Marks on Congressman’s Wall Represent Dead in Iraq

by Bruce Gagnon, reprinted from

Thirty-five people occupied the office today of our Congressman Tom Allen (D-ME) in Portland. We entered the office at 11:30am and Karen Wainberg, the president of Peace Action Maine, read a statement that we had prepared for him. The statement read in part, “Your recent vote in favor of $81.4 billion more for the war was a heart breaking thing for us to witness…We have come to your office to strongly urge your sponsorship of the Woolsey resolution that demands the Bush administration develop an exit strategy immediately….We want to see leadership from you Rep. Allen on this war issue. It is not acceptable for you to just sit back watching to see which way the wind blows…..We strongly request that you hold a public town hall meeting on the war so that people in your district can give you their feedback on your current position.”

As we entered the office, a camera from one local TV station was there waiting for us as well as a reporter from the Portland Press Herald newspaper. Doug Rawlings, president of Maine Veterans for Peace, did interviews with the media telling them why we had come. The Brunswick Times Record also had a front page story about the occupation today, having done the interview yesterday in advance of the action.

As we previously did when we organized similar occupations in the offices of Republican Maine Senators Snowe and Collins, we began reading over 1,500 names of American soldiers killed in Iraq and an equal number of names of innocent Iraqi civilians. One thing we immediately noticed as the names were read is the high number of children killed in Iraq from cluster bombs and other U.S. bombing raids.

Each person read two pages of names, and then passed the list on to the next person, as we sat in the foyer and inner hallways of the congressman’s office. His staff was forced to step around us to get to the fax and copy machine and our voices, as we read, were surely a hindrance as they tried to talk on the phone. From time to time one office worker would just stop typing at her computer and listen deeply to the names. Hour after hour the names were read…a seemingly endless string of death. Business as usual was interrupted today.

Artist Pat Wheeler brought along a large banner she had made with the words “Iraqi war dead” written in the upper left hand corner. The rest of the banner was empty. As each name was read an X was made in either red or black chalk on the banner. By 2:00 the entire banner was full of the marks. Then folks began to put X’s in between the existing X’s. We took turns holding the banner up against the wall so that those marking the X could use the wall as a backboard.

It was discovered that the chalk was bleeding through the banner and the freshly painted white walls (the congressman just moved into this new office) was now full of dark chalk marks. By the end of the day virtually the entire wall was covered with the X’s.

By 4:00 pm we finished with the last names. We gathered in a large circle in the front room of the office and stretched the banner out so everyone could see it. The entire banner was covered with over 3,000 X’s. We invited the Congressman’s four staff persons to join our circle, and they did. I began by saying that we had not come to criticize them, we knew they were just doing their jobs. I said that we had come out of deep heart break over the Congressman’s vote on the 2006 Iraq war appropriation and that we were now more determined than ever to keep coming back to the offices of Maine’s congressional delegation until the war was brought to an end. Pointing to the banner I remarked at how chaotic it looked with all the X’s. And I said the Congressman had just voted to give even more money to make Iraq even more violent and chaotic. I told the staff to tell Rep. Allen that in a true democratic society his job is to serve the people. In a true democratic society, I said, he would care what the people had to say. In that regard I reiterated our demand for a public town hall meeting on the subject.

As we were preparing to leave one of the staff women said her husband was a Vietnam veteran and had died in the last year. She told us that if he were alive he would be with us today.

After word got out about our previous occupations we heard from a peace group in western Pennsylvannia. They wanted to organize an occupation at their congressman’s office as well. So today as we did our event in Portland, there was one being held simultaneously at the office of a Republican congressman in Pennsylvannia. We have not yet heard what happened there. The organizer called me a couple days ago saying that their congressman had heard about the action and was planning to lock his office down. So in the end, if this did happen, they were determined to stand outside and read the names in the cold.

One reporter asked me yesterday what we expected to accomplish from the occupation today. I told him “we have no rosy expectations. We understand what’s at stake, that we’ve had a takeover of our government by big money. But we must do something.”

Today we did something. It was something good. Even the congressman’s staff, in their hearts, agree.