NORTHBROOK, Ill. — A lively overflow town hall meeting in this suburban swing congressional district demanded Republican Rep. Mark Kirk “take a stand” with the nation’s majority and stop rubber-stamping the Bush administration’s Iraq war policy.
The meeting of some 400 people had to turn away an equal number. Those who couldn’t get in marched on Kirk’s district office nearby.
The Aug. 28 event culminated the “Iraq Summer Campaign” of the coalition Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. The campaign targeted 31 representatives and nine senators, all Republicans, for their continued support of the war. Sixteen other town hall meetings were held simultaneously across the country.
District residents dogged Kirk all summer and he avoided them at every turn. Josh Lansdale, an Iraq vet who coordinated activities by Illinois Iraq veterans, told the World how Kirk, also a veteran, repeatedly blew him off. He finally followed Kirk with a video camera and posted the tape on YouTube.
Kirk refused to attend the town hall meeting. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) eagerly took his place and reported on her recent trip to Iraq with a congressional delegation.
“We are never going to win in Iraq,” she declared. “There is no such thing as victory. The U.S. occupation is the largest part of the problem. It is causing more damage the longer we stay.”
Schakowsky described a “surreal” luncheon with Gen. David Petraeus. As violence and grisly death surrounded them, they were handed gilded menus and served lobster tortellini.
“We are spending $720 million each day in Iraq. Think about the health care, bridges, schools and university scholarships we could pay for,” said Schakowsky, voicing a theme repeated throughout the evening.
Eugene Cherry, a U.S. Army medic who went AWOL for 16 months after his tour of duty, recounted working alongside private military contractors, many of whom were paid a pittance. Instead of tending to the wounded, he found himself part of patrols breaking down doors.
Cherry came home with post-traumatic stress disorder and was saved by his mother’s intervention. He eventually turned himself in so he could receive treatment. “Every day it’s been a struggle to keep sane,” he said.
In a moving presentation, Rose Marie Slavenas, a Gold Star mother, sadly but angrily described the loss of her son Brian, a helicopter pilot shot down with 16 other soldiers aboard over Fallujah.
“They finally figured it out,” she said. “Real smart. After breaking down doors in Fallujah they sent two unarmed helicopters over the city. It was brought down by a heat-seeking missile.”
William McNary, president of USAction, blasted the Bush administration’s war policy. “We will not allow the stubbornness of one man to thwart the will of an entire nation,” he said.
McNary warned of a new right-wing media campaign called Freedom’s Watch, headed by former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. Right-wing Republican donors pay for the ads, which feature Iraq veterans. However, McNary said Kirk and other swing district Republicans are increasingly vulnerable. “We will not wait for the 2008 elections and a new Congress,” he concluded.