Four Proposals for CAN

The following proposals, submitted by CAN delegates from campus based anti-war coalitions, are supported by student activists in Socialist Alternative. If you agree with these proposals, or have any questions on them, we would like to discuss with you. Get in touch with us today at our table or by visiting

Proposed Points of Unity for the Campus Anti-War Network

CAN should adopt the following four Points of Unity:

1. No US/UN War on Iraq!
2. End the Sanctions Now!
3. Money for Jobs and Education, Not War!
4. No Racism or Attacks on Civil Liberties!

Why These Four?

No US/UN Attack on Iraq: It is important to include clear opposition to the potential of a UN sanctioned assault on Iraq. The Iraqi people already know that UN sanctioned bombs are just as deadly as those dropped unilaterally by the US. The student movement must take a principled stand against this war of aggression, with or without UN backing.

End the Sanctions Now: Economic starvation has killed more Iraqis than have US bombs in the past 12 years. We must oppose this silent warfare as well.

Money for Jobs and Education, Not War: This demand is very important to include because it addresses the anti-war movement to the pressing social and economic anxieties of working people and youth who may not yet see the connections between war and their daily struggles. A mass anti-war movement will only emerge when broad sections of US society conclude that the war is being conducted against their interests.

Stop Racial Profiling and Attacks on Civil Liberties: Bush’s so-called war on terrorism includes an unprecedented assault on the rights of people within US borders, immigrant and native born. Arabs, Central Asians, and anyone “who looks like them” are being assaulted and rounded by US security forces. The Patriot Act shredded many of the already scant legal protections we had against monitoring and arbitrary arrest. This is part of Bush’s war drive and must be opposed.

Don’t More Demands Alienate People?

Some have argued that including demands beyond the simple theme of being against Bush’s war plans on Iraq will serve to alienate would-by allies. Why link racism or layoffs to the war drive, when some people don’t see this connection?

This argument rests on the idea that to grow the anti-war movement, we must appeal to the supposed “moderate majority” to join us. In the corporate media those who, for instance, would support a war with UN backing are presented as the voice of the anti-war movement. These are often the same politicians who have voted through budget cuts, the Patriot Act, sanctions on Iraq, and supported the war in Afghanistan. While they may disagree with Bush on this war, it is only because they have a different strategy for maintaining US global power.

In reality, the movement will grow on a mass scale only when broad sections of working people understand the war as an attack their communities. Most activists already understand that the Bush administration’s motives for war are quite different than his public justifications. Beyond the media portrayal, the real anti-war movement is made up of people who know that the bloated Pentagon budget means cutbacks in education and other services, public sector layoffs, and increased threats of terrorist attack.

Critically, Bush is using the war drive to bolster his domestic strength, as was shown in the November elections. This has already meant enormous attacks on our civil liberties, particularly on the rights of immigrants and all people of color. It has also allowed Bush to push through massive tax cuts for the rich alongside big budget cuts impacting working people and the poor. As the recession bites, needed relief programs are stripped bare while tens of billions are shifted to the already huge military budget. Our fellow students are facing huge tuition increases and program cuts at schools and universities across the country. Workers in public education institutions, teachers, faculty and staff, are facing layoffs and wage freezes.

Only when broad layers of US society come to understand that Bush’s war drive is simply the cutting edge of his broader corporate agenda, of his attacks on regular people at home and abroad, will a truly mass anti-war movement be born. The movement against the Vietnam War only grew into a mass force when the civil rights movement and US workers joined with students in opposition. It was through linking the issues together, explaining the connections between war and racism, corporate power and military power, that a strong enough opposition was built to stop the US military adventure in Southeast Asia. This could not have been achieved if the anti-war movement then had tried to artificially separate the war issue from the economic and social problems of the working majority. The same holds true today.

Proposed Goals for CAN Structure and Organization

1. CAN should strive to bring together into common cause and organization the bulk of the national student anti-war movement. To accomplish this CAN should strive to build strong, accountable national structures able to campaign for unity and cohesion in the student movement.

2. CAN and its national structures should make every possible effort to create an energetically democratic internal life. All decision making processes in CAN should be transparent, public, and accountable. CAN structures should include a clear division of labor and resources to ensure conference decisions and priorities are carried out.

CAN has the potential to grow into a powerful force for peace, and unite the bulk of the student anti-war movement. CAN is bringing together representatives from school and campus based anti-war coalitions or groups. It is in these new coalitions and groups, which have sprung up everywhere since September 11th, 2001, that the vast majority of student anti-war activists are organized. Therefore CAN is uniquely positioned to become a truly representative and legitimate national student anti-war organization.

Do We Need A Strong National Organization?

Since September 11th, 2001, our official representatives have proven their incapacity to stop the Bush administration’s war machine. Whatever the formal result of the UN debate in the coming days, it is clear the UN and international leaders won’t stop war.

The responsibility to bring down the US military menace rests primarily on us – the growing anti-war movement. The anti-war movement is rapidly taking on mass proportions in some areas of the country and world. It has the potential to stop Bush’s militarist agenda. But to turn this potential into reality a truly mass movement is needed; a movement with the organizational and political capacity to connect with the economic and social anxieties of working people and to bring millions into coordinated action.

The student anti-war movement has already shown its dynamism and can potentially play an important role building a mass movement. But one of the main things holding back the big potential of the student movement is its lack of organization, cohesion, and unity. Without a broad, democratic and nationally recognized anti-war organization the ability of the student movement to expand its influence and become a serious force in national politics is held back.

A strong and effective CAN would be a huge step forward. It would allow for truly united actions with a mass response. Tens of thousands of students who oppose this war but who remain inactive could be brought into organized action if a strong, nationally united student organization gave a confident lead. National leaflets and press releases would greatly expand public and media attention toward our movement. Resources could be pooled and raised to provide for national publications, full-time organizers, and nationally coordinated initiatives. Such a national structure would be a qualitative step forward, concentrating the dispersed steam of the movement into a powerful engine capable of impacting politics in Washington.

Democracy in the Movement

Many in the anti-war movement hold out the legitimate concern that forming strong national structures invites leadership bureaucracy and that a decentralized movement is better. It is true that the only way to maintain a dynamic internal democracy and truly representative decision-making bodies is to have constant grassroots involvement from activists across the country.

But without organization, without national democratic structures, decisions are still being made that impact the entire movement. Every month multiple national days of action are being called from various groupings. National press statements and leaflets are being produced in the name of the student anti-war movement. Leadership happens whether or not it is formally recognized. The question is how to make it accountable, transparent, representative, and effective.

A broad organization is critical to increasing the abilities and political understanding of activists. CAN could provide an invaluable forum to discuss and debate how to take the movement forward. Different strategies and tactics could be debated, tested in practice, and the results of this process shared nationally. The collective experience of activists across the country, their successes and failures, could be assimilated. This is the essence of movement democracy, something that doesn’t exist without organization. Democracy is not only our goal – it is our method of getting there.

Democracy in CAN

Democracy and open debate is also the only way to foster unity, solidarity, and legitimacy within broad organizations. A national anti-war organization not seen as democratic, inclusive and transparent will do more to disunite the movement than bring it together. This was shown last year when simultaneous regional anti-war conferences failed in their attempt to establish effective national or even regional structures. This failure was the result of widespread feelings from participants that the conferences were organized in non-transparent and undemocratic ways, provoking organized walkouts in several cases. Many activists then boycotted the national student conference, understandably (but mistakenly) concluding that national structures would inevitably be undemocratic and un-useful.

Similar legitimate concerns have been raised this year also, and it is clear many schools have not sent representatives to this conference because of worries about who controls CAN and if diverse voices would be respected. But we can learn from past mistakes and continue forward with these lessons in mind, striving to change perceptions of CAN. Before CAN will emerge as a powerful uniting force in the student movement, we have to build legitimacy and respect in the next period.

Out of this conference a committee, broadly representative of different regions and political tendencies, should be elected or otherwise formed to carry out the decisions of today’s conference and to organize future conferences. To be democratic such a committee must be a working body, not simply an email list to rubber stamp the initiatives organized informally behind the scenes. A functional committee has to develop a clear and public division of responsibility between its members so that it remains accountable and transparent to the activist base it represents.

Action Proposal

National Student Walkout on Day X (Day After US Launches War)

CAN should prioritize campaigning for a national student walkout on “Day X” (the day after US launches a war on Iraq).

Following the massive Feb 15th protests, if CAN puts its full energy into campaigning for a massive national student walkout organized for the school day after a full-scale US attack on Iraq, it could become the most powerful student action of our generation. Around the world student and labor strikes are being organized for Day X already. In Italy unions are campaigning for a general strike that day. In cities across the US as well students are already mobilizing to strike on “Day X.”

There have been other proposals for national student walkouts to occur on different set dates. ANSWER proposed a walkout on Feb. 21st and the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition proposed March 5th. While all efforts and actions should be applauded and endorsed, we feel uniting around and prioritizing a national walkout on Day X will get the biggest response for several reasons. While a walkout on a set day before the war can bring out the student activists, a walkout the day after war is launched can empty entire schools because when the US attacks Iraq there will be a powerful wave of anger and revulsion. There will emerge a mood amongst wide layers of young people to take serious direct action. We must prepare and mobilize to organizationally express this mood when it emerges.

History has demonstrated this. The days after the 1991 Gulf War semi-spontaneous student walkouts in cities across the country brought tens of thousands into the streets. The biggest wave of student strikes in US history followed news of US incursions into Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Around the world “Day X” strikes have been the tradition. Already students across Europe and on every continent are mobilizing for strikes on Day X above any other day. This conference should join the call and help make these walkouts on Day X a success in the US.

Action Proposal: National Week of Action Against the War at Home and Abroad

Resolved: CAN should prioritize building a national week of action from March 31 through April 5 around the themes “Money for Jobs and Education, Not War,” and “No Racism or Attacks on Civil Liberties.” To build this national action, CAN should take the following steps:

1. Discuss with the new US Labor Against War organization to urge them to join the call and help mobilize unions for joint action with students.

2. Discuss with national civil rights and immigrant organizations urging them to also endorse the day of action.

3. Invite other forces in the student anti-war movement, including the organizations in the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition (NYSPC) and United for Peace and Justice Youth and Student Caucus, to join this call and mobilization.

4. CAN should produce a “Campaign Packet” to assist students in local areas build join actions with local unions and labor groups, community and immigrant organizations, groups fighting budget cuts, and other likely allies. Such a Campaign Packet would include a national leaflet linking Bush’s domestic attacks to the war, sample letters inviting potential allies to endorse the actions, and suggested actions and events to take place during the week.

Why Should This Action Proposal Be Prioritized?

There are many important calls to action being organized against this impending war, and CAN should lend its solidarity and support to them all. However, if CAN hopes to emerge as a force to unite and build the student movement, it must not simply tail end the various dispersed calls to action. Instead, CAN should concentrate its resources around a smaller number of initiatives that will demonstrate the direction grassroots student activists, speaking through CAN, want to take the movement. We feel this proposed action should be a central priority of CAN for several reasons.

In most areas, students have shown themselves to be the most dynamic and organized elements of the anti-war movement. Unlike in workplaces and neighborhoods, on most campuses everyone can feel the presence of the anti-war movement. Despite this leading position, the student movement, in general, is too often middle class, white, and culturally narrow. Often it is unable to reach broader social layers with the anti-war message. Only when working people, people of color, women, and most students for that matter, see their daily struggles as bound up with the struggle against war, will a mass anti-war movement, capable of stopping the Bush agenda, emerge.

To reach beyond the current activist circles, to build our movement, we have to clearly and publicly explain how fighting budget cuts, fighting sexist and racist attacks, fighting tuition hikes and layoffs, etc., has to be linked to the anti-war struggle.

Bush was a weak and embattled President before 9/11. Only by posing as a warrior against terrorism, only by whipping up a racist, nationalist hysteria, has Bush been able to push through his aggressive domestic agenda of bailouts for the rich and attacks on regular people. The war on Iraq is the cutting edge, the political centerpiece, of a much larger corporate agenda. Building the anti-war movement on a mass scale means building an awareness of this reality amongst all those under attack by Bush and Corporate America.

By building this action around the themes “Money for Education and Jobs, Not War,” and “No Racism or Attacks on Civil Liberties,” we bring to the forefront those issues around which we can expand our movement. In CAN leaflets we can explain this message to students across the country.

Through building for this event we can develop a coalition with labor, civil rights, immigrant organizations, and others. Through coalition we are creating the space for solidarity and for presenting a broader, more diverse face for the anti-war movement.

In particular, we can link up with, and highlight the importance of, the new US Labor Against the War, formed in January in a gathering of trade unionists representing hundreds of thousands of workers.

Why This Date?

We are suggesting holding this week of action on March 31 – April 5 to correspond with the already established national student/labor solidarity week, called by SLAP (Student Labor Action Project). This week also marks the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, who was killed after he began publicly linking racism, capitalism, and the Vietnam War.

All signs now point toward war beginning in early or mid March. Proposing this action on a later date in no way means we urge students to step back from the urgent mobilizations taking place to prevent war. But as a movement we must lay preparations for a long struggle – for US occupation of Iraq, and for further US wars.

From Socialist Alternative, 2/22/03