are happening and will be happening around the country.
Alison asked me to give a little perspective about UNAC, what we are and what we do, some of our analysis, why we are doing what we are doing. So I am going to try and talk a little bit about how we got started and why we got started and what we are doing now.
UNAC, which is the United National Antiwar Coalition is a coalition of antiwar and social justice groups. We have national, regional and local groups in UNAC. We have about 150 groups throughout the country, which sounds like a big number; however as is probably true in Canada too, the antiwar movement has shrunk in the United States since time of the beginning of the Iraq War. The sentiment among people in the United States against war has grown but the movement has shrunk. When the Iraq War started, in the United States a majority supported it, however, that changed very quickly as there were more and more causalities and people started understanding and seeing what this war was all about. It quickly became a war that was only supported by a minority and it has stayed that way ever since. The antiwar sentiment in this country, by all polls, is somewhere above 70%. Yet, we don’t see that reflected in large antiwar demonstrations as we saw in the early days of the war. One of the reasons for this is because there have been serious attacks on the American population at home, very much related to the wars abroad and these have taken priority in the minds of many. We recognized that at our founding conference and we started using that slogan “End the Wars at Home and Abroad!” People are fighting battles against police brutality, attacks on unions, austerity, attacks on civil liberties, deportations, Climate change and much more and many of these seem more immediate to people than the wars abroad. Additionally, because of the high antiwar sentiment in the U.S., the government has been reluctant to put boots on the ground and has used more drones, bombing and proxies to fight the wars.
UNAC was founded in July of 2010 at a conference in Albany, NY of 800 people. One of the reasons that we initiated this conference was because with the election of Obama, there was a lot of confusion in the United States. Many people thought “we won,” they thought the wars were going to end and many of the antiwar groups were closing up shop. But many of us knew that as long as there were U.S. troops on foreign soil that we needed to have an antiwar movement in this country. So, we pulled together this conference, and out of that came UNAC, the United National Antiwar Coalition.
There were a couple of things that we did that were different than in past antiwar coalitions, when we founded UNAC. One thing is that we took a very strong position in support of Palestinian rights. This did not happen in the United States in the past. The AIPAC, Zionist lobbies and pro-Zionist sentiment made it very difficult. Although pretty much everyone at the conference said they supported Palestinian rights, some thought that an antiwar coalition couldn’t be built with a pro-Palestinian rights position. But this was at the time of the first Gaza Freedom Flotilla that tried to break the blockade of Gaza and some who were on the Freedom Flotilla were at the conference, including Ann Wright. They had witnessed the killing of the Turkish members on the Mavi Marmara, and the conference decided that there was no way an antiwar movement in the United States could not take up that issue. We put forward the demand of “No aid to Israel,” but it caused a split at the conference, a minority broke from the conference over that issue. As it turned out, some of the largest antiwar demonstrations that have happened in this country in recent years have been demonstrations around the issue of Palestinian rights and against the attacks that have happened on Gaza.
The U.S. Imperialist were calling the wars, a “War on Terror.” In that respect, the wars were different than the Vietnam War or WWII. A “War on Terror” is not a War against another country but a war against a concept and therefore, could never be won. It was a formula for continuous war. We also understood that the so called “War on Terror” had a domestic component. We were seeing Muslims being victimized in the United States; we were seeing Islamophobia showing its ugly head. The FBI in the United States was sending provocateurs and agents into mosques all across the country and they were inventing schemes, terrorist schemes that they were trying to get people in these mosques to buy into. Sometimes they cajoled them to do it, sometimes they bribed them to do it, and sometimes they threatened them to do it. Albany, where the founding UNAC conference took place was one of the places which was a target of this kind FBI attacks. At a downtown mosques in Albany the Imam and another member had been arrested on phony charges. At the end of the conference, we held a march to the mosque that had been targeted by the FBI and held a rally there.
But the attacks didn’t end with Muslims of course. There was attacks on everybody’s Civil Liberties. We saw the Patriot Act and the NSA spying. As Edward Snowden pointed out, every single person in this country is being spied on by our government through our phones and our internet usage and even people outside the country, even heads of state of other countries, are being spied on. We have always heard that this is the way that dictatorships function, “they spy on their own people.” Our government was doing it on a scale that would make any dictator envious, the U.S. are spying on everybody.
We also started seeing the militarization of the police in the United States. MAWO was with UNAC in Chicago when NATO came in 2012. UNAC built a big demonstration there. At that demonstration, antiwar GI’s threw their medals back at NATO. But I have never seen the kind of militarized police in such numbers that I saw at that demonstration. We were very peaceful at that demonstration, we marched and we protested and we said very loudly and clearly what we were protesting and why we were protesting NATO, but as we marched down the streets in large numbers there were lines and lines of cops from the whole mid-west of the United States, they all came together in Chicago. They spent millions of dollars on the “security” for Chicago. They told people that we were going to be violent, that people should move out of the downtown area of Chicago, and many did. And at the end of the rally, when there was no violence on our part at all, I think they felt that they had to do something to justify the expense for the security. So, the demonstration was attacked. At the end of the rally people were directed to go in a back to their buses but the police blocked them and forced people leaving to move between rows of cops. Then, they started pushing with their clubs. People started falling over and soon clubs were being swung, some demonstrators were hospitalized and many people were hurt. But, that militarization of the police that we saw in Chicago rapidly went into every minority community in the United States. As GI’s were coming home from Iraq, many soldiers who only a few months before were kicking in doors of people in Iraq, entered the police forces in the United States. Some police uniforms were now khaki like they wore in the military. They started calling the people in these communities the ‘enemy,’ they did not see them as people they were supposed to ‘defend and protect.’ Vehicles that were coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan were seen in the streets and there was a real militarization of the police that was going on here.
This, along with attacks on unions, immigrants and others was the ‘War at Home.’ And so, we now speak about “Ending the Wars at Home and Abroad.
We understood that Obama was not going to end the wars. He has not ended the war on Afghanistan or the war on Iraq. We have seen attacks on Libya and seen the results of that war. We have seen the attacks on Syria, and other places around the world. We see the expansion of NATO. Weaponized drones are being used in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and in many other places around the world. It is a militarization and a war that is not just a war against a single country as it was in Vietnam, but it has spread throughout the whole world. The United States today has military forces in over 130 countries they have close to 1000 foreign military bases. That means they have about 20 times the number of foreign military bases as every other country in the world combined. The military budget in the United States is about 57% of our discretionary budget, which is about equal to the military budgets of every country in the world combined.
We in the United States were right to keep the antiwar movement going. It became very clear, and I believe we were right, in opposing both the wars at home and the wars abroad. We are starting to make connections with the youth that came into streets around the Black Lives matter movement and around and the occupy movements throughout the United States. The anger that we see in this election campaign can not be contained by the lesser evil politics in the U.S. No matter who is elected we will see more war and I believe antiwar sentiment will once again be express in massive actions that we did not see during Obama’s presidency.
The anti-war movement needs to continue to fight, it needs to continue to be in the streets and it needs to continue to find links with the other movements that have moved into action in the United States. More and more we have been seeing the need to reach out internationally. Last week we had a demonstration in New York City which was a successful demonstration, but nowhere near as large as they were right before and after the invasion of Iraq. But for this demonstration so many of the international communities from New York City came out. Yemenis, Syrians, Haitians and many others and we were able to raise the issue of the wars that are not being talked about in the election campaigns. While we were having that demonstration we had two of our members at a social forum that some of the Eastern Europeans organized and the Social Forum sent our demonstration greetings. We have made several international visits to countries that are under attack in the recent years. It is very clear that this time, an antiwar movement in the United States has to be an international antiwar movement. We have to come together with the victims of these wars, with the refugees that are fleeing wars into Europe and other places around the globe.
UNAC, despite the times that we are in, is growing, it is gaining an important reputation in the US and around the world. We are very proud to have had good relations with MAWO and I look forward to our further collaboration. Together, we will end these wars at home and abroad. Thank you.
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