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War Protesters Are Embraced

Anti-war lawmakers might support the role of protesters rallying outside of the Democratic National Convention, but once inside the convention hall, many are reluctant to raise the issue too loudly in the name of preserving an image of party unity.

Liberal Democrats say they welcome the attention-grabbing antics of anti-war advocates who are demanding an immediate end the war in Iraq and an effort to impeach President Bush.

“Protesters are the American way. And I’m not just being Pollyanna-ish about it,” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a founding member of the 73-member Out of Iraq Caucus.

But even staunch anti-war advocates like Waters aren’t attending the protests throughout the week in Denver. “I’ve not been invited. I don’t even know where they are,” Waters said.

The anti-war protesters and their supporters could dent the unity theme that Democrats are pushing. During the primary, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) rode to victory partly because of his credentials as an anti-war candidate. He, however, has suggested that he is open to plans other than the immediate removal of U.S. troops from Iraq, which many opponents of the war want.

Some anti-war protesters have complained that Democrats have failed to influence the debate, though Democrats contend that they have made incremental changes — all that is possible without a new president.

Waters said that despite her absence from the protesting front lines, the war’s foes “know how strong an advocate I am on the inside … I’m a legislator. I have a role to play.”

And that role, she said, is to use her power to pressure other Democrats to change the course in Iraq.

“I always use that power, wherever I am,” Waters said. She said she raised the issue of military families at a Tuesday morning House Democratic Caucus meeting after being greeted outside her hotel by people with signs about the lack of attention to these families.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war group CODEPINK, said that while Democratic lawmakers might not want to make anti-war issues a focus of the convention, they individually support the efforts of protesters rallying outside.

“They’ve actually been warmer than I would have expected,” Benjamin said. “I thought they’d be saying, ‘Don’t piss on our parade.’ Instead, they say there’s a need to keep the pressure on.”

On Monday night, Democratic Reps. Barney Frank (Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), members of the Out of Iraq Caucus, emerged from a tribute to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) by greeting protesters with “a hug and a kiss and a picture taken,” Benjamin said.

And Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said he “loved it” when he was greeted on the first day of the convention by protesters with stickers calling the Iraq War “a disservice.”

The anti-war advocate said some of their biggest allies in Congress, such as Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), have teamed up with them for joint events hosted during the week by progressive Democratic groups.

Hinting that there might be some theatrics Wednesday during the roll-call vote, Benjamin said some of “our CODEPINK people are delegates” and “may be wearing materials” that visually convey their desire to get out of Iraq now.

Some lawmakers say the anti-war groups don’t realize how much Democrats have moved the debate.

House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) said he understands that anti-war advocates may be feeling “impatient and frustrated” that Democrats have been unable to end the war.

Murtha, however, said progress is being made. With 66 percent of Americans saying they want out of Iraq and the Iraqi government calling on the United States to withdraw its troops, anti-war advocates “are winning very much. They just don’t recognize it,” he said.

Murtha said he is convinced that Obama supports taking action to end the war, but for now, the flailing economy is the issue “in the forefront.” In the meantime, when it comes to addressing the war, “I think Biden will that handle that,” he said, referring to Obama’s running mate and foreign policy veteran, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.).

At least one group, Win Without War, is pleased with the incremental gains made by the anti-war movement. The organization, which is led by former Maine Rep. Tom Andrews (D) and comprises a coalition of groups including, succeeded in getting anti-war language inserted into the party’s platform.

It called for ending the war in Iraq, launching a diplomatic surge, withdrawing all troops within 16 months, ending all permanent military bases in Iraq and rejecting the use of torture.

Andrews said the language was approved with no opposition and with the signatures of 58 House Democrats added to the petition.

“Win Without War is not protesting the Democratic National Convention,” said Andrews, noting that he understands the convention’s goal is to introduce Obama and his family to the public.

Still, he conceded, “We’re frustrated that there was not more action taken quickly enough. That’s something we’ve all been frustrated with.”