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Grassroots Lobby Day
By Mike Hersh, PDA
September 26, 2005--This is what democracy looks like, Progressive Democrats of America and United for Peace and Justice style. PDA, UFPJ, and a host of progressive allies issued a call to arms, and at least 800 citizen lobbyists from 40 states answered. Activists—-almost all still in D.C. from the mobilization on September 24th—-walked the corridors of power demanding their Representatives and Senators stand up against the occupation of Iraq, and in support of legislation against permanent military bases and "sweetheart deals" the Administration has planned. See PDA Talking Points.
Celebrity progressives, including Cindy Sheehan, Mimi Kennedy, and Phil Donahue, also spoke out against the war, but the real stars were the hundreds of citizens, many who traveled thousands of miles and dozens of hours from California, Oregon, Florida, and the State of Washington, lobbying for the first time and expressing enthusiasm and excitement.
A couple from Representative Walter "Freedom Fries" Jones' North Carolina district had already met with their Congressman's staff by 10 a.m. These veteran activists glowed with satisfaction after taking their case to the Capitol. A gentleman from Georgia explained that his expression of faith opened a constructive dialogue with his conservative representative. Most carried "lobby kits" from office to office, meeting to meeting, with growing confidence. See: PDA Lobby Kit.
Cindy Sheehan, accompanied by her sister, alternated hugs with well-wishers and interviews with the media in the Hart Building before dashing to the White House. There Code Pink, the "Religious Left" and others joined the Sheehan sisters demanding answers—until they and their supporters were arrested by the hundreds according to eye witnesses.
Meanwhile, the lobbying effort continued and grew as activists flooded House and Senate offices. One new activist, Jaime Green of Studio City, joined dozens of fellow Californians, including Latinos for Peace and PDA leaders Mimi Kennedy and Michael Jay, demanding leadership from Senator Diane Feinstein. There were too many Californians for two or even three meetings. Phil Donahue was there with a video crew to capture the discussion between Feinstein's staff and a man whose son died in Iraq.
An exasperated Donahue and a bewildered cameraman lamented the Feinstein staff's orders to stop recording. There were few long faces in the huge crowd despite reports of a tense meeting in which staffers challenged constituents to say the Senator lacked backbone.
Jay and others vowed to organize bus trips to the Senator's Sacramento office to sustain the lobbying effort. Many new and veteran activists from several states voiced that commitment. Green beamed as she dragged her suitcase toward the D.C. Metro and a long flight home, dedicated to keep up her efforts, and confident that she was a full participant in democratic action.
Jeannie King, an engaging blonde, traveled for more than 26 hours from Brooksville, Florida to take part. She left home 4:15 a.m. Friday and began demonstrating immediately upon her arrival at 6:10 a.m. Saturday! After "sitting home so frustrated" she vowed she'd have walked to get [to D.C.] if she had to. Making a difference is "the best feeling in the world," King grinned. She was still going strong after a long day lobbying her Representative's and Senators' offices. She smiled, considering her impending ride home by train, bus, and automobile because she looked forward to continuing her work alongside her daughter Jennifer Troxel. They'd been educating her "tiny town full of Republicans" about the occupation of Iraq, but this was her first taste of D.C. lobbying. It will not be her last.
University of Indiana Professor of Sociology Fabio Rojas—collecting reports from lobbyists—read from collected "green sheets." He and a partner will tabulate and analyze the responses and prepare a paper and database for academia and activists alike. Citizen lobbyists from Oregon found mixed success with their Senators, and Massachusetts activists reported a "confrontational" session with a Senator Kerry staffer whom they quoted as saying Kerry supported the war because he felt it was the ethical thing to do. Californians took the same sense from meetings with Feinstein's staff. Kerry saw carnage in Vietnam and Feinstein witnessed a brutal assassination in San Francisco, but their memories seem blurred by time. These "big name" Democrats have a lot to learn about ethics and war.
They could learn from Phil Restino, an Army Infantry veteran who met Jeannie King during these interviews, and offered to give her a lift at the end of their marathon train trip back to Florida. He lavished praise on the lobby day organizers including PDA, UFPJ, and allies like the After Downing Street Coalition. He explained that his brother, a pro-war and pro-Bush Republican, was currently stationed in Iraq. The lobbyists in the "boiler room" staffed by UFPJ volunteers with PDA support agreed this was about saving lives, including Restino's brother in the Marine Corps who wanted to be in Iraq, and Beverly Wiskow's son-in-law who did not.
Wiskow, from Inverness, Florida proudly described the vigil held in her small town in support of her D.C. activism, which attracted 65 people on the heels of an event a week earlier with 35 anti-war protesters. At that event, a 25-year-old Marine approached Wiskow to thank her. He was home from Iraq, his body laced with a previously rare form of bone cancer and testicular cancer. He lifted his pant leg to show her that his lower were legs covered with melanoma outbreaks. He explained that so many current Iraqi and past Gulf War Vets suffer from these afflictions, the Pentagon is studying these brave Americans betrayed by their country. This particular Marine argued that he was not using chemical weapons against Iraqis, but conceded he was stationed in places where the military has used Depleted Uranium (DU) munitions, and he suspected this was the cause of his horrendous cancers.
Wiskow lost her smile retelling this story, and cringed discussing birth defects suffered by American and Iraqi children genetically poisoned by DU. After a spontaneous moment of silence, the activists resumed sharing reports and planning their next moves. Soon, these new friends from Florida and hundreds of other American activists left their Nation's Capitol with smiles, suitcases, satisfaction, and determination to continue lobbying. This movement took a huge step forward during this monumental weekend, and will not end until this war and occupation end.
Maybe—hopefully—not even then.