Ellison stands firm on Iraq war opposition


He also indicated support for Bush’s impeachment during a recent dialogue with constituents

Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) spent the evening of August 8 at the Local 7200 Communications Workers of America (CWA) auditorium in Minneapolis reporting to an audience of peace and justice advocates on his recent trip to Iraq and other developments in Washington.

Accompanying him was a panel consisting of three well-known advocates of the peace and justice community: Becky Lowry, former state senator and candidate for governor whose son was killed in Iraq, and who has subsequently become a national critic of the war; Rick Hanson, head of Military Families Speak Out; and Shukri Adan, a Somali activist for American immigrants from that country.

Rep. Ellison, who served as both host and master of ceremonies for the evening, gave a few welcoming remarks to the standing-room-only crowd and then introduced the panelists for a few brief remarks. Most of the evening, however, consisted of interaction with audience members for their remarks, questions and criticisms.

Lowry praised members of the audience for their persistence in opposing the war. She stated, “It was you who spoke out and protested at the beginning of this war. You led the way, and now the majority of American people are on board.” She stated that is now time for a stubborn Congress to join in.

Hanson, who has a son serving in the combat zone of Iraq, condemned the war on behalf of fellow parents of those serving and equated the conflict with the despair that we are feeling today over the collapse of the I-35W bridge. The only difference, he stated, is that in Iraq it is happening on a daily basis in what he called “the devastation that Bush’s war inflicts on the citizens of Iraq.”

Adan, who had been a member of the United Nation’s peace mission to Somalia, was critical of that mission, declaring it to be more about maintaining oil interests than seeking peace. She asked, “If peace were the objective, why would the mission be loaded with representatives of the oil industry?”

Adan stated that when she first came here, she was proud to be an American. But now, when she goes to visit her former home and other Third World countries, she feels ashamed of being an American.

Before turning the mikes over to the audience for remarks and questions, Congressman Ellison attempted to reassure them that he remained steadfast in his opposition to the war. After his Iraq visit, there had been quite a buzz among conservative pundits, in particular, suggesting that he has softened his views on the war and now feels that constructive progress is being made in Iraq.

He started off by stating unequivocally that “Getting out of Iraq has got to be our nation’s most urgent priority, and I shall devote my time to the best of my ability helping to see that it happens.” He continued by observing that September is a crucial month, the time when General Petraeus is due to make his evaluation of the “surge” and additional funding authorization is due.

“I urge you all to turn up the heat on any and all legislators, including me — I’m not immune — to the greatest extent possible,” Ellison said. “We have got to convince them to build bridges and not bombs!” He drew loud applause for the last remark, which was repeated by others several times during the evening.

With the invited speakers all having anti-war credentials, and Ellison himself, according to the press, gaining much of his election support from the peace groups, one might have expected the evening to be a “love fest.” But it definitely was not.

The peace and justice community is a very pro-active combination of organizations that often use public demonstrations to support their causes. For the most part, they are not given to compromising on the war issue. Outside the building and along the walls were loud, colorful anti-war signs; among the most prominent were ones reading “SUPPORT THE TROOPS — END THE WAR!”

Before the general discussion, time was taken to permit organizational spokespersons to announce scheduled anti-war activities. Among the announcements was a solicitation to attend and support a massive local anti-war protest rally to coincide with the national anti-war protest in Washington on September 15.

There were requests for volunteers to join the local bus that will be traveling to Washington to join the national demonstration. There was also talk of organizing to protest the Republican National Convention next year.

The next hour and a half was filled with statements and questions from a long line of participants — some complimentary, some inquisitive, and a few outright hostile. Two basic themes dominated the discussions, although they were expressed from different points of view: impeachment of major Bush administration officials, and criticism of the Democratic majority for not being more forceful in exerting its powers.

Ellison was not immune from the criticism. Nor did he want to be, according to what he told the audience.

Many participants touched on the impeachment question, but a middle-aged woman captured the essence of the audience feelings when, after expressing her appreciation for Ellison’s leadership, she went on to state, “This is not a ‘gotcha’ thing; it’s a constitutional thing. Our Constitution call for Congress, starting at the House, to utilize the impeachment process for top administration officers when they overreach. The present administration has certainly overreached, and completely ignored the Constitution.

“I think they are laughing at us,” she continued. “Further, I think that exercising the impeachment process could be an educational opportunity to let the American people know that our Constitution works. It is an educational opportunity, and a constitutional imperative.”

The congressman responded by stating, “I do not disagree with a single thing that you have said. I have signed on to the two impeachment bills that have been presented to date.”

Throughout the evening, Ellison was very deferential to the audience, even when comments arose that seemed to question his action or non-action. Although the event ran over the scheduled time, he insisted that time be extended until everyone who wanted to speak had a chance to do so.

However, he did show visible signs of irritation when one speaker blatantly threatened to not vote for him again for some reason. Ellison sharply informed the person, and the audience, that voting for him would not be a factor in determining his congressional action.

“Sometimes,” he said, “I am going to agree with you — most of the time, I hope — but I must reserve the integrity to use my best judgment in decision-making.” He received applause for that statement.

Another leader of one of the peace organizations confronted the congressman about equal representation between organizations. He complained that Ellison has scheduled regular meetings with organized labor, stating, “As a union person, I have no complaints with that, but I think that [our group] merits equal consultation to keep you abreast of our concerns, too.”

Ellison agreed to his request and promised to arrange scheduled meetings with the peace and justice group.

By any measurement it was a spirited evening with a wide exchange of views, but it seemed to end with most of the audience having been assured that Congressman Ellison has not softened his stance on the Iraq war or the other causes they support.

Matthew Little welcomes reader responses to mlittle@spokesman-recorder.com.