Crowd hails McDermott anti-war stand

SEATTLE – A standing-room-only audience gave Rep. Jim McDermott many hearty rounds of applause as he called for putting “a million people in the street” to stop a U.S. attack on Iraq. “We’re here because we’re engaged in a national debate about life and death,” McDermott (D-Wash.) told the crowd who came to the Jefferson Park Community Center here Oct. 6 to hear his report on his recent visit to Iraq.

McDermott was presented with two honors at the start of the meeting: a six-foot mockup giraffe, to symbolize his “sticking his neck out” for peace, from a group of women against violence, and a certificate from the parish of St. Patrick’s Church, signed by everyone in the parish, thanking him for his efforts.

Iraq is a subtitle to “a much bigger issue, which is the kind of country we live in, where the government derives its power from the people, from Congress, not the President – such as its power to declare war,” McDermott said

“If we don’t derail this coup that’s going on, we’ll be in a government that’s run by the President of the U.S. and the rest of us will be just standing around wondering what’s happening,” he declared.

“If you are thinking of defending the Republic, you had better get up on your feet,” McDermott told the crowd. “The power is in your hands.”

Though the U.S. is now the most powerful country in the world, he commented, history is full of the histories of powerful countries that fell because they reached beyond what the people would put up with.

In his visit to Iraq, McDermott, accompanied by Reps. David Bonior (D-Mich.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), spoke to 15 members of Iraq’s Parliament and told each, “If you don’t allow unfettered inspections, you will get a war.” Now that Iraq has agreed to inspections, Bush has been trying to “submarine” the process, McDermott told the Seattle meeting.

This year McDermott, Bonior and Thompson wanted to see the effects of ten years of sanctions on the Iraqi people. “We have crushed them economically,” he said, commenting that in 1990 one Iraqi dinar equaled $3.50 U.S., while today it takes 1,000 dinars to buy 1 dollar. McDermott said he saw many people ill with preventable illnesses, such as a 10-year old boy dying because he couldn’t get the medicine he needed. When he went to a pharmacy in Baghdad to see if he could get some prescriptions filled, McDermott was told “No,” they had none of the medications on his list.

The Iraqi people are suffering elevated cancer rates and birth defects today from exposure to depleted uranium in ammunition used by the U.S. during the Gulf War, McDermott charged. “And we’re planning to send our soldiers to walk around in that poison dust?” he asked.

“The fact is we have created a disaster and we have driven the people into the arms of Saddam,” McDermott said. When so many supplies have been withheld by our sanctions, he said, those items that get through are being distributed by Hussein, and Iraqi people who may have opposed him ten years ago are now grateful. “If we go into Iraq, there will be no uprising. They’re going to defend him,” McDermott said.

Following the meeting, McDermott joined an anti-war rally in progress, which brought out 5,000 to 7,000 people.

The night before, an overflow anti-war meeting with former UN chief weapons inspector Scott Ritter was attended by 1,500 people and 500 more had to be turned away.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org