Karl Rove might be a nasty guy, but he’s no dummy. In a press interview as he left office, he gave the Democrats some free advice. He described his politics as building on the energy of the base of the Republican Party and expanding it outward. He mentioned that the Democrats could build on the energy of their base, like the “Pink Ladies,” he said, referring to the Code Pink women who dogged him until the day he left office.
Instead of courting the “Pink Ladies” and the energetic peace movement that helped put the Democrats in power and turned Pelosi from Minority leader into Madam Speaker, Pelosi has alienated CODEPINK and most of the peace movement. It started the day she became Speaker, when she said that defending the war and impeachment were off the table. It worsened when she compromised with the conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats on an Iraq funding bill instead of supporting the Progressive Caucus. And it totally fell apart in May 2007 when she allowed Congress to give Bush another $95 billion for war with no timetable for withdrawal. While Pelosi herself voted against the bill, many anti-war activists held her responsible since she failed to put pressure on the conservative Democrats to form a united front against another blank check for war. They also pointed out that in the case of both the unrestricted war funding and the expanded FISA wiretapping, she had the power to just keep the bills off the floor.
With a Bush Administration request for even more war money looming in September, CODEPINK and a coalition of 1,300 anti-war groups called United for Peace and Justice have been pushing for a meeting with the Speaker to see what her strategy will be this time around. If she really wants to end the war, as she insists she does, what lessons did she learn from the Spring defeat that will ensure a different outcome this Fall? How can the peace movement work together with the Speaker to make sure her new strategy works?
Despite countless requests, Pelosi has refused to have either a private meeting with the peace community or a public Town Hall meeting in her district. The last time she held a Town Hall meeting was in January 2006—almost two years ago!
During the August recess, while Congresspeople all over the country held meetings on the issue most pressing to their constituents—the war—Pelosi rejected a request from over 30 San Francisco peace and justice groups, ranging from Jewish Voice for Peace to Muslim American Voice, from the Labor Council to MoveOn.
So on August 12, CODEPINK took the request to her home, organizing an encampment and hunger strike outside her Pacific Heights mansion. It is a tactic that was successful with Senator Dianne Feinstein. After six days of having campers outside her home, Feinstein came out to have a cordial half-hour discussion with the fasters and promised a longer meeting. Not Pelosi. During the two-week campout and hunger strike, Pelosi’s only interaction with the activists was her hostility toward them. Arriving home late one evening, hunger striker Toby Blome asked, “Why won’t you meet with us?”
“I’ll never meet with you,” the Speaker screamed. “Get away from my house.”
When Blome asked her about the homes of all the Iraqis whose privacy we invade, Pelosi snapped and called her “a nut.”
Hoping the Speaker would change her mind, the activists kept up the vigil, sleeping on the hard cement, drinking only liquids, and trekking to her downtown office every day singing (to the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat) “Nancy, Nancy you’re our rep, It’s time to end the war, Meet, meet, meet with us, That’s all we’re asking for.”
On Day 5 of the hunger strike, Pelosi’s San Francisco Director Dan Bernal coldly told the fasters and their supporters that the Speaker would not have the time to meet with peace groups in her district anytime during the August recess, period. That very night, CODEPINK in Arizona emailed us an article from the Ahwatukee, Arizona paper saying the Speaker had made a surprise appearance at a “Democrats and Donuts” coffee klatch in their little town before going on to a fundraiser. “I was amazed she took so much time to speak with us,” gushed local organizer Pamela Jamar Wald in the Ahwatukee paper. The next day, CODEPINK Los Angeles passed on the news that Pelosi was meeting with high-dollar donors at the estate of Beverly Hills political fundraiser Daphna Ziman. While Pelosi had no time for her constituents, she spent the month of August jetting around to fundraisers in seven states.
Meanwhile, it’s not just passionate peace activists who are disillusioned. An August Field Poll of California voters found Pelosi’s approval rating plummeted from a high of 48 percent in March to 39 percent by August—a tie with Vice President Dick Cheney. The drop came primarily from Democrats and independents disappointed that Congress has been unable to change policy in Iraq. California voters’ view of the entire Congress was a disastrous 20 percent approval, 66 percent disapproval—the lowest rating since the Field Poll started asking the question in 1996. It’s even worse nationally. An August national Gallup poll found 18 percent approval, 76 percent disapproval—the worst since the group started asking the question in 1974.
Nancy Pelosi is not only blowing it with the peace movement—turning those who should be her base into her adversaries and paving the way for “peace mom” Cindy Sheehan to make a spirited run for her Congressional seat—she’s also blowing it with the majority of Americans.
Our advice? Stand up to Bush. Don’t allow Congress to give another blank check for war. Force the conservative Dems to follow your lead. Don’t only vote the right way, but use your power as Speaker to only allow bills to the floor that include a fixed timeline for withdrawal or stipulate that funds only be used for the safe and speedy withdrawal of our troops.
And one more thing. Take a clue from Karl Rove. Build on the energy and passion of the anti-war movement. Make them your allies. If you can meet with Syrian strongman Bashar al-Asad, you can surely meet with the peace-loving Pink Ladies, the Quakers, Veterans for Peace and others who have been the heart and soul of our nation’s efforts to end this shameful war.
Medea Benjamin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and Global Exchange.