Left Justified: Lobbying for peace is hard

I misspoke myself. Again. Which isn’t hard to do, since I shoot off my mouth on too many issues. I said our congressman voted against a piece of legislation, which hadn’t even come out of committee.

Congressman Manzullo’s colleague Jan Schakowsky (she is also from Illinois) is sponsoring HR 897, the Contractor Sunshine Bill. This requires the military’s private contractors to provide detailed information for the legislators. Our local peace group lobbied Don to not only vote for the bill, but to cosponsor it. He said he knew Jan, and it seemed like he would at least consider our request.

Well, I thought he voted against it. I was wrong. He voted against another piece of “Sunshine Legislation” known as the Accountability in Contracting Act, which passed the House 347 votes to 73, (13 not voting must have been a busy day). I don’t know why Don voted against it, since this House bill increased oversight of federal contractors.

But the point is, I got the two bills mixed up. I saw that he voted against one “contracting” bill and promptly stuck my foot in my mouth and accused him of reneging on my initial assumption. I apologize.

Which brings up my topic as to why so few of us get involved in politics: it’s damn confusing. If I had a staff of 10, maybe I could keep track of just the military legislation. As it is, our small group of peace volunteers can barely understand the recent spate of legislation cutting off the Iraq war: why did Congress vote to support the war costs, but the president won’t sign it?

Confusion means people won’t even try to understand. “Let them deal with it” or, even worse, “They must know what they’re doing” are reasons many folks don’t get involved. Even some of our congressmen thought that “Bush must have some secret information,” so they let him invade Iraq. See what that kind of thinking does?

So I encourage folks to speak to government representatives. Let our legislators know how you feel about an issue. It helps, though, to have specific bills and get a yes or no answer. And it really helps to keep track of the correct legislative numbers (I will do better next time).

Congressman Manzullo has kindly taken Rockford Peace Committee’s suggestions twice: he voted against the School of the Americas, which trains Latin American soldiers in the fine arts of warfare (and interrogation and infiltration of unions, etc.). He considered it a leftover expense from the cold war. He also voted for lifting travel restrictions to Cuba (I have gone on religious excursions to that embargoed island).

When Dennis Hastert was House Leader, he asked Don to change his vote, and Mr. Manzullo did, out of deference to him. And he gave us fair warning. So I have learned that careful support for specific legislation can get positive results. Some of the time.

We want our Congressman to monitor the increasing number of private military contractors leeching off the war. One of them, Blackwater USA, is now running a training facility in southwestern Jo Daviess County (part of Don Manzullo’s district). Donald’s aides got flustered when we told him about Blackwater North (as it is called), as if we told them something they didn’t know.

Having private corporations take on military jobs really threatens our democracy, and increasing the military-industrial complex very simply means more war, and more profit for Blackwater USA. The least the government can do is monitor those guys. The best they could do is get rid of private armies.

I wish we had a representative who we didn’t have to ask just to vote for one measly little resolution, while the whole country is rushing off to war in a hand basket.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

from the April 18-24, 2007, issue

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