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Florida For Peace Meets Senator Bill Nelson
Florida For Peace Meets Senator Bill Nelson
Boasts, Prevarications, and a Rattlesnake
On Tuesday August 7th ten members of Florida For Peace traveled to Kissimmee, FL to meet with Senator Bill Nelson at the public library. They represented over fifty groups from from all parts of Florida.
When the group arrived a staff member directed us to a conference room where the senator was waiting. A local news crew had a camera set up. After shaking hands and sitting down, Senator Nelson mentioned how he was having town meetings, three just yesterday in Jefferson, Pinellas and Pasco counties.
Lydia Vickers - CODEPINK Tallahassee, Co-Founder/Florida For Peace - began by stating she had traveled to all eight of his offices around the state and had meetings with his staff and thanking the Senator for meeting with us.
Senator Nelson began by thanking us for coming from all over the state to see him. He then talked about what he termed as townhall meetings, two of which he had the previous day in the Tampa Bay area. He said that 150 people had attended one meeting and 130 had attended the other one and that no one had brought up the issue of the Iraq War...
Lydia Vickers then had the group introduce ourselves and briefly say who we represented.
Lydia then talked to the senator about his voting record in the Senate and how this group, which represents maybe 7000 people on email lists, were disappointed with his vote on the FISA bill (S1927). She then brought up a speech he had made in 2002 on this subject in which he had said that it was important not to adopt the total information awareness program. She went on saying "although he had supported the no confidence vote on the Attorney General, he had then voted for the FISA bill."
Nelson responded saying "that's not what it says", that they (the Democrats) had changed the bill, an approval process has to be gone through, the Director of Intelligence and the Attorney General must sign off. Nelson went on by saying that he was ONE senator out of 100 who was on all THREE National Security committees and that no one was privy to more of the nation's classified information than he. He also mentioned his trust for the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell.
He continued, "that the White House wanted a permanent solution where this was only for 6 months and that it doesn't effect citizens domestically." Adding it was important that they (gov't spies) don't have to go to the FISA court as technology had changed. It used to be mainly by phone but now with the internet, some foreign communications is coming through the United States. With the old law intelligence agencies had to go to FISA for a court order, now when a foreign terrorist was targeted, some may be going through a person in the USA, he continued... At this point the local news camera crew packed up and left the room.
Senator Nelson said as the door shut, "I wouldn't trust the Attorney General", (looking over his shoulder, asking if the media was gone) "anymore than I would trust a rattlesnake."
He continued on about how they would set up a process for FISA and was interrupted by Pat Stone, Tallahassee Network for Justice and Peace (TNJP) saying, "Senator Nelson, yesterday morning the big news on the blogs said Mr. Bush had signed the FISA bill, the Protect America Act, with a signing statement demanding immunity for '...those who are alleged to have assisted our Nation following the attacks of September 11, 2001', in other words demanding immunity for his own six years of criminality".
Nelson responded that signing statements from the President has huge problems, as well as the President misleading us and the FISA bill didn't cover what Bush wants i.e.: 6 years of illegal wire tapping protected. He then said he was elected to exercise his best judgment.
Lydia pointed out that Republicans didn't vote for him and that we as Democrats were the ones who voted for him and he should represent our interests, adding that former Senator Graham had voted no on the Authorization to go to war.
Nelson replied that "in his position he had to exercise his best judgment, that he represents sixteen million Floridians, and that he has to represent everyone, Republicans and everybody else".
Deidra Lynch - CODEPINK Orlando, Food Not Bombs, Orlando Progressive Alliance, Florida For Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Artists for Peace - then interjected, "Senator, we're here to say how we feel while we have you eye to eye with us."
Nelson replied "I want to straighten this out" then said that Graham had voted no because he thought AUMF did not go far enough.
Deidra then began by thanking the Senator for voting for monies for education and protecting the Everglades. She went on saying she hoped he would listen to our concerns about stopping the war, continuing with "I'm sure we can agree that this debt has got to stop".
Nelson added that childcare and healthcare was losing out with the cost for war.
Deirdre pointed out that cost estimates for the war had been in the hundreds of billions and the cost estimate as of now was $1.27 trillion, with the total cost to the state of Florida approaching $25,000,000,000, according to the National Priorities Project. She also spoke of the additional cost to our soldiers being trained in violence and sent home with no shut off valve, which affects military families with many women suffering rape and abuse. She then passed paperwork to Nelson to provide him the statistics.
Next Hillary Keyes - CODEPINK South Florida, Florida For Peace, Boca Peace Corner, Palm Beach County Peace & Justice Coalition - brought up the worsening conditions for the people of Iraq. Saying that that's it's gotten so bad that the US has stopped issuing Baghdad electricity reports because there is only one to two hrs. of electricity per day and 130 degrees and no water. She said we need to try to help the Iraqi people, bringing up how Post Traumatic Stress was affecting children in Iraq and that according to Center for Disease Control (from John Hopkins study) 650,000 Iraqis had been killed as of a year ago, and that 70% of Iraqi children suffer from symptoms of PTSD. She then talked about how CodePINK had brought 5 Iraqi women to the USA, showed him pictures and read part of a personal statement from the Faiza Alaraji. She then passed the Senator the women's pictures and bios.
Mary Stone - CODEPINK Tallahassee, Tallahassee Network for Justice and Peace, Florida For Peace said as she had written her statements in a letter and as time was short, she would just pass him the letter.
Pat Stone - Tallahassee Network for Justice and Peace, Florida For Peace - then talked about the fourteen permanent military bases in Iraq and how Congress has repeatedly passed legislation banning such bases and how it has been ignored. He said he believed Congress had the authority to enforce the legislation banning permanent bases in Iraq and demanded that Congress do so. He then talked about how US Foreign Policy needs to be shifted from one of military domination and use of the military for diplomacy to one of Peace and cooperation.
Carol Stachurski - CODEPINK Tallahassee, Veterans for Peace, Florida For Peace, Progressive Democrats of America - talked about how she felt his job was to represent us pointing out that polls in Florida were saying the majority wanted the war to end.
Nelson responded saying his position on the Iraq war was "evolving", and that she should look at his Senate speech on the Levin-Reed amendment, which he claimed was on his website. (NOT found, only this statement on Iraq on his website). That it was the most important speech he had ever given.
Scott Camil - Gainesville Veterans for Peace, GI Rights Hotline, Veterans for Peace - next talked about 32,000 calls the GI Rights Hotline had received from active duty FL soldiers and veterans with their concerns. He also had a written statement and documents which were passed to Senator Nelson.
Nelson said "I'm a veteran", he again brought up Levin-Reed Amendment and his speech.
Leslie Klein - CODEPINK Orlando, Florida For Peace, Orlando Progressive Alliance, Seminole Democrats - talked about torture, saying how we know it's wrong and how it lowers morale. "We used to be the good guys and we know it's wrong."
Holly Rauen - CODEPINK South West Florida, Florida For Peace, Fort Myers Social Action Committee, EPEC/Board Member - talked about how war undermined our safety and the preservation of our civil rights and how our National Guard was not here to aid the public in times of disaster. She continued by talking about how our Bill of Rights had been negated by executive order. Adding her personal experience by telling the senator how she had been shot with rubber bullets by Miami police at the FTAA protest, how the police had surrounded a group of citizens and fired on them. She also spoke of how her ex-husband had been run over by a military train shipping arms to Vietnam and lost both his legs. She said what's going on now reminded her of Kent State and how the government was chipping away our rights and we were becoming like Hitler Germany.
Nelson responded saying we had a system of checks and balances.
Tom Guelcher - President, Environmental & Peace Education Center of SW Florida, Florida For Peace - talked about terrorism and how there is no military solution to it and how our actions in Iraq are causing more terrorism and how the only way to defeat it was by respecting other people and allowing them to make their own decisions about what is best for them.
Beverley Wiskow - State Coordinator/Military Families Speak Out, Peace NOW Citrus County, Florida For Peace - began by telling the senator how she had a son-in-law fighting in Iraq under terrible conditions, how Iraqis had no air conditioning or water and how we could learn by spending time in our Florida heat with no a/c or water. She went on about how this group before him had probably taken 50,000 hours of labor to bring him this information. Adding that we needed 67 senators. On a personal note she implored him to be "Our Hero" and spoke of meeting him last year in Ocala when she urged him to be a leader and if he would do the right thing the grassroots would rise up to support him. But if he continued to allow the war to continue, we would replace him. She then directly asked him if he would vote for the Levin-Reed amendment.
Nelson replied it would be the first issue in September and how the Democrats all supported the amendment with the exception of Lieberman (the irony of Florida's Lieberman saying this elicited subdued laughter and chuckles all around the table) and there were a few Republicans supporting as well. He said 53 senators had already voted for the amendment and they needed 7 more.
Deidra asked him as he got up to leave, "who we can work on?"
Nelson mentioned John Warner of VA, John Sununu of NH, Martinez of FL, Susan Collins of Maine, John Voinovich of OH, and Norm Coleman of MN.
Senator Nelson then rushed off to a meeting with 25 local Seminole County officials.
The Florida For Peace group then held a brief after-action meeting to dicuss the events and concluded with a photo-op while the local TV media conducted interviews outside with various members.