Their Anti-War Efforts and Ours
An op-ed by Jon Queally
On June 16th, Maine’s two members of the House of Representatives, Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, withstood enormous political pressure and voted (with only 30 other anti-war Democrats) against President Obama’s supplemental war funding bill. Reports indicate that freshman members of Congress like Pingree faced particularly aggressive bullying by White House staff and Democratic Party leadership. It was in the face of such top-down pressure that many self-proclaimed “anti-war” Democrats caved, many of whom had signed a pledge that stated they would never vote for more war funding if it was not tied to a withdrawal plan.
About $80 billion of that $106 billion funding package — after a breeze through the Senate and a (quiet) White House signature — is now headed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the skies above Pakistan as the U.S. government, now under President Obama, continues its reckless, mindless, and heartless assault on the people of those countries.
So brazen was the betrayal, and so complete the acquiescence to leadership demands, that progressive members could not even include an amendment, offered by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), that demanded inclusion of an exit strategy from Afghanistan. (Congresswoman Pingree helped lead the effort to get this amendment included.) When push came to shove — in the form of stiff-faced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and menacing White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel — many of these “liberal” Democrats succumbed to political demands and left their anti-war promises, and their consciences, aside as they said the following word: “Aye.”
What will be the consequences for those who voted against the powerful wishes of Pelosi and the White House? We don’t know, but those in Washington who don’t march in lock step with leadership often end up with less to show for it. That’s why, for those who stand against war and against occupation, it’s important to show that there is a reward for doing the right thing.
This was a losing vote in the end, but the “no” vote by Michaud and Pingree should be lauded. If you haven’t, call them. If you have called, send a letter. If you already sent a letter, bake a cake and drop it by their office. (Actually, bring apple pie, that’s more American, or whoopie pie — that’s more Mainerly.) It feels good to call and simply say, “Thank you. You did the right thing in Washington.” It feels strange just to type it.
And if you can’t stomach that phone call — if you’re too pissed off about your representative’s support of DDG-1000 destroyers or a $10 million earmark for General Dynamics’ newest grenade launcher — that’s OK. Don’t call. Hey, we live in a militarized country that operates as an imperial power, and you’re entitled to turn down any gesture that betrays your opposition to the war economy.
But be clear about one thing when you withhold that little gesture of gratitude: power sucks. In our little attempt at democracy, we allocate power to individuals. Some have more, some have less, but they are all crippled by it. It so often makes them incapable of doing the right thing. We are right to criticize them for each misstep, but we betray ourselves when we refuse to recognize a brave act, even if it’s just one word uttered quietly during a losing war appropriation vote: “No.”
Give a shit. Give a shit about what happens with your tax money overseas. Understand that the life you save may not be your own. By helping to put a stop to the impossible “war on terror” and end our foreign occupations, you will be saving innocent lives. Understand that the economy you accept is exactly the one you get. If you accept a war economy, that’s what you get. If you demand an economy based on peace and sustainable energy, if you cherish and support local communities, that’s exactly what you can have. And if someone says you cannot have this, disagree. If that person is in power, think about how you can help strip that power away.
And while you begin to give a shit, remember this: You are not a politician, and therefore there’s no reason you ought to think or behave like one. You need not compromise on this bill so you can get what you want in the next. Educate yourself, search your humanity, and then do the right thing. You don’t have to worry. You do not have to cower or feel allegiance to your days as a mindless Young Republican (or insipid, middle-aged Democrat). There are plenty of good ideas out there that neither party seems to know a thing about.
Lastly, know that the war in Afghanistan is not the “good war.” It never was, of course, but it’s a bit late for that. Like the war in Iraq, it was a mistake and a big one.
Here’s the problem: we need to admit that. We need to end our occupation and assault on Afghanistan. We can do it with or without allies in Washington. When we have them, great. When we don’t have them, we’ll do it despite their reluctance. We convince them. We bully those that need bullying, buy those that can be bought, and flatter those that can be flattered. How do you think defense contractors do it?
We have one weapon those with power and status lack. We can do what must be done, not because it is “possible” or “expedient” or “profitable,” but because it is right, just, and essential for peace. They may need better timing. We do not. They may have to compromise. We do not.
End these wars. Do it yesterday. Help stop the escalation in Afghanistan, bring our soldiers home, and think of ways we can truly help the Afghan people (and innocent people across the world) have a more peaceful and prosperous tomorrow.
It feels good just to type it. Imagine what it would feel like to accomplish.
Jon Queally is assistant editor at commondreams.org, a progressive, independent news outlet. He lives in Yarmouth.