Local antiwar protests sweep the nation

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Congress feels grassroots pressure to bring the troops home

WASHINGTON — In local town hall meetings, rallies and visits to lawmakers’ district offices, antiwar activists are taking their “bring the troops home” message to the grass roots as the fourth anniversary of the Iraq war looms.

After 36 hours of debate, the House approved a resolution condemning Bush’s plan to send an additional 48,000 combat and support troops to Iraq. The vote was 246-182, with 17 Republicans breaking with Bush and voting for the resolution.

In a rare Saturday session, the Senate voted 56-34 to debate an identical resolution. Seven Republicans joined 49 Democrats, four shy of the 60 super-majority needed to end the filibuster and proceed with the debate. It was the second Senate vote in a week in which Democratic leaders failed in their attempt to win an up or down vote on the anti-escalation resolution.

Nevertheless, antiwar leaders saw the bipartisan majorities in both chambers as evidence that the tide is shifting strongly against the war both on Capitol Hill and across the nation.

“The vote in the House is historic because it reflected the urgency of the call to end the war and challenge Bush expressed by the voters in last November’s election,” said Judith Le Blanc, co-chair of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), in a phone interview from her office in New York.

She blasted the minority Republicans for blocking a vote on the resolution that polls show is supported by 70 percent of the people.

“Now the focus shifts to the grass roots,” she said. “Local peace committees are organizing town hall meetings, rallies and speak-outs against the war all across the country.”

On Feb. 18, she said, 200 constituents turned out for a town hall meeting in Harlem with Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.). “Rangel has been an ally of the peace movement from the beginning,” she said. “He called on us to focus on lawmakers who have not yet taken a stand against the war. With our help, the antiwar bloc in Congress can create the legislative framework to end this war.”

The antiwar movement in Connecticut scheduled more than 25 town hall meetings across the state for Feb. 24, with the slogan, “Connecticut Opposes the War.”

Many local peace committees affiliated with UFPJ are building protest actions for the fourth anniversary of the invasion the weekend of March 17-19. Kelly Campbell, a peace and justice organizer for the American Friends Service Committee in Portland, Ore., told the World a broad coalition of labor union, student, veterans and military families groups is mobilizing for a massive antiwar rally Sunday, March 18, in Pioneer Square. Local groups across the state plan to bus thousands from throughout Oregon for the rally. Oregon’s Sen. Gordon Smith was one of the moderate Republicans who voted with the Democrats to proceed with a debate on the resolution. “We’re encouraged that he voted to end the filibuster but he could do very much more,” Campbell said.

Oregon is one of 20 states in which the state Legislature has either already passed or is debating resolutions against the war, a movement that is spreading rapidly across the nation.

Mark Ford, a spokesman for the Maine People’s Alliance in Portland, told the World his group helped organize the Jan. 30 visit of Vote Vets and Americans Against Escalation of the War in Iraq (AAEWI) to the offices of Maine’s Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, urging them to support the Senate resolution against the “troop surge.”

Ford said, “We appreciate that our senators broke ranks and voted to advance this antiwar measure. In our efforts to protect Maine’s highest priorities — public education, quality affordable health care, a clean and safe environment — there is no way we can ignore the devastating financial toll of the Iraq war. Bush’s morally bankrupt war has undermined our ability to protect Maine’s future and the future of America.”

Jeff Garis, director of Pennsylvania Action, a branch of USAction, said his group, affiliated with AAEWI, “put a lot of heat” on Republican Sen. Arlen Specter to stop his flip-flopping and come out clearly against the war. Specter said he is opposed to the troop surge but then he filibustered the resolution opposing the surge during the first Senate vote on the issue.

Garis joined 30 people who picketed outside Specter’s office in the frigid cold. “Specter said he voted to continue the filibuster because he wants ‘open debate.’ It’s obvious hypocrisy. Specter allowed the Republicans to push through their agenda and never called for open debate when they were the majority in the Senate. A lot of organizations were angry that he participated in that filibuster.”

Clearly feeling the heat, Specter reversed course on the second Senate vote, joining six other moderate Republicans who voted to move the anti-escalation resolution ahead.

“I think our efforts are having an effect on these legislators,” Garis said. “The movement against this war has just mushroomed. It’s coming to a head because of the outrageous, unbelievable conduct of this war. It was clear in the November election. Voters threw out of office everyone they could who supported the war. If Bush had been on the ballot, they would have thrown him out.”

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