Imagine what would happen if the nations
of the world spent as much on development as on building machines of
war. Imagine a world where every human being would live in freedom and
dignity. Imagine a world in which we would shed the same tears when a
child dies in Darfur or Vancouver. Imagine a world where we would
settle our differences through diplomacy and dialogue and not through
bombs or bullets. Imagine if the only nuclear weapons remaining were
the relics in our museums. Imagine the legacy we could leave to our
children. Imagine that such a world is within our grasp.
- Mohamed ElBaradei (2005), Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency
Garnering national attention, peace activist Cindy Sheehan is now running for office against incumbent Democrat Nancy Pelosi in California's 8th Congressional district. Cindy promised the House Speaker that if impeachment proceedings against George W. Bush did not start when Pelosi took control of the House last year, she would run against her in the next election.
I spent some time with Cindy earlier this month. As I waited for her arrival, a trickle of volunteers soon became a flood as everyone crowded into Cindy's election headquarters. The election office, a large room with vaulted ceilings and unmatched furniture is splattered with homemade banners, assorted publications, and a map large enough to almost cover one entire wall showing every address in the district. Most definitely a grassroots campaign, Cindy's volunteers have all the makings of a well-oiled election machine. It was the organized work of her passionate supporters that helped Cindy earn a place on the District ballot, a place she needed over 10,000 signatures to secure. She is the first independent candidate to qualify for the California ballot since 1996.
I could not help but wonder how Cindy finds the strength and courage to continue her fight for peace and justice after the death of her son Casey in Iraq. When I asked her, she said without hesitation, "I can not bear the thought of innocent people being killed, occupied, or oppressed because of the actions of my government." As for her strength, she says "The worst possible thing that could happen to me as a human being has already happened - Casey's death, nothing even touches that part of my life." Cindy went on, "I have to make up for...years of apathy. [I wanted to call] the title of my book From Apathy to Activism, but my publisher would not let me."
Her comment left me pondering the events of 9/11 and how people around the world view Americans. "I travel all over the world and everywhere I go the people I talk to are profoundly upset with the American people," she says. "They don't understand why we are not acting." I have often wondered the same thing myself and I, too, fear the future repercussions of inaction.
"She betrayed her Democratic base"
Cindy says she made the decision to run for office because "Not only has [Nancy Pelosi] betrayed her Democratic base, but she has betrayed the Constitution and she has betrayed the country." Many critics of House Speaker Pelosi have said that when she took impeachment off the table, she took democracy off the table. "She has taken away our right to privacy, she has betrayed the Fourth Amendment by giving George Bush and the telecom company's immunity, she continues to fund both wars...she went in saying ‘no blank checks' and every single time she has given [Bush] a blank check. Instead of taking her power as Speaker and her power in the House of Representatives and cutting off funding, she has continued to fund the war. She has violated her constitutional oath to protect and defend the constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic."
But some Democrats fear the loss of Pelosi as House Leader, not matter how much they may appreciate Cindy's staunch anti-war stance. Cindy defends her decision to run because she believes that in a healthy democracy, "we need more voices, not less... we don't really even have two parties. I have seen how vibrant multi-party democracies are around the globe. Some countries have anywhere from 12-20 parties. These systems really allow individuals to obtain representation that truly supports their views."
Cindy's anti-war stance is consistent, and she is quick to apply this standard to all candidates, regardless of party affiliation. John McCain has made his intention clear to keep troops in Iraq for "one hundred years" if he deems it necessary, while Barack Obama has sworn to "wage the war that has to be won." Both candidates have stated they would continue the use of military force in Afghanistan and would consider taking military action against Iran.
"Any candidate I support will have to be against war and using war as an instrument for foreign policy." But recognizing the need to differentiate individual members of the two-party system from party leadership, Cindy says that many on both sides of the aisle have remained steadfast in their anti-war positions. "I see a real disconnect between grass-root Democrats and Republicans from their leadership." Citing the example of Nancy Pelosi Cindy says, "this district voted almost two-thirds to impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney in 2006, and our representative (Nancy Pelosi) did nothing about it."
For many Americans like Cindy, third-party candidates have come to represent a viable alternative to the current system, yet they face numerous challenges to secure the ballot access needed to compete for electoral votes. Ballot access laws vary from state to state and there are no federal laws to oversee all states, creating a difficult system where the only two parties represented for the 2008 election in all 50 states are the Democratic and Republican parties. Some consider third-party candidates "spoilers" to the election process. Ralph Nader's role in the 2000 presidential election has been a source of controversy and many in the Democratic Party blame him for splitting the Democratic vote.
As both viable candidates have moved to the right on many issues, Americans are registering as Independents in record numbers. "I know that Ralph Nader is running a very aggressive campaign to pull Obama to the Left; I don't see that happening. I think the role of third parties is to give people a choice in the elective process. I would like to pull supporters of Nader, Cynthia McKinney, and Ron Paul in order to create energy around a third party that is really viable and credible. One that would have a chance against the two monopoly parties we have now." Cindy says she'll vote for Cynthia McKinney on November 4th.
Corporate Influence & Media Complicity
Like many Americans, Cindy sees corporate influence as a destructive force and one that is actively changing the political landscape. According to OpenSecrets.org, campaign spending and fundraising have skyrocketed in the past thirty years, especially when the presidency is at stake. During the 1976 presidential election between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, contributions totaled a mere $171 million. Today, the amount of money raised and spent is a staggering $961 million. Donations from special interest groups make their way to politicians through PAC's (Political Action Committees), allowing lawmakers to hide their affiliation with leadership PACs. The result is an environment where politicians no longer support their constituents and act instead in the interest of corporate wealth. "These committees have been able to slip under the radar for years," she says.
According to Cindy, this influence has far-reaching implications for the American voter, including the information voters hear from mainstream media sources. "Most mainstream media outlets are just mouthpieces for the status quo and so entrenched in that paradigm that new ideas or exchanges of ideas are lost in sound bites and talking points...The media in this country is complicit in the war effort and have become the propaganda arm of the United States Government."
Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that the FCC is currently investigating allegations that the "Pentagon recruited and, in effect, trained nearly two dozen retired military officers to promote the Bush administration's war policies in the news media." The New York Times recently showed the link between media commentators and powerful military contractors, "Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air." As Cindy notes, it's not only the American people that the Bush Administration attempts to propagandize. Senator Jim Webb called for a halt to a $300 million dollar program to produce pro-American news in Iraq. Cindy says this shows how "war profiteers own the media so they are not going to give us the truth about what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Regardless of efforts made by the Bush Administration and the Pentagon to create positive messages about their military strategy, the most recent National Intelligence Estimate concludes al Qaeda has reached "pre-9/11 strength," and cites, "the rejuvenating effect the Iraq War has had on al Qaeda" for its ability to carry out terrorist attacks. When I asked Cindy to comment on the use of violence as a means to solve problems, she paused for a brief moment before noting, "I am not naïve enough to believe that there may not ever be a situation where we won't have to defend ourselves, that we don't need a military at all, but I think out military should only be used to defend our safety and in case of natural disasters."
"It seems to me to be common sense that the killing of innocent people is going to upset their families, their neighbors, and their communities. So, if you go to Iraq and kill over a million people, you are not only inflaming that country, you're inflaming the entire Arab world...People who would never dream of resorting to violence in that part of the world feel compelled to - first of all to defend themselves and secondly to reap some kind of vengeance. I am not saying that it is right; I think that solving problems with violence is wrong...but my son was killed, not by a terrorist, [but] by a resident of Sadr City that saw Casey as an occupier. Occupied people have reasons to resist occupation and I believe they have a fundamental and moral right to do so."
Cindy sighs before completing her thought. "If our children and weaponry were not so readily available it would force our government to look to solve problems in a way that does not kill innocent people."