On approaching congressional offices
1. Use your visit as a way to build local coalitions. Bring along someone from labor or clergy, for example.
2. Develop a reliable contact. In the district offices there always are people who monitor and engage in local politics. There are staffers directly in touch with the DC office. In the DC office, there is someone in charge of Afghanistan and/or foreign policies. Get the contact information for these people.
3. Learn the Member’s committee assignments before the meeting.
5. Describe your organization and its reach. This will be an incentive to increase your reach before meeting with the district office.
6. Starting immediately and every day, add email contacts, active members, affiliates and endorsers to your anti-war coalition. This is your base.
7. Respectfully indicate that you intend to constantly inform your base of the Congressmember’s voting record on the issues PDA cares about.
8. Invite the Congressmember and/or key staff to meet with your chapter from time to time.
9. If necessary, take direct action in front of the Member’s district office, handing out informational leaflets and inviting the local press.
10. Make sure that national PDA contacts the DC Congressional office of your member. National PDA should know what your chapter is capable of doing, and you should make sure that national PDA knows the positives and negatives of the Congressional member.
11. Get the disclosure forms to learn about campaign contributions flowing to your Member. It may be necessary to expose the money flow, or it may be possible to influence some of those contributors.
Warning: This is a red line for Congress members, so proceed with caution. Don’t burn bridges except when absolutely necessary.
Remember your strategic and organizational goals
This work is not about “feeling good” or even “speaking truth to power.” It is about building a stronger popular base of anti-war opinion, and a stronger organizational capacity for PDA and your local networks. Congress will act only when voices for peace are strong enough in enough of their districts.
Don’t raise every issue in the world, and don’t reject working with a district office because you don’t like the Member on some other issues. Those PDA activists in the bluest congressional districts should expect more out of their representatives, but building pressure in swing districts, and even in the redder districts is very important too, because it sends a useful message that we crop up everywhere. Don’t be feeling powerless and isolated, because that only becomes contagious and carries out the wishes of the One Percent that you be marginalized. Understand you are contributing to a larger network, that our goals are definitely achieveable, and that the struggle is a long and patient one.
On Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq
Start out by explaining that the anti-war movement, including constant pressure on Congress, has succeeded in getting 150,000 US troops to withdraw from Iraq. Emphasize the importance of the Lee and McGovern bills in that process. If you are in a Republican district, thank the dozen Republicans who voted to end the war. Stress that $50 billion alone was saved this year by pulling the last 47,000 troops out this year, and that overall several trillion dollars will be saved in avoided costs.
Support the decision by President Obama to withdraw 33,000 US troops by next September. Support the Lee legislation ending funding for Afghanistan except for the dollars necessary to accomplish the withdrawals of all troops. Demand that the troop withdrawals should be accelerated, and that all US troops should be out by 2014, not left behind on permanent bases. This will require a diplomatic offensive towards a compromise political settlement, not more money and casualties from a futile military campaign we cannot afford. To ever disengage, it will be necessary:
- For the US to pledge a firm timeline for troop withdrawals, so the Taliban know the occupiers are leaving;
- Termination of the drone attacks in Pakistan in exchange for the Aghan Taliban entering talks about a de facto settlement;
- The US ending support for the corrupt and ineffectual Karzai regime and its replacement by an interim power-sharing arrangment in the coming Afghan elections of 2014.
Argue that the “least-bad” outcome will involve a power-sharing arrangement including Taliban and insurgent dominance in the areas they already control, essentially Pashtun communities in the south and east. The “far worse” scenarios would be a longer futile American war or a return to the ethnic civil war which is where this all began a decade ago.
Cut to the main point after establishing that you know something about Afghanistan: We are sending American troops into an unwinnable, unaffordable war that could escalate into catastrophe in Pakistan. The Taliban cannot win because they are very unpopular, but neither can the US and Karzai. It’s time we ended a military approach than only makes peace harder to achieve. It’s time to turn to countries in the region – Turkey, China, Russia, India - for diplomatic assistance in stabilizing Afghanistan with security guarantees and economic aid after our troops leave. We should try to advance the rights of women as best we can, making our future funding contingent on their rights to schooling and representation, but we have to stop the irrationality of trying to kill them until they respect women.
Say you hope that Obama and Democrats will campaign this year on steadily ending two quagmires, thus saving thousands of lives and trillions of dollars for reinvestment in meeting our needs like health care, education and renewable energy.
There’s an urgent need in this election season to put up opposition to a war with Iran. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, where Congress has yielded significantly to public pressure, Iran is a case where Congress has yielded to pressure from the Israeli government, the neo-cons and groups like AIPAC. It will be very difficult to move Congress on this issue but the effort must be made now. You will find the Congress (and the media) strongly against Iran and Iran’s nuclear energy program, and leaning towards support of an Israeli strike but only if it “works.” The best argument for PDA is to point out that Romney and Netanyahu are longtime business partners and allies, and that Netanyahu is using Romney to provoke a war for political reasons in an election year. If it’s not Romney, it’s Gingrich, whose lifeline of financial support comes from Sheldon Adelson, a key Netanyahu supporter and a right-wing pro-Israel zealot who makes his money from casinos. The point is to put the Republicans and the Israeli hawks on the defensive, thus delaying any decision to go to war.
For more on the Romney-Netanyahu connection, please see the Daily Kos.
For more on the Gingrich-Adelson-Netanyahu connection, please see The Jewish Daily Forward.