People around the world were shocked to see the news on October 3rd, 2015, when a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan was destroyed by U.S. airstrikes. 30 innocent people, medical staff and patients included, were killed in this brutal and targeted attack. However this newsworthy tragedy is only one of the daily tragedies that imperialist forces and their allies inflict upon the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, Ukraine and many other oppressed countries. In the last 14 years since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, a new era of war and occupation has been fuelled by a global economic crisis and the competition of imperialist governments for control of human and natural resources. Whether in the form of direct military invasions, sanctions, covert intelligence operations, drone bombings or proxy wars this rivalry and battle for hegemony has caused unthinkable devastation and bloodshed, especially throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
The depth of the destruction can be seen by looking at only two countries, Iraq and Syria. Iraq, after 12 years of war and occupation, is now facing a new U.S.-led war and attempt to divide their country. Today, the United Nations estimates that there are at least 8.2 million people in Iraq in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. For over one year an imperialist coalition, which includes Canada, has been bombing Iraq with the excuse of fighting the ISIS/ISIL terrorist force. ISIS/ISIL has been at best created by the conditions of U.S. promoted sectarianism in Iraq and U.S. fomented civil war in Syria, and at worst directly funded and armed under the cloak of U.S. support for so-called “moderate rebels” in Syria. The result for Syria is that now 40% of the population is displaced, 4 million of whom have fled the country as refugees.
Already in this new era of war and occupation Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have had been completely devastated and had their social fabric torn apart, while the great cradles of our human history and civilization have been destroyed. Syria is now facing the same vicious onslaught.
When we look back over the last 14 years of the new era of war and occupation it is clear that an active antiwar movement is a necessary human response to this callous destruction. As people from Iraq and Afghanistan to Syria and Palestine fight every day against war, occupation and imperialist intervention, we as peace-loving people have no choice but to join with them in the struggle.
We Must Demand “Self-Determination for All Oppressed Nations!”
Since its founding 12 years ago on October 29, 2003 in Vancouver, Canada, Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO) has been at the forefront of antiwar organizing and the struggle against the new era of war and occupation.
As MAWO marks 12 years of antiwar action, it is with many achievements and challenges, all of which are an important experience on how to organize as part of building an effective antiwar movement. One of the most important aspects of our work has been that MAWO has maintained a solid and clear antiwar position, following the guiding political line of self-determination for all oppressed nations. Simply put, this means that people have the right to determine the future of their own nations free of imperialist intervention of any kind. It is on this foundation that MAWO has built our campaigns, slogans and statements, through hundreds of events and direct actions against war and occupation.
Armed with the slogan of “Self-Determination for All Oppressed Nations” as our foundation and basic program, MAWO has taken up the task of setting an example of how an antiwar organization can educate, organize and mobilize.
Educate, Organize, Mobilize!
The opinion of the majority of people in Canada around issues of war and occupation are often shaped by a manipulative and sophisticated pro-war mass media. This makes mass education, and countering this gigantic and deliberate mis-information campaign, a critical task for an antiwar organization. In the last 12 years, MAWO has made educational events and actions the backbone of our work, through dozens of public forums and discussions each year, conferences, workshops, seminars, and our Student Week Against War and Occupation activities held on campuses throughout Metro Vancouver. Each event features multimedia and speakers, and sparks discussion and debate that help to make war and occupation an issue for people in their everyday life. MAWO literature helps to spread antiwar politics beyond MAWO’s events. There are now 55 editions of the MAWO newsletter full of news and articles, and MAWO statements which take our antiwar analysis around the world. Even the act of petitioning, which we do at every monthly antiwar rally, is an educational process when you see every signature on a petition as a conversation about antiwar politics!
In fact, MAWO’s rallies and petition campaigns are an example of another important cornerstone of antiwar organizing. To be effective, antiwar education must not stop at a discussion in a room, it must be taken out into the streets and turned into antiwar action. Every month for the last 12 years MAWO has organized a rally and petition campaign in downtown Vancouver in order to bring antiwar politics into the lives of people passing by and maintain momentum for the antiwar voice in Canada. These actions are also in themselves a form of education, when a passer-by see’s our slogans on banners and picket signs, or perhaps stops to hear a speaker on the mic, pickup some information or get into a conversation with MAWO organizers.
We have also taken antiwar action directly to the offices of the war machine in Canada. As part of our “Canada Out of Afghanistan Campaign” MAWO organized 74 monthly pickets in front of the Canadian Armed Forces Recruitment Centre, first in downtown Vancouver, and then following the office when it moved to New Westminster.
Beyond events that are the typical for an antiwar group MAWO has also worked to bring creativity and culture into our organizing. One of MAWO’s first events as an antiwar coalition was the Vancouver International Film Festival for Peace. By our 10th festival, this event had become an institution and truly a one of a kind example of how the medium of film can be bring the brutality of war and occupation home for people and encourage them to get involved. The films that MAWO has shown have spanned the decades and come from every corner of the world. In the early days of our festivals we also found that there was a lack of films about Canada’s role in the new era of war and occupation, and so our own organizers created the film “Canada: Imperialist At Home, Imperialist Abroad” to fill this gap.
Hip Hop, from rapping to graffiti, has become a global phenomenon of expression in oppressed communities, from the explosion of Hip Hop in Palestine to the multitude of Indigenous Hip Hop artists rapping about conditions on reservations in Canada. Recognizing this potential to mobilize a new community against war, we have also organized nine Hip Hop for Peace festivals. Over the years this festival has given a much-needed platform to progressive and socially conscious Hip Hop artists, and fostered an encouraging trend of Hip Hop artists creating music with more antiwar themes, and brought them into day-to-day antiwar organizing. MAWO’s Hip Hop for Peace Festival is also an important avenue for reaching out to youth. The festival works to build a culture of antiwar activism that encompasses youth as an important layer of society that should be more involved in antiwar politics.
These festivals, as well as MAWO’s regular antiwar cultural nights, are not just “using” art to bring forward an antiwar message, but recognizing that art reflects our human experiences which in today’s world include experiences of war, occupation and oppression.
Another part of creativity is the way that we can use every avenue of media available to us to spread our antiwar message. This includes sending our regular press releases about our work to mainstream, community and ethnic media, in a constant appeal to them to broadcast the antiwar voice in Canada. From our experience, although mainstream media does not often chose cover the events that we organize, we have found that when they are looking for an antiwar perspective, they know how to find it.
MAWO also works with smaller media, including community and ethnic newspapers, as well as radio. In today’s world of ever-expanding social media we are always working to use social media, from facebook to twitter to youtube and beyond, as a tool for propagating antiwar messages and building our work as an antiwar coalition.
Fighting the War at Home and Abroad
The new era of war and occupation has not only been waged against poor and oppressed people abroad, but has come with a war against people here in Canada too. From defending the right of Indigenous people to control their land and resources, to standing with students and teachers rallying for lower tuition and better education, to joining in the struggle against racism and Islamophobia, as an antiwar coalition in Canada it is our responsibility to connect the war abroad to the war at home and unite these struggles together to build a stronger movement.
This war at home begins with the very foundation of Canada, as a colonial state that began with the genocide of Indigenous people. The government of Canada has continued their attack on Indigenous people through the theft of their land and continual denial of their rights and self-determination. This is why the demand of self-determination for Indigenous nations in Canada is ever-present in our rallies and events. We have also organized, as well as supported the struggles of Indigenous people from fundraisers for legal defense campaigns to participating in protests and demonstrations for land and resource rights.
Especially over the last 14 years, poor and working people in Canada have faced increasing cuts to education and social services like healthcare and affordable housing. Part of MAWO’s work is to encourage people to ask why the government of Canada is spending billions of dollars on fighter jets and missiles, while they are neglecting the basic needs of people here in Canada. When this connection is put into perspective we feel that people in Canada will start to see how much we have in common with people facing Canada’s brutal war machine in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
MAWO has also brought attention to how war and occupation is destroying the environment. From depleted uranium that has polluted entire cities in Iraq for millions of years to come, to pipelines threatening Indigenous communities and their livelihood in Canada, our demand is “No to War and Occupation, No to Environmental Degradation”
One of the largest attacks on human rights in Canada has been signed into law in the last year, the “Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015” also known as Bill C-51. This legislation has given sweeping powers to government agencies to spy on and disrupt political activity and action in Canada, bringing with it a new, vague definition of terrorism. Bill C-51 has opened the door to the targeting of antiwar and other social justice activists. This dangerous legislation has reinforced the government of Canada’s campaign of Islamophobia, which the government uses to justify their wars abroad and silence dissenting voices at home.
While all of these struggles, from local to international, can seem like separate issues, it is only when we are united in working together, supporting and acting in solidarity with each other’s struggles, that we as an antiwar movement can become a stronger and more effective force. Despite differences which may exist, from organizational to political perspectives, if a organization or community is working on an issue that we as an antiwar organization can agree with it is our obligation to support and show solidarity! Unity in action must always be a principle which we strive for and seek to strengthen.
Our struggle must be International
Our unity in action against the war at home and abroad must also transcend borders, especially between the U.S. and Canada. The government of Canada has been complicit in every war and occupation led by the U.S. and as they work together, the antiwar movement must also work for unity across borders in order to be effective. MAWO has taken every opportunity to collaborate with antiwar groups internationally, especially in the United States. This includes everything from organizing cross-border conferences with speakers and participants from Canada and the U.S. to joining in international days of action against war. In our history MAWO has worked with groups including the International ANSWER, the International Action Center, and is also a member of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC). We have also worked together with international groups on specific campaigns, such as the campaign against imperialist meddling and sanctions on Iran, when we worked with the U.S.-based Stop War on Iran Coalition and Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII). MAWO has also worked to send organizers to participate and speak representing the peace movement in Canada at major antiwar events such as the protests against NATO in Chicago in 2013 that had 15,000 people marching through the streets and the support rally for Wikileaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning in Ft. Meade, Maryland during her sentencing.
Effective Antiwar Organizing is Independent
From its foundation MAWO has established itself as a broad and independent organization, not tied to any political party. This means that our antiwar positions and actions are not dictated by any particular party line, but remain uncompromisingly antiwar and anti-occupation. This also means that MAWO is open for anyone from any political tendency or ideology to participate in and organize with, as long as they can agree on the basis of fighting against imperialist war and occupation.
This independent position has helped MAWO to grow into an organization that is broad and inclusive, with an outlook that antiwar politics are in everyone’s interest and are everyone’s business. In order to reach more communities MAWO has been all over British Columbia, from downtown Vancouver rallies to Osoyoos peace walks, Surrey libraries to Ladner high schools, joining Muslim community gatherings and participating in Latin American festivals, standing in solidarity with Indigenous protests and jamming at progressive hip hop shows. The result has been that looking around any MAWO event, action or meeting you can find that MAWO is a diverse mix of many ethnic communities and ideologies, and with students, youth and elders working together.
Looking Back, Moving Forward
In the 12 years since MAWO formed, and the 14 years of the new era of war and occupation, imperialist attacks have not only spread to more and more countries, they are also constantly changing their vicious methods in an attempt to stop antiwar sentiment from growing at home. This changing face of war has brought new challenges for antiwar organizing with more and more sophisticated media manipulation providing cover for new attacks. These brutal and inhuman attacks have included drone bombing campaigns, the covert fomenting of civil wars as in Syria or the U.S.-backed Saudi Arabian bombing of Yemen in which imperialist governments are using a proxy to carry out their bloody attacks.
These new methods of war are partly in response to a growing antiwar sentiment in the U.S. and Canada. More and more it is becoming clear to people living in imperialist countries that wars and occupations abroad are not in their interests. It is not only in polls published in major media sources that we see the rise in antiwar sentiment, but through our grassroots organizing in campuses, community centres and on the streets that MAWO has been able to gauge and observe this growing sentiment. It is this growing sentiment which gives the antiwar movement the potential to grow into an effective force, if combined with a clear political direction and leadership.
Looking at antiwar organizing in Canada we cannot help but to recognize that antiwar organizing has largely disappeared except for some select cities where antiwar action is more consistent. Given the growing antiwar sentiment and amazing potential to act against war that people in Canada have demonstrated, such as in the mass protests against the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, there is no excuse to justify such a low level of action today. MAWO has always stood for unity in building an antiwar movement in Canada against the Canadian war drive, while maintaining a strong international perspective.
Now More Than Ever – Join the Struggle to End War and Occupation
As the new Liberal government takes power in Canada, it also gives us the opportunity to increase our antiwar organizing and raise our voices even louder. We must remember that it was under the Liberal government of Jean Chre'tien that Canada joined in the occupation of Afghanistan in 2001. With the Liberal party and Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister, we can expect nothing short of a pro-war government that will continue to keep Canada on the international stage, although with a different face.
MAWO formed in order to take up consistent and clear opposition to war. 12 years on, we have remained consistent and will continue to educate, organize and mobilize against war and occupation. We encourage all peace-loving people to join MAWO and poor and oppressed people around the world in the fight against war and occupation at home and abroad. For more about MAWO’s upcoming events and ways to get involved visit www.mawovancouver.org or follow us on Twitter @mawovan.
Self-determination for Indigenous Nations and All Oppressed Nations!
End Wars and Occupations!
Money for Education, Housing and Jobs, Not for War!
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