As many students are beginning to organize their response to the idea of war, Mills alumnae Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) has begun her own fight for peace.
In the days immediately following the attack, the House of Representatives voted on several bills dealing with the attacks of Sept. 11. Lee voted for resolutions condemning the attacks, speeding up allocation of relief funds for victims and their families, and a resolution providing additional funding for increasing public safety.
Lee, however, was the single vote against a bill that would have given President George Bush full rights of war. “It was a tough decision, I agonized over it. It troubled me. It was a troubling process,” Lee said.
Lee, who is up for re-election next year, ran a great political risk according to some pundits. Letters to the editors have been printed in Bay Area papers reflecting both support and disdain for her decision. A reader of the Mercury News said that her vote “compels me to demand her immediate resignation.”
According to a New York Times poll 92 percent of Americans support some form of military reaction. Lee does want some sort of response. “We have got to bring justice to the terrorist,” she said.
However she said that voting to repeal the war powers act would “be giving away the powers of the congress. I knew this vote (for the bill) would disenfranchise the American people.”
The bill that Lee voted against, a vote that has earned her nation-wide attention, reverses the War Powers Act of 1973. The act allows the president to put the armed forces into action without congressional approval when there is an attack on the U.S. However, the president would have to tell congress the scope of the military engagement and report back on the progress of the campaign.
Lee said that the resolution would take power out of the hands of elected representatives. The bill’s “mandate is too broad for any president to have and to not have to report back on what countries we would go into, how many people would be killed or what kind of collateral damage would be acceptable,” said Lee.
The decision was not an easy one. Lee, like the rest of the country, was going through a struggle of her own. A member of her staff had lost a friend in one of the flights. At the national memorial for the victims Lee said she was moved when a clergy member said ‘as we act, let us not become the evil we deplore.’
“It was right then that I knew I had to vote no,” Lee said. “We have to step back and be the deliberating body in this time of crisis and fear.”
Like Lee, many Mills students were still grappling with their feelings. “There are a lot of mixed emotions,” said junior Crystal Bybee, who has joined Organizing Mills, a student group geared toward developing anti-war activism on campus.
In July Lee and Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) introduced legislation to create a department of peace into the US. cabinet. Kucinich’s Web site focuses on the bill and encourages campuses to hold teach-ins, like the one on the Mills campus Monday, to inform students about the importance of promoting an anti-war agenda.
“Many people understood why I voted this way,” Lee said. “I wasn’t the only person on the floor saying no.” Representatives Kucinich and Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) both spoke against the bill but voted for it.
In his statements on the floor, Kucinich said that military action should be directed toward arresting responsible parties. “Launching weapons of mass or collateral attacks destruction against innocent civilians would be no different than the terror we have already had brought against us,” he said.
Mills students saw strength in Lee’s vote. “It took a whole lot of courage to do what she did,” Bybee said.
Buttons with the slogan, I agree with Barbara Lee, can seen all over campus-from faculty members to students.
“Anybody who will speak out for peace is someone we feel like we can support,” Bybee said.
“I see a lot of movement toward peace on campuses,” said Lee. “People are starting to talk and find out ways to move forward without any more deaths.”
At a teach-in on campus Monday junior Dawn Stepin said, “the teach in was necessary not to just call Mills women to action, but to bring about awareness so that they can make a choice about what to do.”
Lee sympathizes with some students’ desire for peace. The Department of Peace project she launched in July is still part of her agenda.
“The Department of Peace is very important right now,” said Lee. “We need to have someone in that position sitting with the cabinet and working out strategy.”
The response Lee has gotten from campuses all over the nation has been encouraging, she said. “Out of all of this, I hope we have a goal of a peaceful future,” she said. “I am hopeful that we want a secure world for our children.”
Additional reporting by Rowena Weger