The two sisters from the Our Lady of Angels convent had driven down from Pennsylvania with a message for their Congressman: Say no to Star Wars. It was proving a tough sell. Their Congressman is Republican Curt Weldon, a vocal supporter of a National Missile Defense (NMD) program; his chief of staff, Michael Barbera, met the sisters and two other peace activists cordially and arranged them all in black leather armchairs–but he offered no illusions. “We may not agree on everything, it looks like, but that’s OK,” Barbera began cheerfully, and then listened as the four activists haltingly challenged the logic behind having a missile shield.
“Think of some of these things like the car bomb. Or that little boat in Yemen,” said sister Corinne Wright. “Suitcases,” her fellow sister, Betsy Kane, added helpfully. Barbera nodded at this list of ways a hostile device could be slipped past even a working space-based missile shield. But Congressman Weldon, he continued, worried about a foreign missile as “the weapon of choice.” Eyes then glazed as Barbera, rocking back and forth in his chair, the Capitol dome visible in the huge window behind him, spoke with confident authority about the arcana of nuclear weapons policy-making. The sisters and their allies felt the half-hour audience slipping away.
Three floors down, six other activists met with Tom Vinson, a legislative analyst for Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio. DeFazio, a founder of the Progressive Caucus, is no fan of NMD; as the activists listed bills they supported, Vinson could promptly counter that DeFazio was already co-sponsoring. Two minutes into it, the activists were jokingly getting up to leave–“great meeting, mission accomplished!”
Similar scenes were enacted more than 100 times across Capitol Hill on Monday and Tuesday, June 11 and 12, as part of “Stop the New Arms Race”–a series of citizen actions that brought protesters from thirty-five states to Washington to voice opposition to President George W. Bush’s plans for NMD. “Stop the New Arms Race” was organized by the members of Project Abolition (www.projectabolition.org), an umbrella organization set up in 1999 to push for nuclear disarmament. Members include Physicians for Social Responsibility (www.psr.org), Women’s Action for New Directions (www.wand.org), the Nation Institute (www.nationinstitute.org) and the members of the Nuclear Disarmament Partnership, among them Peace Action (www.peace-action.org), 20/20 Vision (www.2020vision.org) and the Global Security Institute (www.gsinstitute.org).
The events opened on a sunny Sunday in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, where 500 people participated in a pre-lobbying pep rally. Speaker after speaker sided with America’s wary European allies in opposing a missile defense shield and derided NMD as a “lemon.” Peace Action is even calling on Congress to pass a “Star Wars Lemon Law,” modeled after lemon laws that protect car buyers from unscrupulous salespeople (www.peace-action.org), and it promises to shower some 300,000 “Star Wars Is a Lemon” postcards on members of Congress this summer.