News: Jean Schmidt's War

Summer anti-war campaign focuses on Congressional 'surge' supporters

Jul 20, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Joe Lamb

Time to end the war: Ben Elmgren, an organizer with the Iraq Summer Campaign, speaks to volunteers at the Hyde Park Branch Library.

U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Miami Township) is the target of a campaign by Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI), which is pressuring her to re-evaluate her stance on the war.

The Iraq Summer Campaign is a nationwide effort to target 40 members of Congress who have supported President Bush in sending an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq. Schmidt has been vehemently hawkish since her first campaign for the House of Representatives in 2005.

"The bottom line is that the president continues to have a reckless attitude towards the events in Iraq," says Brian Rothenberg, executive director of Progress Ohio, AAEI's Ohio affiliate. "He has a go-it-alone style, and people like Jean Schmidt blindly rubber-stamp this style. We're building an organization to tell Jean Schmidt what the people think."

The Iraq Summer Campaign includes, the Service Employees International Union, Americans United for Change and the United States Student Association. In addition, some volunteers come from other groups.

"I'm just now starting to get involved with the local group here," says volunteer Paul Davis. "My primary organization that I identify myself with is Veterans for Peace."

Davis went July 12 to Schmidt's office in Montgomery and delivered a letter inviting her to the Iraq Summer Campaign's biggest event, the Take a Stand Rally on Aug. 28. The purpose of the rally, according to Kristen Barker of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, is "to get Jean Schmidt to publicly say whether she stands with the president and his failed policy in Iraq or with the people in her district who want an end to this war."

Schmidt did not return a reporter's calls.

Evidence suggests that Schmidt is out of touch with the desires of her constituents, Barker says.

"When polled, 70 percent of the people in District 2 said they wanted a responsible and speedy withdrawal from Iraq," she says.

Rothenberg says support for withdrawing troops from Iraq has spread.

"This is a really mainstream view," he says. "We're not doing any persuasion here."

A USA Today poll taken July 10 found that seven out of 10 Americans oppose the war.

However, getting Schmidt to change her mind on the escalation of troop levels is a tall order. Even in the face of growing opposition to the war, she has stayed by Bush's side. She voted July 12 against a bill that would require a binding timeline for the re-deployment of troops out of Iraq.

"I don't know if Jean Schmidt will ever change her position," Davis says.

But the goal of the Iraq Summer Campaign goes beyond changing Schmidt's mind; it also aims to increase awareness of her disagreement with her own constituents.

"I'm extremely excited that they're here in the area to show the major disconnect between Schmidt's voting record and the people she represents," Barker says.

Ben Elmgren, one of two full-time field organizers in Cincinnati for AAEI, leads weekly meetings at the Hyde Park Branch Library. Participants discuss strategies for developing the anti-war campaign. AAEI literature says the effort is "based off the Vietnam and Mississippi summers of the past." The meetings, normally drawing 10 to 20 people, deal with the grassroots aspects of the campaign.

In addition to pressuring Schmidt, the Iraq Summer Campaign is sending letters to editors in Southwest Ohio to keep U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R-Cleveland) from reneging on his new anti-escalation stance.

"The proof is in the pudding with George Voinovich," Rothenberg says. "He speaks with a forked tongue in his votes. We will continue to pressure George Voinovich until his voting actions and talking points are the same."

The Iraq Summer Campaign is distributing "Statements of Conscience" for people to sign, designed to provide concrete evidence of the public's opposition to what it calls "the continuation of a reckless war." The campaign plans to present Schmidt with all the Statements of Conscience it collects.

In the end, the Iraq Summer Campaign isn't really about Schmidt, Voinovich or even the president. The campaign is primarily concerned with mobilizing the citizens of Southwest Ohio and gathering the momentum needed to bring all the troops back home.

"The greater the energy that moves in this direction, the greater the possibility that we can bring this to a close," Davis says.

The Iraq Summer Campaign meets at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays in the Hyde Park Branch Library, 2747 Erie Ave.