Saturday evening, July 23, an overflow crowd of approximately 225 people packed the largest room and spilled into the lobby at the 1st Unitarian Universalist Church in Houston Texas, for a teach-in on the third anniversary of the Downing Street Minutes (DSM).
Planning for the event started only 9 days ago, and there was minimal time for publicity, but news of the event spread like wildfire through the progressive community in Houston, the largest city in one of the reddest states in the country, and generated a very enthusiastic response. Event organizers were hoping for and expecting a crowd of about 100 people. However, the crowd quickly filled every chair, and additional chairs had to be brought into the room several times and filled every available place. Other people stood through the event and even in the lobby because there was no room for more chairs.
Attendees told event sponsors repeatedly how glad they were that this event and so many others across the US were held to bring attention to the lies about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction (WMD's), and how encouraged they were to see so many other enthusiastic people who wanted the truth to be told about the US's involvement in Iraq.
Former US diplomat Ann Wright, who resigned because of the US invasion of Iraq, was the keynote speaker. The crowd listened raptly as she discussed the deceit, deceptions, and outright lies that the Bush administration told to justify the invasion. She told how many officers in the military, as well as a huge majority of the State department, were appalled at the US actions as the buildup for war progressed, and even more appalled during and after the invasion. The search for weapons of mass destruction turned up no such weapons but instead demonstrated how the inspections had been working .
Ann Wright also told how the diversion of military resources to Iraq actually hurt the search for Al Queda, as they were in Afghanistan rather than Iraq, and how the US occupation of Iraq is decreasing our security because Iraq has now become such a breeding ground for terrorists. She answered questions for over 30 minutes after her talk.
A portion of the documentary "Uncovered" by filmmaker Robert Greenwald was shown, to illustrate the lies told by Bush and other administration officials in the weeks leading to the invasion. Excerpts from the recent video "Eyewitness in Iraq: an Unembedded Report" by Dahr Jamail were also shown, from this reporter's trip to Fallujah following the US destruction of that city, to illustrate how the lies from the Bush administration are continuing, as they talk of reconstruction while actual photos show how terrible the situation is in places like Fallujah, which was a city of 350,000 before the US destroyed it.
The MC for the event was Pokey Anderson, a long-time Houston activist and co-host and co-producer of Sunday Monitor, a weekly news program on KPFT, Houston's Pacifica radio station.
Progressive Action Alliance (PAA) co-chair Bill Crosier provided stressed the theme for the event, "No More Lies", and the crowd joined in chanting that theme. He stressed that it was lies and deceptions that brought down Nixon, and that was the justification for Bill Clinton's impeachment. He reminded everyone that the US public has little tolerance for being lied to by public officials, especially over important issues. "No More Lies" is a theme that even right-wing Republicans can embrace. He said that if there was one message to take home, it's that "No More Lies" must be something that we are willing to talk to others about, especially those who are not in our comfort zone of fellow progressives.
Crosier stated that "today is just the beginning. This is the start of a movement." The crowd gave a huge applause after Crosier said "this administration is the most corrupt in the history of the United States".
Postcards were distributed to attendees along with a sample letter, and attendees were asked to send the cards to their Congressional representative with a note asking them to co-sponsor Rep. Barbara Lee's Resolution of Inquiry into Iraq War Planning.
Charles Mauch, leader of the Impeach Bush Meetup group and PAA action group, stressed that we need to start using the "I" word (Impeach) more frequently. He collected a number of names of new people interested in joining that group, as they plan to work on publicity of the lies and deceptions that the public must learn more about.
Margaret Davis, chair of the PAA's Truth-in-Recruiting/Counter-Recruiting committee, asked for volunteers for that group and got a good response.
Wally James, host and producer of the radio program "The Progressive Forum" on KPFT, recorded the event and plans to play Ann Wright's speech during his show next Thursday evening, July 28, on KPFT. Pokie Anderson may also have a report on DSM events on her Sunday Monitor program Sunday evening. All of these shows may be heard on KPFT, 90.1 FM in Houston, 89.5 FM in Galveston, or with streaming audio via the world wide web at KPFT's web site. In addition, KPFT shows are archived on KPFT's archive site for approximately 60 days following their broadcast, and may be downloaded for listening on personal computers and/or for podcasting.
There was at least one other smaller DSM anniversary event earlier in the day in Houston, as well as one in The Woodlands, TX, just north of Houston, and in Winnie TX, east of Houston. The main Houston event was organized by the Progressive Action Alliance, and co-sponsored by the Harris Co. Green Party.
These were just a few of over 300 similar events held across the US on July 23, and coordinated by the After Downing Street Coalition, which is a coalition of veterans' groups, peace groups and political activist groups. It is coordinating these events nationwide, and has launched a campaign to urge the U.S. Congress to begin a formal investigation into whether President Bush has committed impeachable offenses in connection with the Iraq war. Reports on DSM anniversary events from many cities are at the After Downing Street Coalition web site.
The speaker at Houston's event, Ann Wright, spent over 29 years in the Army and Army Reserves before she joined the State Department. She also testified to Congress in the Downing Street Minutes hearing organized by Rep. John Conyers. Ms. Wright has been featured in articles in the Washington Post magazine, Government Executive magazine, Foreign Service Journal, Ms. magazine and has been interviewed by radio and TV networks. She participated in the documentary film "Uncovered: The Truth about the Iraq War."
A biography of Ms. Wright, and her Congressional testimony, is on the PAA's web site.
The national campaign for this is organized by:
* After Downing Street Coalition
* Code Pink
* Progressive Democrats of America
* Rep. John Conyers
The mission of the Progressive Action Alliance is to promote progressive candidates, ideas, and issues through action, advocacy, education, and networking. Please see their web site for updates, links to related groups, resources, and a calendar of upcoming events.