Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2007, pages 59-60

Waging Peace

Nader and Democracy Rising Come to Busboys

Ralph Nader speaks at a fund-raiser for Democracy Rising (Staff Photo D. Hanley).

A FUND-RAISER for the organization Democracy Rising was held at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC on Oct. 11. The event was billed as an effort to support Democracy Rising’s work to end the Iraq occupation and prevent a future attack on Iran. Democracy Rising seeks to organize and empower concerned activists across the country to work to pressure their members of Congress and the Bush administration to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq and to end the U.S.-led occupation of that country.

Democracy Rising’s director opened the evening’s event by stating, “My name is Kevin Zeese, which rhythms with peace.” The former Maryland candidate for the U.S. Senate asked long-time peace activist and Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal to step forward and say a few words. Shallal, an Iraqi American, expressed his full support for the efforts of Democracy Rising in resolving the issue of Iraq. He told the packed room of mostly young supporters that he was becoming even more concerned about the country of his birth, especially given such developments as Sen. Joe Biden’s (D-DE) bill to divide Iraq into three separate regions.

“They want to divide Iraq so they can take all of its resources,” Shallal said, adding that Biden’s proposal showed a lack of understanding of the Iraqi people. Shallal wondered if Biden knew how multicultural the city of Baghdad was, and that the majority of the country’s Kurds, Shi’i and Sunnis resided in the Iraqi capital. “This bill is a form of ethnic cleansing,” he said.

Shallal came to the United States with his family in the 1960s, attracted by this country’s wonderful values. He now wondered where those values have gone. Quoting the poet (and former busboy) Langston Hughes, who inspired the name of Shallal’s restaurant, Shallal said, “Let America be America again.”

The crowd was treated to a special showing of a rough cut of Jay Wilcox’s powerful documentary, “Awake From Your Slumber.” The film features political activist Ralph Nader and singer Patti Smith at an event at the First Parish Unitarian Church of Cambridge, MA. As Nader gives a history of the West’s tampering in Iraq, the viewer is shown photos of the horror of those actions.

Smith’s moving reading of the lyrics to her song “Radio Baghdad” captivated her live audience as well as those in the restaurant viewing it on film. Her words reminded those listening that the land near the Tigris and Euphrates was the cradle of civilization and that the people who come from that part of the world invented the indispensable number of zero:

We invented the zero
And we mean nothing to you
Our children run through
the streets
And you sent your flames
Your shooting stars
Shock and awe
Shock and awe
Shock and awe

The meaning of each phase tears deeper into the listener’s heart. The whole room felt Smith’s anger—and then she offered hope.

Suffer not
The paralysis of your neighbor
Suffer not
But extend your hand

The film ends with Smith singing that, in the end, power truly is with the people, as on screen tens of thousands of people all over the world are shown protesting the war.

After the film ended to wild applause, Ralph Nader, in the flesh, took center stage. While power truly is in the hands of the people, he emphasized, still we the people are facing great challenges with this present administration in office, as well as its so-called war on terrorism.

“This war is not exactly World War II,” Nader pointed out. “This was a war of choice.” He expressed his concern with the way in which the Bush administration incarcerates so many in the name of national security. “Thousands are in jail for having funny sounding names,” he said. “This is nothing new in U.S. history, but that’s fascism.”

According to Nader, the American people allow this to go on in their name and under false pretenses. “Why are we afraid to call these lies?” he asked.

Nader said there are grounds for impeaching U.S. President George Bush and Vice-President Richard Cheney. He listed five counts of high crimes and misdemeanors that have been committed by the present administration, including a war of aggression, torture, illegal surveillance, arrest without charges, and imprisonment. Nader lamented that the American public turns a blind eye to all of this. “They prefer to watch ”˜American Idol,’ instead of being American citizens.”

During a panel discussion entitled “Next Steps for the Peace Movement,” Tina Richards, CEO of Grass Roots America and the mother of a Marine who was wounded in the war and is now 80 percent disabled, addressed the issue of the right presidential candidate to vote for to set our country on the right course again. She had trouble seeing the Democratic party as the solution, she said, especially with the majority of its candidates stating that they want to stay the course of the war effort. “People tell me to vote for the lesser of two evils,” Richards said. “Voting for evil is voting for evil.”

Her son has brought back experiences from the war, Richards told the audience. He remembers, for example, the day he saw a young girl laughing with her brother and sister in a field near their village in Iraq. “Seeing the joy in her face caused him to feel proud that just maybe their being there had made a difference in this girl’s life,” Richards related. At that moment, however, he discovered why she was smiling: in her hand was a brightly colored metallic cylinder with multi-color streamers. Her son knew at once that it was a droplet from a cluster bomb, but before he could warn the girl it exploded, killing her brother and her sister and blowing half the girl’s face off. Her son is now consumed with guilt, Richards said, knowing that, as a soldier, he assisted in bringing that bomb to the village “He sits every day debating whether to commit suicide or go on living,” she said.

Nader ended the evening by doing one of the things he does best: raising money for a cause he truly supports. “I didn’t expect to give as much as I did,” observed participant Marwan Burgan, “but Ralph was so convincing that I felt I had no other choice.”

All those who attended the event were entitled to select a book from boxes Nader brought with him. This reporter chose War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, by well-known journalist Chris Hedges (see “Israel’s Toy Soldiers” in this issue’s “Other Voices” supplement). It seemed appropriate for the evening.

For more information about Democracy Rising, visit <www.DemocracyRising.US>.

Jamal Najjab