Ambush At Democrat Pass

January 6th, 2007

Posted 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 process.

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 is afoot.

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 with leaflets.

“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.