It’s Veterans Day, and a group of antiwar Democrats have assembled at Chet Guinn’s firehouse in downtown Des Moines. Guinn, a retired Methodist minister who still likes to slide down the fire pole, bought the building in 1980 for $1 and converted it into a community hub. When the caucuses roll around every four years, Guinn says, “the fire station comes alive.” A picture of Paul Wellstone sits near the pole. Above the wide glass doors in front is a quote from Eisenhower: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
The gathering was organized by Sue Dinsdale, a self-described “pretty typical Iowa mom” from the town of Huxley, just north of Des Moines. Dinsdale became an antiwar activist when her oldest son, who enlisted in the Army in 1999, came home from his second tour in Iraq. “I was yearning for something to do,” she says. “I couldn’t just sit at home and see other kids go through what he did.” Last summer she left her job as membership director at the local YMCA and became a field organizer for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI). She’s been hounding Iowa Republicans about their support for the war ever since. It’s Dinsdale’s job to make sure Iraq stays in the news. As such, she’s a good barometer here of public opinion on the war.
I ask Dinsdale if antiwar Democrats have reached consensus on whom to support in the January caucuses. The short answer is no. “There might be six people in a room supporting six different candidates,” she replies. In 2004 the ten people sitting in Guinn’s spacious living room backed either Dennis Kucinich or Howard Dean. It was a fairly easy call: true believers went for Kucinich, while pragmatists rallied around Dean. This year, antiwar activists are having a much harder time picking a candidate; many of Guinn’s guests back Bill Richardson because of his pledge to pull out all troops within a year, but there are Barack Obama and John Edwards supporters here too.
One thing they agree on, though, is mistrust of Hillary Clinton. Everett Fell, a former sportswriter from New Jersey who moved to Iowa as an organizer for AAEI, reflects a common view when he says, “I like all the other candidates, but I have a problem with Hillary.”
“At least in Iowa, the peace community is thoroughly disillusioned with her,” says Jeremy Jansen, a young organizer from Wisconsin who moved to Iowa as part of AAEI’s Iraq campaign. On November 8 nine war protesters, led by Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, occupied Clinton’s campaign office in Des Moines for more than seven hours, placing Support the Troops, End the War signs out front and, once inside, reading the names of dead American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. It’s telling that they initially chose to target Clinton, along with the office of Rudy Giuliani. “We did this because Hillary voted for the war in Iraq and refuses to apologize for it, because her rhetoric…is not only imprecise but also contradicts her public comments that she won’t withdraw all the troops before 2013, because she voted for pro-war with Iran measures…and for her general hawkish foreign policy stances,” wrote David Goodner, a senior at the University of Iowa and a member of its antiwar committee. “She floats so quickly, vacillates so often, that I don’t think people have any confidence that she will expedite the end of the war,” says Ed Fallon, a former state representative and candidate for governor who has endorsed Edwards.