by Medea Benjamin
Some people get up early to have a leisurely breakfast and read the newspaper before going off to work, while others fly out the door with their coffee cup in hand. Whatever your morning routine, let me suggest a 30-second addition that could help stop the war in Iraq: Call your two Senators and tell them to bring the troops home in 2007.
Earlier this year, I virtually moved from my home in San Francisco to Washington, DC to pressure Congress to end the war. I’ve learned a few things in these last few months:
· Both branches of Congress are conservative, but the Senate is downright Jurassic. While the House of Representatives is sprinkled with women and blacks and Latinos, the Senate is stocked with one dark grey suit after another. Rich white men still compose about 80 percent of the Senate, their average age is 62, and even those who call themselves Democrats often think and act like Republicans.
· Active constituents around the country tend to know their House rep, but have little contact with their Senators. House members are up for election every two years and feel obligated to mix with the masses from time to time (town hall meetings, community events). Senators are much more isolated and elitist.
· While neither branch of Congress has fulfilled the will of the American people to stop the war in Iraq, Senators have been the worst. In the House, there is the Out of Iraq Caucus, the Progressive Caucus, a plethora of bills to stop the war; in the Senate, it has fallen virtually to Russ Feingold to lead the charge to get out of Iraq.
· When House and Senate bills go to joint conference to hash out the final bills, the House bills get watered down by the more conservative Senate. With the first version of the 2007 Supplemental war spending bill, the House had a fixed timetable for withdrawal, the Senate only a “goal”, so the version sent to Bush dropped the fixed timetable. The same will be true of the second supplemental that will be presented to Bush: the Senate version will take out any remaining House restrictions and allow this war to drag on and on.
· The series of call-ins, sit-ins and other pressure campaigns aimed at Congressional reps have had an impact in the House: 171 Representatives (169 Democrats, 2 Republicans) voted for Congressman Jim McGovern’s bill for withdrawal to begin within 90 days of enactment and be completed in 180 days. It didn’t pass, but the vote represented a significant 72 percent of Democrats. By contrast, a similar bill introduced by Senator Feingold to bring the troops home by April 1, 2008 got only 29 votes in the Senate, representing merely 57 percent of Democrats and no Republicans.
· Several Republican Senators have expressed misgivings about the war and even protested the surge—Chuck Hagel, John Warner, Susan Collins, Norm Coleman—but they all voted for continued war. Twenty-one Republican Senators are up for re-election in 2008 and many of them, such as Gordon Smith from Oregon, Susan Collins from Maine and Wayne Allard from Colorado, are extremely vulnerable. The time is right to go after Republican Senators up for re-election.
While most of the Senate is deaf to the cries of the majority of Americans to bring our troops home quickly, some Senators are listening—those running for president. All the Democratic Senators running for president supported Feingold’s bill to bring the troops home by April 1, 2008: Christopher Dodd (a co-sponsor), Joe Biden, Barak Obama, and even previous war hawk Hillary Clinton. Their votes don’t represent their great anti-war convictions, but rather the tremendous pressure they are getting on the campaign trail.
In fact, whether in the Senate or not, all the Democratic presidential candidates are falling over themselves to be more anti-war than the next. John Edwards has apologized for his 2002 vote authorizing Bush to invade Iraq and has been taking out full-page ads in major newspapers saying “Support the Troops, End the War”. He supported the Feingold bill but said it should go further by beginning withdrawal immediately and having all troops out in a year. Bill Richardson calls for troops out in 2007. Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the only one who doesn’t have to beef up his anti-war credentials, has now one-upped the others by adding the impeachment of Dick Cheney to his platform.
It’s obvious that these Democratic candidates, who are out among the public day after day, feel the pulse of the nation and are taking anti-war positions to win votes. Unfortunately, other Senators aren’t feeling that same kind of pressure.
If we want to end the war, this must change. Our Senators—especially the 71 who failed to support Feingold’s bill—need to hear from us on a regular basis. So why not add to your morning routine a call to your Senator with a simple reminder to bring our troops home in 2007? If enough of us make those calls, perhaps the Senators will actually wake up and smell the coffee.
Medea Benjamin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is cofounder of Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org