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In Defense of the West Coast Conference
by Snehal Shingavi (snehal100 [at]
Tuesday Nov 13th, 2001 8:07 PM
The West Coast Conference Against the War was an astonishing success.
This is a brief response to the accusations put out on various national listserves that the International Socialist Organization (ISO) "hijacked" the West Coast Schools Against War conference held at UC Berkeley on Nov. 10 & 11. Before I do that, however, I wanted to thank all the people (a big majority of whom are not in the ISO) who made the conference a great success with about 600 people from 60 schools attending from 5 states and Tijuana. Free food was supplied for the conference by Peter and his crew from UCB (way to go!); dozens of speakers, including students, professors, activists, community members, and journalists were organized to make presentations; over 36 work shops and a half dozen film screenings were put together and that was just on Saturday.

Just two months after the 911 tragedies, I think we're all surprised how much of an anti-war movement we've been able to develop so quickly. We have a long way to go to stop this war, but we've made a good start. Remember, it took almost 5 years of the U.S. war in Viet Nam before the first big anti-war protests started in 1965. I think the West Coast Conference helped play an important role in laying the basis for a serious, nation-wide movement. The tone of several of the critiques of the conference make it sound like a unmitigated disaster (one actually said "the worst" thing I've ever attended, or something like that), which is radically at odds with any honest assessment of the conference.

Now, were there some short-comings? Sure. We (CSAW) only scheduled one day (Sunday) for decision making; we learned that we need to give this more time. Any suggestions about how to do this in a two day conference are welcome. With over 180 delegates, it is not possible to have everyone speak to every question they would like to speak to (for instance, if every delegate simply spoke once for two minutes that would be 6 hours!). Necessarily, some people didn't get to speak as much as they wanted to, and some people spoke too much. We could have better explained the voting procedures that were agreed on at the preliminary CSAW conference of 20 schools on September 29th, that would have helped clarify the process. Also, after the meeting on Saturday night, when reps from every campus met to discuss the agenda, it was clear that there were way too many proposals to deal with in one day. We didn't come up with a good solution, so many good ideas got tabled.

The vast majority of the panel speakers and moderators were people of color, and most schools sent multi-racial delegations, but we still have a long way to go in learning how to involve more Arab, Central Asian and Muslim students in the movement. Lastly, there are at least 1,000 colleges and thousands more high schools on the West Coast, so while 60 schools is a great start, we have a long way to go! Having said all this, I still think the conference was a solid step forward (and I think the vast majority of
people who attended feel the same way). I think all of the problems mentioned above are real things that we can learn from, think about, do better next time, change around. I also think that as long as the movement grows and develops, we will always have problems and make mistakes as well as learn from each other and have great successes.

OK, on to the "ISO hijack" accusation. First off, I just have to say that throwing around the word "hijack" under the circumstances we all face today as activists, is, to say the least, irresponsible. Second, did ISO members work hard to publicize, organize, etc. the conference? Of course, just like lot's of other people. Did we "dominate" it? Let's look at the facts. Of over 180 delegates, I think 16 or 17 were members of the ISO (actually two of them weren't there on Sunday, so let's say 15 could vote). Out of 36 work shops, three had ISO members speak at them (unfortunately, in one of them the other speaker went so over time, that the ISO speaker - me - had only about 5 minutes). None of the speakers at the morning or evening panels were ISO members. ISO members voted with the near unanimous majority on some proposals (National Conference, Coordinating Committee, endorse International Solidarity with Palestine Day, continuing with majority voting as opposed to opening up a debate on process, etc) and voted in the minority on others (Feb 7th day of action, numerous procedural votes) and voted on different sides of the questions at other times (March on DC, for example).
In other words, the ISO votes didn't determine a single decision of the conference.

Third, I did facilitate the Sunday session, along with several other members of the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition (not ISO members) who helped run the speakers' list and keep time. For anyone who has done it before, it is a hard job (one that I don't particularly relish) and we definitely need to get more people who feel comfortable doing it for the future, but the reality is, I was asked to do it by the Berkeley Stop the War conference planning committee and I tried my best to do a good job. The notion that I prioritized ISO speakers to "hijack" the debate is factually untrue. Did I make mistakes? Of course, do I deserve to be accused of manipulation, etc.? I believe those charges are unfair.

Lastly, since this war began, I have been spit at in the street, received death threats for being a fairly visible organizer, chased off of public transportation, and been verbally assaulted by racists on my very own campus. I, like everyone else who "looks Arab or Muslim" to the racists, have had to think twice about whether or not I should be a visible organizer, whether or not to take the bus by myself, whether or not I should wear my kuffiya, whether or not to pick up the phone, and whether or not I
can survive in this country and oppose the war at the same time. As a socialist, it has pained me to listen to the endless propaganda on CNN and Fox. I've been frustrated by what seems like huge support for this disgusting war, and even more frustrated that it's hard to convince people who do oppose the war to take a stand.

However, I've also drawn hope and inspiration from anti-war protests around the world and the growing movement right here in the USA. This past weekend's conference (and news of the ones in Boston and Chicago and other places) strengthened the ratio of hope over frustration. I think we really can build a successful movement, and I think, warts and all, the CSAW conference was an important step in that direction. For everyone who is committed to respectful, if serious, debates about HOW to do better next time, I am eager to hear from you, as is any member of the ISO you may personally know. For those who think internet slander is a good use of time, honestly, I have better things to do.

In Solidarity,
Snehal Shingavi
International Socialist Organization

PS I am, obviously, a member of the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition, but I'm writing this specifically to respond to the "hijack" charges as an ISO member.
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what a jokeJoseWednesday Nov 14th, 2001 2:05 AM
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