Protester Pushes Pelosi on Women’s War Stance

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Anti-war activist Tina Richards is urging lawmakers to pull out of Iraq and advocating for the leadership of women in making the case for peace. After two public run-ins on Capitol Hill in March, Richards and others are disappointed with Democrats.

Tina Richards is escorted by Capitol Police.

WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)–If Tina Richards keeps her word, Capitol Hill could become the next Camp Casey, the Crawford, Texas, encampment of anti-war protesters who demanded a meeting with President Bush during the summer of 2005.

But instead of targeting Bush, Richards is confronting a woman she hoped would be her ally: Nancy Pelosi, the newly minted Speaker of the House who has pledged to end the war in Iraq.

"We live with this war every hour of every day," Richards, an anti-war activist and the 44-year-old mother of a U.S. marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, said in a statement. "We want the Democratic leadership that controls the Congress to listen to our concerns and understand why it is so important to end this war, not extend it."

Immediately after the November elections, Richards traveled from her home in rural Missouri to Washington, D.C., to ask Pelosi for a meeting with a delegation of female anti-war activists. On March 9, she said she received a call from a Pelosi aide informing her that Pelosi had read her son’s poem and would soon schedule a meeting.

Three weeks passed with no action, so Richards and more than a dozen others staged a sit-in on March 30 in Pelosi’s personal congressional office just outside the Capitol Building. Eight hours after she arrived, Richards was escorted out of the building by U.S. Capitol Police but was not arrested.

A Pelosi spokesperson did not return requests for comment. Pelosi is currently on a tour of the Middle East and was denounced by the White House this week for agreeing to meet with President Bashar Assad of Syria.

Richards vows to return to Pelosi’s office the week of April 16, when the House returns from its two-week spring recess. Next time, Richards said, she will ratchet up the pressure for a meeting by bringing along a radio talk show host and a cadre of supporters. Later this spring, she hopes to lead some 10,000 activists to advocate for legislation that would "bring the troops home" by the end of this year.

Disillusionment of Activists

Pelosi’s silence has angered Richards and other female peace activists, a sign Pelosi’s honeymoon with her female supporters in the anti-war camp–engendered by her strong antiwar statements before and after the November elections–may be coming to an end.

Linda Schade, executive director of Voters for Peace, an anti-war group in Takoma Park, Md., said she has become disillusioned with Pelosi since she took control of the House because she has not pressed to cut off funding for the war.

Nationally known activist Cindy Sheehan expressed similar sentiments. Sheehan is hosting a gathering of anti-war activists this weekend at Camp Casey, named for her slain son, U.S. Army Specialist Casey Sheehan. "I expected more action from the Democrats and especially Nancy Pelosi because of her opposition to the war," she said.

In February, Pelosi led the charge to pass a non-binding resolution formally condemning President Bush’s plan to send more soldiers to Iraq. In March, she narrowly secured passage of a $123 billion bill that would pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and orders the withdrawal of soldiers from Iraq before Sept. 1, 2008.

"Rather than sending more troops into the chaos that is the Iraq civil war, we must be focused on bringing the war to an end," Pelosi said on the House floor on March 23, the day the funding measure passed.

Showdown Over Withdrawal Plan

The Senate took a softer approach, passing on March 29 a $123 billion spending measure that set a non-binding goal of removing most soldiers from Iraq within a year. But Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., threatened four days later to block funding next year if troops are not withdrawn.

Bush has vowed to veto any legislation that includes a deadline for withdrawal, setting up a looming government showdown between the two branches of power.

Richards and others want Democrats to go further by pushing for legislation that would deny federal funding now for the war in Iraq, a goal she sought in a filmed encounter in a congressional hallway last month with House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey, D-Wis., that made national news after it was posted on the Internet.

In their brief exchange, Richards asked Obey if he would oppose the emergency spending measure that continues funding for the war. In an angry response, Obey said he opposed the war but supported the spending measure because he said it is necessary to provide for the current needs of soldiers and veterans.

"You can’t end the war by going against the supplemental," he shouted. "It’s time these idiot liberals understand that."

A public opinion poll of 1,007 adults conducted by USA Today and the Gallup Organization between March 23 and 25 showed that 60 percent of respondents favored legislation that would require the withdrawal of all U.S. soldiers from Iraq before the fall of next year. At the same time, a solid majority–61 percent–opposed denying funding needed to send additional U.S. troops to Iraq, according to the poll.

‘Flies in the Face of Mandate’

But anti-war activists say continued funding flies in the face of the mandate voters sent politicians in the November elections, which they say expressed the country’s desire to put an immediate end to the war. Richards faulted Democrats for abandoning their most powerful tool–the power of the federal purse–to accomplish that goal.

"They started from a position of weakness and never tried to get the votes" to cut off funding, she told Women’s eNews.

As a woman and a mother whose son is "80 percent disabled" after serving in Iraq, Richards says she has the unique ability to communicate that message to Pelosi. That is why she is pressing for an all-female meeting with Pelosi and a group of female peace activists, veterans, mothers of soldiers and Iraqi women.

These include women active in anti-war organizations such as Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace, United for Peace and Justice Coalition, Code Pink, Iraqi Voices for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War.

"Women have a unique approach and viewpoint to problem-solving that’s different than men," Richards said. "They are more creative, more intuitive, they think outside the box. I’m hoping that is the connection an all-woman delegation will have with the Speaker."

Schade agreed that an all-female delegation would have stronger pull with Pelosi, the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House.

"We’re speaking to her as voters, as Americans, as peace activists, as military families, as military veterans and we are also speaking to her as women," she said. "We’re just adding that dimension to the hats we’re already wearing."

Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief at Women’s eNews.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.

For more information:

Grassroots America 4 Us:
http://www.grassrootsamerica4us.org

"Why We Followed Sheehan to Crawford":
http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/2451/

"Four Years Later, U.S. Begins to Heed Mothers’ Voices":
http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/2444/

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