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Stateside: Peace And Love District No. 9

Stateside With Rosalea: Peace And Love District No. 9

There's these three guys out goat-hunting, right, and they come to a stream that has been turned into a raging torrent by heavy rain up in the headwaters. They have to cross the stream and can't think of any way to do it as a team so it's every man for himself. The first man calls on divine intervention, praying for strength to cross the river. He's transformed into a powerful swimmer and swims across. The second man prays for strength and tools to help him and is given a strong body and a kayak. He too manages to get across. The third man prays for intelligence. He is transformed into a woman, who takes a map out of her bag and discovers there's a bridge half a mile downstream.

Such a woman, perhaps, is Barbara Lee, the representative of California's 9th District who on Friday night was the lone "nay" vote on H.J. Resolution 64 "to authorise the use of the United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States." Ten reps - 5 each Democrat and Republican - did not vote. I haven't seen anything on the national networks' news coverage about her stand, but one local network did ask her why she voted that way and showed a fellow Democrat from a neighbouring district giving her "support" while at the same time looking hugely pleased. As well Ellen Tauscher might. She's one of the far right Democrats, no doubt hoping that Lee's stand will mean another of the far right Dems will take over Lee's seat.

Barbara Lee represents a district that includes the cities of Alameda - a former naval base - Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville and Oakland. She is the US Rep I wrote of last week who stayed on in Durban with the Congressional Black Caucus after the official US delegation to the World Conference Against Racism left in high dudgeon at the behest of its leader - a Republican with all the negotiating skills of Joh Bjelke-Petersen judging by his interview with Jim Lehrer the night before the attacks on New York and Washington.

Lee is Vice Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and in July this year was co-sponsor of legislation that would establish a US Department of Peace - a Cabinet-level department in the executive branch of the Federal Government dedicated to peacemaking and the study of conditions that are conducive to both domestic and international peace. "Peace is not some elusive pipe dream," she says on her website, "but a matter of national and international security."

The only time I've seen Barbara Lee was in September last year when she was seated on the back of a convertible as Grand Marshall of the annual "How Berkeley Can You Be?" parade. Berkeley the city is as proud of its individualistic - and often mocked - approach to civic, national and international matters as Berkeley the university is of its radical peacenik image that still lingers from the days of demonstrations against the Vietnam war and the invasion of Cambodia. The university's place for laying tributes to the people who have lost their lives on the East Coast is Alexander Calder's sculpture "Hawk for Peace" outside its art museum, and its motto "fiat lux" - let there be light - is being invoked as a call for a rational and thoughtful response to Tuesday's events.

It is Sunday morning here and I've held off writing this so I can catch the usual Sunday political shows, hoping to regain some respect for networks that have sunk even lower in my estimation than they did during the presidential election. Consider this: on Wednesday, NBC's morning show had as a guest a young man who, in retelling his experience of seeing dozens of people jumping from the twin towers, was obviously reliving it. Yet they kept him on air like he was someone talking about a book he'd just written.

On Friday night the CBS correspondent in Europe did a story about how people all across Europe came to a standstill at midday to observe a moment's silence for those who'd died in the US. Europeans, he pointed out, had themselves suffered the horror of war "albeit conventional ones" and the effects of terrorism "albeit on a smaller scale." It's the arch arrogance with which people like him dismiss the suffering of anyone else in the world as somehow being less than the suffering of people in and from the United States that causes the US to be so hated overseas. The stupid SOB had no conception at all of the immense respect that was being paid.

The politicians are of course no better, for the most part, referring to the Pakistanis repeatedly as "the Paks", and baying for blood in Afghanistan, whose population is 70 percent women and children, most of them starving. This administration is running the risk of having Pakistan taken over by hostile internal forces who would then have nuclear capability. This call for allies in the war against terrorism could end up destabilising the entire moderate Muslim world. I'm sorry, but I fail to see why anyone would rush towards world conflict just because the US is so lax about its airport security and can't get the CIA and FBI to talk to each other in any meaningful and timely sharing of intelligence.

Yes, I believe in all the good values that the US represents and, yes, I love all the many fine qualities that are instilled in people here. And it goes without saying that my heart is with all those people whose lives have been taken or disrupted by these terrible actions. But the real lesson that should be learned here - how terrifying it is to live daily with the violence of war in your homeland - isn't even on the agenda with news organisations or politicians. And as we head on Monday evening towards two holy Jewish festivals - Rosh Hannan and Yom Kippur; the festivals of repentance and atonement - the possibility of more knee-jerk reactions looms large.

One final remark about the news networks - to whom of course I almost totally owe my understanding of these events, and on which there are many thoughtful commentators. Last Sunday, NBC's Tom Brokaw did an hour-long programme about "The Lost Boys" of Sudan. He was recounting how a few of those boys have been brought by some religious groups to the US to start a new life. Coincidentally, that very day, it was announced that a bipartisan group of liberal Democrats and fundamentalist Christian Republicans had formed a committee to take action on the Sudanese situation, which they view as a war between Muslims and Christians. That's how closely the networks are in collusion with the established political parties in forming public opinion in times of peace.

But what really got my goat about that programme was when one of the boys asked Brokaw how come nobody they met knew where or what the Sudan was. "Because me and my buddies in Washington hadn't yet decided that you were news" would have been the honest answer.

Lea Barker
Berkeley, California
Sunday, 16 September 2001

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