Overflow meetings urge action on Iraq withdrawal, Bush lies

LOS ANGELES — A fiery Out of Iraq Town Hall/Teach In drew a standing-room-only, overflow crowd of 1,000 to Inglewood’s Covenant Worship Center here July 23. The multiracial crowd packing the church cheered calls for a stepped up struggle to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq and bring the troops home “sooner rather than later.”

“The president is continuing to spin the big lie” for its “illegal, unjust” war, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) charged in opening remarks. “We have to put the street heat where it belongs — on the Bush administration,” she said.

It was one of more than 300 town hall meetings, teach-ins and other events nationwide marking the third anniversary of the Downing Street Memo. The July 2002 memo revealed top-level discussions of British officials exposing the Bush administration’s “fixing of intelligence” to fit its Iraq war policy.

Turnouts around the country topped organizers’ expectations.

Some 15,000 people around the country attended Rovegate/Downing Street Memo” house parties organized through Rep. John Conyers’ (D-Mich.) web site, JohnConyers.com.

In Detroit, several hundred people filled a Wayne State University auditorium to hear Conyers and others call for an investigation of the administration’s “manipulation and deception.”

“Democracy dies in the dark,” Conyers told the overflow crowd. “It’s time to throw open the shades and let in the light.”

Michigan Peace Action leader Al Fishman called for pressure on members of Congress to sign on to the Resolution of Inquiry introduced in the House June 21 by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) with 26 co-sponsors, and to sign a letter by Sen. John Kerry and nine other senators urging full investigation of the administration’s use of intelligence.

“We will demand answers, we will demand accountability and we won’t stop until we get them,” Lee told 850 people who filled Oakland’s Grand Hall Theater, with hundreds unable to get in.

Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) also hosted standing-room-only town hall meetings in their home districts.

Smaller events dotted cities and small towns across the nation. In Newton Falls, Ohio, population 5,000, 12 people gathered at the community center, whose entrance is marked by a memorial to four young men from the town who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.

In Inglewood, Waters stressed that pressure on Congress was key for forcing the administration to end the occupation and bring the troops home. “We are wrong on this war — the president, the administration, many in Congress [and] the corporate media,” she said. “We have to call Congress and tell them that Bush must have an exit strategy, that we must get out of Iraq sooner rather than later.”

Waters urged pressure on congressmembers to join the 64-member Out of Iraq Caucus she helped form. Since many members are still afraid of speaking out, she said, “you, the people, have to take them by the hand … and lead them.”

Stressing the urgency of the issue, Waters said, if the administration is allowed to continue in Iraq, it will move into Syria and Iran to “control the Middle East.” Instead of Bush’s preemptive strike policy and unilateralism, which can trigger a nuclear war, she said to a standing ovation, “The correct path is peace and reconciliation; the path of diplomacy.”

A host of speakers echoed Waters.

Actor Mike Farrell declared that, although the “media was a megaphone for the Bush point of view,” in reality Bush’s policies are “opposed to the fundamental beliefs of the American people.”

Ending the Iraq war is one of the “most important political goals of our lifetime,” said ACLU leader and interfaith peace activist Steve Rhode.

State Assemblyman Jerome Horton (D) of Inglewood said he would introduce a resolution on getting out of Iraq in the California Legislature. Plans to introduce a similar resolution for the nearby Compton School Board were also announced.

Teachers’ union activist Arlene Inouye of the Coaliton Against Militarization of Our Schools charged that half of each tax dollar goes to military purposes, while only nine cents goes to education, health care, job training and similar programs. “We are short-changing our youth,” Inouye said.

Sixteen-year-old Franklin High School student Cat Vega said she and other students leaflet their school weekly informing fellow students on counter-recruitment, conscientious objection and other peace issues.

Fernando Suarez del Solar of Military Families Speak Out told how his son was killed early in the war by a US cluster bomb, not “enemy fire” as the Pentagon first told him.

“Bush lied, but who died?” asked Suarez del Solar. “Beautiful American boys and girls. And thousands and thousands of Iraqi children.”

Jane Wright, a Gold Star Mother Against the War, said her son died “defending an oil refinery” not democracy.

Rev. James Lawson, historic civil rights and peace coworker with Rev. Martin Luther King, now leader of the Southern California Southern Christian Leadership Conference, brought the crowd to its feet. Noting more than 100 U.S. military missions going on around the globe, he warned that the threat of U.S. military aggression reaches well beyond Iraq.

Susan Webb contributed to this story.