An Interview with Leslie Cagan
Conducted by Benjamin Dangl and Andrew Kennis
Leslie Cagan is the national coordinator of the anti-war
coalition United For Peace and Justice, (www.UnitedForPeace.org) which has
been one of the main organizers of anti-war rallies since before the Iraq
war began. We spoke with her on August 30th, the day after the UFPJ-organized
march which drew an estimated 500,000 people to protest the Republican National
Convention and the Bush agenda.
In the interview she talks about the August 29th UFPJ
march, civil disobedience and where the peace movement might be headed if
John Kerry is elected this November.
BD: What are your thoughts on yesterday's protest?
We're all thrilled by it. It was an outpouring of people
to say no to the Bush agenda. People came from every neighborhood in the city,
people came from cities and towns all around the country. Our estimate was
at least 500,000 people marched past Madison Square Garden delivering their
messages, obviously the Iraqi war and occupation was a major issue, but many
other issues came out yesterday as we wanted them to. And through that all,
the one clear and strong message, we believe, came through and this we say
no to the Bush agenda.
BD: Were there any problems with the police once it
Yesterday, I must say the police handled themselves
very well. And I hope that's true for the rest of the week from here on out.
But my experience and the reports we got from different people was that the
police actually behaved very well.
AK: What do you think about this march (Poor People's
Campaign for Economic Human Rights), considering them undertaking civil disobedience,
as opposed to yesterday's march, under your coalition, deciding not to do
that and not protest the decision on central park?
Well we certainly did protest the decision around Central
Park, we worked very hard on that issue. We decided not to do that yesterday.
We support civil disobedience, there is a long and honored history in this
country of civil disobedience, obviously Martin Luther King Jr. and the movement
he led is obviously the strongest example that everybody knows. But many movements
have used civil disobedience as a legitimate tactic and it's still a legitimate
tactic just as permitted marches or rallies are legitimate tactics. I think
the issues with organizers are, what tactics are going to work for the message
you are trying to deliver, are the people you are bringing ready to engage
in that tactic. There are tactical considerations that go into deciding which
vehicle you are going to use for your particular protest. But there is nothing
inherently better or worse about any given tactic.
BD: As far as keeping the momentum going do you see
the momentum after Kerry wins - he is not necessarily an anti-war president--do
you see the same kind of momentum going after he is elected or do you see
I think probably right after the election, there could
very well be either because Bush or Kerry wins, a little bit of falling off.
If Bush wins people could feel demoralized, if Kerry wins some people will
think our work is over. But I think very quickly people will regroup and realize
certainly that if Bush wins our movement has to keep going. But also if Kerry
wins I think people will realize that we have to keep pushing him, we would
like to not have to organize a demonstration saying we say no to the Kerry
agenda, but if we have to in a year or two or whatever down the road, if we
need to organize that kind of demonstration we will. The point is we are a
movement about the issues, and if the issues aren't being resolved by one
president or another one, we are going to be out there. This movement is alive,
it's strong, it's dynamic, it's creative and it's not going away.
AK: Do you have a sense that after a year or two things
might really change under Kerry, seems like you expect that they won't
I clearly think there is a difference between Bush and
Kerry on quite a number of issues, especially on quite a number of social
issues here in this country. On the war, Kerry has not been good, so we have
to push him. My feeling, personally, I am not speaking for the coalition now
because we don't have a position on this--we need to get rid of Bush, that's
the first thing we need to do, we just need to take him and his whole crowd
of criminals - and the crimes are not only committed in Iraq, they are committed
every day in this country when people go homeless, and people go hungry and
people don't have health care, those are crimes against humanity. So we need
to get rid of that whole bunch, and then we need to put the pressure on the
new bunch that comes in. Kerry is not automatically all of a sudden going
to be an anti-war president; we have to push him to that.
AK: Do you think there is a little more danger that
Kerry might have, in a kind of ironic twist, more cushion because of the support
he has from the anti-war crowd and maybe in a weird turn of events--that could
prolong the occupation?
I don't have a crystal ball but I guess that could happen,
but I just think that what yesterday showed again, is that how deep and widespread
the anti-war sentiment is. And I don't think that sentiment goes away overnight.
People know that this war was based on a pack of lies. People know, better
information isn't going to beat that out of people's heads. Our job of course
as organizers is to help keep that momentum going. You know we call it a movement
for a reason, it has its ebbs and flows, sometimes it was stronger sometimes
it was weaker, we move in and out. So there may be a time when it looks like
we are a little weaker. But I think we are not going away. The other thing
is that when you get a big mobilization, you see the strength of the movement,
but the work of this movement goes on every single day. People are having
educational forums, people are having vigils, people are lobbying their elected
officials, people are writing letters to the editor, people are organizing
shipments of humanitarian aid to Iraq or whatever. People keep on doing all
kinds of things every single day and it doesn't always make it into the news.
That's what the heart and soul of the movement is and that's not going to
go away. We now have in UFPJ almost 900 groups, we have done virtually no
outreach, no outreach encouraging people to join our coalition. People have
found us and said, we're a group in Atlanta, or we're a group in Bangore,
Maine or whatever, we want to be a part of a national movement, can we join
the coalition. That's phenomenal.
BD: Do you think a lot of the people that were at the
march yesterday will go home now and be motivated to do more? Do you think
they will keep on working beyond the march?
The energy, the spirit and commitment of yesterday--people
are going to take that home with them. People are going to back into their
neighborhoods, back to their workplaces, their schools, their religious centers,
wherever, and they are going to keep doing that organizing. And that's what's
most important, one of the most important things is of course on any demonstration
you want to send a clear message, that happened. The second thing you want
to do is re-energize and keep the movement going. And I think that has happened
not only yesterday but through this week of activities.
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