“The people have an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform or change their government...”

-- James Madison

Washington, D.C. - On Thursday afternoon, May 18, 2006, over a hundred protesters, led by Cindy Sheehan, exercised a right older than the U.S. Constitution itself: the “Right of Petition.” The Right of Petition existed at Common Law and was re-declared in the “Assemble and Petition Clauses” of our First Amendment. Nevertheless, when the activists attempted to deliver to a White House official, a list of over 43,000 names of people, who oppose any U.S. military assault on Iran, it was arrogantly refused. An outraged Sheehan labeled George W. Bush’s White House, “a crime scene!” The Petition, entitled, “Don’t Attack Iran,” was also endorsed by 75 groups and was directed to President Bush. [1] The location at the N/W gate, which fronts on Pennsylvania Avenue, where this incident took place, generated a media frenzy.

Despite Sheehan’s persistent pleas and the efforts of David Swanson, of the After Downing Street Coalition; Kevin Zeese of DemocracyRisingUS; Medea Benjamin of Code Pink: Women for Peace; Ray McGovern, an ex-CIA analyst; and many others, the White House bureaucrat wouldn’t comply. He indicated that the activists had to forward their Petitions through the “post office!”
Swanson pointed out to the uniformed honcho that there wasn’t any problem when “we delivered Petitions here last May, relating to the Downing Street Memo.” The activists then had no other choice, but to leave the files at the White House gate. Zeese said, “Let’s leave them a pile of names, then they’ll listen.” Benjamin shouted, “We are all American citizens.” While McGovern reminded the guard, “This is our White House by the way!”

A defiant Sheehan, while standing at the White House gate, blasted away. She said, “The occupation of Iraq is wrong. And now, they are talking about invading Iran. They aren’t going to do it in our name. We have First Amendment rights. We demand that our government open up diplomatic relations with Iran and not kill any more innocent members of humanity. Bring our troops home from Iraq. Let the people of Iraq govern themselves. No more violence in the Middle East. [2] No more violence in our name. No more war. We repudiate violence. It is so fitting that there is a [police] crime scene tape all around this White House because these are the scenes of mass murder. And, [pointing to inside the White House], this man [President Bush] approved torture. They’ve approved killing innocent people. They’ve approved spying on Americans. And, they’ve lied to us. So, this [the White House] is a scene of a crime and we demand that it stop.”

In his insightful book, “The Bill of Rights,” Akhil Reed Amar traced the history of the “Assemble and Petition Clauses.” They predated the landmark “English Bill of Rights,” in 1689. He wrote, “As with ‘Assembly,’ the core ‘Petition’ right is collective and popular. It, too, is a right of the people...In Revolutionary America, we almost invariably find the words, ‘People, Assemble, and Convention,’ tightly clustered in discussion of popular sovereignty, [along with] the right [of the people] to alter or abolish [the] government, in state constitutions and bill of rights...and throughout the ratification debates.” Amar underscored how many of the early Patriots declined to equate Congress “with a majority of the people,” and how they maintained “a keen appreciation of the collective right of the people to bring wayward government to heel...Hence, the need to keep open the special channel of the popular Convention acting outside of all ordinary governments, convenable, if necessary, by popular Petition.” The Virginia patriot, Edmund Pendleton wrote, in 1788, “Who shall dare resist the people? We will assemble in Convention; wholly recall our delegated powers, or to reform them to prevent such abuse.” [3]

There was a rally at Lafayette Square Park, just opposite the White House, which preceded the effort to deliver the Petitions. That part of the event was held in conjunction with a “Pray In,” sponsored by the “Network of Spiritual Progressives” (NSP). [1] Sheehan, cofounder of “Gold Star Families for Peace,” was one of the speakers there, along with Swanson, McGovern, Benjamin, and a number of the clergy representing the NSP. Rabbi Michael Learner of the NSP repeated a theme heard repeatedly at that affair. He said, “We are announcing the birth of the Religious Left and of a new spiritual vision of love, caring and generosity.”

After leaving the “Don’t Attack Iran” Petitions at the White House gate, most of the crowd was prepared to march to the home of the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who is also a Neocon. He lives in a plush northwest neighborhood of D.C., about 20 blocks north of the White House. Leading that contingent of protesters was McGovern. He recently confronted Rumsfeld about his serial lies which got the country into the Iraqi War. [4]

At this point, I had to leave to catch a train back to Baltimore. Swanson, however, had summed up the purpose of the parade to Rumsfeld’s residence this way, in an earlier press release: “Our demand to Rumsfeld: Why did you lie? This is where the focus on Rumsfeld should be. He must be driven out of office, but not because he's an unpleasant micromanager, not because he didn't use enough young Americans to kill more Iraqis faster. No, he needs to go for the same reasons Bush and Cheney need to go: he helped to launch an illegal war based on lies, has committed a wide variety of war crimes during the war, and has sanctioned detentions without charge and torture.” [5]

In conclusion, if you want to truly understand what compels many to oppose the war in Iraq and to sign a Petition against the U.S. attacking Iran, check out the gruesome photos of some the victims of the Iraqi conflict, and also of the detainees, who were tortured by U.S. forces and/or their surrogates, found at this footnote. [6] When you look at these horrific images, try to reconcile them with the fact, that the prime architect of this evil Iraqi War, the Neocon, Paul Wolfowitz, now has a luxurious office in Washington, D.C. He enjoys all the perks that goes with being a “President of the World Bank.” Then, remember America’s brave dead in Iraq, 2,451, and seriously wounded, 17,869, and ask yourself these three questions: What has happened to our America? Where is the justice? And, what am I, as a citizen of the Republic, going to do about bringing the troops home from Iraq and stopping any U.S. attack on Iran?

Notes:

[1]. http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/node/10204

[2]. The scholarly “Harvard Study,” which dealt with the topic of the Israeli Lobby’s “unmatched power” over U.S. Foreign Policy, had concluded that Iran is Israel’s next target for “regime change.” http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/Research/wpaper.nsf/rwp/
RWP06-011/%24File/rwp_06_011_walt.pdf

[3]. Akhil Reed Amar’s “The Bill of Rights.”

[4]. http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/node/10167

[5]. http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/rumsfeld

[6]. http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/uncensored