By Medea Benjamin
When Leslie Angeline started her fast to get a meeting with Senator Joseph Lieberman to talk to him about his belligerent comments about Iran, little did she know that she would be unleashing a new campaign to stop the next war now. But that's precisely what has happened.
Leslie, who went on a Global Exchange citizen diplomacy trip to Iran in May, fell in love with the Iranian people. When she heard Senator Lieberman on CBS Face the Nation on June 10 saying that he had incontrovertible evidence that Iran was training and equipping Iraqi extremists to kill American soldiers and that we should prepare for military strikes against Iran, she was so upset that she decided to go on a hunger strike until the Senator agreed to meet with her.
Leslie, with her CODEPINK friends, went to his office every day asking for a meeting with the Senator. Not only did his staff refuse to schedule a meeting, but they told her that if she stayed in the office for more than 10 minutes, they would call the police and have her arrested for loitering. On day 10, when Leslie was in the office and feeling so weak that she asked to lie down for a moment, they said no. Leslie collapsed on the floor and was rushed to the hospital for dehydration.
Still she refused to eat and Leslie, with other CODEPINK activists, dogged the Senator wherever they could find him--in Congressional hearings, in the halls, outside his office. Each time, they would plead for a meeting.
On the 22nd day of her hunger strike, Leslie was getting desperate. She decided that this time, she'd go into his office asking for a meeting and wouldn't leave. After a few minutes, they called the police. This tiny woman who hadn't eaten in weeks was hauled out of Lieberman's office in handcuffs.
When a photo of Leslie getting arrested in his office appeared the next day on the front page of the influential Capitol Hill paper Roll Call, Lieberman must have been embarrassed. This time, when Leslie went to his office and once again asked to meet, she was told that finally, the Senator had relented and she would be granted a 5-minute meeting the following day under the conditions that she come alone and without press.
The next day, the 24th day of her fast, Leslie appeared in Lieberman's office for the meeting. She was not alone, though. She brought with her Ali Nasri, a young Iranian who happened to be in DC with a group of 13 Iranians cycling around the US for peace. She thought it was so important for Lieberman to hear directly from an Iranian who had to live with the consequences of the military threats from the US.
The Senator met with Leslie first, then allowed Ali to join them. The meeting was not only cordial, but Leslie and Ali felt they actually touched his heart with their sincerity and their arguments that his belligerent talk actually hurt the chances of Iranian civil society from flourishing and instead strengthened the government. They ended the meeting by breaking bread with the Senator.
While delighted that she had a chance to present her views to Lieberman, Leslie and the CODEPINK activists have learned not to put their faith in politicians. So we have decided to launch a new campaign called Cities for Peace with Iran, aimed at getting communities all over the country to pass city resolutions against going to war with Iran.
The campaign, launched on July 16, will be a great way to pay tribute to Leslie's sacrifice. And it will be a great way for Americans to show their determination to live in peace with the people of Iran. Check here for information on how to get involved by passing a resolution in your city, inviting a speaker to your community and/or visiting Iran as a citizen diplomat.
What we can learn from the war in Iraq is that once a war has started, it acquires a momentum of its own and becomes harder and harder to stop. That’s why it’s so critical to prevent a war with Iran before it starts, and holding elected officials like Senator Lieberman to account is a key element of stopping the next war now.