The Iraq War and occupation is at a critical moment. The peace movement needs to be focused to face the challenges before us. This article will be the first in a series reporting on interviews of anti-war activists in order to develop a common agenda, strategy and tactics for the peace movement. This article summarizes interviews with Cindy Sheehan and David Swanson. (A link to the videos is at the bottom of this article.)
The anti-war movement has come a long way since its low point - the re-election of President Bush in 2004. Peace voters dominated the electorate in 2006 with the defeat of some leading Iraq War hawks, e.g., Sen. George Allen (VA) and Sen. Rick Santorum (PA) who were formerly talking about running for president. And, the leadership of the Congress changed hands from the Republicans to the Democrats. But now, there is talk of escalation in Iraq and the Democrats have taken the power of the purse - the only way they can end the war - off the table.
What is a peace voter to do?
Cindy Sheehan woke up the peace movement after the 2004 presidential election year when the movement went adrift quietly and in some cases aggressively supporting the "I can manage the war better" Kerry campaign. When she camped in a ditch outside of President Bush's ranch in Crawford she awoke the peace movement and gave it direction, visibility and energy. I asked Cindy what peace activists should be doing now? Her response emphasized that we have the power - citizens opposed to the war must continue to lead the government out of Iraq. Rather than "building a movement" we should focus on taking action now - as successful actions result in expansion of the movement.
She also talked about the mistake she made of supporting a pro-war candidate like Sen. John Kerry and how she would not make that mistake again. She now believes that in order to get the government we want we need to vote for people who represent our views. She is supportive of Rep. Kucinich's campaign and hopes he runs independently if he does not win the Democratic nomination. In the general election she will support the anti-war candidate and urged a third party challenge if Hillary Clinton, John McCain or other hawkish candidates.
Sheehan emphasized that it was time to make it clear to the Democrats that they would not be given a free ride. It is well and good to focus on health care, salaries and social programs but we cannot pay for such programs if we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on Iraq. To ensure ending the Iraq war is a priority the peace movement needs to escalate our efforts against politicians from either party who continue to support the war. The key test is not opposing the escalation, that is not enough, elected officials must stop funding the war and bring the troops home. She urged visiting your elected representatives and sitting in their office until they agreed to end the war - occupy the offices of those who favor occupation of Iraq.
Cindy urged a "peace escalation" in response to talk by the administration about increasing the number of troops in Iraq. She began the peace surge on the opening day of Congress by taking over a press conference where Majority Leader Rahm Emanuel was speaking.
My second interview was with David Swanson of AfterDowningStreet.org. We talked at sunset outside of the White House as a demonstration was just getting started behind us. David is an untiring activist who has worked on both the Iraq War and impeachment of President Bush among other issues. While he urged activists to insist their elected representatives oppose the so-called surge, he said that was not enough and lets them off too easily. Elected officials need to stop the war and withdraw the troops. He talked about the need to withdraw the troops in ways that give Iraq a chance, i.e. funding the reconstruction, urging Iraqi's to return home and underwrite the cost of a peace keeping or security force.
David described the demands the peace movement should make on Congress as falling in to two broad categories: stop the funding and begin withdrawal; investigate the misuse and manipulation of intelligence and other crimes.
David also talked about the "peace surge" and Cindy Sheehan's takeover of a Democratic leadership press conference. He first described the effort by Capitol Hill police to keep anti-war activists from being information into the House office building. But, after going up the chain of command activists were allowed to bring in materials for Members and their staff. He then described the takeover of the press conference with Cindy leading a chant of "de-escalate, investigate, troops home now." After a handful of chants Majority Leader Rahm Emanuel ran from the room and the media asked Cindy to take the podium and she responded to questions.
We are at a critical time in the Iraq War. There is a new Congress that knows the voters want the Iraq War to end. We sent a message that careers will be ended over the Iraq War. Politicians up for re-election don't want to suffer the fate of Senators Allen and Santorum (there are 22 Republican Senators up for re-election in 2008 and 12 Democrats). Not only are President Bush, and some key senators (e.g., Senators McCain, Graham and Lieberman) calling for an increase of troops but there is also a lot of talk in the media about an attack on Iran.
The anti-war movement has shown it has political muscle, now it must work in a coordinated way to achieve our goals - end the Iraq War, prevent an attack on Iran and investigate those responsible for getting the U.S. into this mistaken quagmire.
You can see the full video interviews at: http://democracyrising.us/content/view/708/164/