Last Sept. 14, the House of Representatives voted to grant President George W. Bush authority to use military force in retaliation against the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, after the Senate had earlier voted unanimously for a similar measure. In an act of great courage, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) cast the lone vote against the House resolution.

In a stirring floor speech, Lee expressed her grief and “sorrow for the families and loved ones who were killed and injured” and called for bringing to justice the “vicious murderers” behind “these outrageous acts” of Sept. 11. She then implored her colleagues to “think through the implications of our actions today – let us more fully understand their consequences.”

She pleaded, “I do not want to see this spiral out of control … we must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war.” Prophetic words. Since Lee’s historic vote heard around the nation and world, the Bush administration has embarked on a crusade against “evil,” projecting open-ended military involvement anywhere in the world in its “war on terrorism.” From South Asia to the Middle East and other parts of the world, in the short span since Sept. 11, war and violence are threatening to spiral out of control – bringing humanitarian crises of epic proportions to regions of the world, as well as grave consequences for the future of humanity.

More recently, a growing number of members of Congress have begun raising questions about plans for limitless war abroad, the bloated military budget and other aspects of the Bush administration’s foreign and domestic agenda.

Initially there were a few, on the right and even the center of the political spectrum, who tried to take advantage of the grief and fear that gripped the nation after Sept. 11 to go after Rep. Lee politically. Soon after, more than 3,000 people, including prominent public and entertainment figures, gathered on the square outside the Oakland City Hall to show their appreciation for the Congresswoman. That was followed by numerous other manifestations of support from church congregations, civic groups and labor.

Finally on the day of the primary elections in California, March 5, the constituents of the 9th Congressional District spoke at the polls. They gave Lee an impressive 85 percent of the vote in this predominantly Democratic district, dashing the hopes of her Democratic contender and any opposition that might emerge in the November general elections.

After the momentous Sept. 14 vote, her supporters coined the expression, “Barbara Lee speaks for me.” But even some who initially disagreed with that particular vote say they have come to realize that Rep. Lee “speaks” for them in more ways than one. Based on her voting record, the Congresswoman has received a 100 percent rating from the labor federation AFL-CIO, the League of Conservation Voters and the Human Rights Campaign, and is the only member of Congress to receive this perfect rating from Peace Action, the largest peace organization in the country. From the NAACP, the most prominent civil rights organization, she received an A.

In her remarks on the floor of Congress Sept. 14, Lee also warned against allowing “our justified anger” against those responsible for the Sept. 11 tragedy to “inflame prejudice against all Arab Americans, Muslims, Southeast Asians, and any other people because of race, religion, or ethnicity.” She closed by repeating the words a member of the clergy had pronounced earlier that day at the services for the Sept. 11 victims, “As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.”

In the following interview, World editorial board member Juan Lopez, a resident of the congressional district Lee represents, posed a set of questions to which the Congresswoman responded last week.

What about the domestic consequences of Sept. 11? The economic crisis and budget battle?

As we rebuild our nation and economy following Sept. 11, our priorities of enhancing public safety and national security must go hand in hand with increasing our economic security. We must remain committed to fighting for the key issues remaining in our domestic agenda, including increasing access to health care for people who have none, improving our crumbling public schools, building affordable housing for the millions of people who are homeless or at-risk for homelessness and ensuring that Social Security remains solvent for our elderly and disabled.

We have not seen a commitment to these issues from the Bush administration. I am concerned that the President’s budget will not adequately fund these priorities because his $2 trillion tax cut, passed last year, is a noose around our budget and our domestic agenda. We must end this corporate welfare system that rewards CEOs while neglecting working people and small investors, as the Enron crisis has shown us all too well. Instead of more unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and large corporations, we must pass legislation that will create jobs, improve our nation’s infrastructure, and improve unemployment and health benefits.

What does the Enron case reveal?
The Enron crisis has shown us how workers and consumers pay the price for corporate irresponsibility. The company’s collapse has revealed profound flaws in our pension laws as well as exposing the deep need for meaningful campaign finance reform.

I strongly support efforts of the General Accounting Office to obtain information about the Cheney Energy Task Force and the role of Enron in that process. Additionally, I support Rep. Henry Waxman’s [D-Calif.] efforts as Ranking Member of the House Government Reform Committee to unravel the mysteries surrounding the actions of the task force. What information has been uncovered raises serious questions about corporate influence, corporate corruption and consumer and employee rights.

What about the recent revelations that the Bush administration has contingency plans for using nuclear weapons as a first- strike, preemptive measure and is aggressively pursuing extending U.S. military dominance into outer space? What are the dangers in this?

Reports that the administration is developing contingency plans to use nuclear weapons against at least seven countries and is seeking to develop new, smaller battlefield nuclear arms are deeply troubling. I am concerned that we are moving away from diplomacy and cooperation among nations, and are instead moving unilaterally toward a reliance on the use of nuclear weapons. To think that the nuclear option is on the table as a viable strategy is terrifying.

What are your views in regard to the crisis in the Middle East? What do you see as the most immediate way out of the crisis, and the more long-term solution?

The current crisis in the Middle East has spiraled out of the control of both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government. Each day, the violence claims more victims and creates deeper hatred and anguish.

The Palestinians have a right to have a state, and the Israelis have a right to safety and security; neither of these goals can be achieved with a military solution. I believe sincerely that the search for a negotiated solution to this political and security crisis is more critical than it has ever been.

The return to the peace process must begin with an immediate Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories. The suicide bombings must stop: the path to a just peace cannot be found through violence. The continuation of war – with its cruel victimization of children and other innocent victims on both sides – will bring security to none.

Urgent discussions and negotiations should begin to search for the threads within the Tenet and Mitchell plans and the Saudi proposal to find a possible solution to this current crisis and the outstanding issues.

The key now is for a sustained U.S. engagement as an honest broker and a sustained commitment from all parties to the quest for peace. I urge all parties to take advantage of Secretary of State Powell’s visit to the region to work towards mutual peace, in which Israel’s security and sovereignty exist alongside an independent Palestine.

The future of Israeli and Palestinian children is at stake. They should be promised a future that is absent of fear and violence, a future filled with hope and optimism.

What are your legislative priorities?

Throughout my political career, I’ve sought to bring my training as a social worker to bear on the problems and challenges that confront our nation. We all pay a price for not addressing the needs of people in our community.

When one of the more than 44 million people in this country without health insurance gets sick, we all pay the price when that person goes to the emergency room for treatment or if that person dies and leaves children orphaned. We all pay the price when our poorly educated youth are lured into a lifestyle of criminal activity.

We all pay the price when whole segments of the population feel that they are singled out for arrest because of how they look, making them lose faith and confidence in the fairness of their government. We also pay the price when we lock up our youth and throw away the key – we lose a whole, productive life that we could have saved with a small investment when that person was a child.

We need to provide for the basic and interrelated needs of all people: health care, housing, education, jobs, and the quest to create livable communities in a peaceful world.

What are the forces for progressive change in Congress, and around what kind of program are they coming together?

The Progressive Caucus is continuing the fight to redirect our priorities from bloated military budgets and tax cuts for the wealthy to initiatives that seek to narrow inequality and foster peace and justice. Last year, many good social programs were cut in order to pay for Republican tax cuts that benefit the wealthy, special interests and corporations. We must continue to fight this misguided corporate welfare effort.

We must also be sure that the President and Congress hear our call for adequate funding for those programs and people who need it the most. Progressives need to raise their voices for quality health care for all, affordable housing, quality and equality in education, a clean environment, etc. We must not let these vital interests be ignored or brushed aside because of the war and recession.

What’s at stake in the November elections? And how important is it for people to partic