Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) hopes that progressives can “shape the agenda” at the NATO and G8 summits being held in Chicago next May. In an interview with Tom Hayden, hosting KPFK’s “Background Briefing with Ian Masters" on July 5, the congresswoman said that progressives should employ an inside-outside strategy toward the elite summits hosted by President Obama in his political hometown. Lee said:
“I would hope that we help shape that agenda. I would hope that whatever the agenda is going to be for the G8 and for NATO that we’re right there with the progressive community discussing with the national security agency and the White House about what some of the items should be on that agenda, Tom. And then of course we need to have people, looking at this, monitoring this, being out there, lifting our voices, rallying. But I think we have an opportunity. I mean President Obama, you know, understands this. He gets it. And so the left has got to weigh in, I think, a more pronounced way. Like the right always weighs in. The president needs that counterbalance, I believe, and that’s our job, we have to provide that for him, otherwise he’ll only get that input from the Right.”
On Obama’s decision to withdraw 30,000 troops by September 2012, Lee repeated her demand that the number should have been 50,000, adding:
“I want to thank you kindly and thank everyone who is listening, because we would have never gotten those votes had it not been had it not been for the people’s voice and public opinion. This week we have the defense appropriation coming up. I’m going to offer an amendment that says no more combat funding for Afghanistan. We’re going to only fund the safe and orderly withdrawal of our troops and our contractors. I hope people will weigh in and tell the Speaker and their members of Congress to support this resolution. The power of the purse strings is in Congress’s hand and we have to begin to use that power that the constitution gave us as it relates to funding... I think that what’s very important and what’s crucial now is that the public let their members know that what has been proposed by the administration is absolutely not acceptable, and that they need to figure out a way to redirect Afghanistan strategy now and find a way to begin to bring our troops home in a more significant and sizable fashion.”
Lee’s path may be instructive for the peace movement as a whole. She was the only member of Congress to oppose the original authorization for the Iraq War and the war on terrorism a decade ago. She continued to dedicate herself. A strong supporter of Barack Obama in 2008, she nonetheless introduced annual legislation to cut all Afghanistan funding except funds for a safe and orderly withdrawal. Her support in the House has grown from 50 to over 100 and, in coordination with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), the demand for a more rapid withdrawal increased this year to 205. Meanwhile, Lee crafted a resolution that passed the Democratic Party’s Democratic National Committee (DNC) last February, the first sign that the party as a whole was shifting towards the demands of the peace movement. Barbara Lee moved from the margins to the mainstream as the party was led by its constituent base.
Obama’s decision to host the two summits during an election year suggests that he wants to position himself as the president who restored American global leadership. But it also is an opportunity, starting at once, for the peace, justice, labor and environmental movements to set the pace in pressuring their respective national governments to focus on ending the Long War, advancing a New Deal populism on the economic front, and bringing world attention back to the environmental crisis and the need for “jobs from the sun.”