PDA Report on International Peace Conference in London
By David Swanson
London, England, December 10, 2005–Fellow PDA National Board Member Steve Cobble and I participated in an historic international peace conference in London on December 10 and in various related events the same week. We met with several Members of Parliament and will be working to facilitate teamwork and future events with them and members of the US Congressional Progressive Caucus.
The conference, hosted by the Stop the War Coalition, was a great success. About 1,500 people packed into a large hall at the Royal Horticultural Society, with more in an overflow hall and still more turned away in the days before the conference began. Delegates attended from all around the UK, and from Iraq, the US, Iran, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Canada, Poland, Greece, Italy, Spain and many other European countries.
The British government refused to allow entry to al Sadr representative Hassan al Zargani, but Iraqis who attended and spoke included Sheikh al Khalisi from the Iraqi Foundation Congress, Hanna Ibrahim from the Women’s Will Organization, and Hassan Jumaa from the Iraqi Oil Workers’ Union. Speakers from the US included PDA National Board Member Cindy Sheehan, Judith le Blanc from United for Peace and Justice, and Phyllis Bennis. Also, the conference heard by telephone from Anas al Tikriti, who has been in Iraq trying to obtain the release of kidnapped peace activists.
The conference passed a statement calling for the release of the hostages, and a statement calling for more international coordination, an international weekend of action on March 18/19, 2006, and continued campaigning around other issues. The March 18-19 events will mark the third anniversary of the war.
The week of events included a reception with the Mayor of London, who is strongly opposed to the war and willing to say so in no uncertain terms. (See report and photos.) For one whole day, Cindy Sheehan and Andrew Burgin (the organizer of the conference) and I went to Scotland and met with Members of Parliament and with anti-war activists. This was quite an encouraging series of meetings. I spoke with Alex Salmond, a Member of Parliament working hard for the impeachment of Prime Minister Tony Blair. (See report and photos.)
The conference included panels with many outstanding speakers. (Democracy Rising has a good summary.) Of greatest interest to many of us were the speakers from Iraq, several of whom stressed that the claim that Iraq will become a greater disaster should the US pull out its troops is as big a lie as were the lies that launched the war.
The US peace movement was well represented by Phyllis Bennis, Kevin Zeese, Kelly Dougherty, Medea Benjamin, Cindy Sheehan, Ann Wright, Judith LaBlanc, myself, and many delegates who did not speak from the stage.
One panel featured military family members from the US and the UK. Rose Gentle, Ann Lawrence, John Stockton, Reg Keys, and Cindy Sheehan spoke movingly of the losses to their families. Two veterans spoke as well, Ben Griffin and Kelly Dougherty. Kelly helped form Iraq Veterans Against the War in the US. She spoke powerfully of the crimes being committed by the occupation.
I spoke on a panel titled “Bringing Bush and Blair to Account,” that also featured Tariq Ali, the noted novelist and historian; Hassan Juma, the courageous leader of the oil workers union who visited the US this year with other Iraqi labor leaders; Hanna Abrahim; Ann Wright, the former US military and State Department official who resigned over the war and who coordinated Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas; Paul Ingram of the British Green Party; John Rees of the Stop the War Coalition; Billy Hayes, head of the Communications Workers Union; and Walter Wolfgang. In my remarks, which are posted here, I discussed the work of the After Downing Street Coalition, the ways in which activists in the US and Britain have been able to work together to drive stories into the media, and the ways in which we can work together to impeach Blair and President George Bush.
Two Members of Parliament, Jeremy Corbin and George Galloway, spoke in the final panel on Saturday. Corbin lamented “global inequality – global corporations that fund the U.S. military in order to get the resources from weaker and poorer countries. Only rational sharing and fair use of resources will lead to peace.” Galloway received huge applause and credited the antiwar movement with having been right about the war. He said, “The reason my visit to the U.S. Senate on May 17 was so popular was because I got up close to the killers and crooks and told them the truth.” (See more photos.)
On Sunday, the day following the conference, Steve took part in a strategy meeting at the Stop the War Coalition offices, while I joined Cindy Sheehan and many others in paying a visit to Blair’s residence at 10 Downing Street. (Report and photos here.)
In the course of this trip, we made many connections, helping to build solidarity in an international movement. Our task now is to make March 18, 2006, bigger and even more successful than was February 15, 2003.