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The peace movement's new enemy
Antiwar activists target Pelosi and other congressional Dems
By Camille T. Taiara
San Francisco Bay Guardian
When Cindy Sheehan arrived in San Francisco Sept. 9, she was looking for an answer to the same simple question she's been posing for months: Why did her son - a US soldier killed in Iraq - have to die?
Yet this time she directed her inquiry not at President George W. Bush and the people who led us to war but at the members of Congress who let them. Sheehan's new focus coincides with a strategic shift by United for Peace and Justice, one of the antiwar movement's leading coalitions, as it prepares for mass protests planned Sept. 24-26 in San Francisco and other cities across the country.
Now the movement is holding congressional Democrats accountable for granting the Bush administration the authorization and the means to pursue an illegal and immoral war. And Rep. Nancy Pelosi tops their hit list.
"Pelosi's begging to be a target ... not only because she's the minority leader [in the House of Representatives], but because she's not representative of her constituency, locally or nationally," Bob Wing of War Times, who also sits on UFPJ's steering committee, told the Bay Guardian.
What's dangerous about Pelosi, these activists say, is that she can sound antiwar while consistently shoring up the Bush administration. For example, Pelosi described the Iraq war as a "grotesque mistake" in a June 15 interview with the Chronicle, and initially even voted against granting Bush a carte blanche for a preemptive strike.
But she failed to sign on to an early proposal, in February 2003, that would have required the UN Security Council's authorization before the Bush administration could begin dropping bombs on Baghdad. She's since refused to support even nonbinding resolutions asking Bush to set a deadline for withdrawal.
In May she voted against Rep. Lynn Woolsey's budget amendment calling for withdrawal from Iraq. This despite San Franciscans' vote last November, by close to a two-thirds margin, in support of bringing the troops home immediately.
More recently Pelosi also opposed Rep. Barbara Lee's resolution calling for an investigation of the Downing Street memos, which detailed how Bush officials planned to manipulate intelligence reports about Iraq. The proposal lost 22-21 in committee - on a party line vote that three Democrats failed to show up for. Pelosi also refused to lend her support to previous efforts to investigate the faulty "intelligence" the Pentagon used to justify the war.
Yet Pelosi has agreed to continue funding Bush's escapade in Iraq time and again. The price tag so far: nearly $300 billion (with another $130 billion approved for Iraq and Afghanistan beginning Oct. 1), almost 2,000 US soldiers killed, and an Iraqi death toll that Les Roberts, a veteran investigator from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, estimated at 100,000 in a study published last fall in the Lancet medical journal.
Susan Morrison, a member of Code Pink and UFPJ Bay Area, has been researching Pelosi's voting record stretching back to Oct. 2002 and hasn't found a single instance in which Pelosi voted against appropriations requested by the Bush administration to fund the Iraq war.
Neither Pelosi nor her representatives returned our call for comment.
"She should be taking a stand," Morrison said. "She says she's against [the war], but her votes and her lack of leadership and her lack of cosponsoring resolutions combined paint a different picture.
"We have an administration that's operating beyond the rule of law and is trying to set legal precedent for the future, for our nation, and who knows what ramifications that will have around the world," she continued. "In Vietnam the bombing didn't stop until Congress stopped funding the war. And, in fact, that's the only way Congress can change policy."
Veteran activists say now is a particularly important moment to pressure Congress. Polls show 60 percent of Americans currently disapprove of the Iraq war. Bush's approval rating also dipped below 40 percent for the first time earlier this month.
"But despite it all, [Bush] is still not challenged in the circles of power," Wing continued.
Being a leader in Congress "didn't stop Tom Daschle from getting defeated," Matt Gonzalez - a Green who some activists have been trying to convince to run against Pelosi - said in a phone interview with the Bay Guardian, referring to the senate minority leader who lost his seat in last year's elections. "But for the conditions to be right, you have to have more open dialogue and criticism.... Pelosi can do all the wrong things, but next month she can go give some great antiwar speech, and maybe she's forgiven. That's the problem. There's got to be a sustained look that says, this is phony; we're not going to fall for it anymore."
And that's precisely what a growing number within the antiwar movement are aiming to do over the coming months - beginning with this weekend's activities.
"Street demonstrations continue to be extremely important," said Wing, who also pointed to antirecruitment campaigns as playing a critical role in the antiwar effort. He'd also like to see Iraqi voices granted a more prominent role.
"We've always felt there are a variety of tactics that are required," he said. But "eventually the war has to be stopped at the legislative level."
'Defund the War! Defend Our Communities!' UFPJ rally and nonviolent direct action Mon., Sept. 26, noon, in front of Rep. Pelosi's office, the Federal Bldg., 45 Golden Gate, SF. Call (415) 565-0201 ext. 24 for more information.
A direct action planning meeting takes place Sun., Sept. 25, 7 p.m., the American Friends Service Committee's meeting house, 65 Ninth St., SF. (415)282-6580.
See Alerts, page 14, for details on the main antiwar demonstration planned for Sat., Sept. 24, and another, in Oakland, Fri., Sept. 25.