Los Angeles demands ‘Hands off Syria’

Hundreds of anti-war and social justice activists, representing many groups, including an organization of Syrian activists, gathered in unity to oppose the growing U.S. war moves against Syria on June 8 in Los Angeles at the Federal Building in Westwood.

The action was inspired by a statement issued several weeks prior by the United National Antiwar Coalition and the International Action Center, which urged actions against U.S. war on Syria. It also addressed the confusion of many in the anti-war movement in the U.S. who seem to forget both the profit motive dictating imperialist aims and the horror resulting from U.S. war, most recently evidenced by the U.S./NATO assault on Libya.

Arab Americans for Syria, responsible for the first demonstration against war on Syria here in Los Angeles, were approached about helping to build a unified demonstration that would especially help anti-war activists gain clarity on what the U.S., NATO and Israel are doing in Syria. The action was to focus on the U.S. coordination and control of war efforts in the region. The organizers understood that strengthening the anti-war movement here in the U.S. is essential in helping to halt the U.S. war against Syria.

Traditional anti-war groups and those fighting the domestic bosses’ war on workers, including immigrant rights, anti-police brutality and student organizations, joined the initial call for unified actions by AA4Syria, Answer-L.A., the Union of Progressive Iranians, the International League of Peoples Struggles and the IAC. Organizers publicized the protest for three weeks. Two hours before it began, however, a pro-Shah Iranian grouping tried to take over the area and confuse the message of the day’s demonstration with graphic anti-China and anti-Iran propaganda.

Protest organizers wisely allowed AA4Syria and the Union of Progressive Iranians to take the leadership in defusing this rightist challenge. And, in a symbolic foretelling of the future, all the organizations united to disperse almost all the pro-Shah group’s signs. This allowed the message, “No U.S./NATO/Israeli war on Syria,” to ring loud and clear for the media and in this highly visible area of Los Angeles, on the most traveled intersection in the city.

During the speakout, Joshua Jimenez, a Filipino activist, hip-hop artist and regional coordinator of the International League of Peoples Struggles, spoke, performed and introduced speakers and performers from the BAYAN-USA organizations Anakbayan and Habi-Arts. All youth, these activists linked the anti-imperialist struggle and solidarity with the Syrian people to the struggles in the Philippines and here in the U.S.

So did Keyanna Celina, a Black woman organizer with the L.A. Coalition for Community Control Over the Police, who came to the demonstration immediately after participating in a Trayvon Martin solidarity protest in South Central Los Angeles. She effectively and artistically united the struggles with a poem titled, “Beware of Your Local Zimmerman.”

Mike Prysner from the Answer Coalition led chants and denounced the U.S. war effort, which uses proxies in Syria. He linked those proxies to the pro-Shah Iranians who were still within earshot and trying to dilute the message of the protest. Prysner exposed their aim of aiding U.S. imperialism.

A unity statement to be used to further clarity and unity in action against U.S. war drives had been circulated and revised amongst all participating organizations prior to the demonstration. At one point in the protest, those participating organizations gathered around the microphone, where the statement was read and all unanimously affirmed their approval of the statement. (See accompanying article.)

Besides the groups named above, supporting organizations included Unión del Barrio; School of the Americas Watch-L.A.; the Los Angeles Trade Technical College MEChA Club; the Southern California Immigration Coalition; the Peace and Freedom Party; UPWARD (Uniting Peace With Actions, Respect and Dignity); the Inter-Communal Solidarity Committee; and the Jobs & Education, Not War Club of the L.A. Trade Technical College.

The event was emceed by the International Action Center and AA4Syria.

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