Grassroots Continue to Pressure Democrats to Stand Up to Bush

On Tuesday, President Bush vetoed legislation which authorized money to continue the war in Iraq but contained loosely-defined deadlines for withdrawal of some troops. The president stated, “I recognize that many Democrats saw this bill as an opportunity to make a political statement about their opposition to the war. They sent their message, and now it is time to put politics behind us and support our troops with the funds they need.”

Congressional Democrats now have to decide on their next action, always a difficult step for politicians facing an upcoming election.

Senator Russ Feingold, one of the more consistently anti-war voices in Congress, said that his colleagues were stymied by “the fear that somehow they will be accused of doing something that will put the troops at risk. The desire for political comfort is still overwhelming the best judgment even of some Democrats.”

Nadya Williams, a San Francisco activist and an associate member of Veterans for Peace who works closely with that group, told me that she thinks anti-war activists have to step up pressure on Democrats. “Bush’s claim that we need to ‘put politics behind us and support our troops’ is completely absurd. The way to support the troops is not to continue to let them fight an illegal war that most of the world stood up to oppose before it happened and which has gotten more bloody and pointless by the day. The idea that allowing soldiers to go on killing and getting killed is somehow ‘supporting’ them is just beyond me. Look at all the scandals involving Halliburton, the company that Cheney is still profiting from his involvement with, overcharging U.S. taxpayers billions for work that was never done. Then take a look at how shameful this Administration is about withholding support for veterans once they are back in the U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs to provide leadership in standing up to this disingenuous rhetoric and say ‘enough of compromising with an unjust war, you aren’t going to define the terms for us anymore.”‘

Cindy Sheehan, who became an anti-war activist after her son Casey was killed while serving in Iraq, and subsequently attracted international attention for setting up a peace camp outside President Bush’s Texas ramp, has called for a “10,000 Mother of a March” march in Washington on May 14, one day after Mother’s Day. On her website, Sheehan writes, “The time for being polite to our war-mongering politicians and organizations which support them is over. We mothers have to stand up and put our bodies on the line for peace and humanity. Marches on the weekends are not effective, we need to shut the city of DC down! We will surround Congress and demand an end to this evil occupation and refuse to leave until the Congressional Leadership agrees with us, or throws us in jail!”

Sheehan’s fellow activist Tina Richards, a member of Military Families Speak Out whose son Cloy did two tours of duty in Iraq and has been found 80% disabled by the Veterans Administration, will take part in that march and is organizing a lobbying campaign to pressure members of Congress to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Kevin Zeese, director of the anti-war project Democracy Rising, is helping spearhead that work in Washington. He writes, “We want peace advocates to come and join us not only in traditional lobbying but in ‘extraordinary lobbying.’ The ‘Summer of Action’ will build on the successful efforts of activists in DC and around the country who have been engaging in ‘extraordinary lobbying’ by occupying offices, protesting in the Halls of Congress and sending a consistent message to end the war. It will build on the Occupation Project, Voices for Creative Non-Violence, and the Declaration of Peace.”

In San Francisco, David Hartsough of the Bay Area Declaration of Peace campaign has been organizing monthly “Die-Ins”, where activists lie down and block public entrances in memory of war dead, at the city’s Federal Building. Hartsough told me that at the last protest, on May 3, “There were about 15 prepared to be arrested, but only five were arrested. They chose not to arrest the rest so we essentially closed down all the doors to the Federal Building on one side from about 1:30 – 430pm.” Looking forward, Hartsough said, “We will continue to do Die Ins the first Thursday of each month until our government brings the troops home.”

Bay Area resident Toby Blome, who works with the peace group CodePink, is equally committed to continuing protests demanding that Nancy Pelosi take a tougher line on Bush’s wars. Blome told me, “Nancy Pelosi said recently, ‘As a mother I will exhaust every remedy for peace.’ But as a mother I am outraged that so many remedies go untouched. It is Nancy Pelosi’s congressional responsibility to impeach the war criminals running our country. Impeachment is the way to peace. Pelosi must stop funding Bush’s illegal war and support Barbara Lee’s amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations bill that will bring the troops home promptly and safely.”

Blome is also committed to keeping at her anti-war organizing, including helping pull together a monthly march across the Golden Gate Bridge in opposition to the Iraq war. The next march will take place on Mother’s Day. Blome explained that the May 13 initiative “will dramatize the loss and suffering of all children victimized by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the Iraqi children, the children in uniform, the children of parents sent off to war.”

As Congressional Democrats negotiate with Bush on funding for the Iraq war after finding themselves unable to override Bush’s veto, it remains to be seen how far they will go in supporting the clear anti-war sentiments displayed by voters in the recent mid-term elections. Continued anti-war demonstrations around the country may be a key factor in keeping those sentiments fresh in the minds of the Democrats.

Ben Terrall is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, In These Times, Counterpunch, Lip Magazine, and other publications. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Ben, or visit Ben's website.