Congress Watch: Pressing the Case for Peace

August Protest at Newport, RI Military Industry Conference
August Protest at Newport, RI Military Industry Conference

Ayanna Pressley and the “Squad”

Ayanna Pressley
Rep. Ayanna Pressley

The election to the House of Representatives of the four progressive women of color known as “The Squad” has marked a turning point for Congress. These new reps –Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – have already sparked a national conversation about more just and peaceful domestic and foreign policies. They have brought to the foreground discussion of Palestinian rights and the US-Israel relationship; worked to end the “endless wars” and cut Pentagon spending; and advocated for a Green New Deal.

Mass. Peace Action has issued an early endorsement of Rep. Pressley and national Peace Action has endorsed the entire squad. A group of our local members met with Pressley and her staff in August and exchanged views on a nuclear first strike, Iran, Yemen, Palestine / Israel, and Middle East wars. She recently became the first Massachusetts Rep. to cosponsor HR.2407, a bill to defend Palestinian children, and she has cosponsored eight out of ten of our priority bills in Congress. We look forward to continuing our good working relationship with Pressley and her staff on foreign policy issues in the future.

Jim McGovern, Leader for Peace

Rep Jim McGovern
Rep Jim McGovern

Rep. McGovern continues to be our Congressional champion. He has cosponsored almost all of our priority bills this year. He is the primary sponsor of the No Security Assistance to Saudi bill (HR.643) and the Back from the Brink resolution (H.Res.302). The only priority bill he has not yet endorsed is the No Way to Treat a Child bill (HR.2407) to end the imprisonment of Palestinian children by Israel. Our delegation met with him in September and discussed that bill as well as a number of other questions. McGovern joined another House peace leader, Rep. Ro Khanna, at a well-attended Northampton town hall on Oct. 24, where McGovern called for nuclear abolition and deep cuts in the military budget.

Katherine Clark Protest Planned

Rep. Katherine Clark
Rep. Katherine Clark

Although Rep. Clark’s voting record on peace issues is relatively good, she has failed to cosponsor most peace bills this year – on Iran, Venezuela, Korea, and the nuclear war danger. Ironically, just when Democrats took control of the House and she took a leadership position in the Democratic Caucus, she has been less willing to step forward for peace. As we went to press, MAPA and allied activists planned to rally outside her office to demand that she pledge support for bills that would prohibit war with Iran and Venezuela. Organizers of the event planned to hand over hundreds of postcards gathered from her constituents asking her to support the bills. Her office had claimed for months, “The bills are being evaluated” but her constituents were urging her to act now. The demonstration was to feature music and speakers, including author and Boston Globe columnist Stephen Kinzer. Stay tuned for a report in our next issue.

Rhode Island Peace Advocates Pressure Sen. Reed

For months, Rhode Island peace activists have been calling on Sen. Jack Reed, regularly protesting outside his local offices to help end the war in Yemen. Reed (D-RI) is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and could influence whether the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes language passed by the House to end US arms sales to Saudi Arabia and US military personnel involvement in the Yemen war. The bill also contains important pro-peace amendments on Iran, Korea, nuclear weapons, and Congressional authorization for war.

Thus, “Little Rhody’s” peace activists have found themselves in a position to potentially affect the outcome of the final, veto-proof NDAA bill and even save thousands of lives. National Peace Action staff, recognizing the importance of Reed’s role, stepped in and helped mobilize constituents to call the Senator. On August 8, the anniversary of the merciless bombing by the Saudis of a school bus filled with 40 Yemeni schoolchildren, MAPA members from the Boston area headed south to join a vigil at Reed’s office led by several RI peace groups. The vigil included a display of 40 blue backpacks representing each child killed.

While activists have tried unsuccessfully to meet with the Senator regarding the NDAA, Reed did have time to give the keynote presentation at a major weapons manufacturers conference in Newport, RI on Aug. 26. When Rhode Island, MAPA, and Action Corps activists learned of his talk, they grabbed banners and bullhorn and quickly organized an impromptu protest outside the conference. The action received significant local media coverage. As this newsletter goes to press, the House and Senate Conference negotiations are still in progress.