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Lietta Ruger: "walking the halls of Congress in shorts."
Thursday night, 11:30 PM ...
(Lietta)This was an extremely busy day. I got to see a lot of famous buildings I've only seen on TV and in movies ... The Supreme Court Building, the Library of Congress, the Senate office buildings, the Capitol Building ... just like the tourist I always felt I'd be when coming finally to Washington D.C. to see first hand the tangible monuments to our national heritage and democracy-in-action. Only I wasn't a tourist today, but an activist lobbying for our core American values and what we baby boomers were taught growing up in a country proud of its heritage and unafraid to practice what we we taught.
However, today, as we pursued our taks with those who we helped place in the positions as our representatives, we were not dressed as government business-people - formally, in 3-piece power suits, in skirts, blouses or dresses with earrings, eye-shadow and lipstick. We walked the halls of Congress in the heat of the day in the happy casual dress of tourists. How strange to deal with three-piece-suiters and power-fashioned women of authority.
Yes, I saw all those photogenic buildings, over and over, back and forth all day - walking through or by them - on our way to see one after another another person we all hired with our ballots in some prior election.
It was thrilling, moving and also embarrassing. How many who read this have ever felt embarrased by the Senator or Congressperson chosen to be our voice in Washington? I met some today who embarrased their constituencies and others who honored them. More later, but first the highlight of the day.
This evening Bring Them Home now Tour members went with Elaine Johnson (MFSO member) to participate in the Black Voices For America town hall meeting at Plymouth Congregational Church where Elaine was one of the primary speakers.
Also in attendance were many officials and politicians and activist organizations - all powerful advocates.
The evening was spent in strong discussion and public discourse on the war in Iraq, rights and support of our troops, consequences of hurrican eKatrina, racial injustice, justice for all, the roots of war and more. There were two different panels and the evening was both amazing and powerfully inspirational.
Earlier today representing MFSO, we (Stacy Bannerman, Judy Linehan, Rose Gentle from MFSO U.K. and I) met with Congressman Adam Smith (D Washington). After a brief discussion about Congressman Smith's position on an upcoming vote regarding troop withdrawals/reductions we emphasized to him that withdrawals/reductions based on a future deadline were no longer as important as bringing the troops home now. Again, we were able to emphasize how recent weeks had demonstrated the invalidity of the administration's oft-changed reasons for the war, any Bush-defined noble cause and justification for more loss of troops in a Republican mantra of "staying the course" despite the failure of Bush's foreign policy objectives and strategy.
Smith was respectful, polite and obviously interested in our discussion, showing no signs of impatience or a desire to keep the discussion limited, brief or redirected to other venues.
Smith: (paraphrasing) "You're not saying later, you're saying now?"
"Yes we are."
When we talked about the relationship between the troops, the commander-in-chief and the citizens responsibility to hold the CIC accountable to insure that lives are not placed in harm's way for invalid reasons or political agendas, Smith "got it," and told us "You are right!"
Contrast that with our disappointing visit with Senator Patty Murray ( who, like Congressman Adam Smith, did not send an aide to meet with us but instead talked to us personally) who gave us only five minutes and declared that her position on the troops and the ware were "non-negotiable".
Senator Patty Murray, talking like an Bush insider, flatly declared that we needed to keep our troops in Iraq and stay the course until the mission was completed. I felt that my Senator - like many prominent Democratic politicians - is too intimidated by the Republican majority to take any other stand ... possibly thinking that there is still a silent majority in her home state and the country that continues to drink the kool-aid Republicans have been offering now into a fifth year of political dominance. As this is written, the most recent USAToday/CNN/Gallup poll indicates that 67% versus 32% of American citizens believe that Bush is not doing a good job. That is not an insignificant number and evinces a silent majority that might have a thing or two to say to an intimidated elected Democratic minority.
But the "stinkiest" moment of our day was when Kalisa Stanley and I (Lietta) accompanied Gold Star co-founder (with Cindy Sheehan) Bill Mitchell as he made another of several attempts to meet with his Congressman, Bill Thomas (R California) who was elected Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in 2001.
Bill Mitchell is a single parent who raised his only child, Sherwood Baker, only to lose him in Iraq the same day Cindy Sheehan lost her son, Casey. Bill has attempted for over a year to have - even if only briefly - a meeting with Rep Thomas with absolutely no success. They've never once offered Bill an appointment with Rep Thomas.
Lietta and Kalisa Stanley volunteered to go with Bill in another attempt as a constituent to meet his congressman. They went in handicapped by not having an appointment. An aide to Thomas was called to the desk by the receptionist. The aide escorted the group out of the office to - as she put it - the "other meeting room." Bill told us that this is what happens every time and he's been to the "other waiting room" before. It's not a waiting room, it's a place where we stand next to window to talk through the window.
(Lietta was not aware at the time that Thomas is Chairman of what the press has for years cliched as "The Powerful Ways and Means Committee") and asked a question that was even more pointed than she realized:
"Are you saying that Congressman Thomas has no place where you can sit down and talk to him?"
Aide's response: (again paraphrased) "His office is not equipped for visitors."
(Lietta) "How come Congressman Adam Smith has a meeting area and Rep Thomas doesn't? We've crossed several states to get here, we've meet with numerous congressional aides in those states and here in D.C. - all of whom met us in a room with tables and chairs where we could discuss issues with them. But Rep Thomas (the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee) tells us to go stand by a window sill?"
Lietta's perception of the aide was that of a woman who was cold and showed absolutely no emotion and was distant when she told Bill,
"I remember you from before. Didn't you talk to our scheduler?"
Bill: "Yes I have several times. But she never called me back."
Kalisa and Lietta: "We're here to support Bill Mitchell, your constituent. He's attempted to get an appointment with his elected representative 6 times in the last 12 months with no success. Both in California and here in D.C. - with no success. The 'scheduler' has never called him back. He wants to meet with his representative and for the sake of decency Representative Thomas owes it to this man; owes this grieving father acknowledgement, owes the loss of his only child an acknowledgement."
Lietta: "That is what we do in Washington and Oregon and we are treated respectfully by our congress persons. Bill and his son are Rep Thomas's constituents and deserve at least 15 minutes of his time."
The aide called the scheduler in: "No, the congressman isn't available. He's voting."
Lietta: "So you'll make an appointment for Bill?"
Aide: "Not at this time. But we'll tell the Congressman about our little chat."
Lietta: "This is not a 'little chat' - it's serious business."
At this point the scheduler seemed to grow uncomfortable, conciliatory and apologetic.
The aide then said that as staffers, they will make this a "work in progress," to which Kalisa, Bill and Lietta responded,
"We will follow up and expect to see an appointed meeting between Bill and his Congressman take place as soon as possible."
Lietta was still fuming, calling the episode the "stinkiest" part of the day.
"This single parent and grieving father has been so dishonored and disrespected by his congressman who forces him to resort to a meeting with an aide at a window sill like a ticket buyer to a circus. We're going to help Bill compose a letter to be sent to the Congressman every week (the same letter) and to local news media in Bill's district until an appointment is set and a meeting is held. That's our project and we don't intend to drop the ball."
Bill is a veteran, a quiet man, polite and respectful by nature, not brash and not overly agressive - all attributes we as Americans are supposed to cherish. And for this he has been politically snubbed and treated with a cold and brutal disregard by one of the stalwarts of the current Republican administration.
But since this shameful and embarrassing display of ignorant arrogance took place in the morning, all that followed today - capped by the wonderful meeting at Plymouth Congregational Church tonight - helped dilute the bad taste in our mouths from someone who has talked the tough fight but for whom the war and loss of life remains a political abstraction.
End of report.