The United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) recently convened its fourth national conference in Richmond, Virginia. The organizations that comprise this coalition are unwavering in their determination to fight for peace and justice. Opposing the wars at home and abroad is their standard for action.
Virginia is an ironic location for a group whose goal was to unite anti-war, anti-imperialist, anti-neoliberalism and anti-racist forces. If the United States is the belly of the beast, Virginia must be the inner lining. It is the place where the settler colonial project began. Romanticized tales of Pocahantas hide an ugly story of genocide committed against the indigenous population. Virginia was the place where the first enslaved Africans arrived in 1619. In time it became known as the slave breeding state and Richmond was the capital of the confederacy. Yet in 2017 three hundred people gathered there to fight against this legacy that brings so much suffering to humanity.
Black Agenda Report is a UNAC member organization and this columnist is an Administrative Committee member. The connection between the two groups is a natural one. While other so-called peace groups are tied to the Democrats and ebb and flow with that party’s fortunes, UNAC is independent of the duopoly. It does not change its organizing principles based on who controls Congress or who sits in the White House Oval Office. Those distinctions are artificial and the system is no less rapacious if there is a change in Republican or Democratic party control.
The nature of the American capitalist system requires that every country become either a vassal or an enemy. It gives us the rule of billionaires. The U.S created a mass incarceration system for the sole purpose of crushing the black liberation movement while also creating a profit center in the process.
All of the oppressions are intertwined. Millions of Americans toil under wage slavery or prison slavery and make fortunes for other people. But the contradictions of capitalism are growing more acute, and imperialist war is the outcome of a system trying to maintain itself. The fight for a living minimum wage and the fight against interventions abroad must therefore be addressed together because they are in fact part of a whole.
The UNAC conference also presented an opportunity to renew the African American-centered peace movement. The newly formed Black Alliance for Peace was very much present with leadership such as Black Agenda Report editor Ajamu Baraka playing key roles. Charo Mina-Rojas spoke about the struggle waged by black Colombians in the Buenaventura region of that country. Lawrence Hamm of the People’s Organization for Progress linked the history of mass rebellion with the fight against police violence.
Barack Obama’s presidency created a rupture in the black American radical tradition. The end of his administration creates an opportunity to rekindle that proud legacy, and to reject the politics of intervention and mass death that emanates from every American presidential administration.
UNAC organizations know that the imperialist project is bipartisan. Barack Obama began the war for regime change in Syria and Donald Trump, despite making claims to the contrary, continues it. The need to expose the American effort to dominate the world continued even as UNAC members met. While speakers pointed to the dangers that America inflicts upon the world, the United States government shot down a Syrian jet and increased the risk of conflict with Russia.
Attendees came from 29 states and from Hungary, Colombia, Ukraine, the Philippines, Serbia, Syria, Palestine and Canada. Every region of the world has been impacted by the drive for American hegemony. The fight against aggression must therefore be waged internationally. Foreign policy is not some rarified realm that can only be addressed by the self-appointed experts who have brought the world to the brink. The people who fight for a living wage or against police murder in this country must also speak to this government’s assaults on human rights and sovereignty around the world.
The unity of all these struggles was made clear on the last morning of the conference. Ana Edwards led a march to Shockoe Bottom, the location of a cemetery for enslaved people and the site of one of the largest slave markets in the country. She and other activists from the Virginia Defenders for Peace, Justice and Equality have struggled to preserve the site as a memorial park and protect it from commercial so-called development.
The trip to Shockoe Bottom brought the conference full circle. Racism, supremacist war and predatory capitalism were perfected in Virginia and the people who want to change it paid homage to the first victims. We say, “Power to the people” but if we mean it we must say clearly who our enemies are and confront them at every opportunity.
The time is ripe for change. Some of that change will be forced upon us, but some of it must be created. That is why UNAC is so important. It is committed to creating the conditions which may make the beast and its belly a thing of the past.