Mobilizers are encouraging folks to sign a petition (link) asking President Obama to send a representative to the U.N. World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Currently, the U.S. administration is boycotting the conference.
Dear President Barack Obama, As people of conscience in the United States struggling for a socially, economically and ecologically healthier world free of racism, colonialism, and militarism, we write to respectfully urge you to attend the upcoming Durban Review Conference on Racism from 20-24 April 2009.
Your election marks a historic moment in a nation founded upon the slavery and genocide of people of color. We, along with millions everywhere, are full of hope that this legacy will finally be redressed. First Nation, people of African descent, working class people, immigrants to this country, and people from colonized countries throughout the world all have suffered for far too long. We hope that your inauguration will usher a new dawn on which the US government will respond to calls to tackle historic and current injustices that stand in the way of change.
You were brought to power by an unprecedented chorus of grassroots voices, a unique gathering of activism and resources. We honor your experiences as a grassroots organizer working for change in the lives of working class people of color. Like many others who voted for you (or wanted to but couldn’t because we are not US citizens), we were inspired by your call for dialogue on foreign policy, and your opposition to the politics of torture and preemptive wars. We rejoiced in your victory – our victory – against racism and war.
Your participation in the Durban Review Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related intolerance (Geneva, Switzerland, April 2009) will reaffirm your commitment to these principles. We are aware that great pressure is being exerted on your administration to boycott the Durban Review Conference; that congress has passed a resolution in support of this boycott. Lobbyists on behalf of the State of Israel are wrong to claim that the first Durban Conference was anti-Semitic because it held Israel accountable for its racist laws and policies. Nothing could be farther from the truth: anti-Semitism today is fueled by U.S. policies that apply double standards in its relationship to Israel and allow Israel to violate international law with impunity. The failure to distinguish between criticizing Israeli government policies and anti-Semitism on the one hand, and perpetuating, the misleading image of Jews as united in support of Israel’s unconscionable violence against the Palestinian people, on the other, feeds into anti-Jewish hatred and incites anti-Semitism today.
Israel must obey international law like any other state. Israel has to end its occupation of Palestinian lands, its dismemberment of the country into Bantustans, its apartheid-like laws and policies against Arab people, and its theft of Palestinian land and resources. Only recently, the majority of the international community has raised its voice in protest as Israel waged a savage war against the Palestinian people in Gaza. The U.S. has for too long condoned Israel’s disregard for international law, settlement buildup, and bad faith negotiations. There has never been a more urgent time for the U.S. to join the international community to effect a serious change.
We stand in with the world’s majority who demand an end to the Israeli siege on Gaza and who had the courage to break ties with Israel—the leadership of Latin America, the Arab World, and Turkey; the UN General Assembly and its President, D’escoto Brockmann; Sir Gerald Kaufmann from the British House of Commons, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and the millions of voices demanding that Israel comply with international law.
To ignore Durban is to align with those who justify Israel’s racism, human rights violations, occupation and apartheid-like policies; and to allow its siege of Gaza. A boycott of the Durban global dialogue towards a united and principled stand against racism could only send the wrong message that the U.S. is not committed t to overcoming its history of racism and the impact that history has had in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, as well as on communities of color within the United States. A United States boycott of the Durban Review will squarely put the U.S. in opposition to the global aspirations to transform current conditions of racism and xenophobia.
US boycott of the Durban Review will precipitate a speedy disillusionment in the US and around the world with the commitment of your administration to developing policy that is qualitatively different from those of the previous administration. Ignoring the message of Durban would also undermine and alienate the organizers of the conference who are looking to the principled engagement of your administration against those whose power is based on promoting and enforcing racist divisions within their populations. We hope that your administration can show that the United States is ready to participate in international dialogue aimed at ending its legacy of colonization, slavery, racism and xenophobia. We are conscious that, because of your history and experience, you are well aware of the nature and impact of US policies in the Global South.
From amplifying the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina, through the terrorizing of immigrant communities, and to the continued destruction of indigenous lands, peoples and cultures, harmful U.S. government policies also reflect the culpability of the United States in perpetuating racism and injustice throughout the world. The lavish funding for war and the generous military and political aid to regimes that disrespect human rights have been part and parcel of a governmental outlook that is oblivious to the needs of health care, education, employment and housing.
To fulfill the hope you have inspired and which brought you to office, we urge you and your Administration to:
Participate in the Durban Review Conference in Geneva from 20-24 of April 2009.
Consider deeply felt and urgent demands of the Durban Review for US acknowledgement and repudiation of past racist crimes and injustices, in particular against First Nations and African people, as well as of current racist and xenophobic policies enforced by the US within and beyond its borders.
Engage in critical dialogue on the de-institutionalization of racism within the US, and the ways in which war economy can be diverted into peace economy.
Shift the US policies toward recognizing the legitimate concerns of participants from communities devastated by war and occupation and listen with an open mind to their demands for justice, dignity and peace.
In your speech at a Howard University Convocation in 2007, you asked the audience to:
Be strong and have courage in the face of injustice. Be strong and have courage in the face of prejudice and hatred. Be strong and have courage in the face of joblessness and helplessness and hopelessness. Be strong and have courage, in the face of our doubts and fears, in the face of skepticism, in the face of cynicism, in the face of a mighty river.
We ask you to be strong in the face of these challenges and to trust the strength of your grassroots base. We ask you to stand up against those who would keep this country and the world shackled by to policies that harm us all. Stand with us as we join hands to support you as a President of a United States that can leave behind racism, colonial oppression and war and that rejoins the world community for justice, dignity and peace. (source)