On a bright, sunny fall Monday, November 23, in downtown Oakland, Congresswoman Lee emerged from the Federal Building to a big pink greeting committee, as codepinkers from the East Bay waved "Barbara Lee Still Speaks for Me!" signs and called out, "Welcome home! We love you!" Inge of Berkeley rushed forward to present the 9th district rep with three red roses, which Lee accepted with a radiant smile.
A crowd of about 200, including many longtime peace activists, clergymembers, community organizers and indy media reporters filled in the Federal Building courtyard off Clay Street.
Before Lee's speech, Sharon Cornu, the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Alameda Labor Council, welcomed the gathering, talked about labor support for ending the wars, and briefly introduced three distinguished men: Paul Cox of Veterans for Peace and Agent Orange Response organizer; Tom Hayden, author, SDS founder and former 20-year member of the California state legislature; and actor-activist-philanthropist Danny Glover.Cox's remarks were focused on the comparisons between Vietnam and Afghanistan. He began with a history review, saying just as Vietnam did not begin with Johnson, the president most identified with that war, but with Eisenhower, so the US war in Afghanistan did not begin with Obama or even Bush, but with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's National Security Advisor, who pushed the funding the Afghan mujahideen ("now our enemies"). Cox continued, "The war is widening, and immoral" Our economy is in the toilet, more people are behind on their mortgages, healthcare costs are going up!" He offered a brief critique of HR 3699 [http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-3699], which has no timeline for exit, no controls over the CIA, and no reparations for the Afghan people. However, it is a place to start and he praised the Congresswoman for her courage.
"Barbara Lee represents the noble district of Oakland and Berkeley," Tom Hayden said with a grin, adding, "She was right [on the wars] ahead of time" HR 3699 does have teeth"" [as it would cut off funding, not just register objection to the escalation.] Hayden called for Obama to reject "the long war doctrine of 50 years," which "imagines voters not yet born supporting it!" If the US escalates in Afghanistan, the projected US troop fatalities would be 1100 or more, and wars will be paid for by future generations. He mentioned the outrage of the 32% tuition and fee increase in the University of California system to boos. Barbara Lee nodded as Hayden said that she and others in Congress can pull Obama, "who represents the center," toward the progressive direction, countering the pull to the right.
To loud applause, Danny Glover said in his distinctive baritone: "We're talking about a war that destabilizes a region forever." He praised the continuity between Congresswoman Lee's antiwar stand and her record of supporting social justice movements as a citizen as well as an elected officeholder. She continues Martin Luther King's message of transforming values, which Glover said must start with citizens, "but especially with those who represent us in the Congress and elsewhere." We must have a transformation of American values, Glover emphasized.
As the audience clapped, cheered, waved our pink signs and called out support, Lee took the podium and thanked all of us: "Thank you for keeping hope alive" this is the most diverse and progressive district in the country!" Turning to Paul Cox, she said, "I'm a daughter of a vet" I love the troops and we must take care of them!"
Looking out over the crowd, Lee continued: "I stand here, as you do, to bring the era of open-ended war to a close. I knew then, three days after the 9/11 attack, that the Authorization for Use of Military Force [click here would be used as a blank check for war." She advocated for "smart national security, including nuclear disarmament" as specified in the bill by her close colleague Lynn Woolsey [http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:H.RES.363:].
"It's time we made some noise -- we need the street heat!" Lee then went through a timeline of what she and other progressive Democrats have been doing to push Obama to end the war in Afghanistan. It began last February with an open letter to the president from herself, Woolsey and Waters. In June there was a vote on an amendment for an exit strategy; it went down to defeat but 138 members [of the House of Reps] voted yes." In September, 53 congressmembers wrote an open letter to Obama opposing the escalation in Afghanistan that happened then. And in October, the Congressional Black Caucus called for a 3-part program for Afghanistan, including comprehensive diplomacy, economic development for Afghans, and an exit strategy. Most recently, Lee has put forth HR 3699. "Help us build the list of co-signers!" she urged.
The congresswoman thanked the president for "dithering" as it's been called in the media. "He's right to take his time" and "it is our shared responsibility to raise concerns." She made her case against US military involvement in the Central Asian country by focusing on three points:
"There is no military solution to the problems"; "It's not in our national security interest"; and "It fuels the insurgency."
Lee has met with Matthew Hoh, the Senior Foreign Service officer and former Marine captain who resigned in protest over the US policies in Afghanistan: "He echoed all that we know. Escalation will further destabilize the country."
To loud shouts of "YES!" Lee challenged us: "Do we want to fund education? Do we want to pay for healthcare?" When we work to bring the wars to an end, Lee continued, "You're fighting for those priorities at the same time."
Then came something that has not been on the political radar recently, if ever: Lee called for a repeal of the Authorization to Use Military Force. It was clear that Lee has never forgotten that ill-advised and emotional vote in the week after the September 11 attacks.
Wishing all a happy Thanksgiving, Lee added that "many in our community have great needs. We have people sleeping on the streets. In our country, this is unconscionable and immoral." With final thanks, the people's congresswoman turned from the podium to do interviews with local media.