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Published on Sunday, September 25, 2005 by The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)
Almost 35 years ago, in the fall of 1970 when the United States was stuck in another "quagmire" war, The Capital Times published the following editorial under the headline, "Debra Sweet's act of courage":
"President Nixon heard the real voice of young America Thursday. It came from Debra Sweet,a 19-year-old Madison girl who was in the White House to accept a medal from the president for public service.
"As the president handed her the Young American medal, one of four handed out Thursday by Mr. Nixon, she said softly and unsmilingly, 'I find it hard to believe in your sincerity in giving out the awards until you get us out of Vietnam.'
"She spoke so softly that reporters could barely hear her remarks. The president, according to reports, was taken aback. To those Madisonians who know Miss Sweet, her courage in using her brief moment of glory with the chief executive is in keeping with her character.
"Miss Sweet spoke for all of America: the sore at heart; those overwhelmed with the frustrations of Vietnam, by the endless killing, by the power of the Pentagon, by the violence and futility of the Indochina conflict.
"But that soft, Midwestern accent spoke especially from the heart of young America. More than the adults, the young appear to have a clearer vision of the inexplicable harm the war is wreaking on this nation.
"What a courageous act. What dignity. She has earned the respect of millions of her peers and her elders. Miss Sweet has earned the right to another medal for bravery.
"A devoted member of the Midvale Community Lutheran Church, Miss Sweet is now working on special assignment with the youth action group of the church's Missouri Synod.
" 'She has the idealism of youth,' says her pastor, the Rev. Stanley Klyve. We salute her for this selfless idealism and her dedication to humanity."
Debra Sweet is older now. But she has not lost the idealism of youth.
Several years ago, as the Bush administration was banging the drums of war in Iraq, Sweet helped organize the national "Not in Our Name" movement. With advertisements and rallies - including one in Madison that drew 2,000 people - that movement proclaimed: "President Bush has declared: 'You're either with us or against us.' Here is our answer: We refuse to allow you to speak for all the American people. We will not give up our right to question. We will not hand over our consciences in return for a hollow promise of safety. We say NOT IN OUR NAME. We refuse to be party to these wars and we repudiate any inference that they are being waged in our name or for our welfare."
The Not in Our Name movement helped signal to the world that the Bush administration did not speak for all Americans when the president ordered the invasion of Iraq, just as today's mass demonstrations in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and other cities will signal that tens of millions of Americans oppose the continued occupation of Iraq. There is no question that it is time to begin the process of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq - both to save American lives and to allow Iraqis to begin the process of setting their own course in a manner that is free of foreign interference.
Unfortunately, one day of demonstrations will not be enough to end this war. So Debra Sweet is working to put more pressure on the president. She's the national coordinator of a new movement to challenge the Bush administration's policies not just on the war but on a broad range of international and domestic issues. The premise of the movement, which is described more fully at its Web site, www.worldcantwait.org, is that Americans need to organize to challenge not just the administration's policies but its legitimacy. It's a bold mission, to be sure. But, of course, Debra Sweet has always been bold when it comes to challenging the wrongdoing of presidents.