Original article published in In
In November 2005 Hillary Rodham Clinton sent out a fundraising
letter to her constituents. “Part of my job is being a good
listener,” she wrote, going on to describe all the good listening
she does as the junior senator from New York. She concluded, “Now
I'd like to listen to you.”
In the envelope with the letter was a three-page, 18-question “2005
Critical National Issues Survey” addressing a range of topics
from jobs to homeland security to separation of church and state.
Not one question in the survey mentioned the war in Iraq—an
omission that came as no surprise to those of us at the New York
chapter of CODEPINK Women for Peace.
At the time Hillary prepared her “questionnaire,” close
to 2,300 U.S. troops and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians had died,
and polls showed that most Americans were worried about the war
and its ill effects, including rising prices at the gas pump. But
somehow, Hillary and her handlers thought that ignoring the war
was the strategically smart thing to do. And they were right.
It turns out that Hillary has done a tremendous job—of getting
New York Democrats to assume that because right-wing Republicans
hate her she must oppose the war. Most New York Democratic voters
also don't realize that she co-sponsored an amendment to ban
flag-burning, is against marriage equality for gays and lesbians,
supports the death penalty, votes consistently for Star Wars appropriations
and has served on the board of Wal-Mart for six years. Yet, she
is consistently touted as the “liberal Democrat from New York.”
But it is her position—or, rather, her exquisitely-phrased,
calculatedly imprecise non-position—on the Iraq War, accompanied
by her consistent voting record in support of the Bush administration
on Iraq, that had our local CODEPINK
chapter trying for weeks before she sent out her “I'm
a listener” mailer, to meet with Hillary or someone on her
New York City staff.
When the topic turns to Iraq, Hillary repeats the same garbled
message in various locutions: We shouldn't stay, but we shouldn't
not stay; while before we go we should get a job done, we shouldn't
be doing the job we're doing. If you parse her carefully worded
speeches and statements, the only significant differences between
Hillary and Bush are that she thinks we need more troops on the
ground in Iraq so the war can be better prosecuted—and that
she is furiously trying to hide that position from her constituency.
No invitation to talk from Hillary's office was forthcoming.
So CODEPINK NYC pulled together a coalition
of local peace groups and launched a weekly vigil outside Hillary's
office on Third Avenue at 49th Street. We bought enormous rubber
ears from a theatrical supply company and made signs that said,
“Hillary you're not listening, bring the troops home now.”
We passed out information about her positions, and we launched the
Web site http://www.listenhillary.org.
Standing on the sidewalk, in the dead of winter, it was remarkable
how many passersby would stop and talk, amazed to learn how close
her position on the war was to Bush's.
Soon after we launched the weekly vigil we got a call from Hillary's
office to set up an appointment. Four of us met with Hillary's
New York City “Director of Governmental Affairs,” a fresh-faced
and genial young woman who honestly appeared to know less about
Hillary's voting record or statements on the war than the crowds
on the sidewalk. She patronizingly told us that she would pass along
our concerns to the senator.
After this fruitless meeting, we coordinated with peace groups
around the state and CODEPINK chapters
around the country, organizing a statewide and national campaign
called “Bird-dog Hillary.”
Wherever Hillary was appearing we were there with our signs and
handouts, dressed in pink with big rubber ears. Women also got inside
and raised their voices, raining down flyers from balconies, and
generally making a notable, if momentary, ruckus. The results everywhere
were similar: a genuine sense of amazed—and dismayed—recognition
that Hillary's views on Iraq are out of synch not only with
those of many Democrats but of the vast majority of Americans, regardless
of party affiliation.
CODEPINK has now become an almost
integral part of the Hillary road show. The only major fundraiser
we were unable to crash was the one for Hillary held in July by
Rupert Murdoch, the location of which was a more tightly-held secret
than the location of Dick Cheney's bunker. The rituals of the
campaign trail and the fundraising gauntlet have given us a funny
intimacy with her team.
In late May we were outside a fundraiser for Senator Robert Byrd
in a private apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at which
Hillary was a “special guest.” As the elderly Senator
Byrd entered, one of us asked, “Senator Byrd, can you tell
Hillary to stop supporting the war?”
Senator Byrd paused and answered, “Ladies, I don't tell
her to do anything.”
A few minutes later Senator Clinton drove up in her shiny black
SUV accompanied by her Secret Service detail. As she walked past
us, one of us asked, “Senator Clinton, when are you going to
help end this war?”
Hillary's answer: “We're working on it.”
After she entered the building one of her secret service guys,
whom some of us by this point knew by name, winked and asked, “Will
we be seeing you later?”
He was referring to the West Village fundraiser for Ohio gubernatorial
candidate Ted Strickland that Hillary was co-hosting. A few minutes
later we were on the subway heading downtown.
In June we bought tickets to a Women for Hillary fundraising luncheon
at the Hilton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Eva-Lee, Missy and I went
into the ballroom where 1,000 enthusiastic and decorous attendees
were taking seats at their tables. I spotted a mother from my kid's
school and a business acquaintance of my husband's who had
told me point blank that she despised Hillary. What were they doing
here? Placing their bets on the Democrats' leading horse.
Staging a protest at a Hillary event is a delightfully surreal
experience. We were assigned to Table 121, way in the back (we paid
$125 apiece for our tickets; the tickets up front went for $1,000)
but very close to the bank of press cameras. We nervously ate our
cold salmon and chatted with other women at our table.
We were in Hillaryland: we watched a slickly produced Hillary film
in which she single-handedly revived New York State's economy,
palled around with firefighters and cured two children of cancer.
A lot of eyes got misty, both on screen and in the audience.
Then she made a grand entrance down a side stairway, greeted with
a standing ovation. She read through a very, very long list of politicians'
wives and other supporters. And when she said “support”
for the 100th time, Missy stood up and shouted, “What about
supporting our troops by bringing them home?” This was our
Eva-Lee and I removed the sweaters covering our pink T-shirts,
on which we had written pro-troop messages with black fabric markers
(mine said “2,475 U.S. military deaths: How many more?”)
Then we unfurled our pink satin TROOPS HOME NOW banners. As we started
chanting “troops home now,” the cameras strayed from Hillary
and toward us.
The Hillary campaign employees, secret service guys and hotel security
who came to escort us out were resolutely polite, by now familiar
with the recurrent and inevitable drill. One young campaign worker
said, “If you'll be quiet, you can stay.” I answered
loudly, “Troops out now” and off we went. Missy ran forward,
handing out photos of her nephew who had been killed in Iraq.
The bulk of the e-mail we get congratulates us on our work, but
some complains about the “Bird-dog Hillary” campaign.
One woman reminded us that Hillary was a feminist who wore sandals
in college and suggested that as women and feminists we should be
supporting her. Another New Yorker asked why we weren't targeting
our senior senator, Chuck Schumer, who isn't much better than
Hillary on the war. That one had an easy answer: Chuck Schumer is
neither running for re-election nor positioning himself for a presidential
CODEPINK will continue to push the
war issue to center stage, as others are doing in Connecticut, fueling
Ned Lamont's successful challenge to Senator Joe Lieberman.
When he was stumping for Lieberman in July, President Bill Clinton
referred to the war as “the pink elephant in the room.”
Well, the pink elephant has raised its head, as has CODEPINK.
Nancy Kricorian, whose most recent novel is Dreams of Bread and
Fire, is the coordinator of CODEPINK