Fire on the Mountain has been tracking the development of a Black-led anti-war initiative in New Jersey for several months now. We publicized the call, the endorsers' list and the program for the initial conference. A FotM reader contributed an incisive report on that January 20 conference, emphasizing the forward looking nature of the event.
Determined that this not be a "one-time" event, participants planned a continuations committee to hold the coalition together to build a massive state-wide march for peace and justice in Newark later this year.FotM regular, Bondi, has now written a report on the Coalitions followup event, a mass rally in Newark last Saturday (noted here the same day by Prairiefyre).
After rocking the house with their version of "The World is a Ghetto" to open the anti-war rally of the People's Coalition for Peace and Justice, James Kelly and his band, "Affect," got serious. Mr. Kelly related how his son, Sgt. Clarence Lavon Floyd, had joined the 111 Airborne Light Infantry after failing to secure any other kind of work, and ended up in Iraq. A series of firefights gained him both the respect of the troops he was stationed with and the rank of sergeant. When he was killed by a "sniper" shot to the back of the head, this raised "friendly fire" issues for the family, but apparently not for the Army investigators. "We are ALL POW's, Prisoners of War," Mr. Kelly explained.
Over 600 activists filled the gymnasium at Essex County College in Newark for the rally Saturday. This was the first major follow-up event to January's exciting and successful conference on the U.S. War in Iraq and Our Communities: "Breaking the Silence: The Grassroots Speak." The coalition of more than 124 African-American churches and community groups, street organizations, labor, peace, student, and veterans organizations, who had joined the People's Organization for Progress in sponsoring the January conference, clearly came through on their promise to build on that gathering.
Among new participants in the People's Coalition for Peace and Justice (formerly the People's Peace Coalition), was Wake-Up, a group of young people who, along with their teachers, took the bleachers because the main seating area was completely full. New to the Coalition as well were the Union County and Essex County Chapters of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Central Northern NJ Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
Two speakers from Iraq Veterans Against the War, USN vet Michael Embridge of Jersey City and Army veteran Margaret Stevens of Newark, explained the extent to which the troops understand that they are being used as mercenaries for the oil companies.
Speakers also included Rev. William Howard of the Bethany Baptist Church, U.S. Congressman Donald Payne and NJ State Senator Ronald L. Rice, who, as a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, drew parallels between the "poverty draft" of the 1960s and that of today. Madelyn Hoffman of NJ Peace Action, and Minister James Muhammad, chairman of the NJ Committee for the Millions More Movement, also addressed the enthusiastic crowd.
The organizations that have united into the People's Peace and Justice Coalition are still looking ahead. As Larry Hamm, chairman of the People's Organization for Progress, “The truth of the matter is only a handful of people want to continue this war. We must increase the presence of African-American, Latino and other persons of color in the anti-war movement”.
The rally ended with all the sponsoring organizations committing themselves to a Saturday, August 25 march in Newark for Peace, Equality, Jobs and Justice.