Thursday, August 26, 2010

71. Study Implicates Humans in Giant Turtle's Demise, 3,000 Years Ago

BBC, July 16, 2010

Humans helped drive a species of giant turtle to extinction almost 3,000 years ago, according to a study in PNAS.

It is one of the first cases that clearly shows that humans played a role in the demise of the giant, extinct animals known as "megafauna".

An Australian research team discovered turtle leg bones - but not shells or skulls - on an island of Vanuatu.
The bones date to just 200 years after humans' arrival, suggesting they were hunted to extinction for their meat.
However, the turtles lived far longer than other megafauna - which included the famed woolly mammoth; while Australian megafauna is thought to have died out almost 50,000 years ago, it appears that these turtles survived for far longer - until the arrival of a people known as the Lapita.

Debate over what caused the megafauna to die out has raged for 150 years, since Darwin first spotted the remains of giant ground sloths in Chile. Possible causes have ranged from human influence to climate change in the past, even to a cataclysmic meteor strike.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS).

'Enormous pressure'

The research team, led by Professor Matthew Spriggs from the University of New South Wales, discovered a graveyard full of bones on a site on the island of Efate that was known to be home to a Lapita settlement.

The turtles, of a never-before-seen species in the genus Meiolania, had a length of two-and-a-half metres and sported fearsome horns on their heads.

But the bones were overwhelmingly from the creatures' legs - their only fleshy and edible part. The team went on to date the bones, finding the last ones occurring in layers of sediment that were laid down about 200 years later than the arrival of the Lapita.

Professor Chris Turney of the University of Exeter in the UK called the paper a "really good piece of work", second only to a similarly damning find in New Zealand confirming humans' role in the extinction of the giant birds known as moa.
"It's a really lovely example - you have this amazing beast that's been around for tens of millions of years surviving as a relic population on this island. Then these people arrived and they basically disappear in a couple of hundred years," he told BBC News.

"When people turn up they put these populations under enormous pressure - they might not be giving the final, killer blow but they're adding another level of stress. It looks like these fantastic turtles are another example."

Monday, August 23, 2010

70. Disaster at the Top of the World

The readers of Our Place in the World would be interested in an essay by Thomas Homer-Dixon, professor of global systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada, in today's New York Times.  He reports on the fast disappearing arctic ice cap and its implicaitons for human societies.  For the bulk of humanity, melting ice cap is neither observable nor tangible.  Other much more mundane issues, such as what to eat for dinner will come first.  So, it is worthwhile to read the learned opinion of someone who has studied the arctic to report on the crisis and its implications.  Unfortunately, professor Homer-Dixon's concerns are limited to the stability of the world's geopolitical status.  However, it does not take much imagination to realize, as this journal has pointed out consistently, that the future of human race is imtimately tied to the health of the planet and its ecosystems and species.  He ask policymakers to prepare for the ensuing crisis but not to take measures now to prevent further damage and to reverse it.  He also does not address how his readers can act as citizens of the world to force the power structure to take step and prepare to throw out the entire political class and act directly in their own and in planet's interest.  In the same page, Paul Krugman write on how it is very likely that Congress will keep tax cuts for the top 1% of the U.S. population (those with annual income of 500k or more), amounting to 680 billion in ten years, while asking to cut the budget for social programs in the name of cutting the deficit. 
*     *     *
By Thomas Homer-Dixon, The New York Times, August 23, 2010
Standing on the deck of this floating laboratory for Arctic science, which is part of Canada’s Coast Guard fleet and one of the world’s most powerful icebreakers, I can see vivid evidence of climate change. Channels through the Canadian Arctic archipelago that were choked with ice at this time of year two decades ago are now expanses of open water or vast patchworks of tiny islands of melting ice.
In 1994, the “Louie,” as the crew calls the ship, and a United States Coast Guard icebreaker, the Polar Sea, smashed their way to the North Pole through thousands of miles of pack ice six- to nine-feet thick. “The sea conditions in the Arctic Ocean were rarely an issue for us in those days, because the thick continuous ice kept waves from forming,” Marc Rothwell, the Louie’s captain, told me. “Now, there’s so much open water that we have to account for heavy swells that undulate through the sea ice. It’s almost like a dream: the swells move in slow motion, like nothing I’ve seen elsewhere.”
The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, and this summer its sea ice is melting at a near-record pace. The sun is heating the newly open water, so it will take longer to refreeze this winter, and the resulting thinner ice will melt more easily next summer.
At the same time, warm Pacific Ocean water is pulsing through the Bering Strait into the Arctic basin, helping melt a large area of sea ice between Alaska and eastern Siberia. Scientists are just beginning to learn how this exposed water has changed the movement of heat energy and major air currents across the Arctic basin, in turn producing winds that push remaining sea ice down the coasts of Greenland into the Atlantic.
Globally, 2010 is on track to be the warmest year on record. In regions around the world, indications abound that earth’s climate is quickly changing, like the devastating mudslides in China and weeks of searing heat in Russia. But in the world’s capitals, movement on climate policy has nearly stopped.
Democrats in the Senate decided last month that they wouldn’t push for approval of a climate bill. In Canada, Australia, Japan and countries across Europe, the global economic crisis and other near-term concerns have pushed climate issues to the back burner. For China and India, economic growth and energy security are more vital priorities.
Climate policy is gridlocked, and there’s virtually no chance of a breakthrough. Many factors have conspired to produce this situation. Human beings are notoriously poor at responding to problems that develop incrementally. And most of us aren’t eager to change our lifestyles by sharply reducing our energy consumption.
But social scientists have identified another major reason: Climate change has become an ideologically polarizing issue. It taps into deep personal identities and causes what Dan Kahan of Yale calls “protective cognition” — we judge things in part on whether we see ourselves as rugged individualists mastering nature or as members of interconnected societies who live in harmony with the environment. Powerful special interests like the coal and oil industries have learned how to halt movement on climate policy by exploiting the fear people feel when their identities are threatened.
Given this reality, we’ll almost certainly need some kind of devastating climate shock to get effective climate policy. That’s the key lesson of the recent financial crisis: when powerful special interests have convinced much of the public that what they’re doing isn’t dangerous, only a disaster that discredits those interests will provide an opportunity for comprehensive policy change like the Dodd-Frank financial regulations.
It is possible that the changes I’m seeing from the ship deck are the beginning of the climate shock that will awaken us to the danger we face. Scientists aren’t sure what will happen when a significant portion of the Arctic Ocean changes from white, sunlight-reflecting ice to dark, sunlight-absorbing open water. But most aren’t sanguine.
These experts are especially concerned that new patterns of air movement in the Arctic could disrupt the Northern Hemisphere’s jet streams — which are apparently weakening and moving northward. This could alter storm tracks, rainfall patterns and food production far to the south.

The limited slack in the world’s food system, particularly its grain production, can amplify the effects of disruptions. Remember that two years ago, when higher oil prices encouraged farmers to shift enormous tracts of cropland from grain to biofuel production, grain prices quickly doubled or tripled. Violence erupted in dozens of countries. Should climate change cause crop failures in major food-producing regions of Europe, North America and East Asia, the consequences would likely be far more severe.
Policy makers need to accept that societies won’t make drastic changes to address climate change until such a crisis hits. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for them to do in the meantime. When a crisis does occur, the societies with response plans on the shelf will be far better off than those that are blindsided. The task for national and regional leaders, then, is to develop a set of contingency plans for possible climate shocks — what we might call, collectively, Plan Z.
Some work of this kind is under way at intelligence agencies and research institutions in the United States and Europe. Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government has produced one of the best studies, “Responding to Threat of Climate Change Mega-Catastrophes.” But for the most part these initiatives are preliminary and uncoordinated.
We need a much more deliberate Plan Z, with detailed scenarios of plausible climate shocks; close analyses of options for emergency response by governments, corporations and nongovernmental groups; and clear specifics about what resources — financial, technological and organizational — we will need to cope with different types of crises.
In the most likely scenarios, climate change would cause some kind of regional or continental disruption, like a major crop failure; this disruption would cascade through the world’s tightly connected economic and political systems to produce a global effect. Severe floods dislocating millions of people in a key poor country — as we’re seeing right now in Pakistan — could allow radicals to seize power and tip a geopolitically vital region into war. Or drought could cause an economically critical region like the North China plain to exhaust its water reserves, forcing people to leave en masse and precipitating a crisis that reverberates through the world economy.
A climate shock in North America is easy to imagine. Say a prolonged drought causes major cities in the American Southeast or Southwest to run out of water; both regions have large urban populations pushing against upper limits of water supply. The news clips of cars streaming out of Atlanta or Phoenix might finally push our leaders to do something serious about climate change.
If so, a Plan Z for this particular scenario would help us make the most of the opportunity. It would provide guidelines for regional and local leaders on how to respond to the crisis. We would decide in advance where supplies of water would be found and who would get priority allocations; local law enforcement and emergency responders would already have worked out lines of authority with federal agencies and the military.
Then there are the broader steps to mitigate climate change in general. Here, Plan Z would address many critical questions: How fast could carbon emissions from automobiles and energy production be ramped down, and what would be the economic, political and social consequences of different rates of reduction? Where would we find the vast amounts of money needed to overhaul existing energy systems? How quickly could different economic sectors and social groups adapt to different kinds of climate impacts? And if geoengineering to alter earth’s climate — for example, injecting sulfates into the high atmosphere — is to be an option, who would make the decision and undertake the operation?
Looking over the endless, empty horizon of the Arctic, I find it hard to imagine this spot being of any importance to global affairs. But it is just one of many places now considered marginal that could be the starting point for a climate shock that plays a central role in the evolution of human civilization. We need to be ready.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

69. Animal Welfare Activists to Protest Bullfighting in Spain

By Raphael Minder, The New York Times, August 20, 2010

MADRID — The Guggenheim museum in Bilbao is set to be the scene of a vivid protest on Saturday as about 150 semi-naked animal welfare activists, some smeared in red paint to simulate the blood of a dying bull, plan to lie on the museum grounds to demand an end to bullfighting.

Later in the day, a larger protest organized by three animal rights associations is due to be held in front of Bilbao’s bullring before the opening corrida of the city’s annual festival.
After a decision last month by lawmakers in Catalonia to ban bullfighting in their region starting in 2012, proponents of such a ban have renewed their efforts to spread similar legislation to other parts of Spain.
Protests have recently been staged at almost every city festival, which are traditionally held during the summer vacation period and include bullfighting as part of the celebrations.
In Vitoria, which like Bilbao is in the Basque region, activists plastered posters around the city this month showing a man in underwear spitting blood, with banderillas — the barbed sticks used in a corrida — planted in his back.
“We want to benefit from this major success in Catalonia to extend this ban to the rest of the Spanish territory,” said José Ramón Mallén Vargas-Machuca, a coordinator of the Bilbao event and a representative from Fundación Equanimal, an animal welfare association. “But we’re not trying to get into any debate about identity and nationalism and any of the arguments that are now being used by politicians that have nothing to do with animal rights.”
Indeed, the vote in Catalonia was overshadowed by a fierce political debate over whether the region should be granted a greater degree of autonomy after a disputed ruling by Spain’s constitutional court over the issue. Some local politicians argued that bullfighting no longer had its place in Catalan identity.
In turn, Spain’s main opposition center-right Popular Party has turned its defense of bullfighting into a rallying cry to protect Spanish values. The party’s leader, Mariano Rajoy, attended a bullfight shortly after Catalonia’s decision. Mr. Rajoy not only called for people to take more pride in being Spanish but also said the ban was an attack on individual freedom akin to preventing hunting, fishing or motorbike racing.
Galicia is another region where supporters of a ban hold high hopes because bullfighting does not feature so prominently in local traditions. The Canary Islands, meanwhile, banned bullfighting in 1991, several years after the last fight had been held there.
Since the Catalan vote, however, animal welfare activists have also criticized as hypocritical the decision to maintain festivities in several Catalan towns this month in which bulls take center stage, but without being fought to death. Instead, the horns of the bull are set on fire or the animals are run into the sea.
Legal experts like José M. de Areilza, dean of the IE Law School in Madrid, noted that the government had long anticipated a backlash against bullfighting but expected such pressure to come more from outside than within the country. Spain pushed for a clause to be added to the Treaty of Amsterdam, which amended European Union treaties in 1997, to guarantee that animal welfare considerations would be weighed against Europe’s traditional cultures.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

68. Human Noise Pollution in Ocean Can Lead Fish Away from Good Habitats and Off to Their Death

Science Daily (August 13, 2010).  

The growing amount of human noise pollution in the ocean could lead fish away from good habitat and off to their death, according to new research from a UK-led team working on the Great Barrier Reef.

After developing for weeks at sea, baby tropical fish rely on natural noises to find the coral reefs where they can survive and thrive. However, the researchers found that short exposure to artificial noise makes fish become attracted to inappropriate sounds.

In earlier research, Dr Steve Simpson, Senior Researcher in the University of Bristol's School of Biological Sciences discovered that baby reef fish use sounds made by fish, shrimps and sea urchins as a cue to find coral reefs. With human noise pollution from ships, wind farms and oil prospecting on the increase, he is now concerned that this crucial behaviour is coming under threat.

He said: "When only a few weeks old, baby reef fish face a monumental challenge in locating and choosing suitable habitat. Reef noise gives them vital information, but if they can learn, remember and become attracted towards the wrong sounds, we might be leading them in all the wrong directions."

Using underwater nocturnal light traps, Dr Simpson and his team collected baby damselfish as they were returning to coral reefs. The fish were then put into tanks with underwater speakers playing natural reef noise or a synthesised mix of pure tones. The next night the fish were put into specially designed choice chambers (long tubes with contrasting conditions at each end in which fish can move freely towards the end they prefer) with natural or artificial sounds playing. All the fish liked the reef noise, but only the fish that had experienced the tone mix swam towards it, the others were repelled by it.

Dr Simpson said: "This result shows that fish can learn a new sound and remember it hours later, debunking the 3-second memory myth."

His collaborator, Dr Mark Meekan added: "It also shows that they can discriminate between sounds and, based on their experience, become attracted to sounds which might really mess up their behaviour on the most important night of their life."

In noisy environments the breakdown of natural behaviour could have devastating impacts on success of populations and the replenishment of future fish stocks.

Dr Simpson said: "Anthropogenic noise has increased dramatically in recent years, with small boats, shipping, drilling, pile driving and seismic testing now sometimes drowning out the natural sounds of fish and snapping shrimps. If fish accidentally learn to follow the wrong sounds, they could end up stuck next to a construction site or follow a ship back out to sea."

The study is published in Behavioral Ecology and was carried out at Lizard Island Research Station. The work was supported with a fellowship for Dr Simpson from the UK Natural Environment Research Council and by the Australian Institute of Marine Science for Dr Mark Meekan.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

67. The Iranian Revolution, Imperialism, and Fidel Castro

By Kamran Nayeri, October 12, 2010
The Iranian revolution of 1979 was a truly popular democratic and anti-imperialist urban uprising

A friend and occasional reader of this page in Cuba has asked me for my perspective on the recent development concerning Iran.  

No doubt her interest is reinforced by Fidel Castro’s recent commentaries.  It is refreshing to see, once again, Fidel stepping up as the world leader that tells the truth about the current affairs; in this case the danger posed by the nuclear armed U.S. and Israeli warships that are poised to enforce the fourth round of UN Security Council economic sanctions against Iran.

Castro, who will turn 84 on August 13, is a highly insightful revolutionary politician.  So, his warnings should be taken seriously. In his June 24 “Reflections” column ("How I Wish I Was Wrong") in the Communist Party newspaper Granma he offered his first warning. On July 4, he followed the same theme in "Impossible Joy." He returned to this topic in the popular TV program Roundtable, the first time he appeared on TV since he fell ill four years ago.  He reiterated the same theme in a second TV appearance, this time addressing the Cuban diplomats.  And finally this past Saturday, he included the present danger to Iran in his 10 minutes address to Cuba’s national assembly of People’s Power in Havana.  Clearly, Fidel Castro feels very strongly that the United States and Israel are seriously considering imminent attack on Iran, possibly using nuclear weapons.

As an Iranian-born socialist who was part of the movement that overthrow the CIA-installed dictatorship of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and a participant in the 1979 Iranian revolution, and as a long time supporter of the Cuban revolution, I feel in agreement with Fidel’s warnings intended to mobilize support for Iranian people in the face of imperialist and Zionist war moves.  I further believe that the Iranian socialist currents, and more broadly international socialist movements, are not paying sufficient attention to this danger.

The revolutionary socialist strategy against imperialism requires a transitional program for ecosocialist revolution to advance the power of working class and its allies.[i] The logic of the proletarian anti-imperialist struggle is the establishment a government workers and their allies that will dismantle the capitalist state machinery, establishes its own institutions and extend the process of the ecsocialist revolution.  I use the verb “extend” because the ecosocialist revolution is a world process in time and in space.  This revolutionary ecosocialist strategy is based on the understanding that imperialism is the foreign policy of capitalism.  As long as capitalism exists, imperialism lives: capitalism by nature strives to exploit all corners of the world.

It follows that struggle against imperialism is not a conjectural struggle even though it will include many tactical confrontations.  Further, it is an essential part of the international process of transition from capitalism to socialism.  The Cuban revolution itself offers a great example.  To solve their historic problems, Cuban revolutionaries, led by the team organized by Fidel Castro, not only overthrow the Batista dictatorship but had to go on to establish a workers and peasants government, and a state based on the power of the working people, and a planned economy.  The internationalism of the Cuban revolution is not a choice but a necessity.  The struggle against imperialism, in particular, American imperialism, continues to be an integral part of the process of Cuban socialist development, itself being part of a world-historic process.

*    *    *

In this context, I find myself also compelled to clarify some errors of historical and political nature in compañero Fidel’s statements.  If left uncorrected, they will confuse and undermine effective anti-imperialist defense of the Iranian people in Cuba and perhaps elsewhere.

1.   There are disturbing factual errors in Fidel's historical recollections.  For example, in his June 24 Reflection ("How I Wish I Was Wrong) he writes:

"The Shah of Iran had been defeated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 without using a single weapon. The United States imposed the Shah after the war on that nation with the use of chemical weapons, whose components it supplied to Iraq together with the information needed by its combat units and which were deployed by them against the Revolutionary Guards." (please see the first comment to this post regarding this paragraph.  KN)

First, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi died in exile in Egypt on July 27, 1980, before the start of the Iran-Iraq war.  The war began on September 22, 1980, when Saddam Hussein’s army invaded oil-rich Khuzestan province in southwest Iran.  So, somehow Fidel is confusing a number of things: (1) U.S. imposition of the Shah in August 19, 1953 after a successful CIA coup; (2) U.S. attempts to return the Shah to power after the 1979 revolution (that ended by July 27, 1980 when he died); (3) Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against Iranian forces that occurred a few years later (one occasion conclusively verified was in Huwaizah on March 13, 1984).  I am puzzled with this confusion of historical facts and how it is that no one (including the editors of Granma International) bothered to check the “Reflection” before it appeared in print.  But that is another matter.

Second, it is surprising from a communist leader to ascribe the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah to one man, Ayatollah Khomeini.  And it is erroneous to say that the victory was achieved "without using a single weapon."

Surely, compañero Fidel must known that the rebellion against the Shah's autocracy began by Tehran's slum dwellers (peasants who were forced off land after his “land reform”).  This and other factors (including president Carter’s “human rights” oratory) opened political space for intellectuals and others.  The clergy joined in, not as a single block and not with the intention to overthrow the regime.  Surely, Ayatollah Khomeini led the least compromising faction.  But he also worked extra hard to systematically eliminate any independent political forces from the leadership of the mass movement. Who led the February 1979 revolution? It was the working people in their millions who defied all dangers and made the streets of major Iranian cities their own.  It was the Iranian youth who appealed to the soldiers not to shot even as they opened fire, killing dozens.  It was workers strike, especially the general strike of the oil workers that defeated the state of emergency in Tehran and forced the Shah into exile. The February insurrection happened despite Ayatollah Khomeini's attempt to make a deal with the Shah's army brass. When armed conflict broke out between junior officers and ranks of the air force that were attacked by the Royal Guards forces, masses intervened, some with arms in hand, in an insurrection that lasted three days to complete nation-wide. While relatively bloodless, the victory was assured with armed insurrections in Tehran and other major cities.  Thus, the notion of a “bloodless” revolution waged by an Ayatollah is a fiction.

As Marxian theory predicated, the revolution was the emergence of grassroots movements of workers, peasants, oppressed nationalities, students, intellectuals, soldiers, and women to fight for their own demands.  Like all genuine revolutions, this historic event was a deep going democratic and free process, more free and democratic than any institutionalized process I have seen anywhere else in the world.  

An outlines of how this historic revolution unfolded and then destroyed resulting in the formation of a theocratic capitalist state can be found in The Rise and Fall of the 1979 Iran Revolution: Its Lessons for Today. I, and Alireza Nasab, another socialist participant in the revolution, presented this brief outline to the Third Marx Conference in Havana, in 2006. 

A key point is this: the joint claim of Islamic Republic and imperialism that the Iranian people rose up to bring down the monarchy and to install a theocratic capitalist regime is a lie.  It is true that only a month after the February 1979 revolution, in an undemocratic referendum that Ayatollah Khomeini put before the Iranian people a large voted “for” an “Islamic Republic.”  However, neither Ayatollah Khomeini nor no one else at that time offered even an outline of what this regime would look like.  Furthermore, a “no” vote was interpreted as opposition to the revolution that had just overthrew the monarchy!  Thus, the “yes” vote could only be interpreted as an overwhelming affirmation of the revolutionary overthrow the old regime and not as support for a theocratic capitalist regime that was gradually built through bloody repression of the masses.

Third, it is not true, as it is implied by companero Fidel’s reference to president Ahmadinejad’s role in the Iran-Iraq war, that the leaders of Islamic Republic followed a revolutionary strategy to fight Saddam Hussein’s invasion or imperialist backing of Iraq.  While Saddam Hussein’s regime bears the responsibility for starting the war by invading Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime did not try to prevent this imminent attach or to prepare the Iranian people. Moreover, despite the inaptitude of the Islamic Republic government in the face of invading Iraqi army, Iranian armed forces supported by tens of thousands of revolutionary youth that included most political currents, including socialist parties, were able to push the Iraqi army out of practically all Iranian territory within the first 18 months of the war.  With the liberation of Khoramshahr, it was possible to sue for peace from a position of strength. Instead, Ayatollah Khomeini called for the continuation of the war to “liberate Karbala” (a holly region for the shia Muslims) and to “liberate Quds” (Jerusalem).  A world-class socialist military strategist like Fidel Castro does know that such a war policy has little to do with a revolutionary socialist strategy or would have had no chance of success.  But Ayatollah Khomeini’s policy was a cold calculated move to use the war to suppress all internal political opposition to his rule, beginning with the independent movements of workers and peasants.  Yadullah Khosroshahi, a central leader of the oil workers before and during the revolution, who died last February in exile in London, explained how Saddam Hussein’s invasion aimed at the center of oil workers power in Khuzestan and how Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime completed Saddam Hussein’s work by dispersing and repressing oil workers throughout Iran.  I should add that the invading Iraqi forces executed leaders of peasant shoras (councils) in the early phase of the war.  Khosroshahi shared the same message with the Cuban workers when he told the Lenin steelworkers in Havana on April 29, 2001 that he was jailed and tortured five years in the Shah’s jails and five years in Ayatollah Khomeini’s jails for defending workers rights.[ii] Khosroshahi had a list of 500 workers who were executed by the Islamic Republic for their activities in defense of workers’ rights. So, the Iran-Iraq war continued for another 6 ½ years with at least 500,000 death and 1,000.000 wounded and hundred of billions of dollars in damages.[iii] At the time, the Cuban position correctly described the Iran-Iraq as fratricidal and called for a negotiated peace.  

Fourth, Fidel’s overtly optimistic view of the current ability of the Islamic Republic to fight off an imperialist attack is misplaced.  He writes:

“Today, in 2010, after 31 years, both the United States and Israel are underestimating the one million soldiers in the Iranian Armed Forces and their capacity for fighting on land, and the air, sea and land forces of the Revolutionary Guards.
“In addition to these, there are the 20 million men and women, aged from 12 to 60, selected and systematically trained by its diverse military institutions... (How I Wish I Was Wrong).”

However, due to the influence of warring Islamic Republic factions in the Iranian armed forces, including the Revolutionary Guards,[iv] they are far from unified.  As the events of the past 18 months and the history of Islamic Republic regime demonstrate, this is a regime in constant crisis.  It is far from clear that the armed forces will fight an imperialist attack with a singular purpose.[v] 

Further, the view that there is a volunteer armed force of “20 million men and women, aged from 12 to 60” ready to fight imperialism is even more naive. 

Ayatollah Khomeini first raised the idea of the “Army of 20 Million” during the early stages of the Iran-Iraq war.  It never went beyond the propaganda stage.  And how could it?  Just consider my own experience.  Right after the February insurrection, I and about 30 other young men in our neighborhood in Tehran formed an armed defense committee to protect against sabotage by the agents of the old regime.  Armed with 15 G3 guns expropriated from the army base nearby during the insurrection, we recruited a revolutionary member pf the armed forces to train us.  However, one of the first demands of the Ayatollah after the insurrection was to disarm the people.  A mullah from the local mosque showed up asking the youth to return the arms and continue their “revolutionary work” under his command. This intervention divided our small group.  Some who considered themselves “Muslim” and agreed to take orders from the Mullah left and took the arms with them. The untied defense committee composed of youth with different ideological views and political affiliations was dissolved forcing us to return to sectarian group politics. The same policy was carried out throughout the country.

The Mobilization of the Poor (Bassij-e Mostazafin) that was suppose to be the nucleus of the “Army of 20 Million” continually purged volunteers in factories, schools and neighborhoods who did not pass ideological test of loyalty to Ayatollah Khomeini and local clerical authorities.  The same policy was carried out in the war fronts.  Today, the core of Bassij-e Mostazafin is mostly semi-fascist motorcycle ridding, chain wielding gangs that attack students, workers and others who dare to protest repressive clerical capitalist policies of the Islamic Republic regime.

Fifth, compañero Fidel also mischaracterizes the protest mass movement in Iran. He writes:

“The government of the United States drew up a plan to instigate a political movement that, supporting itself on capitalist consumerism, would divide Iranians and defeat the regime (How I Wish I Was Wrong).”

There are several problems with this formulation. Is compañero Fidel referring to a specific U.S. plan at a specific time?  Is he alluding to a specific “political movement”?  Is he talking about the mass protest movement that erupted after the presidential election last year? 

Of course, United States has a history of instigating “political movements” that serve its policy in Iran or elsewhere.[vi]  But including a blanket statement without a specific reference to the political situation in Iran will only confuse the revolutionary strategy against imperialism.  If Fidel is referring to the recent mass protest movement, it was certainly not an imperialist plot.  Ayatollah Khamenei (the “Supreme Leader”) and president Ahmadinejad, and their allies made such a claim as part of their factional struggle.  But in reality hundreds of thousands of people from all social classes and groups protested what they believed was a sham election.  The truth is that all elections in the Islamic Republic, beginning with the referendum noted earlier, have been undemocratic.  Working people have generally never had a chance to vote for their own parties and platforms in these elections.[vii] So, in the 2009 presidential election, when factional struggle within the Islamic Republic regime heated up, ordinary Iranians saw an opportunity to express their own demands.  The two leading “opposition” candidates, Mir Hussein Mussavi and Ayatollah Karoubi, courted these angry voters.  Some of Mr. Mussavi’s election campaign positions and statements aimed to draw voters from the pro-western Iranians.[viii]  Some factions of imperialism saw an opportunity in the Islamic Republic factionalism and the entry of masses into the political arena.  So, they began to orient their positions towards the “reform” factions.  However, this is a far cry from claiming that the U.S. instigated the mass protest movement of hundreds of thousands of Iranians.  What is true, however, is that Islamic Republic used, as always, semi-fascist gangs, armed intervention, arrest, torture and executions to repress the mass movement.  This experience should reveal for all how the Islamic Republic theocratic capitalist policies divides and repress the Iranian working people in the face of determined imperialist hostility and potential military attack.

To sum up:  Compañero Fidel Castro’s has done the Iranian people and the world a favor by his timely warning about the imperialist danger.  The source of hostility of imperialism and Zionism to the Iranian people lies in the 1979 revolution.  The Iranian people, empowered by their own grassroots organizations, overthrow the U.S. installed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.  The rise of grassroots organizations of the Iranian working people made it possible to advance to an anti-capitalist revolution and to a workers and peasants government.  However, the historical damaged caused by Stalinism and reformism in the Iranian working class movement precluded this option.  Instead, Ayatollah Khomeini rose to power and used his influence to consolidate the power of clergy and save capitalism in Iran.  Historically, monarchy and Shia clergy have served as the supporters of capitalists and landlords.

While revolutionary socialists unconditionally defend Iran against imperialist attacks—whether it is Security Council sanctions or threat of military attacks—they do so from the perspective of their own political program to mobilize and empower working people.  In Iran, that means defending democratic and human rights for all as well as a program to fight unemployment and inflation. It also means supporting independent organization of workers, peasants, oppressed nationalities, women, students, and others.  It calls for democratization of the armed forces, dismantling of all repressive forces of the Islamic Republic, and training and arming the people in their workplaces and neighborhoods. Further, revolutionary socialists will call for a reorientation of the development policy, from a capitalist policy based on fossil fuels and nuclear power to an ecosocialist development policy where the emphasis will be on quality of life and not on consumerism.  It is essential to stop degrading of nature and reviving it.  Iran and the world should have fewer not more people in line with sharing the planet with all other species.

Internationally, socialists will educate and mobilize to end current imperialist wars, including the U.S. led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, as well as support for Palestinian right to self-determination beginning with unconditional end to the siege of Gaza.  Socialists should demand “Hands Off Iran and North Korea!” As well as “End U.S. Blockade of Cuba!”  In the U.S., after a long decline the anti-war movement seems poised to move forwards (see this report).

The Cuban revolution has been a beacon of internationalism since the days of Ernesto Che Guevara.  Solidarity with the Iranian people will require nothing less than defending the Iranian working people to build their own power not only to resist imperialist attacks but also to replace the Islamic Republic theocratic capitalist regime with a government of workers and peasants. 

[i] In the best Marxian tradition, socialist revolution has been understood as rebuilding social relations on a non-exploitive and non-oppressive basis.  By ecosocialism revolution, I mean a radical process of de-alienation of human relations not only with themselves and others, but also with the rest of nature.
[ii] We were part of the international delegation to observe the 18th Congress of Central de Tabajadores de Cuba).
[iii] There are no accurate figures.
[iv] This is a common mistranslation; the correct translation is Guards of the Islamic Revolution.  The mistranslation imparts a “revolutionary” attitude to the “guards,” whereas the correct translation reminds one that this is a force dedicated to a regime and not to the 1979 revolution. There is nothing “revolutionary” about it. It is the armed body of a theocratic capitalist regime.
[v] Although there are limits in any analogy, one should not forget Saddam Hussein’s rhetoric and the performance of his military in the face of imperialist invasion. 
[vi] I am placing “political movement” inside quotation marks because a Marxist cannot subscribe to the notion that political movements can be created from the outside of a society.  Political movements are rooted in social classes and groups with their own interests.  It is possible that some of these movements’ come to share interests with imperialism; thus coming under its influence.  But the source of their existence is internal.
[vii]  In the first year after the February 1979 revolutions, socialist parties and others, including labor candidates, were able to wage limited election campaigns not because of the Islamic Republic regime but in spite of it.
[viii] This included a claim that granting of visas to Iranians has become difficult due to the confrontational policies of president Ahmadinejad and the position that the money used to support the Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza should be spend in Iran.  Such nationalistic demagogy is a mark of rightwing pro-imperialist groups that Mr. Musssavi campaign used to get voted.  But it is important to recall that Mr. Mussavi was Khomeini’s handpicked prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war and continued to hold positions within the Islamic Republic hierarchy until last year.  Ayatollah Karoubi was the Speaker of the Islamic Republic parliament. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

66. United National Antiwar Conference (UNAC), Major Advance for the Antiwar Movement

By Jeff Mackler, Socialist Action

The July 23-25 national antiwar conference in AlbanyN.Y., was an extraordinary advance in the fight against imperialist war and for social justice. To an extent greater than in any other decision-making conference of recent decades, this was a broad, determined, and united political mobilization against all of the ongoing and threatened U.S. wars, interventions, and occupations. And by the same measure, the conference was the most thorough repudiation of the government’s “bail out the banks” antisocial agenda at home.

The United National Antiwar Conference’s (UNAC’s) open and democratic gathering included representatives of virtually every major national antiwar group in the U.S. as well as hundreds of local, state, and regional antiwar organizations. Equally important was the presence and participation of leading representatives and activists from many of the country’s most vital social movements, all of whom aimed to link the fight against U.S. imperialism’s wars to the fight for social justice, democratic rights, and civil liberties.

The conference’s power, scope, program, and unity were a direct response to the world economic crisis, which has directly affected the lives of tens of millions of Americans and driven the nation’s corporate rulers to a series of endless and murderous wars across the globe.

After hours of debate—at times contentious and sharp—the conference unanimously adopted a 24-point Action Plan of antiwar activities culminating in mass demonstrations in New York CitySan Francisco, and Los Angeles on April 9, 2011.

The Action Program represents a critical turning point for the U.S. antiwar and other social movements and an important political break from the widely held illusion that the 2008 presidential election would have ushered in “change we can believe in.” It is a harbinger of the powerful movement that will take to the streets in renewed, massive, and repeated mobilizations to demand a fundamental re-ordering of social priorities and an immediate end to all U.S. wars and occupations. 

At least 776 antiwar and social justice activists from across the country, and including small delegations from Canada and Latin America, registered to participate. Scores of others flooded the giant auditorium without registering—putting the total attendance at well over 800. With the assistance of the Albany-based Sanctuary Media, 17,000 more witnessed the conference and many of its 30-plus workshops via video-streaming (

The conference was initiated by the National Assembly to End U.S. Wars and Occupations and sponsored by UNAC, a group representing 31 national antiwar and social justice organizations. The conference adhered throughout the proceedings to an open and democratic, “one-person-one-vote” procedure. The central demands that the conference adopted were:

• Immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. troops, mercenaries, military contractors, and war dollars from Iraq,Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
• Money for jobs, education, health care, pensions, housing, infrastructure, the environment, and human needs in general—not war.
• End U.S. aid to Israel—military, economic, and diplomatic. End U.S. support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the blockade of Gaza.

The third set of demands was incorporated into the Action Program by an overwhelming majority vote, following a long and vigorous debate on the relationship between the antiwar movement and the Palestinian freedom struggle. A comprehensive resolution on Palestine, including support for “boycotts, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) against Israel was also approved at the concluding session, this time by a unanimous vote.

Varying strategies presented

Renowned social activist, linguist, and historian Noam Chomsky keynoted the conference via a 30-minute video telecast that reviewed the machinations and disinformation campaigns surrounding U.S. imperial policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Chomsky presented grave warnings regarding the dangers of recent U.S. preparations for a war against Iran. Also keynoting the conference was South Carolina AFL-CIO President Donna Dewitt, who sharply focused her remarks on the need to broaden and unify the movement to include the wide range of constituencies required to build an effective struggle against U.S. intervention and for social justice.

Muralist Mike Alewitz made a stirring dedication speech for the cloth mural draped behind the conference stage—a memorial to the four students at Kent State University (in Ohio) killed by National Guard troops on May 4, 1970, and to the two students murdered by police at Jackson State College (in Mississippi) 10 days later. Alewitz was a young participant in the Kent Stateantiwar rally that the National Guard fired upon. It had been called in solidarity with nationwide protests against the invasion ofCambodia ordered by President Nixon a few days earlier.

“These young lives,” Alewitz said, “were snuffed out as an example to others to stop the protests. But Nixon had greatly misjudged the mood of the country. Instead of curbing the protests, he provoked a national student strike. For every one of our martyrs, tens of thousands took their place.”

“That spirit lives,” Alewitz declared. He said that the UNAC mural was dedicated to the latest martyrs, “the nine brave activists of the Freedom Flotilla, who said to the world that we will never turn our backs on the Palestinian people.” And the real memorial, he concluded, “is sitting before me—the living movement.”
Two major Friday and Saturday evening panel discussions, with some 12 speakers each, presented a wide range of strategies and tactics to advance the antiwar movement and to highlight the multitude of issues that the organizers deemed essential to building a broad-based, inclusive, and effective fightback.
Representing the National Assembly, Chris Gauvreau reviewed the essential ingredients of the mass movement that needs to be constructed today. Key to the movement’s success, she concluded, was the construction of a united and democratic political movement that operates independent of the Democratic and Republican parties. (Her speech appears in this issue of Socialist Action.)
The conference was not without serious debates over critical issues, the most intensely contested of which were the amendments submitted to the Draft Action Program by a recently formed Palestine Solidarity Caucus. This group of 15-20 Palestine solidarity activists began its deliberations via a series of national conference calls and finalized its proposals and tactics at a well-attended conference caucus meeting of about 75 participants.

Two major plenary sessions discussed and debated some 45 wide-ranging amendments and resolutions that had been submitted prior to the conference, as well as others offered at the conference itself. The amendments expanded the scope of the initial nine-point Draft Action Plan, originally presented unanimously by the 31 co-sponsoring organizations, to about 24 distinct actions over the course of the coming nine months.

Aug. 28 & Oct. 2 labor mobilizations

These activities will begin with UNAC supporting the Aug. 28 Detroit and WashingtonD.C., labor and civil rights groups’ mobilizations “to create jobs and stop moving money out of education and into wars and prisons.” These actions will also commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic March on Washington. The Aug. 28 actions are also aimed at countering the reactionary, racist, and provocative Tea Party gathering also slated for Aug. 28 in the nation’s capital.
The UNAC conference endorsed and voted to build an antiwar contingent in the Oct. 2 national march for jobs in Washington,D.C., supported by the AFL-CIO and initiated by the NAACP and the SEIU-affiliated Local 1199. The Oct. 2 national mobilization’s inclusion of antiwar themes represents an important opportunity to link labor’s fightback at home with the struggle against the present trillion-dollar corporate war budget aimed at colonial expansion and horrific death and destruction abroad.

A number of conference speakers, including Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report, while expressing support for the Oct. 2 labor mobilization, cautioned that this effort not be turned into a pre-election rally for the Democratic Party. The thunderous applause that greeted Ford’s critique of the policies of the Obama administration was a powerful indication that today’s antiwar and social movements are increasingly looking to independent forms of struggle.

Ford, citing a recent poll, was also critical of the still strong illusions in Obama, especially among Black Americans. Ford talked about the culture of resistance that in past decades made Black people the most dependable antiwar demographic in the U.S. But Obama’s presence, Ford noted, has served as a "narcotic" for the Black population. "Breaking the Obama spell is the must-do task for a renewed movement for social justice and peace," he added. "There is nothing complicated about it. You simply tell the truth. Obama works for Wall Street and the militarists. That is the truth."

Similar concerns were expressed by Albany conference immigration-rights activists who pointed with alarm to the Oct. 2 march organizers’ demand for “comprehensive immigration reform,” a term that has come to be associated with President Obama’s support for the notorious anti-immigrant and punitive bill sponsored by Rep. Charles Schumer (D-NY).

The above concerns are certainly legitimate—and especially so in light of labor’s decades-long history of bureaucratic functioning and subordination to the Democratic Party. But the fact that labor and moderate civil rights leaders feel compelled to organize mass protests in the nation’s capital that challenge the government’s war and social policies is new to American politics and reflects the deep disillusionment of the ranks with the status quo of war, racism, and ever deepening attacks on working people.

The decision of the UNAC to actively participate and build the Aug. 28 and Oct. 2 actions and march alongside civil rights and labor activists far outweighs the fact that march officials will undoubtedly use the occasion to advocate support to Obama and his warmongering Democrats while placing the blame for today’s social crises on “obstructionist Republicans.”

Few mass actions of this sort meet the “test” of “political purity.” Tens of thousands of antiwar fighters carrying placards like “Jobs and Justice, Not War: Bring the Troops Home Now!” and “End All U.S. Aid to Israel!” while marching alongside their fellow workers and discussing the critical issues of the day would far outweigh the expected deferential remarks of a bankrupt labor “leadership” that has stood silent in the face of the greatest capitalist offensive against workers since the Great Depression.

A broad plan of protest action

The 24-point Action Program included endorsement of an Oct. 7 national day of student-led protests against education cutbacks, demanding “Money for Education, Not for Occupation;” a mid-October week of actions to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan; support to the Nov. 15-19 “Remember Fallujah” week to mark the horrific and virtual leveling of this Iraqi city by U.S. troops; and a national effort to initiate various city council, town, and village antiwar meetings and antiwar voter referenda/ballot initiatives as well as lobbying efforts.

The Action Program also included nationally coordinated teach-ins in mid-March 2011 to mark the eighth year of the Iraq War and to prepare for the culminating April 9 bi-coastal mass demonstrations in New YorkSan Francisco, and Los Angeles. A full-scale national effort was approved to begin immediately to gather broad endorsements for the April 9 bi-coastal mobilizations.

Additional actions approved include a week of local antiwar lobbying in April, national speaking tours, and the mounting of  “rapid, broad and nationally coordinated protests by antiwar and social justice activists” in the event of a U.S. or Israeli attack onIran.

The Action Program also called for support to actions to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and for protests in the event of U.S.-backed military action by Israel against Palestinians, aid activists attempting to end the blockade of Gaza, or attacks on other countries such as LebanonSyria, or Iran.

The program called for solidarity with Iraqi trade-union leaders who are under attack by the puppet Iraqi regime. In fact, just days after conference attendees returned home, it was announced that the Iraqi government had raided and closed all offices of the electrical workers' union, underlining the importance of heightened solidarity. 

The program urged support to actions aimed at dismantling the Cold War nuclear, biological, radiological, and chemical weapons and delivery systems. It called for solidarity with GIs, veterans, and military families and support for their campaigns and calls for action. And it called for actions against war profiteers, including oil and energy companies, weapons manufacturers, and engineering firms whose contractors are working to insure U.S. economic control of Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s resources.

The Action Program noted the necessity to link the antiwar movement with mass actions demanding urgent social needs such as jobs, health care, housing, education, and immigrant rights.

A Continuations Committee was approved, consisting of one representative of each of the 31 co-sponsoring conference organizations. This committee was empowered to expand its membership with additional forces in agreement with the conference’s adopted program. It is expected that the expansion will result in the broadest unified antiwar effort in decades.

Workshop discussions draw crowds

Two-dozen conference workshops provided critical spaces for movement activists to discuss and debate many of the movement’s most hotly contested subjects. This was the case with a workshop that attracted 120 participants entitled, “The Rise of Right Wing Populism and the Tea Party: Do We Need a Right-Left Coalition?” Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin and Kevin Zeese of Voters for Peace argued that the idea had merit in attracting some of the forces who have been inadvertently attracted to right-wing solutions. Chris Gauvreau and Glen Ford rejected such an alliance, arguing that it would only serve to drive away the very forces that are a prerequisite to the antiwar movement’s success.

A workshop entitled “Israel and the Palestinian Struggle: Is a Two-State Solution Possible or Desirable?” drew some 80 participants, most of whom rejected a “two-state solution,” a far cry from previous conferences where mere mention of a Democratic Secular Palestine was considered anathema to any serious discussion. The panelists detailed the historic conditions that led to the formation of the Zionist Israeli state and its constant expansion as well as the dramatic impact of the murderous blockade and siege of Gaza and the Israeli army killings aboard the flotilla boats carrying humanitarian relief to Gaza.

There was also a workshop featuring Palestinian activists speaking on boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel and other strategies. It was more than evident from the workshop discussions and the overall UNAC deliberations that this conference marked the sea change in politics that has deeply permeated the consciousness of the broad antiwar movement.

The July 23-25 UNAC conference opened the door wide to a return to the streets of a reinvigorated antiwar movement. Nine months of coordinated actions have been placed on the movement’s agenda. The fulfillment of the conference’s promise depends now on the capacity of the hitherto divided movement to come together to reach and exceed its immediate potential.

Unity in the antiwar movement, not to mention in the radical and socialist left, has never come easy. Divisions remain deep and profound. But mass-action united-front politics and practice have always proved decisive in bringing together the broadest layers on the basis of widely held principles. Today these principles boil down to the key slogans, “Bring the troops home now!” “Money for jobs and all associated human needs, not war,” and “End to all U.S. aid to Israel!”—chief agency of U.S. and world imperialism in the Middle EastThe stakes are high. The future of humanity could well depend on the outcome.

 The conference ended with Jerry Gordon, national secretary of both the National Assembly and UNAC, reviewing the accomplishments of the conference and noting the importance of forging a lasting unity in the movement.

Gordon humorously awarded Marilyn Levin of New England United and Joe Lombardo, representing the Albany area peace and justice community, the title of "the conference's Most Valuable Players (MVPs)." Marilyn headed a team that solicited and organized some 128 speakers into various workshops and panel presentations, the effect of which was to provide participants with a well-rounded and broadly representative spectrum of the movement's political views. Lombardo headed an on-site logistics team of some 40 activists who for several months had meticulously planned and organized almost every aspect of the conference's functioning.

Gordon noted the important role of the conference's four co-chairs—Jim Lafferty, executive director, Los Angeles National Lawyers Guild; Michael McPherson, co-chair United for Peace and Justice and past executive director of Veterans for Peace; Kathy Black, national co-convener, US Labor Against the War and leader of the Philadelphia-area Coalition of Labor Union Women; and this writer, national co-coordinator of the National Assembly.

Special mention was also given to the conference's broadly representative presiding committee—Kathy Kelly, Center for Creative Nonviolence; Michael Eisenscher, national coordinator, USLAW; Blanca Misse, UC Berkeley student leader and central organizer of the March 4 statewide anti-budget-cuts strike; Mary Nichols-Rhodes, Ohio state coordinator of Progressive Democrats of America; and Marilyn Levin, co-national coordinator, National Assembly.
Gordon concluded with a statement of his personal appreciation for the collaboration, advice, and meticulous attention to detail of USLAW’s Michael Eisenscher in a wide range of endeavors critical to the conference's functioning.
Following Gordon's remarks, conference participant Adam Shils from Chicago rose for a special point to unanimously affirm the key role of Jerry Gordon in the conference's success. The meeting ended with a standing ovation for Gordon's leadership and tireless efforts and for the unity he had so effectively fostered.

*     *     *

UNAC promotes solidarity with political prisoners

A special Saturday box-lunch session allowed the Albany antiwar conference time to counter the government’s broadside attacks on civil liberties and to express the antiwar movement’s active solidarity with the Arab and Muslim communities. The victims of the government’s post-9/11 “anti-terrorism” raids, mass incarcerations, and “pre-emptive persecutions” were properly seen as key components of the new antiwar movement.

Leaders of the Project Salaam (Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims), a national organization formed to defend Arab and Muslim victims of government persecution and a co-sponsor of the conference, were joined by representatives of CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations), as well as friends and family members of Arab and Muslim political prisoners who have been incarcerated under false charges. This critical issue was prominently featured throughout the event—from plenary sessions and workshops to the one-mile march that concluded the conference.

Conference participants were joined by local Muslim community activists in a display of solidarity that began at the Crowne Plaza Hotel conference site and proceeded to a brief rally at the New York State Capitol Building. From there the march continued along a route through Black and Muslim communities and concluded at the Masjid-As Salaam (House of Peace) mosque, where two years ago an FBI raid seized two Muslim worshippers without any evidence of wrongdoing. Typical of the times, the government, citing “national security” concerns, found no incriminating evidence and has to this day refused to specify charges against these alleged terrorists.

The mosque’s imam welcomed the demonstrators to a rally, where the daughter of one of the Albany detainees as well as a family member of the similarly detained Fort Dix Five from the Philadelphia area recounted their terrifying experiences at the hands of government witch hunters. Ralph Poynter, husband of imprisoned civil-liberties attorney Lynne Stewart and leader of her defense committee, and Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin also addressed the crowd of some 250 conference and community activists.

The luncheon session at the UNAC conference also featured talks by representatives of the defense committees of innocent political prisoners Mumia Abu-Jamal and Lynne Stewart as well as Guantanamo detainee representative and Center for Constitutional Rights attorney, Pardiss Kebriaei. Ralph Poynter read a powerful statement to the conference from Lynne Stewart, whose original 28-month sentence on frame-up charges of “conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism” was a week earlier increased in a vindictive Federal District Court re-sentencing hearing to 10 years in prison.

This writer, speaking as the West Coast coordinator of the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee and as a national co-coordinator of the National Assembly, announced that the National Assembly had decided to retain the imprisoned Stewart on its Administrative Committee despite her 10-year jail sentence. Also featured was a resounding pre-recorded antiwar address to the conference from Mumia Abu-Jamal, on death row in Pennsylvania. Chants of “Free Mumia!” and “Free Lynne Stewart!” rocked the jam-packed rally.