Last week David Swanson tried to “stop-loss” Congress.
Swanson, a Charlottesville resident who has become a nationally prominent antiwar activist, delivered “orders” to senators and representatives to remain at their posts and not return to their home districts for Easter recess until American troops are removed from Iraq.
Later in the week when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified before the House Appropriations Committee, Swanson sat in the back of the room, holding up his red-stained hands in protest.
“We have 535 people who have the power to end this war so easily by just announcing they won’t bring up a vote on more funding or will vote ‘no’,” said Swanson, a board member of the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice and a former press secretary for Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s 2004 presidential campaign.
But Swanson’s latest creative gambits, like so many over the past three years, have yielded no tangible results. Members of Congress left Washington at the end of last week for the recess without taking any new votes on war funding.
As the Iraq War tomorrow enters its sixth year, many activists like Swanson find themselves increasingly frustrated and disenchanted with the state of the national debate over whether to withdraw American troops.
In recent months the economic downturn and the presidential primary battles have supplanted the war as the paramount focus for many in the public and the media, Swanson acknowledges. The concern, Swanson said, is that some members of the antiwar movement will lose their sense of urgency and redirect their energy to the fall election.
“It’s disappointing, but there’s absolutely no reason to consider backing off,” Swanson said.
“We have to get more of the public involved in the idea that 10 months is a very long time and Congress can end the occupation,” he added.
For Swanson, advocating for a withdrawal from Iraq is not just passion – it’s a living. Swanson is paid to help run Democrats.com, an “aggressive” progressive Web site, as well as working for myriad other antiwar groups. Additionally, he created a Web site for renowned activist Cindy Sheehan when she first gained notoriety.
Swanson immersed himself in activism while a graduate student at the University of Virginia in the mid-1990s, when he worked on the living wage campaign. After a brief career in journalism, he became a communication specialist for labor organizations.
Now, though, he coordinates antiwar activities across the country from his house near Martha Jefferson Hospital. Once the five-year anniversary of the war passes, Swanson will concentrate on organizing nationwide strikes for May Day.
Swanson saves some of harshest critiques for the Democratic leadership in Congress, which he “condemns” for not being more forceful in trying to cut off funding for the war.
Yet his greatest obstacle, he fears, may turn out to be public apathy.
“If enough people get involved, we won’t have a single soldier in Iraq,” he said. “It’s a realistic vision and requires acts that are easy – it just depends whether we do them.”