Peace Alliance hosts anti-war weekend

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The Canadian Peace Alliance (CPA) will kick off its bi-annual convention in Toronto on Friday, the start of an anti-war weekend that marks the 10-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. The title of the convention is "Resist war and militarism: Building a movement for peace and justice," which addresses the urgent need to confront Stephen Harper's militaristic agenda in Canada, Afghanistan, and around the world.

The weekend is an important opportunity for anti-war activists to assess their work in the last few years, build new networks, and re-launch the anti-war movement. Despite the widespread opposition to the war in Afghanistan, the movement has been unable to translate anti-war sentiment into mass demonstrations, especially on the scale of a few years ago. But it has nevertheless managed to broaden anti-war networks, attracting new solidarity campaigns and community organizations. Many of those groups will be leading discussions this weekend.

Comprised of five panel discussions and 18 workshops, the convention will cover two broad topics: Canada and the war in Afghanistan, and solidarity struggles around the world.

The first topic includes workshops on: the impact of the war in Afghanistan and alternatives to occupation, led by members of Afghans for Peace; the future of the NATO alliance; the spread of the war to Pakistan; Canada's creeping militarism; resisting the rise of Islamophobia; and the fight for civil liberties, featuring Sophie Harkat, founding member of the Justice for Mohamed Harkat campaign. It will also include workshops on Canadian foreign policy around the world: Canada in Haiti, led by members of the Canada-Haiti Action Network; Palestine solidarity, featuring members of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid and the Canada Boat to Gaza; the "war on terror" and the Arab Spring; and NATO's war in Libya.

The convention begins with a panel discussion that will assess the last decade of war and resistance in Afghanistan, featuring leading U.S. anti-war activist Judith Leblanc. The former co-chair of United for Peace and Justice and a national organizer for Peace Action, Judith will report on the movement in the U.S. and plans for a major anti-NATO mobilization in Chicago in the spring of 2012. The panel will also include Suraia Sahar, founding member of Afghans for Peace, and Derrick O'Keefe, co-chair of the Canadian Peace Alliance and co-author of former Afghan MP Malalai Joya's memoir, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice.

The second topic, addressing solidarity struggles, includes workshops on: indigenous sovereignty and the anti-war movement, led by activist and writer, Zainab Amadahy; the Tamil struggle in Sri Lanka, led by the National Council of Canadian Tamils; Kashmir and the "war on terror," led by Friends of Kashmir; African resistance to war and famine, led by the Somali-Canadian Diaspora Alliance; war and climate change, led by Greenpeace and climate justice activists; and the campaign against nuclear weapons.

The convention will also feature a pan-Canadian strategy session on re-building local anti-war networks, with reports from city-wide coalitions like Vancouver's StopWar.ca, Ottawa's No War/Paix and Peace Alliance Winnipeg, as well as local peace groups in Halifax, Yellowknife, Grand Forks, Charlottetown and many more. There will also be representation from Quebec's anti-war movement.

On Saturday, the convention has scheduled a break in its agenda to bring an anti-war contingent to the Occupy Toronto protests planned that day. Under the banner "Occupy Bay Street, Not Afghanistan," participants will march through downtown Toronto to join what is expected to be thousands of demonstrators in the financial district. The contingent is part of the CPA's mandate to connect with and support new and growing movements for peace and justice. In that spirit, the CPA has recently launched a campaign called "Peace and prosperity, not war and austerity," making the links between rapidly increasing military spending and severe cuts to social services like healthcare and education.

In addition to the 10-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, the weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Peace Alliance. As the largest umbrella peace organization in English Canada, the CPA has been through a lot over the years -- from leading campaigns for nuclear disarmament in the 1980s to its role at the heart of the anti-war movement in the years after 9/11. On Saturday evening, the convention will host a reception for the occasion, featuring a retrospective of anti-war posters, leaflets and images from the last 25 years of the CPA.

The anti-war movement is a long way from its high point during the mobilization against the Iraq War in 2003, but it has continued to build and expand its networks over the years. That infrastructure and experience have proved critical in the last decade, especially at those moments when it was possible to build large-scale demonstrations: George Bush's visit to Ottawa in 2004, the war in Lebanon in 2006, and the war in Gaza in 2009. Maintaining those networks have also made it possible to build solidarity with numerous other struggles, even if on a smaller scale: when war criminals like Tony Blair and Dick Cheney came to town, when Muslim or Arab allies were under attack, Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia in 2009, and Sri Lanka's war on Tamils that same year.

The CPA convention will give anti-war activists across the country an occasion to build on these successes. More importantly, it will be an occasion to assess as soberly as possible the real struggles that lie ahead: how to deal with an aggressively pro-war Harper government, how to connect to and support emerging struggles on other fronts, how to build the confidence of all those who oppose the war but who feel unsure about marching in the streets, how to keep Afghanistan on the agenda when the media reports the mission has ended, how to sink deeper roots in the Afghan community and engage emerging anti-war constituencies such as military families and returning soldiers and veterans.

Despite the challenges that face us, there are reasons to be optimistic -- especially as the impact of the Arab Spring begins to be felt in the streets of Athens and Madrid, and in the occupation movement sweeping the U.S. and Canada. We hope that you will join us this weekend, to share your experiences, your insight and even your criticism. As we mark 10 years of war and resistance, let's use the occasion to re-launch the anti-war struggle, and get ready to be part of the new movements on the horizon.

James Clark is a member of the steering committee of the Canadian Peace Alliance, representing the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War. Follow him on Twitter: @2jamesclark.

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