on tompaine.com, January 6, 2007
Chaos. That’s what one reporter called it after the House Democratic
leadership fled the media stakeout outside the Caucus Room. TV crews with
no one to focus on. Angry reporters. Jubilant protesters. Briefing postponed
until … sometime.
It was meant to be a sober display of the new responsible Democratic
power, a reading of the "100 Hours Agenda," a political moment
in the limelight before the inevitable conflicts began in the actual legislative
It certainly seemed like the presentation would unfold as planned. Fashionably
late, Rahm Emanuel and Steny Hoyer appeared confidently before the microphones
massed under Cannon House Office rotunda. They faced a dozen live TV cameras
and a hundred domestic and foreign reporters.
Emanuel, looking as smooth and rich as a polished cordovan loafer, took
the stage and a hush fell. He said all the right things: “move in
a new direction,” “changing the relationship between lobbyist
and legislator,” “take away gas subsidies,” “The People’s
House.” But he got no further than that.
A chorus of voices began chanting “de-escalate, investigate, bring
the troops home” over and over. The actual chant time, carried out
by no more than 15 or 20 people, lasted less than two minutes. By time
it was over, though, the Democratic leadership was gone. Back into the
safety of the Caucus Room.
To the Dems and the reporters it seemed like more of a bushwhack than
a media stakeout. But when Cindy Sheehan shows up accompanied by Code
Pink women and men without ties or briefcases, it’s likely that something
Prior to the Emanuel-Stoyer show, Sheehan had drifted through the crowd.
She told TomPaine that she was there to show support for her new Peace
Surge, a hoped-for and probably phantasmagorical withdrawal of troops,
rather than the troop surge Bush is planning.
Her cohorts were not entirely pleased with their earlier reception. According
to anti-war activist David Swanson, they had been stopped at the building
entrance by the Capitol Police, who had been distressed to find them laden
“There were 50 or 60 of us,” Swanson said, “and we came
to talk to House members. The police told us that since 9-11, the bringing
of leaflets is forbidden.” The only way to distribute them, police
said, was to use a Pitney-Bowes delivery service. “They’ve outsourced
access to Congress,” he fumed.
What really got the police was the content of the flyers. “One cop
told another,” said Swanson, “‘This is against the war.
They can’t bring this in.’ We wouldn’t budge and worked
our way up to a captain. In the end, they reversed the policy, and we
handed out the leaflets.”
Accompanying Swanson was Candy Anderson of Sacramento, a member of Gold
Star Families for Peace . It was her first trip to the Capitol, and she
meant to “meet as many members of Congress as [she] can.” She
was asking for more than just a cessation of the war; she wanted reparations
for the bereaved American families and money to rebuild Iraq.
Candy Anderson had none of the powerful glow of a Rahm Emanuel or a Nancy
Pelosi. She said she had been “humble” in congressional offices.
She wasn’t sure how things worked.
But in the end, it was Anderson’s message that got heard, not the
prefabricated points which conspicuously avoid any mention of ending the
war. The 100 Hours agenda is a good one, a needed one. But America’s
most burning issue has not died out. Today it flamed up in the People’s
House. The Democrats may have to face Iraq sooner than they hoped.