February 15, 2007

Wave Of Congressional Office Occupations Builds, Below the Radar

I just watched the new MoveCongress.org video of John Murtha explaining his legislative strategy to end the occupation of Iraq, which seems to contain some interesting hidden booby traps for the Bush administration. There is, unfortunately, another concealed agenda item in his plan—providing cover for Democrats who are under massive pressure to vote No on the upcoming $93 billion emergency appropriation Bush needs to continue the war.

And plenty of them need cover. Since the 110th Congress opened, pressure has been escalating on Democrats and Republicans alike to screw down the valves on the money pipeline. Most dramatic has been a surge, so to speak, in actual takeovers of Representatives’ and Senators’ offices.

So What’s New?

The tactic of taking over politicians' offices is hardly a new one and has been used to notable effect earlier in the struggle to end this unjust and unjustifiable occupation. In Maine, for instance, there have been repeated occupations of the offices of “moderate” Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (as reported here last year by Michael Uhl, Veterans For Peace Chapter 1.).

One change now is the breadth of the movement and its intensity. Though the occupation tactic has long been under discussion by many activists, a trailblazing step forward was taken last month by peace movement folks in Sacramento. With an outfit called Sacramento for Democracy at the core, they are in the 28th day of a rolling 9 to 5 occupation of the local office of Representative Doris Matsui. Matsui, a Democrat, has stepped up her anti-war rhetoric in response, but that’s all so far.

Interestingly, Sacramento for Democracy is the local affiliate of Progressive Democrats of America. When folks whose primary political identification is with the Democratic Party are rock solid for cutting funding to the occupation and are taking over Congressional offices, things are shifting.

The tide is swelling even under more difficult conditions. In Huntsville, AL, two activists supported by a rally of dozens of supporters took a first step, standing silently in Representative Bud Cramer’s office. One of them, Gordon Engstrom, said:

“I feel like we made some history. It’s probably the first time anyone has ever stood in Bud Cramer’s office in honor of Gandhi. I can’t say that I think I changed anyone’s mind, but I know that I made a statement that cannot be misinterpreted. We are against the war, and we are for peace.”
The Occupation Project

The Alabama action was part of the unfolding Occupation Project: A Campaign of Sustained Nonviolent Civil Disobedience to End the Iraq War. The occupation project was initiated by Voices for Creative Non-Violence, an organization with roots in traditional pacifism. The campaign has been endorsed and is being heavily promoted by Veterans For Peace, Code Pink and United For Peace & Justice.

The kickoff of the campaign took place on February 5, with a total of 18 activists arrested while occupying the offices of Senators John McCain in DC, and Barack Obama and Dick Durbin in Chicago. The campaign’s Occupation Project Updates is, along with Indymedia, the best source of information on what’s been done and what’s brewing.

The Demands

So far, all the occupations have focused on getting elected officials to do more than denounce the war. A Sacramento activist noted:
“Congress has the power of the purse strings. It is the one real way it can stop the war. Yet Doris refuses to agree to our lone request – vote against future funding for the war. There are billions already allocated to protect our troops. New funding only extends the war.”
In Portland, OR, Greg Lief, arrested for “trespassing” in the office of Senator Gordon Smith, agreed:

The main reason why we visited Smith's office was the fact that, last December, Smith went out on a limb with very strong anti-war statements. As Smith's constituents, all that George Hutchinson and I (as well as Troy Horton and Joe Walsh, both of whom visited Smith's office on January 25th) were doing is to encourage Smith to support his statements with concrete action by voting to defund the war.

Why don’t I know about this?

That’s pretty obvious. The mainstream media has by and large let this story drop or, worse, censored it. One of those arrested for occupying McCain’s office, Midge, summed it up:
We got a little news coverage including just one paragraph in an AP article about the demise of the Senate’s non-binding resolution denouncing Bush’s “troop surge.” However, that very article was edited in some publications, including my hometown paper The Springfield News-Leader, which cut the article short without mention of the McCain protests…If you live in Southwest Missouri, email the Springfield News-Leader and ask them “Why did you edit out news reported by the AP?” I mean, how Orwellian is that? Is this 1984 or what?

Why this isn’t bigger in the dKos orbit? (Six posts in the last two weeks tagged “Occupation Project” all from LA.) Or other liberal centers like Huffington Post? You tell me. I mean, I know Kossacks are all over the map on what Congressional priorities around the war should be (see the poll on this in a recent post), but ignoring this is nuts. And in hard left sections of the blogosphere, alive with calls to “escalate the struggle” and “turn dissent into resistance” one searches in vain for detailed coverage and analysis of these exciting actions. What’s with that?

And that’s not all!

In the meantime, here are a few more occupations I tracked down:

Representative Mike Honda (D) Campbell/San Jose, CA.

Representative Adam Schiff (D) Pasadena, CA

Representative Russ Carnahan (D) St. Louis, MO

Representative Russ Carnahan (D) St. Louis, MO (again)

Representative Russ Carnahan (D) St. Louis, MO (again)

Representative Russ Carnahan (D) St. Louis, MO (Today!)

And if you happen to be in Santa Cruz, CA on Friday, you might want to fall by Representative Sam Farr’s office. Around, say, 1:00 PM.

What have I missed?


Da' Buffalo Amongst Wolves said...

You missed my my email to Sam Farr earlier today, after receiving a nastygram about, well, here's a copy of what I wrote:

In response to your email and web update of February 15, 2007

Farr Introduces Bill to Boost Stabilization and Reconstruction Efforts with a Civilian Response Corps

All I can say is:

Is today too soon?
Too bad!

I'm terribly sorry your cohorts at the Pentagon disrupted Iraqi society so badly that there's no one left there who isn't too corrupt to deal with.

Randy Cunningham & Kyle Foggo might be able to explain why that happened.

But the answer is still no.

I'm forwarding your letter to the fine folks who are sponsoring:

The "Occupations Project"

Fully supported by:
Voices For Creative Non-Violence
Veterans For Peace
Iraq Veterans Against the War
Military Families Speak Out
Gold Star Families for Peace.

See you when you show up at your Santa Cruz county office if you vote even one more red cent for the administration's murderous little war.

Have a nice day.

Leigh Meyers

Thanks for letting me know when that might be Jimmy

The Buffalo In Da' Midst

Jimmy Higgins said...

Hey, Leigh, glad to be of (inadvertant) service. If you do make it to the festivities at the Santa Cruz County Building , it'd be lovely if you could grab the time to write up a short report and post it here as a comment--facts, flava, lessons for others contemplating similar actions, etc.

Anonymous said...

I didn't make it to the action at Farr's office, but there's an Indymedia writeup here:


It sounds like it fell short of some of the other occupations, but hopefully it will grow from here.

Jimmy Higgins said...

Hey, Jesse, and you too, Leigh--

I have a concern here. I went to the Indymedia writeup you posted and there, along with pictures of the action directed at Farr, there were a bunch of pix of local anti-war activists in essence demonstrating in support of Farr.

So I did a little research and it seems the guy has not voted for any of the "emergency apprpriation" bills for the war so far. The protesters' complaint was that he has voted for the regular military budget, which obviously helps make the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan possible. Fair enough, I thought, though it might not be where I'd chose to spend my time.

But upon further reflection, there is a very real problem here. Obviously local determination of targets and tactics is a basic building block of a strong mass movement. However, there's a contradiction. People around the country are launching efforts to force recalcitrant Congresscritters to vote against the emergency appropriation.

This campaign has been already made immeasurably more difficult by the Democratic House leadership's embrace of Congressman Murtha's strategy to end the war by continuing to pass appropriations, but weight them down with "pro-troop" clauses and restrictions which will gradually make the war impossible to continue. This also provides perfect cover for any Representative or Senator desperate to avoid taking a stand.

Now this may just be an abstract question, but if Representative Ralph Dogbiscuit (D) of West Dakota is under sustained seige by folks willing to take bust after bust to make their point, mightn't he legitimately ask himself, post-Farr, "Why should I give in on the emergency appropriation? They'll only find another excuse to target me."

So Santa Cruzans, help us out here. What's the story on Farr and this whole mishegoss? And while you're at it, what on earth is up with the crumbled cookies (see pictures at the link Jesse provided above)? I mean, I know repressive tolerance can be frustrating, but that sure doesn't look too effective...

Da' Buffalo Amongst Wolves said...

Look [Here] for a 13 minute YouTube of the action @ Sam Farr's office and a critique.

Da' Buffalo Amongst Wolves said...

A friend of mine has suggested another effective 'mob' (as in mobilize) tactic to put the pressure on from the 'domestic side' of the war:

[February 20 2007] Travus T. Hipp Morning News & Commentary: Sometime All You Have To Do Is Compare Realities - Tactic: The Homeless Panhandle The Political Fundraisers In The Run-up To The ‘08 Elections

It's [Here]

Da' Buffalo Amongst Wolves said...

I've re-posted the Occupation of Sam Farr's office at my site.

Something 'bad' happened to the original, and it's been duly commented on as well.

It's [Here]

Anonymous said...

A little follow-up on Sam Farr: he was the main speaker at the 4th anniversary anti-war rally at the Santa Cruz county courthouse a few weeks back.

Despite the haplessness of the occupation of his office, at the rally it was very clear that he'd been rattled by it. The MC at the rally, and the speakers before and after Sam, all went far out of their way to remind us all what a great friend and champion of the antiwar movement he has been.

Despite all the reassurances, Sam had to stop several times in his talk when he was drowned out by shouts from the crowd (mostly for him to start an impeachment case).

So even incomplete occupations on the leftiest representatives can make a difference. On the other hand, this one didn't make enough, since he voted for the supplementary funding bill.

(Also of note on Rep. Farr: Congressman trades Iraq vote for spinach)