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Voting to Bring the Troops Home
P ress reports nationwide proclaimed the most recent U.S. elections a “referendum” on the war in Iraq and on the president’s performance and policies, but mostly without noting the hundreds of actual referendum votes on these very issues in towns and counties from California to Massachusetts. Adding legitimacy to voter-driven municipal resolutions passed by almost 300 local governments across the U.S. in the last 3 years, activists in at least 4 states gathered signatures and jumped through other hoops to put forth ballot measures calling for “immediate” or “orderly and rapid” withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq.
The results surprised even organizers. “We hoped to win significantly,” said Paul Shannon of the United for Justice with Peace Coalition (UJP) in Massachusetts, “but we didn’t expect this.”
In three dozen Massachusetts legislative districts, encompassing over 130 townships, every single “troops home” referendum passed, most of them by two-to-one margins in favor of withdrawal. Overall in ten Wisconsin municipalities the vote was two-to-one in favor. Milwaukee voted 72 percent for “rapid withdrawal.” Eight towns and two counties in Illinois also approved “troops home” initiatives, 71 percent overall in the state, with voters in Chicago approving their withdrawal referendum by 80 percent.
Republican strongholds like former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s home turf in Whiteside County, Illinois voted “yes” to bring U.S. troops home by significant margins. Rock Island, Dixon, and Sterling, Illinois, usually “in the red column,” voted 57 percent yes. Communities such as Draper in Sawyer County, Wisconsin that voted strongly for Bush in 2004 voted 65 percent for troop withdrawal this November.
“The value of a referendum like this,” says Steve Burns of Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, “is that you make the war stand on its own.” Candidates, he says, represent a “package of issues,” but clear language specifically addressing an issue like troop withdrawal directly is a better gauge of voter desires.
“The significance of results like this,” Burns says, “is that now we know the public is not the problem.” National pundits, he says, like to claim that people are unhappy with the war but they don’t know or can’t agree on what to do about it. “Here they are endorsing a plan.”
Several anti-war organizers expressed the same sort of surprise as Paul Shannon, not just at the referendum votes, but also at the much-touted Democratic sweep. After all, it was only two years ago that Republicans dashed Democratic hopes in nationwide elections. Anti-war organizers, as skeptical as they typically are of Democrats’ talk of “change,” had still hoped for a rejection of the Bush agenda in 2004 and didn’t get it. Clearly something happened in the last two years.
The war in Iraq and Afghanistan has continued going badly, of course, with higher numbers of U.S. deaths, many more Iraqi deaths, and more opposition. Resentment has also begun to set in among military families who had thought the war would be over by now. Republicans have faced scandals and failures on other fronts as well. But anti-war organizers who keep track of opinion polls say problems with the war reached a critical mass.
“What accounts for the difference is the war,” says Paul Shannon. “Primarily the war, and secondarily Katrina. I think Katrina was a turning point for some people in terms of the competence of the Republicans. Of course, there were other things—Foley, Abramoff, and gas prices—but the war was the overriding issue that played out in every state, number one, two, or three everywhere.”
Anti-war organizers have also been looking for new ways to express opposition to the war. Steve Burns says many Americans had stopped attending anti-war demonstrations after massive turnouts failed to prevent the U.S. invasion. But, Shannon says, “the ballot is right in front of them.”
A number of Wisconsin towns had voted in April 2006 on resolutions calling for troop withdrawal, including some traditionally Republican towns in the state. At that time 24 out of 32 of the measures passed.
The idea was catching. By summer 2006 dozens of communities in other states had referendum efforts underway; some already knew their referendum would appear on the ballot while others would not know for sure until September or October 2006. As it turned out, it is not that easy for Americans to get what they want on their ballots.
The Massachusetts referenda probably represent some of the hardest-earned
grassroots votes in the nation. Activists with United for Peace and Justice-coordinated
groups had to gather hundreds of signatures in each legislative district—including
extras in case of challenges—and hand them in to each town hall for verification
by the secretary of state and then the state attorney general had to agree
to the language. The entire process took from January to September.
Referendum advocates elsewhere gathered hundreds of signatures, as in Chicago and its suburbs. “We have tens of thousands of signatures,” says Carl Davidson of Chicagoans Against War and Injustice, “and a map. There are clusters of people who signed. We plan to contact them and try to start up to 50 new neighborhood groups in the Chicago area.”
A few communities in Illinois also failed to get their referendum on the ballot due to technicalities or challenges from local officials.
The easiest win may have been in twin cities Champaign and Urbana, Illinois. At a statewide conference of the Illinois Coalition for Peace and Justice in Champaign in March, local activists with the Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort (AWARE) learned of an annual town meeting, prescribed by state law, where a majority of those who show up can add a referendum to the November ballot. The township meeting was in two weeks.
AWARE activists hit the ground running. They faced no opposition in Urbana, but in Champaign the conservative mayor, former cop Jerry Schweighart, attempted to turn out local veterans’ groups to block the referendum, to little avail. In the end voters crammed the town meetings in both cities and added a “troops home” referendum to the local ballot in each town (by one vote in Champaign).
In November the “troops out” referendum passed in Urbana by 65 percent, in Champaign by 58 percent. Champaign-Urbana also joined San Francisco and Berkeley, California, as well as a handful of smaller cities in Wisconsin and elsewhere, in calling on Congress to begin the process of impeachment for both the president and vice president for “misleading our nation to war with Iraq, for permitting the illegal use of torture, and for conducting domestic spying on U.S. citizens.”
Mayor Schweighart told the press, “I can’t understand it.” Central Illinois’s conservative Republican Congressperson Timothy V. Johnson, a war supporter, was forced to admit in his victory speech on election night that Iraq was a “quagmire” and that “the American people will not tolerate another two years” of war. Referendum results by election district showed that even Johnson’s supporters had voted for withdrawal. All told, organizers say, referendum results showed that opposition to the war in Iraq cuts across party and other ideologocal divides.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had promised to “drain the swamp” if the Democrats took over, was very clear as soon as the election results were in: impeachment is “off the table.” Pelosi and others in the Democratic leadership, when asked about the details of their alleged “new direction” for U.S. policy in Iraq, hedged. Asked about the possibility of cutting off funding for the war, as in the Harkin Resolution (SR 93), Democratic leaders were pretty clear about what their “new direction” was not . SR 93 provided that after December 31, 2006, there would be no further money for military activities in Iraq except those related to withdrawal. “We can’t cut off money to troops in the field,” Pelosi said, borrowing the Republican spin.
“We have to make the Democrats listen to us,” says Laurel Lambert Schmidt of Near West Citizens for Peace and Justice in Illinois. “They’re going to do nothing if we don’t pressure them.” Antiwar organizers elsewhere offered the same warning.
“The Democrats and the Republicans are both completely supportive of the goal of U.S. domination in the Middle East,” says Paul Shannon.
On the other hand, organizers see the election as having created a much-needed opportunity for leverage. “The peace movement has earned some political capital,” says Schmidt. “We have to spend it. We can’t just put the Democrats in office and trust that they’ll do the right thing, because they won’t.” Still, she says, “The election gives us hope and a lot of possibilities.”
“What’s been debilitating for the peace movement,” says Steve Burns, “and what’s kept a lot of people away from demonstrations, is not apathy. It’s that nobody in Washington has been listening for six years. Now at least there is some hope that we can make some difference.”
Several national peace groups are promoting a “Mandate for Peace” petition as a follow-up to the election, which as an organizing tool could have value. National demonstrations in Washington, originally delayed until March, have also been added for January to greet the new Democrat-controlled Congress with anti-war demands. And local grassroots activists are busy. Carl Davidson’s plan, with Chicagoans Against War and Injustice, to springboard new neighborhood peace groups is indicative of efforts around the country to build on the success at the polls. “Organizing,” Davidson says, is how you keep the pressure on, plus a healthy dose of “street heat.” Elsewhere activists are starting new postcard or letter-writing campaigns and Congressional visits to remind representatives of the recent votes and to press the anti-war agenda, even state resolutions in favor of withdrawal.
In 1968, Shannon notes, with opposition to the Vietnam War growing, the Nixon administration developed a “new direction,” after which thousands more Americans and Vietnamese were killed. There is already talk in Washington about “new directions” that do not involve keeping U.S. hands off Iraq.
Exhausted as activists are, Shannon says, the next few months may be the most critical in the anti-war effort. “We have to focus on undermining the negotiations that are now taking place within the Democratic Party and the Republican Party and between the Republicans and Democrats over a new strategy in Iraq. Once that consensus happens, there will be a falling off of opposition as people decide to give them a chance, but it will not be what the public wants.”
The anti-war vote was a landslide, says Davidson, “Now the question is what do we do with it.”
Ricky Baldwin is a long-time community organizer and writer. His articles have appeared in Z Magazine , Dollars & Sense , Labor Notes , In These Times and elsewhere.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.