Harlem: Speaking Truth About the War

Revolutionary Worker #1195, April 20, 2003, posted at rwor.org

The following report was written by a team of stringers in New York:

On April 5--the day after the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.-- hundreds of people marched and rallied in Harlem against the war in Iraq. The Black Solidarity Against the War coalition called the demonstration, which drew Black people from different organizations and political viewpoints, including elected officials, community activists, revolutionary nationalists and others. There were Muslim contingents, Christians, Latino activists and some other nationalities. The major antiwar groups in New York represented.

The march went 50 blocks through the heart of Harlem. Everywhere it was greeted with raised fists from pedestrians and bus drivers. People hung out of apartment windows to cheer it on, honked car horns, shouted "No War!" and "Fuck Bush!" It ended with a rally at the Harlem State Office Building on 125th Street.

A man who helped organize the event told the RW, "Iraqis are getting a pretty good sense of the reality of what African-Americans have experienced over the last several hundred years in the United States--bombing, violence, genocide, racism, imperialist penetration of their country... What this group of genocidal gangsters has in store for the Iraqi people is what they have in store for the African-American people and poor people--it's a big, big dose of war, racism and repression."

Many at the march used the word imperialism to describe the war on Iraq and the U.S. system. And there was a broad understanding that this war is not about liberating the Iraqi people. Two men doing construction on a storefront condemned the U.S. government: "They want to dictate to the rest of the world what they think is right... The poor always have to suffer. It's always the same thing. This is America's policy." One march organizer told the RW, "The United States is now in the grips of a junta that aspires to hegemony on a worldwide basis. The control of Middle Eastern oil is an important step from their perspective in establishing that kind of hegemony. Why? Because it controls many of the major sources of European energy and Asian energy. With that kind of control they feel their thrust for empire will be unchallenged. So it's not merely for oil. It's essentially for world hegemony."

A young woman from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement said: "We think it's purely a gangster move to steal land, to steal oil, to suppress people's self-determination and sovereignty."

A member of the Black Radical Congress said, "What're we gonna bring to Iraq? Racism? Segregation? Which part of the American way of life? The homeless? Welfare?" Another woman said, "I guess they're gonna bring police brutality and prisons--because that's what America is here, for my community." New York City Transit Workers Union President Roger Toussaint told the crowd: "The same folks who're conducting a war against Iraq are very much conducting a real live war at home -- a war against the poor, a war against people of color, a war against the working class, against labor. We are here to speak out against that war. No blood for oil!"

We asked people what message they had for the Iraqi people. A Haitian activist said: "Stand up and fight the invaders!"

A Black woman physician said, "I would say to my sisters and brothers when I see those misled, brainwashed soldiers knocking down your doors, I think of Eleanor Bumpurs--who was a mentally ill lady whose door was knocked down and who was murdered by the police here in New York. When I see your children being shot by mistake, I think of Amadou Diallo...Yusuf Hawkins... the poor Black children who've been killed by people who were just scared to death and doing knee-jerk type of defense. I say to you--keep your spirit alive because just as you got out of colonialism one time, you will do it again! Do not let the United States occupy your minds and your souls!"

Some demonstrators said they strongly supported GI resistance. March organizer Nellie Bailey told the crowd: "Like Martin Luther King, I believe we have to take a moral position against this war. No one should fight in an illegal war. No one. And we know that the draft is an economic draft and that our kids go into the armed services because they can't get jobs out here." One woman talked to the RW about Muhammad Ali's refusal to fight in Vietnam as an example for today: "Tell our troops and young people follow Muhammad Ali.... And we as a movement should be prepared to support them financially, spiritually, and mentally." A speaker with Women in Islam urged GIs to resist, to put down their guns, don't go, and refuse to "fight this racist war."

But there was a lot of confusion about whether or not to support the troops--and what that meant. Carl Dix, National Spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Party, shined some light on this question when he told the crowd:

"They drafted me into the Army in the 1960s. They gave me some training, they gave me a gun and they said go kill some Vietnamese for us. I had the strength and understanding to say hell no, I ain't goin'! I refused to go to Vietnam, sisters and brothers, but I understand something about that. That was no solo act. I had a lot of help in that. I had a movement that was out there kickin' out the truth about the war in Vietnam--that it was an unjust imperialist war... Our youth today need the same from us. They need a movement that's telling them the truth about this war against Iraq and the other wars that Bush has got lined up. They need us to set an example of resistance that can inspire them and challenge them... I support the troops who resist this unjust war! And that's who you gotta support too... Bush says we gotta fight to keep the American system in effect. I say we need to be fighting to get rid of this system because it's what's causing these wars and all the other injustice! We need to be fighting to get rid of it through revolution. And while we're working on that we gotta fight to stop this war."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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