Illinois peace and justice coalition gets to work

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Nearly 150 delegates from about 80 organizations, half of them from outside the Chicago metro area, met here April 1 to found the Illinois Coalition for Peace and Justice.

“We’re united here today because we think the war in Iraq is wrong and that it must be stopped,” said Mary Shesgreen of Fox Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice in her welcome to the delegates. “And we want to see the antiwar movement take root in every little town and hamlet in Illinois.”

Before the day was over, the group adopted action proposals that included placing, wherever possible, referendums against the Iraq war on the November ballot in towns and cities across the state.

Less than two weeks later, organizers reported success in getting a referendum question on the ballot in at least seven townships in northern Illinois, including Aurora, Berwyn, DeKalb, Geneva, Oak Park, Riverside and Sycamore.

The question reads, “Shall the United States Government immediately begin an orderly and rapid withdrawal of all of its military personnel from Iraq, beginning with the National Guard and Reserves?” The language is similar to ballot initiatives that were passed by 24 communities in Wisconsin on April 4.

Efforts to get such measures on ballots elsewhere in Illinois are continuing.

The conference in Champaign also voted to support a “Walk for Justice and Peace” from Springfield, the state’s capital, to North Chicago, a distance of 250 miles, beginning on Memorial Day.

It resolved to intensify pressure on Congress through a “sustained campaign” of petitioning, vigils, and encampments outside the offices of elected officials to “immediately reverse and stop the White House war effort” and to bring the troops home.

The group also heard calls to support the national peace march on April 29 in New York City and to support antiwar candidates in the 2006 elections.

James Thindwa, executive director of Chicago Jobs with Justice, gave the keynote.

“The struggle against this war is very important for workers,” Thindwa said. “After all, it’s workers who are fighting and dying in Iraq, and the money that’s being spent to wage this war is taking money away from health care, education and other human needs.”

He urged the delegates to draw upon the best traditions of the civil rights movement, including its strong links with religious congregations, to build a powerful force to stop “this illegal, illegitimate and useless war.”

More information about the coalition’s decisions and projects can be found at ilcpj.org.