Uneasy Peaceniks

Rating: NNNNNfuelled by fears of u.s. warmongering against Afghanistan and racism against Arab Canadians, a fledgling peace movement comes together.

Rating: NNNNN

fuelled by fears of u.s. warmongering against Afghanistan and racism against Arab Canadians, a fledgling peace movement comes together in Toronto over the weekend. Its birth is not easy.It begins Friday evening, September 14, with a hastily arranged meeting at OISE. After two hours of often theoretical discussions of U.S. capitalism and imperialism and pleas to get down to strategy, the 80-person assembly finally agrees on practicalities: a phone tree, the dissemination of anti-racist posters.

But the windy discussion gets on some participants’ nerves. The use of buzzwords, OCAP member Omid Zareian says, is creating a semantic void in which acts of terror are not being sufficiently condemned.

“”Anti-capitalism,’ what does it mean?” he asks. “What is the definition?” Zareian relates the dangers of such rhetoric back to his own experiences living in Iran in the 1980s under the torture-friendly Khomeini dictatorship. “Some on the left supported that government because they said it was anti-imperialist,” he recalls. “But we have to condemn terrorism, whether it’s government terrorism or non-state terrorism.”

Zareian’s fears are seemingly realized the following day during a general activist assembly at City Hall council chambers, where one participant enthusiastically praises the New York terrorists for being on the “cutting edge” of the “anti-imperialist” struggle. (His comments are met with cold disapproval.)

Discussions on how the fall protest schedule will unfold in the post-September 11 climate are much less contentious. The late-September Mob4Glob trip to Washington to protest World Bank/IMF meetings (which have been cancelled) will be replaced by a September 29 peace march through Toronto.

The OCAP-led October 16 economic disruption action in Toronto’s financial district will go ahead. “Events in New York and Washington don’t change the fact that the Harris government is oppressive and corrupt,” says OCAP’s Stefan Pilipa.***

The Quaker anti-war vigil at the U.S. Consulate on Sunday, September 16, doesn’t go exactly as planned. Police quickly order the 100 or so peace protestors to leave the area in front of the consulate where other mourners have gathered. The vigil is allowed to continue on the east side of University Avenue, but protestors say the police response is nevertheless disturbing, especially given the seriousness of the issues at hand. “We are really afraid that more innocent civilians are going to be hurt,” says Lyn Adamson, explaining her presence. “We should use international institutions such as the United Nations criminal tribunals to get the people who do terrorist acts.”***

Later that day, another vigil at Nathan Phillips Square is addressed by speakers including Toronto city councillor Joe Mihevc, Imam Shabir Ally and Father Paul McGill.”I’m afraid of what is going to happen next week,” Mihevc tells the crowd of 200. “Will we accept “collateral damage,’ which means the killing of civilians?”***

The packed anti-racism meeting that follows inside Toronto City Hall council chambers at 7 pm is anything but peaceful. Moderators Anna Dashgardt and Joyce Nobel lose control of the crowd on several occasions, and their proposal that the speakers list be divided into white people and people of colour — to make sure the latter are given sufficient time to speak — is ridiculed.”That’s racist!” yells one man.

“You’re missing the point!” yells another.

As the speakers list stretches on after 9 pm, some grow impatient and convene their own meeting outside. Dubbing themselves the Coalition Against War and Racism, they agree to stage a protest outside the U.S. Consulate on Tuesday.

The breakaway group’s Monday- evening planning session, however, proves nearly as divided as Sunday night’s affair. Several speakers argue that a rally outside the consulate might prove dangerous for those vulnerable to racist attacks or lacking proper immigration papers.

After a lengthy debate, it’s agreed the rally will begin outside the U.S. Consulate but later move to Nathan Phillips Square. “I don’t want to go to the Consulate,” says Shivrang Setlur. “Because if I don’t get beaten up, I’m going to be in the media.’

Despite such misgivings, however, the coalition’s first demo is a success, attended by 500 people, says International Socialist member Ritch Whyman. “We said no to war, no to racism, no to imperialism. People were very respectful, remembering the victims who died in New York and Washington.”

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