Strife Among Peace-Makers:

Baltimore Anti-War Coalition Dissolves Itself

by Alice Cherbonnier
At a meeting on March 27, the Baltimore Anti-War Coalition voted 13-4 to dissolve the organization.

According to Barbara Larcom, Interim Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee-Middle Atlantic Region, one of the Coalition's member groups, "The Coalition was dissolved because its structure and internal dynamics were not conducive to focusing on the important work of peacemaking which lies ahead." Larcom was designated by the Coalition to be the spokesperson regarding the dissolution decision.

Larcom said member groups will continue to work together to oppose war and foster peace by addressing the roots of hatred and militarism. "In particular, we will cooperate to bring thousands of Baltimoreans to Washington, DC, on April 20 for the national Mobilization for peace and justice," she said in a prepared announcement to the press.

Sidestepping the internal dynamics that led to the Coalition's dissolution--an action that took some members by surprise, and, according to several sources, had to do with ousting one vociferous member, A. Robert Kaufman, whose presence was felt by the 13 who voted for dissolution to be obstructive--Larcom sought to focus on the future in making the announcement.

"We believe as strongly as ever that war doesn't work," she said. "Violence simply brings more hatred and violence toward us from people we've labeled as our enemies..... [W]e need to listen to others with different viewpoints."

Bob Kaufman isn't buying it.

"If these thirteen people didn't want to work in the organization, why didn't they resign or become inactive?" retorted Kaufman. "Why should they want to destroy the entire organization? This amounts to a nonviolent suicide bombing. If they felt the group was dysfunctional, why couldn't they struggle to make it functional?"

Kaufman, 71, a longtime political and social activist, has been characterized as disruptive and abrasive by other local progressive organizations in the past, such as Central America Solidarity Committee (CASC) and the local chapter of the Green Party.

"My life is very Kafka-esque when it comes to dealing with Left-sectarians," said Kaufman, "who, for the past forty years have, with minor exceptions, preferred to be cloistered in their own little worlds while having practically no impact on the rest of the community. These people will often protest that they 'agree with Bob's politics,' but they don't work with me or the City Wide Coalition on these politics, and their sole excuse for not 'walking the walk' is that 'Bob's a son of a bitch'."

Kaufman has been a prime mover in the City Wide Insurance Coalition's juggernaut that has organized 180 community associations, trade unions, and ministerial alliances around the issue of establishing a publicly-held insurance coalition that would provide lower-cost auto and home insurance for city residents. He's also garnered widespread support for medicalizing currently illegal drugs through the City Wide Coalition.

Part of the problem, Kaufman acknowledges, is that he's a New York-style person in laid-back Baltimore. He doesn't think this should be a sticking point. "You're supposed to accept people with all sorts of backgrounds and perspectives. The fact that I'm not tolerated shows these people are more interested in their own comfort than in getting the job done. There's a lot of people who see themselves as pacifist or progressives who are very intolerant, or who are masters of passive-aggression."

Short of shooting him in the head, Kaufman was asked how he could be silenced in meetings. "Had I really been disruptive, the chair could order me out of the meeting," he says. "This has never happened to me in all these years. I only speak when recognized." He denies that he interrupts other people. "How in the world could someone who was overtly disruptive have recruited 180 organizations into the Coalition?"

Kaufman plans to organize a new group, tentatively called The September 11 Terrorism Prevention Organization. "Anybody who wants to can join," he says. "Just call me at 410-728-8611." Explaining the rationale for the name, he adds, "The only way to prevent terrorism against ourselves is to deny potential terrorists any reason to want to terrorize us, and to end US support of torture- and terror-dictatorships which manufacture and export suicide bombers."

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This story was published on April 4, 2002.