On Thursday, August 30, San Francisco anti-war activists held a “Peoples Town Hall Meeting” at the San Francisco Federal Building, site of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home office.
Given the Democratic Party leadership’s tepid follow-through on opposing the Bush Administration and the Iraq War, peace activists CODEPINK have been pressuring Pelosi for months to meet publicly with her constituents about the war. Since her staffers consistently refused to cooperate, CODEPINK members camped and fasted outside Pelosi’s San Francisco home for two weeks in August. The mock town meeting was a culmination of that campaigning, and featured a San Francisco resident, coincidentally also named Nancy, wearing a cut-out of Pelosi’s face but tied to a chair to ensure that at least the Congresswoman’s stand-in had to listen to critics.
CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin opened the proceedings as office workers on their way home began filing out of the building. Benjamin explained to the forty or so assembled San Franciscans that the last time Pelosi had a town hall meeting was well over a year ago, and though “this is the time of year when many Congresspeople have meetings in home districts [but] we couldn’t get a meeting.” Benjamin said, “while Nancy Pelosi didn’t have time to meet with her constituents in August, we did our homework and found that she’s gone to seven different states going from fundraiser to fundraiser, so she had plenty of time for that.”
Antonia Juhasz, activist, policy analyst, and author of The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time, spoke next. She described Pelosi as “the most powerful Democrat in Washington, DC,” and said, “if I had the ultimate joy and privilege of being able to talk to her in her esteemed majesty I would tell her that Iraq’s oil is not ours.” Juhasz noted that Pelosi has said the oil law under consideration in Iraq, which was drafted and written in English by U.S. contractor BearingPoint and reviewed by the Bush Administration and the International Monetary Fund months before Iraqi legislators saw it, “is about revenue sharing.” But Juhasz argued, “what we want them to do is to share the 2 cents they have left after we take the $200 billion away,” since the law puts as a “benchmark” for the Iraqi government “that it must privatize its oil and turn its oil over to US oil corporations.”
As an analyst with U.S. military consultants the RAND Corporation, Daniel Ellsberg leaked documents to the New York Times in 1971 known as “the Pentagon Papers,” which contributed to mass disaffection with the Vietnam War. The veteran activist drew applause from the dissidents on August 30 by suggesting that they “recall to Nancy Pelosi and others that they were not elected for the single purpose of getting reelected.” Referring to Pelosi and other leading Democrats, Ellsberg argued, “their failure to act better than they have has amounted to complicity not only in bad policy, or policies they don’t agree with but haven’t stopped, it involves them in complicity with grave unconstitutional behavior, destruction of our constitution, grave illegality, obviously the deaths day by day and hour by hour of many, many people ten to one non-American.” Ellsberg stated he thought it “more likely than not” that Bush would attack Iran before leaving office, and noted that “Nancy Pelosi actually withdrew part of a bill in March of this year which did no more than say that he must come to Congress, as the constitution demands, before he attacks a new country. For Congress to say that is kind of the minimal thing that could be done, and Nancy Pelosi removed that from a vote. That was noted at the time in this country and in Iran, surely, as a total green light to the President using a free hand to do what he wants to do.” Ellsberg also stressed that Bush’s moves toward a police state “with the excuse of 9/11” encountered “no effective opposition from the Democratic Party when they were in the minority or in the majority.”
Norman Solomon, author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death (recently adapted into a documentary film narrated by Sean Penn), echoed Ellsberg’s critique of the Democrats: “When we look at Congress today we see the distinction between the leadership and leadership. And when we look at the Speaker of the House and her own district, we’re really seeing the refraction of several decades of the gap between the grassroots and the power elite in Washington.” Solomon encouraged opponents of the status quo to “develop challenges, including at the electoral level,” as “it’s a travesty and a tragedy for San Francisco to be represented in Congress by someone who doesn’t represent the views of the people in San Francisco.”
At the protest’s close, Dick Becker of the anti-war coalition ANSWER coalition stressed the importance of upcoming protests. On September 15, Congress will begin debating $195 billion in funding which Bush has requested for the Iraq war. Becker commented on the September 15 march on Washington, “it’s not just going to be a march but a mass act of civil disobedience. On Monday the 17th CODEPINK has called for a march inside Congress, and the Iraq Veterans Against the War have called for shutting down the recruitment stations in Washington DC.” Further demonstrations will take place throughout the U.S. on October 27. In San Francisco, Becker listed “the five Bay Area labor councils, United for Peace and Justice/Bay Area, the ANSWER coalition, the Stop Funding the War Coalition, the Episcopal Diocese” and other organizations as all focusing on that date for organizing, which meant “we have the possibility to see more people in the streets than at any time since the run up to the war.”
BEN TERRALL is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org