Saturday, March 24, 2007

Town meeting on the Iraq War - March 24

Antiwar leaflet, Oakland Center for Peace and Justice March 2007

As a resident of California's 9th Congressional district, my Congressional Representative is Barbara Lee, I'm proud to say. She was in the district for a constituent meeting on March 24, a meeting focused on the Iraq War and billed as a "Townhall on Iraq". It was held in the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, an independent theater whose owner often features liberal political slogans on his marquee along with the movie titles.

Barbara Lee spoke, of course, and there were also presentations by several guest speakers: Sean Penn, the actor, antiwar activist (and Madonna's ex); Shawn McNeil, an Iraq War Marine veteran and activist with Veterans Against the Iraq War; Stephanie Martinez, a 16-year-old high school student in Oakland who volunteers for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Center; Betty Cox, a painter and teacher who has been active supporting war resister Lt. Aaron Watada; and, Martha Winnacker of Military Families Speak Out, whose son fought in Iraq as a Marine.

Late in the two-hour meeting (which started late so was really more like 1 1/2 hours), the moderator recognized Daniel Ellsberg, who had just come in and sat down in the audience. So he was invited to come up and speak, as well.

Not surprisingly, a lot of the discussion was about last week antiwar vote in the House. Barbara is one of the leaders of the 70-member House Out of Iraq Caucus, and she and five other caucus members voted against the Pelosi compromise that passed Friday. She explained that she has always voted against any funding bill that would provide funds to continue the Iraq War.

But she and other speakers were careful to point out that Friday's antiwar vote was a important moment for the antiwar movement, not least because it represented a recognition by the House major of the need for some kind of timelines for withdrawal. There was some criticism of the House Democratic leadership for not allowing a vote on Barbara's proposal for full US troop withdrawal by the end of 2007. But Winnancker and Ellsberg both praised her for encouraging enough members of the Out of Iraq Caucus to vote for the Pelosi measure to get it passed in the House.

I was impressed with the level of seriousness among the speakers and from Barbara herself about getting the US out of the Iraq War as soon as possible. And also by the realistic and practical attitude about the House vote last week. Ellsberg spoke mostly about that vote and said that he would have found Barbara's position on that vote very difficult, but he emphasized that the measure that was passed was important in putting the House on the record against continuing the war. And that it was definitely better than the Bush plan of continuing the war for "50 more years".

But he also stressed that the position of the Out of Iraq Caucus is substantively different than the Pelosi bill that did pass, not just because the compromise's timeline extends to 2008. The Pelosi compromise included various exceptions to the troop pullout, like "support" troops, for example.

Everyone also recognized that Bush was veto this particular bill and no one was really predicting what would happen in the next round. First, the Senate has to act and then it goes to a conference committee to be put into final form. Ellsberg noted that, realistically, some funding bill would pass without the pullout timelines included.

There were several impeachment activists in the audience who periodically help up "Impeach" signs. Barbara noted at the end that Rep. Dennis Kucinich has "opened a discussion" on impeachment, implying that she was very open to the notion. Ellsberg made a strong point that the Congress needed to start an impeachment investigation. He said it was important for Congress to go on record before the end of this administration that the administration's actions should be considered "high crimes and misdemeanors", the Constitutional standard for impeachment of the President.

Sean Penn was also emphatic about the need to recognize the criminal nature of the administration's actions in the Iraq War. He mentioned the media blathering on the occasion of Gerald Ford's death about how his pardon of Nixon was so great for national healing. But, he asked, when we look at today's situation, is it really such a good thing that the deterrent effect of the law was blocked in Nixon's case?

He also said, "Let's show the world we can fire this administration and put them in [Cheney]ing jail!" That was quite an applause line, and Barbara herself clearly appreciated it.

Barbara ended the meeting with an impassioned plea for adequate health care for veterans.

There was a march afterward to the Oakland City Hall that I didn't attend. Unfortunately, that wasn't as well publicized as the constituent meeting itself. More speeches and artistic performances were planned at City Hall.

Antiwar leaflet, Oakland Center for Peace and Justice March 2007

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