2009/12/01 Report from the field: Organizing, protests have an impact

By Steve Carlson, a WNPJ and Peace North member who is the point person for Progressive Democrats of America in the 7th Congressional District:

As one of Dave Obey's constituents up here in north west Wisconsin, I have to say it was heartening to see my Congressman speak out on ABC News against an escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Obey doesn't often do such things. He isn't one of the congressional regulars on the cable talk show circuit.

Even more heartening is the fact that on Wednesday, November 18th, just a few days before the interview aired, members of Progressive Democrats of America joined with our peace and justice allies to stage a "Healthcare Not Warfare" rally in front of Obey's office in Superior, WI. Afterwards we met with an aide and requested that the Congressman sign onto the Lee and McGovern Bills which would, respectively, prohibit any further troop deployments to Afghanistan, and require Defense Secretary Robert Gates to provide Congress with an exit strategy by the end of this year.
Now, I know what you're thinking. " Do you really believe that your visit to Obey's office had something to do with his appearance on ABC News? " You bet I do. Why?
Because demonstrations, emails, rallies, local press stories, vigils, telephone calls, letters and office visits have been a constant happening across Dave Obey's district since before the war began, and have actually been growing in number, size and frequency over the last two years. Obey knows we're out here. By almost all accounts he doesn't particularly like it, but he knows we're here. And he knows also that for each of us with the determination to keep the pressure on, there are tens of thousands more who feel the way we do.
Obey isn't alone in his concerns. A growing chorus of Congressional Democrats seem unwilling to stay silent in the face of the Obama administrations determination to intensify the conflict, and certainly the anti-war sentiment found in Obeys district can be found in hundreds of other districts around the country. So why would President Obama, in the face of warnings from a wide range of advisors, legislators and supporters across the nation, decide to send more troops to Afghanistan?
He says he intends to finish the job, and that when the American people hear a clear rationale for the troop surge he feels confident that we'll be supportive. I wouldn't be so sure if I were him. I think it's possible that Obama and his advisors have overestimated the Presidents powers of persuasion, and underestimated the depth and breadth of anti-war sentiment across the country.
This isn't the summer of 2008. The inspiring speeches of 18 months ago simply do not have the same clout today. The war in Afghanistan, or anywhere else, isn't a job to be finished. It's blood and flesh and bone, and a whole lot of death, suffering, grief and despair. That's a fact, no matter how it's spun.
And the consistent reports from the many hundreds of weekly and monthly pro-peace events across the nation are that three out of four motorists and passersby approve of what we're doing. We get smiles, thumbs-up, honks and waves, and even the occasional person who parks their car and joins us. Last winter I had eight national guardsmen sit and listen as I explained why I oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while we had a few beers in a northern Wisconsin tavern. When they left they shook my hand, each and every one of them. These guys weren't Madison liberals. These are guys that like pro football, chain saws and guns. I don't know what people are telling pollsters over the telephone about this war, but I know what they're telling us on the street.
So when President Obama, the candidate of hope, goes to the podium Tuesday night to tell us he's sending another 35,000 troops to Afghanistan, I hope he'll keep in mind that thousands of people will be out in public in the coming days to protest this war. And I hope he'll remember that there are tens and tens of millions of Americans who support us. Most of all I hope he'll change his mind.
Steve Carlson is the Progressive Democrats of America point person in WIsconsin's 7th congressional district.