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Todd Gitlin

He was a leader of the peace movement in the 1960s. He is a former president of Students for a Democratic Society, and author of a number of books including The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, and Media Unlimited. Gitlin is also a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University.

21:43

Other segments from the episode on January 23, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 23, 2003: Interview with Todd Gitlin; Interview with Mara Verheyden Hilliard; Interview with Bob Edgar.

Transcript

DATE January 23, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
 TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
 NETWORK NPR
 PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Todd Gitlin discusses the new peace movement
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The anti-war movement is growing. Last Saturday, demonstrations in
Washington, San Francisco and other cities protested against a US war with
Iraq. We're going to look at this new movement. My first guest is Todd
Gitlin. He's logged many miles at peace demonstrations over the years. He
was president of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, from 1963 to '64 and
was active in the peace movement during the war in Vietnam. He wrote about
political protests in his book "The Sixties: Years of Hope and Days of Rage."
His book "Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms
Our Lives" has just come out in paperback. His next book, "Letters to a Young
Activist," will be published in the spring.

Gitlin is against a US war with Iraq and is hoping a strong peace movement
develops. But he has reservations about the group that organized Saturday's
peace march in Washington, the ANSWER coalition. ANSWER stands for Act Now to
Stop War & End Racism. Gitlin says this group represents the fringe politics
of the orthodox old left. I asked him about his thoughts on the march and its
organizers.

Professor TODD GITLIN (Columbia University): Well, this is complicated.
Movements are sloppy and diffuse, and in general one prefers them that way.
That is, people who are small D democrats don't like the sort of hierarchical
command program that authoritarians embrace and find it easy to organize. Now
what that means de facto is that the organizations that are quickest to
organize national demonstrations are the ones that are most hierarchically
organized, and International ANSWER is one of them. So they get there
`fustest' because they don't have complicated positions. They have simplistic
positions and they're in place like an army to follow orders and put
demonstrations on the calendar.

GROSS: What do you know about this group?

Prof. GITLIN: Their steering committee is made up of various left-wing
factions, very far-left-wing factions, that probably total a hundred members
in America. The best-known of them is something called the International
Action Center, which is represented by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark,
who's a supporter of Slobodan Milosevic, who's a supporter of Saddam Hussein,
a supporter of the Chinese government at Tiananmen Square. These are people
with very, I would say, freakish and wrong-headed positions, I mean, really
appalling positions. Of course, very few people who attend these rallies have
any idea of this or, for that matter, care.

GROSS: Are there certain issues that ANSWER brings to the peace movement that
make you uncomfortable, that you don't think belong in the peace movement?

Prof. GITLIN: Well, their down-the-line support for releasing Mumia
Abu-Jamal, who may well deserve a fair trial, I don't know about that, but,
you know, is a convicted cop killer. This has no place whatsoever in this
movement. Their sort of `Israel is all wrong and Palestinians of all sorts
are all right' has no business in this coalition. And for two those
are--that's the baggage they're bringing to the party.

GROSS: What are your concerns about how the leadership of the ANSWER
coalition will affect the peace movement?

Prof. GITLIN: Well, this is difficult. I mean, many people felt in as early
as October that since they were committed to opposing the war, and ANSWER was
the group that was promoting the demonstration, that they should go and at
least go and take a look. I was in touch with some people who went to
ANSWER-sponsored demonstrations, didn't like what they saw and heard and fled.
I think many more people, when it came to January and war had become more in
prospect, did decide to enter into the ANSWER coalition, in effect, but
without signing on to their principles and wanted to go and carry their own
signs.

Opposing unilateral war at this point is a mainstream American position. I've
looked at a lot of polls. In general about a third of the population supports
unilateral war in the absence of an immediate threat to America. This is
actually an enormous opportunity for an anti-war movement because you don't
have to be left-wing, you don't even have to be left of center. One of the
major sites opposed to the war, Anti-War.org, has Libertarian sponsorship.
There are many Republicans, heartland people, people who aren't especially
political at all, who actually are interested in turning out against a
demonstration.

So I think it is fruitless, in fact counterproductive, to organize a sort of
left-wing self-celebration jamboree. You'll offend a lot of people who should
be opposed to the war and you're not going to elicit the support of mainstream
politicians.

GROSS: Are you afraid that some of the issues and groups that the ANSWER
coalition is involved with will be used by some people to discredit the peace
movement? I'm thinking, for instance, of ANSWER's affiliation with the
Workers World Party, its affiliation with other Communist groups.

Prof. GITLIN: I am concerned that International ANSWER walks out to the
speaker's platform wearing a big sign that says, `discredit me,' and that
those who don't have the interest of a decent and sensible and majoritarian
anti-war movement can swat the movement as a whole by pointing the finger at
these absurd and reprehensible positions.

GROSS: Do you feel like you're a member of, you know, HUAAC during the
McCarthy era when you say this, you know, you're discrediting them because of
their Communist affiliation?

Prof. GITLIN: No. I think they're actually dishonest in not wanting to own
up to their politics. My view in the '60s was that there should be an
ecumenical anti-war movement. SDS, Students for a Democratic Society,
organized the first national demonstration against the Vietnam War in 1965
with a very minimal position. You know, the war is bad for Vietnam, it's bad
for Americans, it should be stopped, period. And we were the sole sponsor.
We invited other people to come and, if they want, carry their own signs. But
we were ecumenical. We did not do what ANSWER does. We did not fill the
platform with left-wing sectarians.

GROSS: Now you were the head of SDS for a while. You were president of SDS,
and SDS was a pretty radical group that endorsed pretty radical actions, and
many of the more mainstream people in the anti-war movement in the '60s
thought that SDS was going too far and that it would alienate the mainstream
and was therefore not good for the movement. So do you feel like you're in a
funny spot now saying that there's some kind of like too-far-out-on-a-limb
issues involved with the peace movement now?

Prof. GITLIN: Well, when I was head of SDS, it was not far out on a limb. I
mean, we were against the Vietnam War, but, you know, we were not embracing Ho
Chi Minh or the cause of Third World revolution. SDS went that way and that
was catastrophic, and I opposed it. My only regret is that I didn't oppose it
strenuously or successfully enough. There's an awful paradox about the 1960s
that today's activists must face, and it is that as the war in Vietnam became
less popular, so did the anti-war movement. And the anti-war movement became
less popular because it was seen as, first of all, ultramilitant and,
secondly, anti-American. Much of the charge of anti-Americanism was
undeserved. I mean, after all if you had a demonstration of a hundred
thousand people and 10,000 of them carrying American flags but, you know, 100
of them were carrying Viet Cong flags and one of them was burning a US flag,
you know what would have ended up on the evening news that night.

But the tragedy of the '60s is that while I think the anti-war movement did
retard the extension of the war, the movement itself committed hara-kiri by
isolating itself at the margins of American life and insulting most of the
people who themselves were opposed to the war, who were in fact the proverbial
mainstream people.

GROSS: So you're critical of the ANSWER coalition, which organized the
anti-war march on Saturday. Does that take away for you from the success of
the demonstration and its turnout?

Prof. GITLIN: Well, the turnout is a vote of confidence in the anti-war
position. And, you know, the turnout was immense, striking, understood as
such by the mass media, which had actually been belittling the movement before
that. And I think it's important to understand that these demonstrations,
especially the one in Washington, are only moments in the anti-war movement.
I mean, they were demonstrations--I've been seeing listservs that send out the
word. Somebody from Santa Barbara wrote to a friend of mine that there were
5,000 demonstrators in Santa Barbara last Saturday. In a town in Maine with a
population of 1,600 there were 60 demonstrators, 6-0, in the freezing cold,
against the war. These are not ANSWER supporters.

There's now the very important action of the Catholic bishops, of the National
Council of Churches opposed to unilateral war. There's the MoveOn group that
has collected vast numbers of signatures on petitions. The Chicago City
Council, which is not a bastion of the sectarian left, voted 46-to-1 against
unilateral war, a very sophisticated resolution, by the way, that unlike the
ANSWER spokesman acknowledges that Saddam Hussein is a vicious tyrant.

So the demonstrations are the easiest things to notice, they get our
attention, but I think this is actually a genuinely mass movement. It's
happening in little places. It's in this way reminiscent of the American
anti-war movement against the Vietnam War, circa 1969.

GROSS: My guest is Todd Gitlin. We'll talk more after a break. This is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're devoting today's program to the emerging peace movement. My
guest is Todd Gitlin. He was active in the anti-war movement of the '60s and
was the head of SDS from 1963 to '64.

Do you think that there are certain difficulties organizing today that would
be different from the challenges of organizing in the '60s?

Prof. GITLIN: Well, first of all, let's start with the evident fact that
the war is not on and a movement of anticipation, you know, requires a leap of
imagination that the evening news and the daily dose of napalm and burning
villages do not. The anti-war movement of the '60s sprang from the civil
rights movement spirit, and so there was already a mood of affirmation on the
part of activists. Activists had some experience with getting results.

Today's movement is springing from a very different mood, a kind of fatalism,
a brooding horror about the future which is partly a consequence of our recent
political history and partly a consequence of September 11th. People are
scared and they're less prone to want to oppose an American president of any
sort. I think also, you know, the erosion of what I would call conventional
anti-war politics or ecumenical center/liberal anti-war politics means that
the sectarian groups like ANSWER and the International Action Center and
people like Ramsey Clark and so on loom large in a way that undermines the
tensile strength, the absorptiveness of the movement as a whole.

GROSS: What would you say to people who are very much opposed to a war
against Iraq but at the same time don't support the agenda of International
ANSWER?

Prof. GITLIN: I would say do something. Let your conscience tell you where
to exercise your intelligence and your conviction. That might be going before
your city council or writing letters to the paper. It might be broaching
anti-war positions in your organizations. It might mean going to a big
demonstration sponsored by somebody like ANSWER and carrying your own signs.
It might mean anything that imagination will find congenial. I don't think
one size fits all here, but I do think that it is not uncommon and, you know,
it is a deep and unswervable truth of political life of all sorts that you end
up in bed with people you'd just as soon not be. One does not have the luxury
in political life of choosing all of your allies. That's true for leftists,
rightists, centrists, everybody else.

GROSS: You've attended and spoken at your share of demonstrations. Let me
see if I can frame a kind of dilemma of demonstrations, you know, particularly
here with the war with Iraq. It's a very complicated issue. Demonstrations
aren't necessarily the best place for nuanced discussion, you know, you've got
thousands, tens of thousands of people. The people who are actually at the
demonstrations can usually barely hear what's being said at the podium.
People on TV can hear that much better. So how do you think you can still let
in a certain amount of nuanced discussion and stay away from just like bumper
sticker cliches at a demonstration?

Prof. GITLIN: Well, I would always hope that speakers, even within a few
minutes, can express something of the complexity of the issue, doing something
other than simply repeating chants. I think that leaflets can do that. Now
Web sites can do that. There are many opportunities to tell one's opponents
that, first of all, one is mindful of their arguments. I think that people
who support the war have arguments. I don't think this one is a no-brainer.
I think to be concerned about the fate of the people of Iraq is not only nice,
it's morally exemplary and mandatory. I think that, you know, Saddam Hussein
is not about to pounce on America, but no question that he'd like to, and so
on and so on. So I think one should be mindful, I think one should always
strive to elevate the level of debate and not collapse it into a sort of, you
know, two legs good, four legs bad. You know, this is a tall order, but I
would insist it can be done.

GROSS: You've probably seen this article. There was an article in the
December 8th edition of The New York Times Sunday Magazine by George Packer.
And I just want to read you an excerpt of it and get your reaction to this.
It started off by saying, `If you're a liberal, why haven't you joined the
anti-war movement? More to the point, why is there no anti-war movement that
you'd want to join?' And the article goes on to discuss the `liberal quandary
over Iraq.' And Packer writes--he speculates that the war in Bosnia converted
a lot of liberals into hawks. He says, `People who from Vietnam on had never
met an American military involvement they liked were now calling for US air
strikes to defend a multiethnic democracy against Serbian ethnic aggression.
Suddenly the model was no longer Vietnam, it was World War II. Armed American
power was all that stood in the way of genocide. These writers and academics
wanted to use American military power to serve goals like human rights and
democracy, especially when it was clear that nobody else would do it. They
advocated a new role for Americans in the world which came down to: American
power on behalf of American ideals.'

What do you think of that argument that the war in Bosnia kind of changed the
equation for a lot of American liberals and turned them into hawks on some
issues like Iraq; that some people who had traditionally been liberals don't
oppose war in Iraq, they support overthrowing Saddam Hussein?

Prof. GITLIN: I think this is a true statement of what happened. I think
that many liberals became selective hawks, emphasis on selective, and I would
here add that many of the people who supported use of American force in
Bosnia, and then in Kosovo, or for that matter, in Haiti, also supported it in
Afghanistan. The problem is that I think many liberals today, while
acknowledging that the sponsorship of the anti-war demonstrations is not, you
know, their cup of democracy, don't think that Bush is their cup of democracy,
either. That is, under present political auspices, it's very hard to imagine
that the people who are making policy in the White House, who came to office,
let it be said, in a manner that was not exactly a high point in the history
of democracy, that they are crusaders for democracy. I think you could well
believe when Clinton intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo that he did have the
interests of democracy rather than oil companies or arms manufacturers in
mind. But I think the general statement that you read from George Packer's
argument is accurate.

GROSS: Do you think that that's affecting the type of organizing that's being
done around the anti-war movement now?

Prof. GITLIN: Well, we see some people who think that, you know--whose slogan
might as well be: US out of everywhere. They think that it's unimaginable
that American force could ever have a just rationale or a good consequence.
I'm obviously not one of those people. I daresay that most people who are
opposed to war in Iraq are not pacifists, do not think that American military
force is automatically the worst alternative in a situation, but are persuaded
that the interests of a democratic revival in the world or extension in the
world are not served by an American expedition which can't even persuade our
allies that there is a just cause.

I mean, there are many people, not just liberals, who I think are walking into
an anti-war movement which they're in the process of manufacturing, whether
it's voting on behalf of an anti-war resolution in the Chicago City Council or
demonstrating hither and yon.

GROSS: What do you think an anti-war movement needs to do now to actually be
effective in stopping or limiting a war against Iraq?

Prof. GITLIN: I think it needs to resort to a panoply of legitimate tactics
ranging from lobbying members of Congress to getting resolutions out of city
and state assemblages to working within churches and synagogues and so on. I
think they need to do wholehearted and intellectually respectable and morally
complex work to establish that they or we are the mainstream. I think in
short it's a moment to establish the immensity of this movement, not to up the
militancy, as some would argue, but to underscore the normalcy of this
commitment so that those who are in charge who are reckoning on their
political careers will take note.

I wouldn't want to say that this movement is going to have an easy time
standing in front of the Bush bulldozer. But there is no alternative than to
try.

GROSS: Todd Gitlin, thank you so much.

Prof. GITLIN: My pleasure, Terry.

GROSS: Todd Gitlin is the author of the book "Media Unlimited," which has
just come out in paperback. His next book, "Letters to a Young Activist,"
will be published in the spring. Gitlin is a professor of journalism and
sociology at Columbia University.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, more on the new peace movement. We talk with one of the
organizers of last Saturday's anti-war march in Washington, Mara
Verheyden-Hilliard. She's on the steering committee of the ANSWER coalition.
And we hear from Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of
Churches and co-chair of the new coalition Win Without War.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Mara Verheyden-Hilliard discusses the anti-war march
that was organized last Saturday and addresses some of the
criticism of the organizations taking part in the protest
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're looking at the new anti-war movement. My guest Mara Verheyden-Hilliard
is on the steering committee of the group that organized Saturday's peace
march in Washington, the ANSWER coalition. ANSWER stands for Act Now to Stop
War & End Racism. She's also a co-founder of the Partnership for Civil
Justice.

As we heard earlier in an interview with Todd Gitlin, ANSWER has been
criticized by some people within the peace movement for tying the movement to
extreme or fringy political positions that anti-war demonstrators are often
not even aware of. ANSWER has also been examined in several articles,
including one by Michelle Goldberg published by the Internet magazine Salon in
October which was headlined Peace Kooks: The New Anti-War Movement is in
Danger of Being Hijacked by Bizarre Extremist Groups. I talked with Mara
Verheyden-Hilliard about her group and Saturday's march.

What do you think are the strengths of a mass rally like the one you organized
in Washington, and what do you think are its limitations?

Ms. MARA VERHEYDEN-HILLIARD (ANSWER): Well, I think this weekend we saw
incredible mass opposition to the Bush administration's program of war and
aggression, and we believe that the administration itself is quite shocked and
is reeling from the lightning emergence of this massive anti-war movement.
The fact that we're seeing this type of turnout of a half a million people in
Washington, 200,000 in San Francisco, at this stage, before a new bombing
campaign, before a new invasion of Iraq, is really a historical moment.

GROSS: I just should mention that there's been various reports on the numbers
of people who turned out on Saturday. Your group is saying half a million.
I've read other estimates as well that were lower than that from both police
and journalists' estimates.

There were several other issues on the agenda in addition to preventing war
against Iraq on Saturday, issues that were addressed from the podium, such as
freeing Mumia Abu Jamal and saying that he's a political prisoner and a victim
of racism, and being in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Now I think
not everybody who opposes American intervention in Iraq would agree that Mumia
Abu Jamal is really a political prisoner or would agree with complete
solidarity with the Palestinian people. Many of the people at the march would
probably believe in a two-state solution in the Middle East or they would
support Israel. What would you say to those people who disagreed with other
things on the agenda that were spoken of from the podium but who saw
themselves as just being there in support of peace?

Ms. VERDEYEN-HILLIARD: I think everyone that was heard from the stage was
speaking out against the war. And we recognize that it is necessary, if you
are going to fight against war and militarism, that you must recognize the
fight against racism, and that racism, in fact, is a tool of militarism and
oppression, that you need racism in order to be able to convince people in the
United States that when children are being slaughtered in Afghanistan, their
lives are less valuable than children in the United States. You need racism
to convince people in the US that the lives of children that will be lost in
Iraq, and have been lost in Iraq from sanctions, are somehow less valuable
than lives in the United States.

And so we have many speakers who are coming from different struggles all
standing forward and standing up to say that they stand in solidarity against
the war, and that really shows the depth and breadth of opposition in the
United States.

GROSS: The Middle East is a very divisive issue, and I'm wondering why
include it in an agenda with war against Iraq? Many people who oppose the war
against Iraq wouldn't agree with a blanket statement of solidarity with the
Palestinian people. Many people would support Israel; others would support a
compromise, a two-state solution. It's hard to get people to agree on the
Middle East. Why undermine the consensus of the issue at hand, which is
preventing war with Iraq?

Ms. VERHEYDEN-HILLIARD: I don't think there's been any undermining of any
consensus because the proof is in the demonstration. And there were...

GROSS: But do you think a lot of people at that demonstration really had no
idea that the organizers of this particular march saw a connection between the
anti-war movement regarding Iraq and the right of return for the Palestinian
people?

Ms. VERHEYDEN-HILLIARD: The call for the demonstration, and what we all agree
on, is that we are fighting against a war in Iraq. And so many different
people who are coming out and who are speaking from so many different
backgrounds, many of whom are the victims of the US government's aggression
and military intervention and control, as well as the victims of US corporate
domination--are coming out and standing forward and standing shoulder to
shoulder. That's what's so powerful. That's what's making this so strong.

I mean, certainly we have, in our coalition and the people that were speaking
from the stage as well, representatives of youth and students who are talking
about the aspect of war and how it impacts them and their lives and their
funding, as well as their being killed as they're the ones who will be sent.
We had the labor community coming out in large force supporting this
demonstration, and we had religious groups coming out in force.

And I don't think that when a religious group comes out and supports anti-war
work and traces it back to their faith, be it a faith in--Christian faith,
that they're somehow then telling everyone that they must all agree with the
Christian faith. They're saying, `This is our background. We stand here in
solidarity.' When Muslim groups come out to the demonstration and they speak
of their beliefs, they are not telling everyone that they must worship the
same. They're saying, `This is the origin of our belief, and we are in
solidarity with the anti-war efforts.'

GROSS: Another sponsor of the peace march on Saturday was the International
Action Center, which was founded by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who
for years has been affiliated with many radical causes. Some of those causes
have struck many people as kind of goofy. He's a member of the International
Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic, the former head of Serbia who's now
being tried for war crimes. And the International Action Center also has
links to the Workers World Party.

And I just want to read something that David Corn wrote about the Workers
World Party in the LA Weekly a few months ago, an article about their
connections to a peace march. He said, `The Workers World Party is a small
political sect that years ago split from the Socialist Workers Party to
support the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. The party advocates socialist
revolution and abolishing private property. It's a fan of Fidel Castro's
regime in Cuba, and it hails North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il for preserving
his country's socialist system, which, according to the party's newspaper, has
kept North Korea,' quote, "from falling under the sway of the transnational
banks and corporations that dictate to most of the world," unquote. The party
has campaigned against the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President
Slobodan Milosevic. A recent Workers World editorial declared, "Iraq has done
absolutely nothing wrong."'

Are you comfortable with the connections to the Workers World Party?

Ms. VERHEYDEN-HILLIARD: I think it's unfortunate that you're quoting from an
article that is an extremely incorrect, inaccurate and really intended to be a
divisive and offensive caricature of a political group in the United States,
as well as of the people in our coalition who associate with others in our
coalition. And I think using that as a basis of fact itself really is quite
questionable.

Now if we want to step back and talk from a basis of reality, I think calling
former Attorney General Ramsey Clark `goofy' really also is a rather negative
reflection on even your questions at this point, to be honest, because former
Attorney General Ramsey Clark is recognized not only in the United States but
around the world as a man of remarkable principle and a man who has fought to
defend people who he felt required and were entitled to a defense, as we would
hope that everyone is. And he has fought particularly when there were
situations that he has felt that the US government is using its powers
unfairly and unjustly in a way that really diminishes the standing of the
United States worldwide, and he has sought to bring justice in that way. And
he's really--he's loved around the world as well as by many people in the
United States.

Now I think if we want to address the real basis of what David Corn's piece
is, and even sort of those questions like, `How do you feel about affiliating
with people in the Workers World Party?'--we all recognize that what that is.
That is basically classic McCarthyite Red-baiting. Now there are some people
in the International Action Center who are also in the Workers World Party,
and just because there are Marxists or socialists in an anti-war movement,
that shouldn't be incredibly shocking. I think all of us in our
coalition--and there are 11 major organizations who are on the steering
committee--have found that those in the International Action Center have been
really excellent partners in this coalition and have been really very
principled and great people to work with.

The nature of David Corn's article, and the point of that article, is to
divide and diminish an anti-war movement that he has had no part in building.
It's not even clear that he has an anti-war position. Frankly, he was writing
articles about Afghanistan that suggested he supported military intervention
there on a poor and absolutely destroyed country. Frankly, we repudiate any
type of, you know, demands for a purge of the movement. We find that to be
really rather offensive and quite regressive.

GROSS: I know you're comparing the question to McCarthyism, but I think your
critics would probably say that the problem isn't that they are afraid you're
going to try to take over the world, but rather that affiliating with
communism now, and the Communist parties that are represented within the
coalition, are just so irrelevant, at this point; so fringy and irrelevant.

Ms. VERHEYDEN-HILLIARD: Well, I don't know which Communist parties you
believe are in the coalition. And when you talk about `fringy and
irrelevant,' the relevancy of this coalition and its work is proven by the
fact that we have done the mass organizing to build a really powerful anti-war
movement in coalition with many people from many different backgrounds:
Republicans, Democrats, Green Party members, anarchists, Independents, people
with no political affiliation. And that's what a real, true, broad movement
is. I mean, obviously, there are many who sit on the sidelines, including
former activists who are kind of armchair activists at this point, who among
them haven't organized one person.

And, frankly, I think the line of questioning is really interesting and
somewhat ludicrous. I mean, here we are, a few days after the largest
demonstration against a war in US history, at a critical moment in time, on
the eve of war, when we are trying to stop the slaughter of Iraqi people and
stop US service people from being killed needlessly and sent back in body
bags, and there are some folks out there who are whining that there might be
Marxists in the movement or that Mumia Abu Jamal has an anti-war message that
is shared. I think that we need to decide--as our coalition has, I would hope
others would decide that what the real objective here is right now, and that's
fighting a war.

GROSS: Is your group opposed to war of all sorts? Is there ever a time that
you would endorse American military intervention?

Ms. VERHEYDEN-HILLIARD: Our group is a coalition of many different
organizations around the United States, and we have come together to stand for
Act Now to Stop War & End Racism, and that is our view, which is that we are
in opposition to the Bush administration's war drive and their efforts for
global conquest, and we recognize the need to merge that struggle with the
struggle against racism and oppression, because racism is a tool of war and
militarism. That's what we have consensed on, and that is the position of our
coalition.

GROSS: I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. VERHEYDEN-HILLIARD: Thank you.

GROSS: Mara Verheyden-Hilliard is on the steering committee of the ANSWER
coalition, which organized Saturday's anti-war march in Washington.

Coming up, Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches
and co-chair of the new coalition Win Without War. Both groups are organizing
against a war with Iraq.

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Bob Edgar discusses his opposition to the war against
Iraq
TERRY GROSS, host:

We're looking at the new anti-war movement. My guest, Bob Edgar is the
general secretary of the National Council of Churches, which opposes a US war
with Iraq. He's also the co-chair of the coalition Win Without War. Both
groups have been organizing anti-war demonstrations.

In December, Edgar went to Iraq with a delegation to carry out what he's
described as `humanitarian inspections.' On Martin Luther King Day, the
National Council of Churches held a prayer service and procession at the
National Cathedral in Washington. The National Council of Churches helped
organize Saturday's anti-war march in Washington. I asked Edgar if he's
comfortable with the politics of the ANSWER coalition which organized the
march.

Former Representative BOB EDGAR (Democrat, Pennsylvania; General Secretary,
National Council of Churches): Well, I think it's a real important question.
And my experience in the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and now in the new century is
that movements like the movement Dr. King had to move us away from segregation
to civil rights and the anti-war movement of the '60s gathered around it a
large coalition of people, some of whom I would feel comfortable with and some
of whom would make me nervous. And one of the difficult things about working
to stop this war in Iraq is that in order to build enough momentum, you've got
to work with a lot of different coalitions and coalition partners.

The umbrella under which most of this is operating is a group called United
For Peace, and as part of that, the ANSWER group is a component of it. A
group of us who are part of that United For Peace, who find the tactics that
go too far to one extreme or the other, formed a subset of coalition partners
called Win Without War. While our people show up at these larger rallies, we
have some difficulty. Often, it's Al Sharpton who gets to speak rather than
the Episcopal bishop of Washington or the United Methodist bishop of
Washington. And ANSWER tends to focus on names that they think will draw a
crowd. And I believe that while I respect their ability to gather folks, they
don't speak for all of us, and that's why we ended this weekend of peacemaking
with a very prayerful, thoughtful prayer vigil which may speak much more
closely to middle America as opposed to some of the issues that are raised by
some of these peace partners who have other agendas.

GROSS: Are you worried about those other agendas, and are you worried that
the leadership, like the ANSWER coalition, is going to misrepresent the agenda
of the larger group of people within the peace movement, or that it will make
it possible for large peace demonstrations like last Saturday's to be
discredited?

Mr. EDGAR: I'm not so worried about it. On Saturday, I know there were
people demonstrating who were from a group called Peaceful Tomorrows. These
are made up of people whose family members were killed in 9/11, and I respect
the fact that they went over to Iraq and they said, `We've had enough victims.
Let's find another way.' Present on Saturday were thousands of average,
ordinary citizens; housewives and young men and women who simply can't find
justification for this war.

So, yes, we would hope that some of the more radical groups would modify some
of their tactics. We don't think that it's a problem to find other means and
venues even inside of big demonstrations like the one that took place on
Saturday. And, frankly, I think that it's unheard of to have as broad a
coalition against this war before the war even starts.

GROSS: Now you're coming at this from an interesting perspective, because
you're not only the head of the National Council of Churches, you're a former
congressman from Pennsylvania, a former Democratic congressman. You served
six terms, and you were in Congress when the war in Vietnam ended. Can you
talk a little bit about what impact you think peace demonstrations had on
Congress during the Vietnam era?

Mr. EDGAR: My experience there was that in the '60s and early '70s, anyone
who opposed the war was thought of as un-American, and it took organized
religion a long time to come to its opposition. When we shut down the war in
April of 1975, I was there on the House floor. We celebrated shutting it
down, but we shut it down many, many years too late, and with a lot of pulling
of institutional religion.

What's different today is that those religious traditions that took so long
back in the '60s and early '70s are already out in front in opposition to this
war, and many of them across the United States have said, `We're not going to
do that again. We're not going to sit back. And we think it is American, it
is being a good citizen to stand up and speak out when we see injustice or
when we oppose something.' So I think there's a difference, and I think the
difference comes from experience.

GROSS: My guest is Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of
Churches, and co-chair of the coalition Win Without War. More after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're talking about the new peace movement. My guest, Bob Edgar, is
the general secretary of the National Council of Churches, which opposes a US
war with Iraq. He also co-chairs the coalition Win Without War.

Do you consider yourself categorically opposed to war, or was this a difficult
decision to make about the war against Iraq?

Mr. EDGAR: Well, I'm not categorically opposed to all wars. I think if
there's a nation that is subjugating its people, we ought to intervene. I
think we should have intervened in the Rwanda situation when it was clear that
millions of people were being hacked to death, and I wonder why we did not
intervene in that effort to at least stop the violence.

But I think wars have to be just and we need justification. So to answer your
specific question, if Saddam Hussein was lobbying weapons at someone, if he
was invading a neighbor, there could be some justification for war. But I
think this president has won the war with Iraq. We ought to celebrate the
victory. The inspectors are in; we really ought to let them inspect.

GROSS: If the UN weapons inspectors do find weapons of mass destruction,
would you then support bombing Iraq?

Mr. EDGAR: No. I think if the weapons inspectors find weapons of mass
destruction, they should destroy them.

GROSS: And they might think that there's others that they're not going to
find, and that...

Mr. EDGAR: Then they should keep looking.

GROSS: ...Saddam Hussein, if he stays in power, will use them.

Mr. EDGAR: Just finding the weapons isn't justification for going to war.
There are 20 or 30 nations that have weapons of mass destruction. You got
Pakistan and India that are seven minutes apart by missile to each other's
capital with nuclear weapons, and we've had a mixed history with both Pakistan
and India. I think it's a very dangerous precedent to say we're going to bomb
any nation that has weapons of mass destruction. I think that, clearly, we
can have more confidence now that we have inspectors there. And if they find
canisters, as they did a few weeks ago, destroy them, move on, look for more,
add more inspectors. But I don't think that the use of military force or war
is the answer to every diplomatic question that we face in our world today.

GROSS: You were in Iraq in early January on a mission that you described as
`humanitarian inspection.' And I'm wondering if you saw anything there that
you didn't expect to see.

Mr. EDGAR: I didn't expect to see mothers huddled with their children next to
incubators that were broken in the hospital. I didn't expect to see Bishop
Mel Talbert of the United Methodist Church at a Chaldean Catholic Church on
New Year's Eve bringing in the new year by singing "We Shall Overcome" and
having the congregation respond. I was impressed with the Muslim and
Christian people who, together, felt they could live in peace with each other.
And I was very much moved by the fact that Baghdad is the size of Paris, and
if we do go to war, there are going to be deaths, thousands and thousands of
deaths; not just of our military people, but those very beautiful faces that
we saw on the children that we met at the schools and hospitals and churches
who are going to be bombed.

GROSS: Bob Edgar, you're the head of the National Council of Churches, and so
you're head of a group of religious people. President Bush is a religious
person, and he completely disagrees with your point of view on Iraq. The
terrorists who struck us on September 11th, they were pious people. You might
disagree with their interpretation of Islam, but they professed to have deep
faith. So people on all sides of this right now profess deep faith about
religion. I'm not sure what my question is, but I'm sure this is something
you've been thinking about a lot.

Mr. EDGAR: Well, let me say two things. One is I think all of us suffer
from our fundamentalists, whether our fundamentalists are Muslim or Christian
or Jewish. We're living in a world of violence because our fundamentalists
have said and acted in violent ways. Most of the major
religions--particularly Islam, Christianity and Judaism--grow out of the roots
of Abraham. Abraham is the father of all three traditions. And I think it's
important for those of us who find ourself with moderate and progressive views
within the broader religious community to both speak publicly and privately
with each other and find those common areas of peace and justice. Islam,
Christianity and Judaism all lift high the value of peacemaking, love of the
planet, care of our brothers and sisters and particularly care of our
children. And I think that it's incumbent, particularly here in the United
States, for Christians, Jews and Muslims to model different behavior. If we
allow our world to be propelled into moving to the direction of our
fundamentalists, we're going to find ourself in a very violent century and in
a very religious confrontation that all of us will be losers because of that.

GROSS: Well, Bob Edgar, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. EDGAR: It's great to be with you, and I look forward to talking to you in
the future.

GROSS: Bob Edgar is the general secretary of the National Council of
Churches, and co-chair of the new coalition Win Without War.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

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