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Get Up, Stand Up, Stand Up For Your Rights


by Laura Johnson Manis

Get Up, Stand Up, stand up for your right,
Get Up, Stand Up, don't give up the fight.
-- Bob Marley

I am one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that seeks to prevent President Bush from launching a military invasion of Iraq without Congressional declaration of war because to do so would be in direct violation of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which states "Congress shall have Power ... [t]o declare War. The "October Resolution" did not declare war and unlawfully ceded to the President the decision of whether or not to send this nation into war. Yesterday the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Massachusetts agreed to an expedited hearing of this legal challenge to Bush's authority to invade Iraq absent a Congressional declaration of war. The Court turned down the government's request for more time. The hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday March 4 at 9 a.m. in Boston.

Ever since September 11th, the current Administration has sought to keep us scared about really stupid issues and stupid about really scary issues. If we dare to criticize, we are termed unpatriotic or cowardly. As the whole course of history teaches us, these methods are very effective.

"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."

-- Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

Have we become so risk-adverse in this country that we believe that death is an option? Do we think that any of us are going to get out of here alive? Will we sacrifice our Constitutional responsibilities as well as liberties in order to remain 'safe'?

Our apathy has reached such proportions that, despite everything hanging in the balance, fewer people voted in the 2002 election than watched the World Series, which had one of the lowest ratings in its history. Prior to that election, our Representative and Senators cravenly compromised whatever ethics and morals they may have left by passing the October Resolution rather than risk losing their seats by opposing a popular President. Given the voter turnout, how ludicrous was that?

For months now people have been telling me to 'get over it', to accept that it's 'out of my control', to cease and desist rather than be judged a 'crank' and of course, 'love it or leave it'. My government has told me that I should limit my efforts to buying more products, including duct tape and plastic sheeting, when it is our greed and our vast carelessness that got us into this mess in the first place, and to trust their superior wisdom and judgment.

Excuse me? Weren't we all taught in our civics classes that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?

It is the obligation; it is the sacred duty of the citizens of a democracy to be critical of its government. As Thomas Jefferson wrote," for nothing can keep it right but their own vigilant and distrustful superintendence."

Therefore, when Military Families Speak Out asked me to join in this lawsuit, I accepted with alacrity. I have a son in the Navy (inactive) reserves who, of course, could be called back at any time. He spent six months in the Persian Gulf in 2000.

But more importantly, my late husband served in Nam during the Tet Offensive, patrolling the Mekong Delta on a Swift Boat. He certainly could have availed himself of other options in order to avoid active military duty but he felt that would have been unfair to those without his connections.

He was never the same.

For the rest of his life, he would not discuss his experiences there. He read every book and saw every movie (alone) but to speak of it was verboten. Some two decades after his return, I entered our bedroom to find him watching Letters From Nam, alone in the dark. By the glow of the television set, I could see the tears streaming down his face. That gentle and decent man went to his grave without anyone ever explaining, never mind justifying, to him why he had been ordered to do the things he did and witness the horrors he witnessed.

This can never be allowed to happen again.

My question to President Bush, who didn't even fulfill his National Guard obligations, is "How dare you? How dare you send another generation of our fine young people to fight in a war of dubious necessity that hasn't been declared by Congress? How dare you?"

My question to the members of Congress, only one of whom has a child serving in the military is, "How dare you? How dare you violate the separation of powers set forth in this nation's Constitution by delegating the authority to wage war to the Executive Branch, months in advance, without any proof of an imminent threat? How dare you?"

Our young men and women enlisted in the armed forces to defend this country, not to engage in a preemptive, offensive strike, in violation of the Constitution and international law, against a country that has done nothing, nothing, to harm us since the end of the last Gulf War.

We didn't get Saddam then and we've not been able to find Osama (whose name has not been mentioned by Bush in over a year). What makes this vengeful, oil-soaked administration think we'll be able to get Saddam this time around?

Whom we will get, however, are perhaps up to a million Iraqi citizens. Over 50% of the Iraqi population is under fifteen years of age and over 10% of the Iraqi population is over the age of sixty.

Of what can we, the citizens -- and by definition -- the participants in a democracy, be thinking?

In conclusion, I believe the members of Congress and indeed, all Americans, would do well to commit the following words of Abraham Lincoln to heart:

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If today he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, "I see no probability of the British invading us"; but he will say to you, "Be silent: I see it, if you don't."

The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood."

I have no previous experience in activism other than all the usual '60's activities. I'm a fifty-something, widowed, social worker living in the Heartland, who refuses to concede that she is merely a member of a Focus Group.

And so here I sit typing this, a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against the President of the United States, after having been interviewed live and worldwide on MSNBC Monday night.

"Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world for, indeed, that's all who ever have." - Margaret Meade

Laura Johnson Manis
Rock Island, IL

To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other.
-- Martin Luther

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