BY NICK EVERETT
SYDNEY Around 150 people attended the Peoples Assembly for Peace conference at the Haymarket campus of University of Technology, Sydney on March 30.
The conference, organised by the Walk Against the War Coalition, featured two plenaries and 19 workshops discussing the war on Iraq and the organising of a powerful anti-war movement. Throughout the conference there was a lively debate about what attitude the Walk Against the War Coalition should take towards the April 2 Books not Bombs student rally.
The conference commenced with a plenary, entitled The shift to war and how we can build a movement to stop it, presented by Professor Ahmad Shboul, chairperson of the Arabic and Islamic studies department at Sydney University; Stuart Rees, from the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies; and NSW Labor Council campaigns officer Amanda Tattersall.
Tattersall argued that the movement must always be peaceful provoked a discussion on the March 26 student strike, which was condemned as violent by the mainstream media. Many conference participants voiced their solidarity with students, arguing that it was police and not protesters who were responsible for violence. One noted that the throwing of a chair by an angry protester paled against the horrific violence currently confronting the residents of Baghdad.
Workshops discussed themes such as the Australian government's refugee policy, the struggle for an independent Palestine, the role of the Pine Gap spy base, trade and war, and the role of the media as a war propaganda machine. Other workshops discussed building support for the anti-war campaign on schools, campuses and workplaces, as well as local neighbourhoods and migrant communities.
Addressing the campaign's media strategy, workshop presenter Wendy Bacon, from the Centre for Independent Journalism, supported the students' right to organise. She expressed concern that NSW Labor Council and Walk Against the War co-convener Bruce Childs' condemnation of the March 26 rally could weaken and divide the peace movement. Bacon explained that her daughter, who had attended the March 26 rally, was dismayed that the Australian had paraphrased Childs as saying the March 26 rally was appalling.
Peter Manning, a member of the Walk Against the War Coalition's media working group, defended Childs' statement, in his presentation to that workshop, arguing that the Coalition had to distance itself from Books Not Bombs.
In the final plenary, Ideas for future action, representatives from churches, the Arab-Australian community, local peace groups and student organisations spoke. Khaldoun Hajaj, representing the Arab Australian Communities Council, said that while Australia's Arab community has suffered from a state of paralysis since the 1991 Gulf War, the present war was bringing a new generation of Arab youth on to the streets in protest.
Simon Butler, representing Books Not Bombs, urged conference participants to stand in solidarity with students who had been under sustained attack from the media, the NSW police and the state Labor government for their courageous anti-war protests. He urged people to volunteer as peace monitors at the April 2 rally. National Union of Students NSW president Anna York expressed support for the right of students to demonstrate and Bruce Childs discussed the need to train a new generation of young leaders in the anti-war movement.
In the ensuing discussion, a teacher urged that the April 2 student strike be cancelled, but many others expressed their willingness to assist the students' protest. Dozens of conference participants signed a statement supporting students' right to protest.
The next event organised by the Walk Against the War Coalition, in conjunction with churches, will be the annual Palm Sunday peace rally on April 13. The rally will be preceded by bell ringing throughout the city and commence at 1pm at Belmore Park with a prayer in English, Arabic, Hebrew and Sanskrit.
Following a march to the Domain, participants will be addressed by Kurdish refugee Dr Renoir, NSW Teachers Federation state secretary Marie O'Hallaran, newly elected Greens NSW MLC-elect Sylvia Hale, ALP federal MP Carmen Lawrence and recently returned human shield Donna Mulhearn.
[Nick Everett is one of three conveners of the Walk Against the War Coalition and a member of the Democratic Socialist Party. For more information on the coalition see <http://www.nswpeace.org>.]
From Green Left Weekly, April 9, 2003.
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