From and email forwarded to me:
“12 April 2007
Yesterday I drove up from my Mom’s house in Tidewater Virginia to Washington to work with Code Pink for Peace. I’ve lived outside the US for the majority of the last 15 years, watching from afar; for the last five years (since Sept 11), I’ve been angry, depressed, stressed, anxious, and sad. My energy level dropped, I found it hard to get out of bed mornings, and my only passion came from ranting in chatrooms about how the US was fucking up the world and why weren’t lazy, complacent US people doing something about that war criminal, election thief, George Bush.
After 2 months of living back in the US and dealing with the everyday issues of unaffordable health care, transportation, work and job search issues, being underpaid at the parttime job I have—not to mention bored out of my mind—I began to understand/remember why US folks have such a hard time being politically engaged and active. Their lives and minds are so full of trivia, stress, and things that make them afraid, informing themselves about the US’s role in Iraq and the world is just too much stress to add to an already overloaded plate. My uncle has mesothelioma from 10 years in the Newport News shipyard; he had a lung removed and now he and his family are debate the pros and cons of debilitating chemotherapy. Other relatives have children and grandchildren with money, childcare, health and psychological issues. Both Mom and Dad (divorced) are constantly stressed about the cost of living—although they own their houses, their incomes are so modest that they have constant money worries about maintaining their houses, insurance, cars, etc. Both are also getting older, and because they live in a rural area with no public transit, I don’t know how they will maintain their independence when they’re too old to drive and can’t get out to buy groceries and go to the doctor and other places they need to go.
So by the time Jodie called and asked me to come up and work with Code Pink on this action, I was about halfway to the level of angst and complacency that has affected so many people in this country. Getting stuck on I95 50 miles outside of Washington for four hours because of an accident did nothing to create a sense of optimism and hope. By the time I got to Falls Church it was 8:30 pm. Having been in the car since 2:30, I decided to treat myself to a frappicino at Starbucks and ask directions into Washington.
The guy behind the counter asked me how my day was and, too tired and discouraged even to rant, I gave him a brief synopsis in a flat, emotionless voice. “Oh, that sucks,” he said sympathetically. “No, it’s on me,” he added, when I pulled out my money. “After a day like that, you deserve something nice.”
That was the beginning of a complete change in my outlook. Even though it took me another two hours to get to 712 5 th St NE—in the dark, and unfamiliar with the bridge system into DC, I took the “scenic tour” through National Airport, up the George Washington Parkway; I then got a fairly thorough, if repetitive tour, of the entire NORTHWEST section of DC, before finding the alley behind the Code Pink house. As I pulled into the parking space, Desiree (who had been ringing my mobile phone and checking on my progress regularly) rang again to tell me, “We were getting worried.” She stepped out the back door, pulled me inside, and I was immediately enveloped in the warm PINKNESS of the house and the movement that these extraordinary women have created.
Desiree, Liz and Janine watched the day’s CSPAN report on a National Guard and Reserve Appropriations subcommittee meeting, which they had attended. The three women laughed gleefully at their two-fingered peace signs dancing roguishly above the shoulders of various members of the military who, unaware of their adornments, reported their findings with serious faces and authoritative voices. “Look, bunny ears” … “they look like earrings” … “there I am … no, there you are” the Pinkers shrieked with delight. They praised the effectiveness of Senator Patty Murray’s insightful questions, shouted in frustration at another senator’s repetitive rhetoric while they cut, punched, wrote and ribboned props for the next day’s action. After a delicious bowl of lentils and cup of fruit and yogurt that Desiree had saved for me from dinner (no, Mom, I didn’t eat my greens L ), I joined their work.
We cut out tiny stick-on versions of the now-famous Code Pink “Don’t Buy Bush’s War” ( www.codepinkalert.org) banner that adorns the living room wall. If you haven’t seen it, figures of a skull, tank and warplane spill from a shopping cart, shooting out flames, careening across a shocking pink landscape in front of the Capitol Building. The cartoon shapes in the cart and the hot, garish colors could be fun, even playful and childlike, if not for the menacing black and grey figures of doom and destruction. It is, instead, confronting.
After cutting out the stickers, we wrote the names of senators on the supplemental war funding committee on the back, along with the statistics from their state about the war: Dead, wounded, and financial cost to each state (sources, www.ips-dc.org and www.icasualties.org ). I was shocked at the 294 dead from Texas, and 341 from California—numbers that had risen by as much as 50 since October 2006. We then punched a hole in each sticker and attached, with pink ribbon, tiny green toy soldiers. Our message? War is not a game, US soldiers are not toys—stop playing power games with them and bring the troops home NOW.
You have to realize that I had never met any of these women before, yet I felt instant sisterhood. All around my age (that is, not young—but how not young I do not feel obligated to reveal here), they were obviously committed, passionate—and informed. This was new for me, having spent so many years outside the US, and the last 2 months in a town and around family who thought Ronald Reagan was the salvation of this country. We stayed up til 1:30 (sans drugs or alcohol), cutting, punching, tying ribbons and talking.
“We can sleep in tomorrow,” Liz commented as we climbed the stairs to our rooms.
“Yeah?” I said. “How late?” expecting an 11 o’clock wake up call.
“Oh, Gael’s not coming til at least 9.”
At 7:30 am, I waked to the sounds of obvious activity above and below me (the house has 3 floors and a basement which had, in the night, flooded). In the chaos of landlady, calls to plumbers, arrival of Gael and Melissa, I grabbed and hoarded a cup of coffee in the quietest part of the house I could find. And even that unpeaceful peace was shattered when someone turned on the TV, people began issuing directions and suggestions in authoritative tones, and mobile phones began to ring. I was reminded of my days back in the 80s, when I was an organizer with NYPIRG at SUNY Stonybrook. Every morning at 8 am, as I struggled to organize my day in the basement office of the student union, the group next door would open their doors and crank the stereo as high as it went, blasting Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.” My first morning at the Code Pink house was like that, only without the testosterone.
By 10:45, dressed in as much pink as our bodies could carry, we jumped the white Subaru belonging to Gael (who, unPC as it may be, smokes. Hooray for foibles in our heroes) and headed to the senate offices. In the car, we practiced Desiree’s song, “Take us out of this war game” (sung to the tune of “Take me out to the ball game”) and double checked the cards with fact sheets about the human and financial costs of the war. I frankly, had no idea what we would be doing. I’d been to dozens of marches and rallies in Washington and my homes; had organized events and participated in guerilla theatre; staged fundraisers and coord
inated letter-writing campaigns. I knew about delegation visits, but I’d never been on one.
Apparently, Code Pink’s eye-catching regalia has a reputation in the hallowed halls of the senate. People smiled and spoke, or grimaced and avoided eye-contact, depending on their reception to our message. Our first visit was to Senator Carl Levin, a fervent supporter of our peace message. His chief of staff was receptive, apologetic, defensive, and resigned, in that order. “You’re preaching to the converted!” he insisted to Gael’s unrelenting demands that the senator push harder for NO MORE funding, and bringing the troops home this year. I watched with astonishment as Gael and Liz pressured chiefs of staff, legislative directors, and various aids with our message—without once crossing the boundaries of mutual respect and appreciation.
Even in staunch pro-military, fund-the-troops, up-the-surge Senator McCain’s office, where we got into a heated debate with his active-duty intern, we parted with handshakes and thanks for our opposing perspectives. In the morning meetings, our warm receptions were probably t influenced by our coalition with three Iraqi Veterans Against the War members. One of them, Jeff Millard, argued several senior senator staffers into corners Clarence Darrow would’ve been hard pressed to get out of. In addition to being polite, articulate and passionate, Millard used specifics of his tours of Iraq and his treatment from VA hospitals to drive home points few could argue with. He spoke of casualty numbers who were names and friends to him; of troop awareness of the futility of the operation more than two years ago; of how March’s troop surge in Iraq had resulted in more US than Iraqi security forces deaths for the first month since the war began; of the year-long waiting list for his knee surgery from a VA hospital and the fact that, because it is an active duty, not VA hospital, the Walter Reed scandal has no bearing on his care and that of his veteran friends. As anyone familiar with Ron Kovac’s story knows, returning war veterans—young men and now women who have risked life and often lost limbs in service to their country—have, since Vietnam, been shamefully neglected by that very country on returning home.
Later in the day, in order to reach all of our senate targets, we split into two groups. Desiree and I were not as successful in meeting with high-level staff in the—mostly republican—offices that we visited. Low-level aides’ and receptionists’ responses ranged from disinterested smirks to sympathetic but not particularly helpful. Following the example of my more experienced colleagues, however, we smiled and tried to connect on a personal level, asking about Mississippi’s continued recovery from Katrina and complimenting the rustic, authentic Tennessee décor of Senator Lamar Alexander’s office.
The highlight of my day, however, was our visit to the office of Senator Patty Murray. The legendary “Mom in tennis shoes” turned her senator’s snide remark all those years ago into impetus to run against and replace him as senator from Washington. Desiree and I grinned in surprise as a senior aide appeared and asked us to sit and talk with him. He listened attentively to our concerns, answered our questions, and gave us assurances that Senator Murray would continue as much as possible to push for troop withdrawal— and appropriate confirmation of soldiers’ fitness for duty before returning them to combat, one of her pet issues.
We caught up with Melissa, Liz, Janine, Jeff and Joan (whom I’d spoken to on the phone but not yet met) for several final triumphant meetings with legislative directors and senior aides in the offices of Senators Lautenberg, Kohl and Domenici. Even after 5 pm, each gave us a warm reception and sincere hearing of our issues.
Exhausted but elated, we headed back to the Code Pink house in the misty falling dusk, where Desiree whipped up excellent enchiladas with salad and rice, and we discussed personal issues—my former life in Australia, Melissa’s upcoming road trip to New York, and family. Now I sit in the living room under that brave, confronting banner, full of optimism. I am still worried—when will the troops come home? What will happen when they leave Iraq? When will Jeff get his knee surgery? What about all the thousands of young men and women who, because of modern medicine, survived this war when they wouldn’t have survived earlier ones, but with devastating injuries that will need care for the rest of their lives? What about the impending environmental crisis? Will the Democrats find the courage to stand up to Bush? Will the US people find the hope to force our government to our will, rather than the other way around?
But one thing I know: Code Pink will continue to speak truth to power, to push the hesitant, encourage the weak, and cheer on the righteous in government to a more accountable, just, and, in the end, democratic society. They’ve given me the impetus and the optimism to become one of them—because they have restored the thing I didn’t know I’d lost until I got it back today: Hope.
“Remember, we be many and they be few. … Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
—Arundhati Roy “