Vietnam War protesters convened this weekend in the U.S. capital for what TV talk show pioneer Phil Donahue described as an “unprecedented” gathering of leaders sharing lessons for today’s civic problems.
“There has never been a gathering like this,” Donahue, 79 and shown in a file photo, said in welcoming the 300-person audience gathered in a church near the White House. “We were going in too many different directions. Now, we’re together for the first time.”
The opening keynoter was former California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the only member of either the House or the Senate in 2001 to oppose the post-9/11 authorization for war in the Mideast. The Oakland Democrat, shown in an official photo, feared the resolution was too open-ended and would allow presidents to create new wars, not simply retaliate against 9/11 perpetrators. A similar debate is preventing congressional approval of force against the Islamic State group, ISIS. The group did not exist during 9/11 but the Obama administration is fighting them anyway.
“True peace,” she quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as saying in his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, “is not just the ‘absence of tension’ but ‘the presence of justice.’” She further quoted King as saying during the Vietnam era that America was “a society gone mad on war.”
“Today your country needs you again,” she told the audience at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. “During the Vietnam War, you raised your voices in protest and the nation listened.”
“We know that the billions spent on drone attacks could be used to educate the next generation,” she continued. “We must repeal this blank check for endless war.”
The conference, entitled Vietnam: The Power of Protest, was one of a four this editor attended in downtown Washington during days. Today’s column is intended to survey the range of viewpoints we encountered in that period, not to try to cover any of them in-depth. Video teams filmed most of the proceedings,
Most notable among our other events were the annual Ridenhour Awards luncheon and an lecture organized by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce featuring GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, the junior U.S. senator representing Texas. Both events were at the National Press Club April 30.
The Ridenhour Awards are named for the late Vietnam War veteran, My Lai Massacre whistleblower, and investigative reporter Ron Ridenhour. The awards recognize those who persevere in acts of truth-telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice, or illuminate a more just vision of society.
Those receiving them this year were: