While the Senate was voting 51-46 to approve $95 billion more in war funding, in a bill that included a loophole ridden withdrawal plan, inside the Hart Senate office building more than 75 anti-war demonstrators participated in a dramatic demonstration.
The demonstration was dramatic because anti-war activists are getting angrier about the congress and the president extending the war rather than ending it. A wide range of groups came together to support the Hart demonstration and the various influences in the anti-war movement -- military families, vets, peace activists among them -- were seen in the action. The demonstration took place in the atrium of the Hart Building both on the floor and over the five floors of balconies surrounding it.
The demonstration began with the reading of letters from military families to leaders of Congress. The first letter was read by Marine Mom Tina Richards, other readers included Sue Udry of United for Peace and Justice, Linda Schade of Voters For Peace and Pete Perry of the Washington Peace Center. You can see the letters on the website of Military Families Speak Out, some excerpts:
- From the parents of a veteran: [Our son] is a member of the Army Reserves and faces the prospect of further deployment to a war which neither he nor we believe should have ever begun. How does the human soul and psyche deal with a request for 'service' in an unjust cause?
- From an Army mom: The American people voted Democrats into office with the intention of bringing this war to an end... Cut off funding for the war. Bring our troops home, and take care of them when they get here.
- I am the mother of a Soldier who is now fighting in a war that I and the majority of voters disapprove of. As long as the President has one dime of taxpayer money, he will keep US troops in harms way in Iraq.
The reading of military family letters was followed by the dropping of two gigantic banners from the balcony of the Hart Building by Artists Against War. The first banner was an excerpt from the Constitution on impeachment of the president and vice president for high crimes and misdemeanors. When the banner dropped the crowd started chanting "Impeach Now" and it echoed through the cavernous atrium and hallways of the Senate building.
The second banner, which dropped from the other side of the atrium was a message to congress – a message that applies not only to their failure to impeach Bush and Cheney but also their failure to take serious steps to end the quagmire of the Iraq war and occupation. The sign said:
Shortly afterward the sound of taps, being played by David Kane, was heard echoing throughout the building. This was the beginning of the final scene of the demonstration – a ceremony entitled "The Funeral of the Next Fallen Soldier." The two main participants were Rev. Lennox Yearwood, the CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus and a former military chaplain, and Adam Kokesh an Iraq vet who is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War who was holding a tri-folded American flag. As Andy slowly walked toward Rev. Yearwood he kneeled down in front of him holding the flag up toward him. Yearwood decried the deaths in the war, the criminality of the Bush administration in starting a war on false pretenses and the co-dependency of the Congress in refusing to fulfill the voter's mandate and end the war.
Police began to threaten Yearwood and Kokesh with arrest and people around them began to shout "Respect the Funeral." I found myself rapidly placed under arrest for urging the police to let the funeral proceed. After I was handcuffed and placed in the police transport van I found myself sitting next to our taps trumpeter and we were soon joined by Rev. Yearwood and Kokesh. On the other side of the divided transport between a cage wall were five women, involved in dropping the banner and joining the chorus on the floor of the Hart Building.
Linda Schade of Voters For Peace described an encounter with an Iraqi who viewed the demonstration. After Schade expressed condolences for what was occurring in Iraq, the Iraqi expressed admiration for the demonstrators efforts saying "Thank you for doing this. That was incredible. I've never seen anything like it. I'm going to keep this tape for the rest of my life." And then he hugged her.
Demonstrations on Capitol Hill are likely to escalate as the Democratic leadership is too willing to fund the continuation of the war and unwilling to take the steps needed to really end the war quagmire. The anti-war movement is not buying the establishment media description of the Democratic plan as an end of the war. It has opposed the Democratic Party's exit from Iraq for four reasons:
1. The exit does not present a firm date for withdrawal but rather only puts forward a non-binding "goal."
2. The exit is too slow. Every day the U.S. remains in Iraq makes the situation worse, weakens U.S. security and unnecessarily wastes the lives of Americans and Iraqis who are casualties in this illegal occupation.
3. The final Democratic "exit" is filled with loopholes that essentially describe what U.S. troops are currently doing in Iraq, e.g. fighting terrorists and al-Qaeda, protecting U.S. interests in Iraq and training Iraqi soldiers.
4. The failure of the Democrats to require the president to seek their approval before a military attack on Iran makes a larger war in the region more likely than an exit from Iraq.
The anti-war movement has also come to recognize that impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney is interconnected with ending the war. The administration has refused to follow the wishes of U.S. voters and avoided taking many opportunities to end the war and instead seeks to prolong it and build long-term military bases.
Thus far the Democrats are not doing enough to please their anti-war base. By failing to fulfill the mandate of voters who clearly want an end to the war, they risk losing their majority status in 2008. Why should they be trusted with more power if they do not use the power they have?
You can view a brief video of the demonstration at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JXiOQvrkeU