Anti-war groups press their case to halt impending Syria attack

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Anti-war groups are mobilizing across the country at breakneck speed to halt an impending attack on Syria.

While President Barack Obama and Israel lobby groups are flooding Congress with pro-intervention messages, anti-war organizations are giving them a run for their money. And in sharp contrast to the votes on Iraq, the Syria resolution being debated in the House of Representatives could very well fail.

“It’s dead in the House,” said a staffer for a Congress member. “The calls are running 100 to 1 against. So that makes a big difference.”

That’s in part due to the efforts of groups like Code Pink, Peace Action, Win Without War and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, alongside like minded Congress members like Representative Alan Grayson, who is leading the charge against intervention in the House and whose office is organizing a hearing next week that will feature experts who are skeptical of an attack on Syria. Anti-war forces are finding fertile ground across America, with polls consistently showing broad opposition to cruise missile strikes on the Assad regime. The argument they are pressing is that military intervention will escalate the conflict in Syria, and that it’s time for real diplomacy to halt the bloodletting.

“Just going into the offices, you hear the phones ringing constantly and you hear the receptionist saying, ‘Yes, I will register your opposition to a U.S. invasion of Syria,” said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink who is a ubiquitous presence on Capitol Hill. Benjamin was arrested earlier this week after disrupting Secretary of State John Kerry’s pro-war pitch to the Senate, and her group is lobbying Congress ferociously to vote no on an attack Syria resolution. “[Members of Congress] appear to be very torn by what they’re party, what the Democrats, are pushing them to do and [what] their constituents are pushing them do. It’s a real tug of war between the people versus the power,” Benjamin added.

The opposition to a Syria strike, which would further embroil the U.S. in a brutal civil war, is being registered intensely at the local level. In town hall meetings, opponents to intervening in Syria–from anti-war Democrats to libertarian Republicans–have gone on the offensive. Senator John McCain, a key proponent of greater intervention in Syria, faced a groundswell of voices against attacking Syria at a town hall meeting held Thursday.

In Fort Greene, Brooklyn, a local peace group is going back to organizing basics to halt the looming strikes on Syria. Fort Greene Peace, a sister organization of the larger Brooklyn For Peace, has hit the farmer’s market in the local park and has set up shop outside a supermarket near public housing projects. They’ve collected over 200 signatures on a petition against an attack on Syria stating “military strikes by the U.S. will not make any Syrians safer.” Ed Goldman, an activist with Fort Greene Peace, said that “we think it’s immoral, we think it’s illegal, we think it’s crazy politically in the region.” Goldman added that the public seems to agree with him: “It’s unbelievable. We’ve had people lining up at our table to sign this petition. There’s almost nobody that walks by who doesn’t say, ‘yeah you’re right.’”

Today, a group of about 10 activists met with Democratic Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a member of the generally progressive Congressional Black Caucus who is serving Fort Greene and other Brooklyn neighborhoods. Jeffries has been on the fence about his vote on Syria. He released a statement this week saying that “we must now carefully evaluate whether the use of force is appropriate.  The situation in Syria is a serious one and the use of chemical weapons, if proven, must be met with severe consequences.” The anti-war activists wanted to push him to their side.

They didn’t exactly get what they wanted, though the activists were pleased that Jeffries was receptive enough to meet and listen to their concerns.  In a post-meeting interview, Jeffries said he was concerned about “an open-ended conflict that would divert resources away from domestic spending priorities that we have here in America as well as the possibility of sparking a war that would result in United States’ boots being put on the ground.” While the Congressman said he would take those concerns down with him to Washington D.C., where he will meet with the Obama administration, he has yet to make up his mind on a vote.

Jeffries, like many other elected officials, is caught between his constituents on one side, and his president on the other side. The role of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee will also be a factor in how Jeffries votes. He coasted to Congress on a wave of pro-Israel donor money, which poured in to stop his opponent in the Democratic primary, Charles Barron.

“I do think that there will be a variety of groups that will weigh in, into this question. I’ve spoken to at least one member of AIPAC. However, I do anticipate that we’ll have a lot of different conversations with a lot of different folks over the next few days,” said Jeffries. “The AIPAC member was simply asking what my position was. It wasn’t an aggressive conversation at all. It was a very thoughtful conversation.”

Jeffries will likely hear again from AIPAC next week, when the lobby group will send 250 activists to Capitol Hill to push for authorizing a Syria attack as a way to “send a message” to Iran over its nuclear energy program. The Senate is set to vote on a Syria strike next week, though it’s possible opponents of a strike could delay a vote. It’s unclear when the House, where there’s a lot of opposition to military action, will vote. The majority of House members have indicated they will vote no an attack Syria resolution, according to counts compiled by news organizations.

In the meantime, anti-war groups continue to organize. Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin said her group is planning to set up an encampment in Washington, D.C. to oppose force on Syria and will continue to protest. Anti-war rallies around the country are being held Saturday to rally more opposition to a strike on Syria.

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