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Paths to Peace

Antiwar bedfellows

Running mass demonstrations like the Jan. 18 antiwar protest in Washington requires organizational skill: Crowds must be generated, buses chartered, permits secured, and Port-A-Johns put in place. It is a large undertaking.

Heading up the antiwar movement’s logistical effort is the New York-based International Answer Coalition -- or “Act Now to Stop War and End Racism.”

International Answer spokesman Richard Duncan describes the group as a coalition of many groups and people -- from “liberals to Marxists” -- united in opposition to war with Iraq.

Others see a less benign presence.

“The big national mobilizations have been dominated by International Answer ... which is largely a front group for the Workers World Party, which is a Marxist, Leninist and Trotskyite group which takes really hard-line positions, including refusal to criticize the Iraqi regime,” said University of San Francisco peace and justice studies professor Stephen Zunes. “I think the demonstrations would have been twice as big had the organizers been from a wider range of antiwar groups and not so dominated by this tiny Marxist/Leninist faction.”

Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly, meanwhile, writes that International Answer “supported the butchers of Beijing after the slaughter of Tiananmen Square. It supports Saddam Hussein and his Baathist torture-state. It supports the last official Stalinist state, North Korea, in the mass starvation of its citizens. It supported Slobodan Milosevic after the massacre at Srebrenica. It supports the mullahs of Iran, and the narco-gangsters of Colombia and the bus-bombers of Hamas.”

What no one disputes is the group’s organizational skill.

“We’re really lucky and fortunate that one group was able to take several months of time to put together a huge mobilization,” said Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness.” Said Zunes: “One thing about Leninists is -- with their hierarchy -- they’re good organizers.”

Still, some peace activists hope the group will soon take a backseat.

“Most [antiwar demonstrators] said, ‘Well, this is a drag, but this is the only game in town,’ ” said Zunes. For the October antiwar protests, said Zunes, a majority of antiwar organizations -- wary of International Answer’s control of the event and agenda -- refused to endorse the rally, though most encouraged their members to attend.

“But [for the most recent protests] more groups did formally endorse it, and hopefully by the next round, International Answer will be a clear minority contingent and not have such a disproportionate role. I’m pretty confident the movement will outgrow the ability of any one little faction to control it, but it has definitely been a disappointment,” Zunes said.

-- Joe Feuerherd

National Catholic Reporter, January 31, 2003