By David Swanson
The U.S. corporate media pronounces our nation a “democracy” so frequently that sometimes its spokespeople stumble. They can’t be unaware that virtually every act of Congress diverges significantly from what the majority of Americans favor. Yet the assumption that somehow the government must follow public opinion creeps in, creating this sort of comedy:
“The only way [war] funding will continue much longer is if Republicans take control of Congress this fall. Even then, the war remains unpopular with the public, a point that won’t be lost on the GOP.” –Jonathan Alter, Newsweek
Quick, name the last time the unpopularity of something wasn’t lost on Congress! Remember when the Democrats gained the majority in the House in the 2006 elections due to opposition to the Iraq War, the one that’s still being funded today? Alter was writing about the funding of the Afghanistan War two days after the House dumped $33.5 billion into escalating it. He missed not only the general tendency of Congress not to agree with the public. He also missed the fact that, on war, the Republicans already control Congress.
Wars have the support of most Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, and of the Democratic Leadership, but not of most of the Democrats. This presented no problem in funding a war escalation last Thursday. Why should it present a problem next year?
Technically, the House Leadership managed last week to approve a bill with the war funding in it without ever holding a vote on the funding. The opportunity still existed for congress members to try to block the funding. They simply had to vote against the Rule, the formal procedure stipulating exactly how the bill would progress without actually being voted on. I’ve explained elsewhere why they should have done so and what would have happened next. All the Republicans and only eight anti-war Democrats voted against the Rule, but the positions of the two parties in Congress has to be identified by looking at what led the leadership to concoct such an outrageous procedure.
In the lead-up to last week’s “emergency” vote to escalate a nine-year-old war with a bill that had been sat on for five months, it was clear that almost all the Republicans would vote for war funding as long as funding for anything useful was not included, but every Republican would otherwise vote No. And it was clear that many, probably a majority, perhaps most of the Democrats would vote No even if useful things, like teacher funding and disaster relief, were included. This was the only reason the Leadership took a different approach from the one it had taken a year earlier, when it passed war funding with an actual vote on the bill.
Here’s a chart showing where congress members were in the lead-up to the vote, how they voted, and how they’ve voted on related bills in the past. In 2009, the leadership threatened and bribed enough Democrats to vote Yes on the bill. Last week, it threatened and bribed enough of them to vote Yes on the Rule. The Rule itself included the built-in excuse that nobody would understand it, plus the additional excuse that it called for anti-war amendments to be voted on. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi still had to do the work she’d sworn last year she’d never do again. Here’s how The Hill described the vote on the Rule:
“Party leaders were forced to hold open the vote for several minutes, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) could be seen huddling with Reps. Steve Cohen (Tenn.) and Paul Kanjorski (Penn.), the last Democratic holdouts. Both cast ‘yes’ votes to push the motion over the top. When it was clear the measure had passed, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) switched her vote from ‘yes’ to ‘no.’ The final total was 215-210, with 8 lawmakers not voting. Cohen told The Hill earlier in the week that he was disinclined to support a war funding bill after bowing to pressure from party leaders who needed him to switch his vote from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ a year ago.”
So, who voted No on the Rule because they wanted to end the war? Well, the Republican Leadership required its members to vote No, but some Republicans oppose the war, including Ron Paul, Tim Johnson, Walter Jones, John Campbell, and John Duncan. Among the Democrats who voted No, these eight are war opponents: Alan Grayson, Dennis Kucinich, Raul Grijalva, Mike Michaud, John Conyers, Bob Filner, Chellie Pingree, and Carol Shea-Porter. What stiffened those eight spines? Well, Grayson and Kucinich tap into nationwide support for peace and raise funding from people all over the country who have no use for their own elected representatives. I understand Michaud to have lost a loved one to war. But what explains some of the others? Grijalva usually runs from a fight, but on this issue has been working closely with Progressive Democrats of America. That may have been a factor. And activism by constituents was almost certainly a factor with others as well.
Pingree spoke against the war funding in the days leading up to the vote and openly credited ongoing pressure from her constituents. The instant she voted against the Rule, her office informed activists of that fact. The activism that moved Pingree to such a strong anti-war position, had it been duplicated in a few more districts, could have blocked the bill. Mainers spent months working on a Bring Our War Dollars Home campaign. It included press conferences, forums, protests, passage of local and state government resolutions, an artistic draw-a-thon, lobbying, marching, and independent media production. I recommend clicking the link and using it as a model for other states and districts.
If we are going to build alliances between the peace movement and other campaigns for justice, it will be around opposition to war funding and support for funding elsewhere. If we are going to build a grassroots movement that can stop the war funding in the House of Representatives, it is going to be with the clear demand to vote No on any more war funding. If we do this, it won’t matter which political party has a majority in the House. It will only matter that the majority leader, whoever it is, can’t find a majority of congress members to allow any more war funding through.
But we will have to choose to take this agenda of “Bring Our War Dollars Home” from our cities and towns to Congress. We will have to choose not to bring congess members’ agenda of voting on pleasant-sounding amendments from Washington to our home states. It’s not that votes on timetables and such things can’t contribute their bit. That approach worked fine in 2009 when it was done separately from the funding vote and after the funding vote. The problem is when an agenda that none of our allies can understand, an agenda that sends a weaker message, an agenda that would have to pass the Senate and the President in order to work — when that agenda interferes with a stronger one. We will have to choose.
For those ready to take this on, here are some resources that might prove helpful:
WHERE EACH MEMBER OF CONGRESS STANDS
Maine Campaign to Bring Our War $$ Home
St. Louis Peace Economy Project
Boston’s 25 Percent Solution
PDA’s Brown Bag Lunch Vigils in districts everywhere.
LOCAL COST CALCULATIONS
A report from the National Priorities Project (PDF) contains on pages 23 and 24 documentation of how investing in military reduces jobs and hurts economy. Get cost of war to your area here, but multiply it by five. Get cost of military contracts to your area here. Get the amount of money military companies give your representative here. And here’s the cost of weapons you give Israel.
LOCAL AND STATE RESOLUTIONS
Put a cost of war counter on city hall.
Afghanistan: Ending a Failed Military Strategy: A Briefing Paper by September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer, By David Wildman and Phyllis Bennis
Hold a drawathon.