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[casi] African Americans Fight for Peace

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African Americans Fight for Peace

by Gerald Lenoir

Black ministers and activists drew inspiration from the anti-Vietnam War
stance of Martin Luther King Jr. and celebrated his birthday in January by
organizing protests against the impending war with Iraq.

Black Voices for Peace, a Washington, D.C.-based group, sponsored an antiwar
conference and training at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ on
Jan. 20. A multiracial, but largely black audience of over 3,000 people
jammed into the church. They sang, rallied and attended workshops on subjects
like Iraq and U.S. aid for the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, civil rights veteran James Forman,
Green Party leader Ralph Nader and others delivered rousing speeches. "Our
peace event was well attended by blacks and reflects the fact that there is a
strong antiwar sentiment in the black community," said veteran activist and
Black Voices leader Damu Smith.

A recent national poll conducted by the Joint Center for Political Studies,
an African American research and public policy organization, found only 19.2
percent of blacks support a war with Iraq.


Rev. Graylan Hagler, senior minister at Plymouth Congregational and a leader
in Black Voices, said, "A war with Iraq will mean that disproportionately
people of color will fight and will be killed. We cannot wait for the first
bullets to start flying. It's time to act and to mobilize."

Black churches around the country held events celebrating Dr. King's
opposition to war and racism. Rev. Herbert Daughtry, pastor of House of the
Lord Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., hosted antiwar rallies in November and January
attended by overflow crowds. "I'm working to translate the opposition in the
black community into participation in the peace movement," Daughtry said.

The peace movement draws prestige and visibility from such black leaders as
Alice Walker, Jesse Jackson, Harry Belafonte, Rep. Barbara Lee, Danny Glover
and Aaron McGruder. National black organizations and religious denominations
have also taken up the antiwar banner, including the NAACP, the Progressive
National Baptist Convention, the Black Radical Congress and TransAfrica
Forum. Many local black and multiracial grassroots groups are also organizing
against the war in their communities.

Young black activists across the country, like Erica Thomas of the Southeast
Regional Economic Justice Network, are working with student groups to protest
an attack on Iraq. Thomas, a member of Racial Justice 9-11, a national
antiwar network of racial justice organizations, is organizing peace rallies
at North Carolina Central University, a black college in Durham.

"I realized how important it is to connect our economic justice work to the
antiwar movement because the war is an overarching issue. We're fighting a
war at home," Thomas said.

Black Voices's immediate priority is to mobilize blacks to the national
antiwar march organized by the United for Peace and Justice Coalition in New
York City on Feb. 15. Black Voices is also sponsoring a regional concert and
rally for peace in April in Washington, D.C. and a similar national event in
October. The group is also seeking to form additional local chapters.

"We need strong community-based efforts coordinated at the national level to
insure that the antiwar sentiment within the black community is demonstrated
through a visible outpouring of opposition," Smith stated.

Black Voices for Peace can be contacted at (202) 232-5690 or <A 

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