Lawmakers respond to public outcry
WASHINGTON — “Let Conyers in!” the crowd chanted at the White House gate the evening of June 16. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and a dozen other lawmakers had come to deliver petitions signed by 566,000 people demanding that President George W. Bush answer for the so-called Downing Street Memo proving that he “fixed” intelligence to justify war on Iraq.
Finally White House guards opened the gate just wide enough to accept the petitions. They had been gathered on the web site of Progressive Democrats of America, Conyers’ own web site and a new on-line group, AfterDowningStreet.org.
That day was like a dam breaking on the pent-up rage of the people against the Iraq war. A New York Times/CBS poll a few days earlier showed 60 percent of the people favoring removal of some or all U.S. troops from Iraq.
That morning, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) was joined at a news conference by Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, who had supported the war, Texas Republican Ron Paul and others to unveil their bipartisan “Homeward Bound Act.” It is a binding resolution calling on Bush to announce by the end of 2005 a plan for withdrawal from Iraq that would begin by October 2006.
The resolution was quickly endorsed by the National Council of Churches (NCC), which unites 35 Protestant denominations. “The development of an exit strategy for Iraq is long overdue,” said NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar.
Later that day, Conyers convened a hearing on the explosive Downing Street Memo. In the presence of about 50 other lawmakers, he announced that more than 120 of his colleagues signed a letter to Bush demanding that he answer questions about the memo. Many call it the “smoking gun” of the Iraq war.
Attorney John Bonifaz of AfterDowningStreet.org told the hearing the memo “provides new and compelling evidence” that Bush and his minions lied to trick the nation into war. citing Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, he said it is an impeachable offense to engage in a “conspiracy to deceive and mislead Congress and the people into war.
Moments after the hearing ended, Conyers and others rushed down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House to deliver the petitions. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) told a rally across the street that she and others have established the Out of Iraq Congressional Working Group. At least 41 members of the House had already joined, she said. As of June 21, that number had risen to 61.
Waters hailed Conyers’ hearings. “We focused on the Big Lie uncovered in the Downing Street Memo,” she told the cheering crowd. “Finally Congress has come alive and decided to take on this president in a real way. The president is a liar. Dick Cheney, the chief architect of the Big Lie is not only a liar, he is a thief.” She accused the vice president of helping Halliburton, of which he was CEO, rake off illicit war profits in Iraq.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) predicted, “Today is the beginning of the end of this illegal war. We are going to continue with the ‘street heat’ and in the halls of Congress. We’re going to work to bring our troops home from Iraq.” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) told the crowd, “Tell the Republicans who control Congress with an iron fist: ‘Stop the cover-up! Tell the truth about this war!’”
Gold Star Families for Peace founder Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey died in Iraq, said, “I finally think I’m going to get some kind of justice for Casey and the 1,700 other U.S. soldiers and countless Iraqis who died needlessly.”
Tia Steele of Baltimore stood holding photos of her stepson, David Branning, 21, a U.S. Marine killed in Fallujah, on Nov. 12, 2004. “They sent him into combat with no experience and minimal training,” she told the World. “He was cannon-fodder for this atrocious war.” She is now an organizer for the Quaker’s “Eyes Wide Open” project to mobilize grassroots opposition to the war.
Progressive Democrats of America Director Tim Carpenter told the World in a telephone interview that the “tide is turning” in the struggle to end the war, and that PDA is “seeing the fruit” of its grassroots efforts to move more lawmakers into opposition to the war.
The Out of Iraq caucus is striking in its diversity, Black, Latino and white. Members include Waters, Conyers, Lee, Charles Rangel (N.Y.), Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Lloyd Doggett (Wash.), Nick Rahall (W.Va.), Luis Guterriez (Ill.), Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), Jose Serrano (N.Y.), Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Lynn Woolsey (Calif.), John Lewis (Ga.) and many more.
On, Sept. 24, Carpenter said, antiwar protesters will gather in Washington to demand that the war end and the troops be brought home. “The following Monday we will visit the offices of all 435 members of Congress and 100 senators to urge them to act to end the war.”