MoveOn protests target Bilirakis, other lawmakers

08/29/07 Seán Kinane
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Yesterday afternoon the online activist group held coordinated rallies and candlelight vigils in front of the offices of Republican members of Congress.

MoveOn called this its National Take a Stand Day. The purpose: to remember the human cost of the war and to urge members of Congress to stand up in September to end the Iraq War.

One rally was held in front of U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis’ Temple Terrace office during rush hour. About 30 people stood along 56th Street holding signs and waving at passing cars.

Jessica Rohrbacher’s sign said "Dissent was not unpatriotic in 1776." She described the response from passers-by.

“I’ve heard more honks than non-honks so that’s, it’s pretty reassuring. It makes me happy to hear that people support us.”

Shawnda Wakefield held a sign that said “Cathy knows to end the war now. She listens to us.” It refers to Representative Kathy Castor, who in May voted against H.R. 2206, which provided President Bush with $100 billion in supplemental funding for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Well, Kathy has continuously voted to end the war, and gone that route and Gus is continuously not. And so we’re here to tell him, ‘listen to her, we’re there, we’re listening to her, she’s voting the way we want. And you’re not listening to anybody.’ So we’d really like him to stop and reconsider.”

John Palm protested in Temple Terrace, even though he is dissatisfied with the war policy of his representative, Ginny Brown-Waite.

“She seems to be supporting the war as well and I try to write her emails pretty regularly and she just doesn’t seem to get it. She keeps sending more of our troops off to die for a lie and it’s a shame, it’s an awful, awful shame.”

Justin Martin was one of two counter protesters. He said he saw the protesters and wanted to "come and strike up a debate."

“Well, I would like some form of end to the war, obviously, but the simple removal of our troops from Iraq is simply going to cause a huge problem in which we have a destabilization of an entire region, half of which is animus to us and the other half is on the fence.

"If we leave these people in the lurch again, they’re all going to be against us, and we’re going to be fighting the entire country instead of small amounts of dissidents that wanted us out in the first place. So we can fight a small amount of people or we can abandon the larger amount that want order and reason installed in their country, and have to fight everybody because we piss them off," Martin said.

In one exchange, a protester suggested to Martin that most Iraqis want the U.S. occupation to end immediately, but Martin disagreed.

“How do you look at polls that show that the majority of Iraqis want us there until the country is stabilized, and then say that they want us out?”

But in reality, polls by the State Department and independent researchers released in September 2006 stated: “A strong majority of Iraqis want U.S.-led military forces to immediately withdraw from the country, saying their swift departure would make Iraq more secure and decrease sectarian violence.”

And even as early as April 2004, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll revealed that a “solid majority [of Iraqis supported] an immediate [U.S.] military pullout.”

Eric Aarons held a sign that said ‘Vietnam Era Vet - No Troop left behind - out of Iraq now.”

“Well, we should have never been in Iraq to start with. It was a war waged on lies" Aarons said. "Probably a half a million dead Iraqis, for what reason they still don’t know. We actually owe the Iraqi people an apology for doing this to them. We never should have been there to start with.”

After an hour of the roadside rally, the remaining participants held a candlelight vigil near the front door of Bilirakis’ office. Participants took turns reading from the War Toll Calendar that listed the number of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq since January.

Bilirakis did not respond to WMNF’s request for an interview by airtime, but he released a statement yesterday saying, in part, “When I met with General Petraeus in Baghdad, as well as with members of the Maliki government, I communicated my concerns about the need for the political process to get worked out in a way that will help our men and women complete their mission and return home.”

For more information:

Rep. Gus Bilirakis

Take a stand day

Washington Post article on 2006 poll of Iraqis

USA Today article on 2004 poll of Iraqis

How they voted on $100 billion for war

Here is the full text of Bilirakis' statement:

WASHINGTON (28 Aug.) -- U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, member of the House Committees on Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security, today released the following statement regarding the current state of military operations in Iraq.

“Having visited Iraq just two weeks ago, I was encouraged by the pace and progress of current military operations on the ground. Despite recent advances, however, I did not find solace in the political situation, which seems dogged in a morass of bickering and self-interest.

“When I met with General Petraeus in Baghdad, as well as with members of the Maliki government, I communicated my concerns about the need for the political process to get worked out in a way that will help our men and women complete their mission and return home.

“I am anxiously awaiting the September progress report by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. The Foreign Affairs Committee plans to hold several hearings, not just on the Petraeus-Crocker report, but also on the policy options regarding future U.S. involvement in Iraq.”

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