Sunday, January 28, 2007

Organizing and Lobby Training

John and Sun Kim of New York City briefly shared Deborah's home. John is Coordinator for the Veterans for Peace, Korea Peace Campaign.

The bed was indeed too short. And the upstairs room too warm. Didn’t sleep particularly well. No complaint, however. I’m thrilled to be in a “real” home rather than some sterile motel.

This morning’s Washington Post front page story stated “thousands” marched yesterday. That’s as specific as they could be regarding the turnout. Organizers estimated 500,000. Granted, their numbers are likely optimistic. But thousands? I would call that under-reporting. I’ve been in rallies numbering 100,000 to 250,000. Without a doubt, this one was larger.

Scott, Jennifer and Wesley left us early, driving back to Muncie today. I planned to participate in “United for Peace and Justice” workshops on organizing and lobbying. I joined John and Sun for the Metro ride up to Bethesda. The workshops were taking place at the Bethesda High School. John would be leading a session entitled “Korean War: Revive or End It?” North and South Korea remain in a "suspended" state of war, though many argue for reunification. Following the workshop, the Kims would be boarding a bus for New York City.

Again, I didn’t have directions to the high school, but from the stream of activists leaving the Bethesda Metro station, it was very easy to find. A large, modern, impressive school. It “looks money.” (To quote a film my sister enjoys.) We are fortunate to have the use of such a nice facility.

The lobby was bustling with activity as volunteers directed traffic, and people streamed off to classrooms for a variety of sessions. I would be attending three workshops this morning.

The first, “De-funding the War: Why This is the Way Forward, And Why Now is the Time,” was paneled by members of three groups: Military Families Speak Out, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace.

Representatives from Military Families Against the War, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace lead a session on de-funding the Iraq War

In the hour I was there, perhaps due to the large group in attendance and the disruptions of late-comers, it was difficult to get beyond some very general statements. There is so much to discuss, and so little time!

“Lobbying 101” was a more practical session which explained generally “how things work in Washington.” Kind of an eye-opener. We were offered some clear methods for getting our point across tomorrow.

Erin Sikorsky of Peace Action West leads a class entitled "Lobbying 101"

Jay Charney of USAction explains how lobbying works in Washington

I remained in the same classroom for the next session, “Cost of War to Local Communities – Building Peace and Economic Justice.” This class focused on analysis conducted by the National Priorities Project. They attempt to show the “opportunity cost” of this war for our local communities.

For example, based upon government data, the cost of the war thus far to California’s 6th Congressional District (my district), based upon population, average income and taxes, is roughly $928 million. Rather than fighting an unjustified war, we could have provided health care for 145,000 children over the past four years, or built 5,400 affordable housing units, or constructed 101 elementary schools. That is one way of presenting “opportunity cost”.

Similar data was presented for every District in the nation. So, it becomes very apparent that the cost of war is directly related to social justice, both at home and abroad. President Bush must cut government programs to fund his war. He steadfastly refuses to raise taxes. (This is a unique war in which only certain classes are asked to make sacrifices.)

It can be argued that raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans is indeed appropriate as these are generally the people who profit most from defense spending and the war-inflated price of oil. (This through their direct business ownership and investments, stock portfolios, mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc.)

According to the NPP, “military, health and interest on the debt consume two-thirds of every income tax dollar.” The FY2007 Budget of the U.S. Government reports nearly 40%, of spending (including interest) is directly for the military. (Contrast this with less than 5% for education!) The next largest segment of the budget is health, at less than 25%.

As the session wrapped up, a fellow in the class suggested getting lunch nearby. Gary Hosey introduced himself. From Annapolis, MD, he’s a retired Naval officer and graduate of the Naval Academy. (I found this particularly interesting since I had hoped to attend the Naval Academy, and even visited the campus during high school.)

The sky had turned completely gray, and snow flakes began to fall.

The nearby cafes were quickly filling with activists on their lunch break, so Gary and I walked a bit farther to escape the throng. We settled on the Daily Grill located in the Hyatt Regency hotel, which stands atop the Metro station.

It appeared a little more “up-scale” (expensive) than we had been seeking, but the waiter assured us it was reasonably-priced. We both selected a fresh fruit waffle breakfast. It was excellent, and the service was very good. I was pleased with the choice.

Learned that Gary’s daughter is working with the Peace Corps in Carhuaz, near Huaraz, Peru. It’s a very small mountain town that I had passed through a couple of times.

Exiting the restaurant, we met “Butch” from Austin. He works for a Chinese-owned company manufacturing electronics hardware in Austin. Walking back to the high school, he talked of his business travels to China.

The primary event this afternoon was a plenary session in the main auditorium. We returned too late to hear Maxine Waters’ welcoming speech. The session focused upon specific strategies for tomorrow’s “Congressional Advocacy Day”.

Representative Maxine Walters, chair of the Out of Iraq Caucus welcomed actvists to the afternoon plenary session. United for Peace and Justice speakers then outlined strategies for tomorrow's "UFPJ Congressional Advocacy Day".

Late in the session, a young man in the rear of the auditorium stood up and, apologizing for what he was about to do, insisted that we address “the 9-11 conspiracy”. At the march yesterday, he and others had spoken continually about this internal conspiracy to bring down the “Twin Towers” and “WTC 7”.

He was told this was not on UFPJ’s agenda today. He then produced a megaphone, threatening to disrupt the session. A group closed in, surrounded him and prevented the use of the megaphone.

Then, at the opposite corner of the building, another man mounted the left side of the stage and began shouting “UNITED for Peace and Justice”. He had a powerful voice. I immediately recognized him as what I termed “the Hitler youth” from yesterday’s march, the one who created the scene with the security guard. He continued for several minutes before pacifists gathered around, mollifying him and, across the auditorium, hands were raised in a silent display of peace signs. A fascinating example of criminality.

As individuals appeared to coddle this fellow off to the side, I wondered about his agenda. It was not clear in the least. He walked by me smiling, graciously stepping aside to allow a woman to exit the auditorium before him. What’s the story, I wondered? (Is he in fact a CIA - or other agency - plant, meant to disrupt activities?)

The “peace movement” is comprised of so many agendas! Some I sympathize with, others I have no opinion about. For me, right now, there is one agenda: end the War in Iraq. We’re not going to solve anything if we can’t focus our energy.

That is what impresses me about the Administration and the “Neoconservatives”. They have the discipline to stay always “on message”. (Well, perhaps lately they’ve shown a few chinks in the armor.) As misguided and benighted as they might be, they maintain a single-minded focus on their goals.

The plenary session concluded without further interruption and we divided into groups, according to State and Congressional District. There was an impressively-large California contingent, which required considerable time to dissect into the many districts. The various state groups were sent to all corners of the campus to conduct individual strategy sessions.

The California groups, along with Massachusetts, New Mexico and one or two others, remained in the auditorium. There were 17 or 18 of us from Lynn Woolsey’s 6th District. We gathered in a circle of chairs up on the stage and finally got down to discussing how to best organize our time with Woolsey tomorrow. (Unlike many groups whose representatives will not be available, and thanks to Donna Norton, we actually have an appointment with Lynn.)

The California delegation prepares for tomorrow's Senate office visits

The Massachusetts delegation strategizes

We discussed roles for the meeting: what the specific topics should be, who would speak on each topic, several tokens to present Lynn (flowers, a letter of thanks for her progressive stand, Jimmy Carter’s new book to provide some enlightenment on the Israel-Palestine dilemma. ) I volunteered to take notes (though, upon reflection, that conflicts with my hope of taking photos!) Clearly, many of our members had given thought to tomorrow’s meeting, and this made the creation of an agenda quick work.

We then joined others from California in discussing plans to meet staffers from Senators Boxer and Feinstein’s offices.

So, the plan for 6th District constituents is to meet in the Rayburn House Office Building Cafeteria tomorrow morning at 10:15, take care of a few last minute details (such as signing the letter Chari Davidson will be composing tonight), then meet Lynn Woolsey at 11:00.

Afterwards, we will adjourn to the Hart Senate Office Building, where we are to meet Senator Boxer’s staff at 1:00 and Senator Feinstein’s staff at 2:00.

Out in the lobby, I walked over to a table where CODEPINK was selling various accessories in their favorite color. Deborah had seen a CODEPINK member wearing a hot pink feathered wrap and exclaimed that she wanted one of those. I saw them on the table and decided I must buy her one.

The woman behind the table was familiar. I had seen her at many events. Embarrassed that I didn’t know her name, I asked. It was Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK’s co-founder (and former California gubernatorial candidate.) Okay, I won’t forget that again. I needed a CODEPINK shirt for Jessica too (“she would probably wear your size”), so Medea searched the piles of shirts to find the correct size.

At the table, I also recognized another CODEPINK member from the “Troops Home Fast” in Washington last summer. Toby Blomé introduced herself. I told her I had taken some photos during the fast, and offered to forward them to her. She said she would appreciate them.

On the way back to the house, I stopped at Whole Foods Market outside the Tenleytown Metro station. It was freezing out, and with a gusty wind, actually growing painful. Above the produce displays, outside the market’s entrance, space heaters cooked the top of my head. I’m just amazed at the energy consumption here! But I must admit, stepping into the store, the warmth was a welcome relief.

This particular market caters to an affluent community and the array of foods is far beyond that of my local Whole Foods. Lots of tempting desserts! I picked out a pecan pie, a quart of ice cream, pint of half-and-half, bag of specialty coffee. “My contributions.” (This sudden shopping impulse was strangely disconnected from the knowledge that most of Deborah’s guests have now left! Actually, I had wanted to do this yesterday, but the “urge” had not been updated to reflect the current reality.)

It was no surprise that Catherine found a similarly-warm welcome into Deborah's home today. A simple evening with Deborah and Catherine. We made sandwiches, poured some Italian Pinot Grigio, and reflected on the day. I couldn’t at the time even recall all the training sessions. It was all a bit overwhelming. It felt we were weary activists, the years of protest dragging us down. I think how President Bush has so contributed to the unpleasantness of the past 6 years! What a legacy.

Volunteered once again to walk the dogs this evening, which delighted Deborah. It’s not her favorite chore. Frigid and windy outside. A hostile environment for flesh and blood. After 15 minutes, my hands are in pain. Fortunately, the dogs are equally ready to come in out the cold.

Slept upstairs tonight, this time in the front bedroom where our Indiana friends had stayed. The computer locked up as I tried to transfer photos from the camera. (Hey, I thought it was worth a try. Maybe it had changed its attitude in the interim.)

Too warm upstairs, I opened the windows a crack, but was unable to turn off the old iron radiator standing beside the bed. But the fresh air is welcome. And outside my window, barren branches sway in the wind. To bed at midnight.

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