by Jeff Mackler, January 25, 2023
The United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) call for January 14-22, 2023 nationally-coordinated antiwar and social justice protests commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthdate drew actions in 90 U.S. cities. The protests recalled Dr. King’s historic condemnation of the U.S. war in Vietnam when he excoriated that ten-year genocidal horror that took the lives of four million Vietnamese, mostly civilians, and 57,00 U.S. troops, stating, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world: my own government… I cannot be silent.”
Central demands of UNAC’s week-long protests were:
Stop U.S. Wars! • Money For Human Needs Not War! • Not On More Penny for War in Ukraine, and • Disband NATO! (See UNACpeace.org for the list of participating cities.)
The Oakland, CA mobilization, initiated by UNAC’s affiliate, included demands to free innocent political prisoners Mumia Abu-Jamal, Julian Assange, Leonard Peltier and Alex Saab.
An estimated 150-200 Bay Area antiwar and social justice activists representing some 40 endorsing organizations rallied at Lake Merritt’s famous Greek columns and marched one mile to the Lake Merritt Amphitheatre on Sunday, January 22. Spirited marchers passed out hundreds of informational flyers along the route while chanting antiwar slogans along the way. Activists from the Bay Area Palestine Youth Movement, organized with their own bullhorn, chanted Free Free Palestine! and “From the river to the sea Palestine, Palestine must be free!”
The concluding rally featured speakers representing the coalition’s wide range of endorsers, with speakers denouncing. U.S. wars and interventions in Haiti, David Welsh of the Haiti Action Committee; Philippines, Rhonda Ramiro of BAYAN USA; and the Bay Area Palestine Youth Movement’s, Susan. Other speakers, including Anna Scibek of Women for Racial and Economic Equality and Ryan Collen of California United Front, focused on building a united mass movement for social justice and against the U.S. wars, sanctions and interventions waged against Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.
Origins of Ukraine War
At the opening rally, Rick Sterling, one of the rally’s six co-chairs and representing the Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center and the Task Force on the Americas, detailed the origins of the U.S.-backed 2014 fascist-led coup that removed the elected government of Ukraine and instigated the present war. Dayton Andrews and Kyndelle of Black Alliance for Peace reviewed the contributions of Dr. King and Malcolm X to the struggles against the Vietnam War and for Black freedom and liberation today. Robert Hernandez, representing Party of Communists USA and a rally co-chair, discussed the history of U.S. imperialist wars around the world. Code Pink: Women For Peace Bay Area co-chair, Cynthia Papermaster, another rally co-chair, focused on the rally’s demands for Money for Human Needs… education, health care, and climate catastrophe solutions… Not War, while pillorying the Democratic Party’s social cutbacks and massive war spending. Judy Greenspan, another rally co-chair, of the International Action Center, led the rally in a series of chants denouncing U.S. wars of intervention and conquest.
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, Julian Assange, Leonard Peltier, Alex Saab
The rally featured remarks via cell phone from Assangedefense.org National Organizing Director, Vincent De Stefano from Los Angeles. De Stefano championed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s freedom struggle and ongoing fight against the Biden Administration efforts to have Assange extradited from Britain’s Belmarsh prison to face frame-up charges under the reactionary Espionage Act for exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Roger Harris, from the Alex Saab Defense Committee and US Peace Council, championed the freedom of U.S.-persecuted and imprisoned Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab, while Donna Wallach, representing the Silicon Valley Leonard Peltier Defense Committee reviewed the government’s frame-up of this decades-long imprisoned innocent Native American political prisoner and activist.
Dr. Ricardo Alvarez, leader of the medical committee fighting for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s health care and a national leader of Mumia’s freedom struggle, updated the importance of the upcoming Philadelphia court proceedings that will once again afford his defense team opportunities to mobilize to demand Mumia’s freedom.
The local corporate media ignored the multiple media releases sent out, but the event was promoted by several programs broadcast on Pacific Radio’s local station, KPFA.
Modest but important step forward for US antiwar movement
The event’s success represented a marked advance over previous recent antiwar efforts where important political differences coupled with a prowar corporate media barrage of lies and distortions, largely thwarted the massive expression of the existing deep antiwar sentiment in the U.S. today. The January 14-22 mobilizations represented a modest but important step forward in breaking from the disunity of the past year. UNAC’s consciously-promoted spirit of unity and solidarity is testament to its 12-year history of united front advocacy and mobilization in building a broad, democratic, inclusive national movement against all U.S. imperialist wars the world over and against the U.S.-instigated Ukraine War today.
Linking Dr. King to present day antiwar movement
The rally’s organizing team closely collaborated with the Bay Area’s Anti-Police Terror Project (ATPT), headed by longtime MLK activist Cat Brooks, in re-scheduling the January 22 rally, initially set for January 15. In return, Brooks listed the UNAC rally along with a host of traditional MLK events, invited a UNAC representative, Dayton Andrews of Black Alliance for Peace, to speak at their main MLK Day event in downtown Oakland and invited UNAC to participate in Brooks’ local radio KPFA Pacific Radio program, Upfront, to promote the January 22 antiwar rally.
This writer, also a rally co-chair, the January 22 Oakland mobilization coordinator and Socialist Action National Secretary, opened the day by highlighting the broad unity UNAC had achieved in the course of several pre-event planning meetings as well as the importance of UNAC’s central focus in opposition to the U.S.-instigated Ukraine War.