Protesters tackle war funding in 'occupations'

Associated Press • Mar 8, 2007 at 10:30 AM

WASHINGTON - Some opponents of the Iraq war are taking their protests straight to Congress - staging "occupations" in lawmakers' offices on Capitol Hill and in their home communities.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel's office in Chicago was targeted on Thursday.

A day earlier protesters were headed off before getting into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office in San Francisco.

In Washington, peace activists dressed in pink showed up recently at the Senate offices of presidential hopefuls John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The protesters haven't abandoned the larger, more familiar gatherings at college campuses, major cities and monuments in Washington. But in recent weeks, they have been turning up at congressional offices, vowing to stay until they get pledges that lawmakers will vote against more war funding - or until they are forcibly removed.

"We really see it as an extension of lobbying," Jeff Leys, co-coordinator of Chicago-based Voices for Creative Nonviolence, said of the office occupations. "The aim is to keep going back time and time and time again."

The protesters number anywhere from a handful to a few dozen. Sometimes, they stay for minutes. Sometimes, they remain for hours before police move in. Organizers count more than 140 arrests so far. Most involve charges of trespassing or disorderly conduct. During the occupations, the protesters sit, stand, sing, chant, pray, ring bells, and read letters from American troops sent home to their families. The eight demonstrators at Emanuel's office on Thursday performed skits about the consequences of war, read names of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and told stories about Iraqi children hurt in the fighting. They were welcomed by a staffer into the lobby of the congressman's office. Sometimes, though, the protesters don't even get through the front door. About 20 demonstrators gathered outside Pelosi's San Francisco office on Wednesday. Before they could enter, a Pelosi staffer ushered the group down to a conference room seven floors below, where many voiced frustration that Pelosi was not being aggressive enough in seeking an end to the war. The anti-war groups are setting their sights on Republicans, like McCain. But they're also lining up against Democrats, like Pelosi, who were opposed to the war from the very beginning. "Those who know there is an alternative, we want to put some pressure on them to do the right thing," said Gael Murphy, co-founder of Codepink, an anti-war group with a name that serves as a poke at the Bush administration's color-coded terror alert system. Pink, the group says, represents peace. Occupations have been held at the offices of Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, and Reps. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and David Obey of Wisconsin. All four Democrats voted against the 2002 measure authorizing the war. Earlier this week, Obey was confronted outside his Capitol office by war opponents, prompting a heated exchange in which Obey shouted at one women who wanted him to vote against money for the war. In a video posted on the Internet site YouTube, the Democratic lawmaker is seen pounding his fist repeatedly into the air, complaining loudly that Democrats don't have enough votes to cut off war funding and the protesters don't understand the debate in Congress. "That makes no sense. It doesn't work that way," Obey says at one point. In Minnesota, protesters are pressuring most congressional offices, including that of Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, a former anti-war protester himself from the Vietnam era. He is considered one of the most vulnerable senators seeking re-election next year. Coleman supported the Iraq war resolution as a candidate in 2002, but he was also one of just two Republicans last month to vote to allow debate on a resolution critical of President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq. Two of the weekly protesters at Coleman's St. Paul office are nuns Rita and Kate MacDonald. Older sister Rita, 84, said they want to stir up the old anti-war feelings in the college protester-turned senator. "It certainly is my hope that that could come back for him - being convinced that war is totally futile, especially this war," she said. Last month, Bush asked Congress to approve an additional $93.4 billion for war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan this year. Democrats, angry about the war but divided over whether to cut funding, are considering ways to attach conditions to any additional money. To date, there are two pledges against Bush's war supplemental request, organizers said. Both are from Democrats from Massachusetts - Reps. Martin Meehan and Edward Markey. Markey, however, has said he would consider war funding that had conditions attached, such as redeployments. The campaign was organized by Voices for Creative Nonviolence. The occupations, the group says, are intended to coincide with other anti-war efforts, such as rallies and marches. An anti-war demonstration is planned for Washington on March 17, when protesters will march from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the Pentagon. A January protest in the city drew tens of thousands of people, including actress Jane Fonda.

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