With a brief and welcome break in the recent cold snap in D.C., 50-degree weather and sunny skies on Saturday, January 27, welcomed nearly 500,000 anti-war demonstrators from across the country to the Mall in front of the Capitol. Carrying signs, buttons, banners and posters with messages ranging from the slightly humorous (Women Say Pull Out) to the tragic (a bleeding American soldier on one side, a bleeding Iraqi civilian on the other), they also carried two clear messages: stop funding this war, and bring the troops home.
People traveled long distances for reasons ranging from the personal to the political. Maureen Cruise of Pacific Palisades, a longtime activist, retired nurse and delegate to the California Democratic Party said she came to Washington to march because “we the people are responsible for the consequences of our government and for the results of whatever our tax dollars fund.” Dr. and Mrs. Javad Razani of Santa Monica, representing Goldstar Families for Peace, were there to end the war before other families suffer the same loss that they have incurred, the death of their son while on duty in Iraq, just one week before he was to be discharged.
The march began with a series of speakers including Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun, Representative John Conyers of Michigan, Mayor Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City, Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Jonathan Hotto – one of the soldiers that co-authored the recent petition for redress – and many others. Representative Maxine Waters, Chair of the Out of Iraq Caucus, told the marchers, “You are the true patriots of America, here to save your country” and implored them to ”put some starch in the backs of members of Congress and give them the courage they need to do the right thing.” Representing the voices of progressive Hollywood were actors Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Sean Penn and former Santa Monica resident Jane Fonda, who admitted that she had not been to a march in 34 years because she had been afraid of hurting the movement by what people might say about her, but that she can no longer be silent. Susan Sarandon spoke primarily of the suffering of veterans, citing recent statistics.
The Citizen Lobbyists Head to the People’s House
Well-briefed on pending legislation and bill numbers, the citizen lobbyists headed for the House of Representatives and Senate buildings on Monday morning carrying their messages: Stop funding the war and bring the troops home; investigate the case made for war and the way it has been conducted; prevent a new war with Iran and block any escalation of the war.
A group of 16 people from a variety of groups and backgrounds lobbied Congressman Waxman, who represents the district that includes Santa Monica. They met with a staff member and focused on a particular piece of legislation that they want the Congressman to support, HR 508, which calls for redeployment of troops within six months and also includes a stabilization and reparations plan for Iraq. The bill is co-authored by Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey, all representatives from California.
Santa Monica resident Tighe Barry detailed the $126,900,000 that the City of Santa Monica has contributed to the war in Iraq and the alternative ways that the $1.1 billion that has come from Waxman’s district to pay for the war could have been used had it been invested back into the community, such as providing 465,030 people with health care, 17,082 elementary school teachers, 134,374 head start places or 173,880 university student scholarships. And writer Jackie Parker expressed the group’s sentiments, “We will not accept business as usual and we will not accept immorality in our name.”
The California delegation, now with about 100 people representing the entire state, made their way back to the atrium for the meeting with Senator Boxer’s representative, who appeared to be a bit inexperienced and overwhelmed by the crowd. The warm tone of the meeting, however, was in stark contrast to the meeting immediately following with Senator Feinstein’s two representatives, well-versed in foreign policy and evading direct answers to uncomfortable questions. When asked if the Senator’s husband had profited from defense contracts, one of the Senator’s staff replied, “I can’t answer that. I work for the Senator, not for her husband.”
In the end, the marchers, protesters and citizen lobbyists delivered a message that recent polls show is shared by more than 50 percent of the country: it is time for the Iraq war to end. It remains to be seen if their message has been heard and absorbed by their elected representatives.
According to current statistics:
1 in 3 homeless Americans are veterans
1 in 4 veterans suffer from post traumatic stress disorder with waiting periods of 2-3 months for treatment
There is 1 VA doctor to every 500 patients
20 24-year-old veterans have twice the
unemployment rate of the general population
95 percent of the National Guard has difficulty receiving pay
Over 200 Iraq war vets have committed suicide
Returning vets have a 70 percent divorce rate
The current administration has planned for a $65 billion decrease in veterans’ benefits over the next five years