“This is what democracy looks like” chanted twenty-four antiwar demonstrators as they were arrested outside Toledo’s Navy and Air Force recruitment office on the day George W. Bush announced that he was done with diplomacy. On the eve of war, American democracy was on display on the streets of Toledo, Traverse City, San Francisco, New York and dozens of other US cities. Demonstrators lit candles, marched and engaged in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, and communities continued to pass “Cities for Peace” resolutions.
But it could not be found in the Capitol in Washington. “The Administration, by design, has failed to level with the American people about the risks, the potential casualties on all sides, the threats to US citizens, the costs of this war. And Congress has let them get away with it,” said former Maine Congressman Tom Andrews, now national director of the Win Without War coalition. “The failure of Congress to engage on this issue in the last few days, when questioning of the Administration is most likely to be closely watched and to have an impact, is infuriating. It flies in the face of everything we know about how a democracy should work.”
Frustration with Congressional inaction made it all the way to the steps of the Capitol, where family members of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks were arrested in protests where they begged Congress to prevent the Administration from launching a new war in the name of their lost loved ones.
Seventy-four former House members, including Andrews, signed a letter that described the war option as unnecessary and “fraught with peril.” “It is the wrong war at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons,” said former Massachusetts Representative Robert Drinan. A handful of Congress members echoed Drinan’s point, among them Progressive Caucus co-chair Barbara Lee, who said the war “defies US and international law.” Lee is one of a group of thirty-two House co-sponsors of a resolution demanding that Bush answer questions about costs and postwar plans before attacking Iraq–and Edward Kennedy raised the same challenges in the Senate. But Democratic Congressional leaders continued to refuse to let their caucuses mount an organized opposition to the war, an indication that the party brass still has not learned the lesson of the 2002 election, which saw Democrats suffer for failing to provide an alternative to the Republicans.
If there was no real debate over this war in Congress, there may yet be one within the Democratic Party. Gathered to hear the candidates for their party’s 2004 presidential nomination in Sacramento on the week before Bush’s war speech to the nation, California Democratic delegates booed North Carolina Senator John Edwards and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman when the two expressed support for the Bush Administration’s approach. But they gave former Vermont Governor Howard Dean thunderous applause when he said, “What I want to know is what in the world some of these Democrats are doing supporting the President’s unilateral intervention in Iraq.” A day later, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich declared, “Let us support the troops, but not the Administration. Let us support the troops by bringing them home alive and healthy!” before he was drowned out by a roaring chant of “Stop This War! Stop This War!”