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After nearly four years of war I’d wager that a few million Americans have held a candle at a vigil, carried a sign at a rally, passed out a flyer, forwarded an email to friends, or gone to a demonstration in a distant city. If you, Dear Reader, are one of these stout souls, this letter is to you.
But first, may I ask a favor? For the rest of this letter please forget that at least once during these years of protest you no doubt mourned that “only the choir” participated. The choir — people who actually do something for peace — is precisely who I’m writing to.
No doubt it’s frustrating that, except for a few grand occasions, “only the choir” shows up. But consider this: of the millions of women in the U.S. at the time, relatively few became active suffragists with the staying power to eventually get votes for women. Of the millions of workers suffering from the Great Depression, relatively few answered the call to sit down in the auto factories to win recognition for unions. Of the millions of blacks bearing the weight of segregation, relatively few sat down at lunch counters.
In their day they were “the choir.” When they were the only ones who showed up for vigils and rallies, they no doubt bemoaned that “only the choir” had come again. They came to action after action, moving things forward imperceptibly each time. But when conditions were right, they acted one more time. And then they made history.
Several indicators confirm that conditions are right again.
The November elections clearly proved the public wants to end the war. That sentiment will surely grow in the months ahead.
This spring, likely in March, Congress will vote whether to continue the war with another $160,000,000,000 “supplemental appropriation.”
This February, the peace movement’s choir, of which you are one, will up the ante of protest. Voices for Creative Nonviolence, joined by Veterans For Peace, have initiated the “Occupation Project” to occupy the hometown offices of Representatives and Senators who have voted money for the war.
If we miss this opportunity to greatly hasten peace, the war will still eventually end. “Eventually,” however, will be measured in additional thousands of lives lost, even more thousands suffering horrific injuries, and the world becoming more dangerous.
All this clearly adds up to a historic opportunity.
You have already done something for peace. Now will you consider taking a giant step that will mean so much more?
Last week I spoke in Marietta, Ohio to 35 people, and announced the Occupation Project. I asked who among them would consider occupying their local congressional offices. Without a moment’s hesitation, six hands went up. You could hear the choir start to harmonize!
We talked about practical concerns: having to work, how much will it cost, what will the charge be? We talked about taking a vacation day and the modest fines involved for a misdemeanor — all compared to the enormous suffering Iraqis and soldiers now endure in this war.
We could have talked about how much less frightening this is compared to the suffragists who were arrested, manhandled, and force-fed while they served long jail terms; how unionists struck in the face of company goon squads; how civil rights activists tolerated untold abuses from screaming racists — and still they carried on. They persevered. They stepped into the gap when they were needed most. They won justice and made history.
The Democratic Party now controls Congress because the grassroots peace movement turned public opinion against the Bush administration’s war. These new elected officials must see that the time to end this war is now.
Many incumbents, including my own Congressperson, talk for peace — even join the “Out of Iraq” Congressional Caucus — but vote for war. They must now be told in no uncertain terms the jig is up. We will no longer tolerate platitudes for peace and votes for blood. This is where we draw the line. They either vote to end the occupation of Iraq or they will be occupied.
Below are links to roll calls for votes that Rep. Dennis Kucinich listed as the record of war funding. Check and see how you elected officials voted. A very few voted against each appropriation, and a call to their office will confirm if they will continue voting against the war. Several others have voted against one or two appropriations but in favor of the rest. These members, and those who consistently vote money for this war, are our targets.
We will go to their offices with a pledge for them to sign, confirming they will not vote for any more death and suffering in this war. If they do not sign, they will be occupied. A considerably more benign occupation than they are imposing, but uncomfortable for them nonetheless.
See how your Representatives and Senators have voted. Talk with other members of the choir where you live. Get ready to sing a glorious song to end this war!
MIKE FERNER is a freelance writer from Ohio and author of “Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran For Peace Reports from Iraq”
Roll Calls for Key Congressional Votes on Iraq War
House Joint Resolution 114 Authorizing Use of Military Force Against Iraq
House Joint Resolution 2
Final House and Senate Vote April 12, 2003: (both voice votes)