Peace Action’s position on Senate’s Iraq War Supplemental funding bill

March 26, 2007

Long Story Short: Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund’s message this week re the Senate version of the supplemental will be to tell senators this: Troops Home in 2007, and support a Webb amendment to prevent funds from being used to attack Iran.

Right now, it appears no senator will vote against the supplemental for “the right reasons” (i.e. our reasons) – that the bill is too weak, has too many loopholes that could leave tens of thousands of troops in Iraq indefinitely, that March 31, 2008 is only a goal, not a deadline, etc. We cannot support the bill, just as we could not support last week’s House version of the supplemental (more on that vote in a minute).

So the message above – Troops Home in 2007 – tells them what we want, so we are not compromising our position, and also tells them we are not satisfied with the bill, but it does not explicitly advocate voting against the bill. And getting the Iran amendment (we don’t know the language yet, but assume it will be close to Webb’s stand-alone bill on this issue, S. 759  http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:S.759 :) passed, and then we work to ensure it gets included in the conference committee version of the bill, would be very significant.

Also, the “Troops Home in 2007″ message sets us up nicely for the coming action on the conference committee and especially, veto threat by Bush (I’ll outline more regarding strategy on those next steps soon).

A few words on the House vote on the supplemental – on Friday morning, I was literally sick to my stomach over the actions of the House “leadership”, and that rarely happens to me. However, as I reflected over the weekend, I think the outcome of Friday’s vote to pass the supplemental, which we opposed, actually might be to the good in the long run.

“How’s that?” you might well ask. First off, we (Peace Action and the overwhelming majority, near consensus really, of the peace movement) did the right thing in opposing the bill, did not compromise our principles, and earned respect for that. My sense is the Dem “leadership” was so freaked out about the supplemental that if we had defeated it, they might well have turned around and responded by proposing to send a “blank check” supplemental with no fetters on Bush’s warmongering authority, which we would have had to mobilize to oppose, and it might have gotten very ugly, very fast.

We learned a lot from last week’s vote, which will serve us well as we move forward. I think we may well be in a better position now to influence the conference committee version of the supplemental, action around a Bush veto threat, as well as our work on the $140 billion more for the war in the “regular” military budget, which will wend its way through Congress this spring and summer, and possibly to bringing impeachment into play. One of the things we learned is the “leadership” has not thought much about their strategy on these next steps, which to me is an opportunity for us to tell them what they need to do.

In short, I think we are winning. Not nearly fast enough for any of us, but if we keep doing our work, we will end this goddamn war, and stop Bush from initiating another.


Students Against the War

March 23, 2007

This was published by The Nation after this article by Sam Graham-Felsen in the April 2, 2007 edition of The Nation. The Student Peace Action Network is a part of the coordinating committee of the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition.

Published on Thursday, March 22, 2007 by The Nation

Students Against The War

by Peter Rothberg
At the outset of the Iraq war four years ago numerous polls found that students, like the majority of the population, overwhelmingly supported the invasion. Now those same polls show that students, more than any other age group, oppose the war.

I’ve heard much lamenting over the lack of student antiwar activism and organizing around Iraq. The absence of a draft is generally held to be the most important difference in explaining the larger student mobilizations against war in Southeast Asia but charges of apathy also abound.

This has always seemed unfair to me–students have exhibited just as much, if not in most cases more, opposition to the war than any other age group. As Sam Graham-Felsen recounted in a recent Nation article, a broad array of student groups have made ending the war a top priority. Among the main players are a reborn Students for a Democratic Society, the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, the Campus Antiwar Network and the Hip Hop Caucus, a new organization founded by Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. (Check the SDS site for a survey of antiwar actions mounted by students to mark yesterday’s fourth anniversary of the war and read Nation intern Wes Enzinna’s description of antiwar activists’ use of YouTube for more examples of student opposition to the war.)

Offering some of the most substantial support for this collegiate peace activism, Campus Progress, the student program of the Center for American Progress, has launched the Iraq Campaign and Iraq Film Project. (Full disclosure: CP is also an active collaborator with The Nation. We re-publish a small portion of CP content on our StudentNation site and we jointly produce an annual student journalism conference.)

There’s been an unusually large number of good documentaries recently produced on the war which can help bring the realities on the ground into sharp focus. Campus Progress is offering to supply organizers with the docs and assist in arranging associated panel discussions with war veterans, elected officials, policy experts, activists, and film directors. Check out the list of films currently being screened, see a list of upcoming screenings, and click here to organize a screening on your campus. More than 40 US campuses have already signed up to host film events.

Campus Progress is also offering ideas for action, downloadable posters and signs, access to policy experts, and, best of all, actual grants of $200 to $1,000 to student activists working on innovative education and advocacy campaigns to end the Iraq war.

If you’re not a student and want to get more involved in peace actions, check out the website for United for Peace website for a range of activist suggestions and tools for change.
© 2007 The Nation

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4 War Years, NO MORE!

March 20, 2007

Four years ago today we invaded the country of Iraq, a country that for twelve years before that had been suffering under extreme U.S. sanctions at the cost of over a million lives (mostly children) due to malnourishment and lack of medical supplies, because of the absurd allegation that there were weapons of mass destruction there – despite the fact that there was no evidence to this and no one but the Bush Administration and the U.S. mass media believed Iraq had such capabilities.

Four years later and we are still occupying Iraq and Afghanistan.

 The last year has seen a resurgence of the Taliban, increasing power by local warlords and an exponential increase in drug exports is what our presence in Afghanistan has created. No one even talks about Afghanistan anymore, but the violence is increasing and the situation for Afghanis is bleak.

 In Iraq the situation is spiraling more and more out of control. The U.S. government talks of the need for Iraqis to take responsibility in order to stop the violence and create democracy. Yet the attempts by the democratically-elected Iraqi government to demand that U.S. troops leave have been disregarded. How can you expect a government to have any authority or stabilizing ability when they are unable to affect or end the occupation, which is the most significant concern in Iraqi society today? 

Another year over, and what have we done?

 The peace movement has been extraordinarily active this past year through mass mobilizations, building of local antiwar organizations/coalitions and coordination, and pushing the debate on the war to make it a key issue in the elections. There are now literally dozens of bills in Congress that address the war and would bring about its end, and that is because of the massive grassroots pressure to end the war. After over 4 years of pressure, the House of Representatives finally had a debate on the Iraq war, but talk isn’t enough when lives are on the line and we won’t rest until Congress uses its power to end the war now.

 Over the past week hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in protest around the world. Of the thousands of Christians who gathered in DC last Friday to pray for peace and an end to the war, more than 200 of them took additional direct action and were arrested in front of the White House.

 Students and youth are also showing their opposition in their communities through a variety of demonstrations, plays, panels, forums and actions to both educate and engage their peers and friends on the issues of the war. By connecting the local and global we can discuss how the war affects our communities and the unique ways we each have power through our schools or community to flunk the war machine. Check www.StudentPeaceAction.org over the coming week for updates and pictures of actions taking place around the country.

 Too many lives have been lost or destroyed, Iraqi and American, over the past 4 years, we must keep it up and grow our local, national and international efforts end the war. Together we can ensure that we do not find ourselves marking the 5th anniversary still in the midst of war, no matter how much Bush pleas for patience – to be patient when people are dying and you can do something about it is a crime against humanity. In solidarity with the Iraqi people we demand an end to the occupation and a way to peace, now.

Keep organizing,

Randy

Student Peace Action Network Coordinator

www.StudentPeaceAction.org 


U.S. commander says no military solution to Iraq

March 8, 2007

The newest Commander of troops in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, noted the need for a political, rather than a military, solution to Iraq today.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell Said the U.S. is losing in Iraq and has made a call for drawdown by mid-2007

At the same time, politics are making an end to the conflict all but impossible. Congress is fraught with both whining and nail-biting indecision, unwilling to expose themselves to any responsibility for Iraq if any change were to make things worse; apparently it’s ok to continue for years down a horrible trajectory as long as you can frame yourself as not being responsible – then you can win in 2008 and continue to not do anything. The House Democrats are in the midst of an existential crisis, but anti-war legislators came out with their demands to end the disaster – calling on their fellow members of Congress to stand up and join them.

Let’s hope the rest of Congress is listening. It’s been 4 years too many already.

-Randy Wilson

Student Peace Action Network Coordinator

P.S. Happy International Women’s Day! Let’s celebrate by making the world safer [and more peaceful], not only for women but everyone.


Iran, 2nd update

March 7, 2007

After settling in, our Fellowship of Reconciliation delegation embarked on some emotional meetings.

We visited the Society of Chemical Weapons Victims Support as one of our first excursions in Tehran. During the 1980-1988, Iraq-Iran war, where one million people died, the U.N. claims that Iraq used 19,500 chemical bombs. Many of the bombs and chemical agents were provided by western countries.

 

Iranians revere veterans of this war and consider many of the casualties as martyrs. With a great sense of justice, these veterans speak in solidarity with the victims of nuclear weapons. They work for peace and for ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction. In closing his emotional remarks a chemical weapons victim said, “my eyes, lungs and skin was affected, yet I work for world peace.”

The next day, we drove through Tehran’s chaotic traffic to a long-term care facility for war victims. There we heard the same message: we must abolish weapons of mass destruction and find ways of diplomacy instead of war. In my travels, I find it interesting that the majority of those affected by war, oppose war. Yet, those who send young women and men to war rarely possess this experience.

Later in the day, we navigated the small alleys of a Bazaar, where like in the U.S. you can buy a fair amount of consumer junk. Unlike home, some of the small shops overflowed with colorful produce, olives and other tasty treats. My favorite little shop blends fresh mango, strawberry, orange and other juices for a mere fifty cents a glass. I sipped on strawberry that day.

Stay tuned for an account of our visit with a Vice President and our travels to the namesake of the wine, Shiraz.

Peace,

Paul


Tilting at Windmills Before the Chief Judge

March 5, 2007

On September 26th and 27th, 2006, a number of peace activists converged in Washington, DC, to take their demands for an end to war to Congress. Of the hundreds present, approximately 70 were arrested for ‘crossing a police line’ and ‘unlawful assembly’ in 4 different places. Of these, four national Peace Action staff – Eric Swanson, Graham Cowger, Randy Wilson and Executive Director Kevin Martin – were arrested in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building. Below is an account of the trial that took place over the course of February 15-16, 2007 for those arrests. 

On Feb. 16, 2007, I and more than thirty other peace activists were convicted by Rufus King, III, the chief judge of Superior Court in the District of Columbia. One defendant was acquitted.

On Sept. 26, 2006, as part of the Declaration of Peace, seventy-one activists were arrested in Washington, D.C. while trying to reach members of the U.S. Senate and convince them to cut off funding for the disastrous war and occupation of Iraq. The following day, another twenty-six activists were arrested in a plaza outside the Rayburn House Office Building in a die-in symbolizing all victims of the Iraq War.

As an organizer with the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance, I was involved in the planning for the Declaration of Peace. As a member of the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore, I joined an affinity group on Sept. 26, which attempted to place a commemorative coffin on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Instead sixteen of us were arrested and charged with “crossing a police line.”

A group arrested that day outside the Russell Senate Office Building also faced a charge of crossing a police line. The largest group to be arrested was charged with “unlawful assembly” inside the Hart Senate Office Building. This was also the charge for those arrested outside Rayburn on Sept. 27.

Our first surprise was that the government set Feb. 14, 2007 as the court date for all defendants from four different arrest scenarios. The next surprise came when I discussed the case with a prosecutor who told me the government intended to proceed with 57 individual trials. I told her that was preposterous. She replied, “The trials will be short.”

Due to a snow emergency, superior court was closed on Feb. 14, and a number of defendants could not get flights out of Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin. Nevertheless, some thirty pro se defendants did come to court on Feb. 15. We acted as a community, and intended to be tried together.

When we appeared before Judge King, he agreed to hold a consolidated trial. Since the government was not ready to proceed, we made a motion to dismiss. Instead he postponed the trial until the afternoon to give the government more time to gather their witnesses.

By 2 PM, the two prosecutors secured all their witnesses and had their paperwork in order. The defense requested that those defendants who were unable to attend the entire trial be tried in absentia. Surprisingly, King accepted the motion, and some ten defendants took advantage of that decision as the trial took two days.

It was a unique trial, as legal observers had never seen a trial with defendants from four different arrests over a two-day period. Once the defendants stipulated to the fact they were arrested on either Sept. 26 or 27, the government called several police witnesses. They testified it was necessary to set up police lines for the protection of the defendants and others. Of course, we believed the real intent was to prevent us from presenting our grievances to our elected officials.

On Sept. 26, the police informed us we could not leave the permitted space at Upper Senate Park, which is near the Capitol and the Senate buildings. Nevertheless, the coffin affinity group did cross Constitution Ave. and continued its procession until we encountered a police line some 100 yards from the Capitol. As we crossed that arbitrary police line, sixteen of us were arrested.

A similar scenario unfolded as marchers headed toward the Senate buildings. Some defendants went around that police line and were taken into custody. Others negotiated with the police and were eventually allowed to enter the Hart Building before being arrested.

On Sept. 27, the police did not stop a procession with commemorative coffins from Upper Senate Park to the Rayburn Building. On that day, I was allowed to place a coffin in the plaza without being arrested. Only those who joined the die-in were taken into custody.

Once the prosecution rested its case, we made motions for judgment of acquittal. After they were denied, defendants from each of the arrest scenarios testified. In essence, those accused of crossing a police line argued the police denied us our Constitutional rights. Defendants arrested inside Hart elicited testimony from the police that they were peaceful and respectful. Defense witnesses pointed out the prayer vigil in the atrium did not interfere with government business or obstruct anyone’s passage. The Rayburn defendants argued they did not obstruct passage into the building. Witnesses pointed out two members of Congress entered Rayburn during the die-in.

Both sides presented closing arguments. The prosecution stated the defendants admitted being arrested on Sept. 26 or 27. Case closed. We argued the government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt we were guilty, as the police witnesses did not specify what individual defendants did on Sept. 26 or 27. We reiterated our Constitutional rights were violated by the police lines and that the charge of unlawful assembly was bogus, as business at the Hart and Rayburn buildings was not disrupted.

We also argued points of law. I informed the court that the defendants were obligated by the Nuremberg Principles to take action against a government which violated international law by engaging in an illegal war,

We also brought to the court’s attention, District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Andrew E. Bloch, 863 A.2d 845. The appeals court overturned his conviction for crossing a police line set up around the White House in anticipation of a public demonstration. It recognized such police behavior as an unreasonable restriction on speech.

I brought to court my Don Quixote statue. Like the character in Cervantes’ novel, I often tilt against windmills. This case was no different.

In convicting us, Judge King ruled the police acted properly. The defendant who was acquitted was inside the Russell Building when a police officer brought her outside and arrested her.

Several of us intend to appeal our convictions. We believe King misunderstood the Bloch decision and erred by allowing the government to prosecute on the basis of guilt by association instead of meeting the burden of proof for each defendant’s guilt.

Those who missed the February trial are scheduled for March 14. They also intend to condemn the war and speak truth to power. As the war continues, so will the protests, arrests and trials.

Max Obuszewski has been arrested more than seventy times in the pursuit of peace and justice. He can be reached at mobuszew@myway.com.


Day 1 In Iran

March 3, 2007

Our Organizing and Political Director, Paul Kawika Martin, has just begun a 2 week journey in Iran, below are the reactions/experiences from his first day. The purpose of the trip is to build connections between Iranian and American people, in spite of the looming threat of a U.S. attack on Iran based on a variety of absurd pretenses. Read about the very real threat of U.S. use of nuclear weapons on Iran and sign our No War with Iran petition today to help us stop this escalation and expansion of war.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation selected 24 delegates with diverse backgrounds for our 13-day trip to Iran to practice citizen diplomacy.

Our first taste of Iran started on the state-run Iran Air we flew from the United Kingdom. The old 747 gave us more leg room than the fancy Virgin Atlantic seats with personal screens and entertainment center we flew from New York city. By law, all women over the age of nine must wear the hejab – garments that only leave the hands and face uncovered. Iranian women do this in two ways. The chador covers the body like a black tent. The other perhaps more fashionable option includes a scarf, manteau (similar to a trench coat) and pants. Of course, all the female flight attendants wore the proper covering. This, along with Iranian candy, food and tea would be the things you would notice compared to a U.S. flight.

My next taste of Iran occurred during a one-hour walk of the streets of Tehran where we engaged in three conversations with Iranians. As the women in the delegation shopped for scarves and manteaus to cover their heads as the law demands, I took a walk with two of my fellow delegates, Ross and Rudy.

Walking amongst the 14 million in Tehran, three young women walked by saying “hello.”
As three tall white men, we stick in a country with few westerners. Shiva, 17, and her two sisters, around 21, exchanged short pleasantries perhaps because they wanted to practice their English. A few minutes later, Shiva chased us down to offer us hot fava beans that street vendors cook during the cool weather. After our thanks, she went back to her sisters. With curiosity as a motivation, Shiva found us again to find out why we traveled to her country. Impressed with our peace mission, she told us that she continues to study biology and her sister majors in agriculture.

All the while, Shiva’s sister would fix her hejab as it kept falling off her head.
I felt a bit nervous because although enforcement is becoming less strict, women are forbidden be with males other than their husbands and family.

Shiva did most of the talking, maybe she spoke the best English, maybe she felt most comfortable pushing the envelope of Iranian law. Most of all, Shiva wanted us to tell people in the United Stated to love Islam and God and that often people hold misperceptions about Islam.

Our other two shorter conversations were with men. While, I only know a few words in Farsi, many of our encounters included the conclusion of disagreement with the Bush administration bad and peace is preferable. In this hour, I felt very welcomed by Iranians.

I will write when I can during our busy schedule and send when limited access to the Internet allows. Tomorrow we will meet with the victims of chemical weapons – supplied by the U.S. – during the Iraq/Iran War.

Peace,

Paul Kawika Martin


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