Believing in the power of the labor movement is an important part of my job as National Coordinator. Every day that I speak to a group of people about the effect of foreign policy on domestic policy (and how the two are actually indivisible if we're being truthful) the words that I say need to be backed by the belief in our ability to affect change as organized working people. This also goes for the anti-war movement, of which our organization is an essential part.
But also, I need to be aware of the things that need to change within our powerful storied movements. Without that awareness our organization won't grow and develop. The key to our vitality is our ability to maintain that growth and develop new leadership. Doing this requires more than just belief. I needed to talk to those in leadership within the organization as well as those who regularly participate outside of that structure. My first phone calls were, to put it mildly, a startling look into the intersection of labor and anti-war movements.
I was on the phone with a member of our Steering Committee who, when asked where he saw himself in five years with USLAW, said that he was really concerned about whether or not he'd be able to realistically see himself surviving that long. He indicated that his health wasn't necessarily that bad, but, “Is that the measure of what my capacity will be? Shouldn't I be wondering about whether I'll still be interested or thinking about what role I would like to play?” He was not alone in his comments, and I recognized this as more than a story of a single tree but a picture of a forest with a deep need for new growth.
Beginning with my work on our National Convening in April of this year and the work that we have done moving forward, I've dedicated every recommendation I make to be in service of these conversations. When we were organizing everything from speakers to activities for the convening, we incorporated new ideas and approaches to organizing work that sit at the intersection of the anti-war and labor movements alongside us.
I was also intentional about bringing younger people into the convening space and giving them the floor to be experts on their craft. Faithful standbys like Phyllis Bennis and Bill Fletcher Jr. were there, of course, but we also heard from Iraq Veterans Against the War and #blacklivesmatter. The latter groups were newer and younger, but also had a different view of what solidarity and justice means in the political climate they were facing.
Seeing the cross-generational interactions in breakout sessions and during the events that transpired in April, I knew we were on to something by being intentional about diversifying our gathering. It played out with the end results as well:
- Resolving to address the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia in a concrete way
- Forging a path forward to develop new leadership intentionally with the goal of transformation into a powerful 21st Century organization
-''Using our movement's profound commitment to solidarity to confront labor's connection to the military-industrial complex
-Strengthening our organizational involvement in making the connection between the war economy and Just Transition
As the last car left the Tommy Douglas Conference Center where we held the National Assembly, I crossed the parking lot to the main building for one last look around for stragglers. Finding none, I returned to the front desk to turn in keys and items borrowed. The desk clerk, a younger man I'd never met until that day, asked me what we were up to. “US Labor Against the War? Okay! Heard about you folks! Sounded like you were having a bit of fun up there. Did you solve all the world's problems in three days?” I smiled and replied:
“Nope… but we're just getting started.”
In Part II, coming next, I'll talk about our present political moment as an organization and what we've accomplished in 2016.
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