Steve Elbow, The Capital Times, January 6, 2009
Violence in Gaza prompted local activists Tuesday to don white masks and march on the Madison offices of U.S. legislators to deliver letters demanding an end to U.S. support of Israel.
“We’re very concerned about U.S. policies all over the world,” organizer Joy First told a staffer at the office of U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin — where another local activist, Allen Ruff, condemned Baldwin’s failure to speak out against U.S. military aggression as “contemptible and out of character.”
Ruff left behind a pair of shoes, a symbol of contempt in the Arab world and reminiscent of the incident last month when an Iraqi journalist hurled shoes at the head of President George Bush during a Baghdad news conference.
Local activist Sol Kelley-Jones, who along with about two dozen protesters crowded into a small conference room, told Baldwin’s district director Curt Finkelmeyer that Baldwin needs to speak out against Israeli aggression.
“We aren’t just requesting this of her, we are demanding this of her as her constituents in the progressive city of Madison,” Kelley-Jones said.
Finkelmeyer said the protesters were welcome in Baldwin’s office. “We’re happy to have constituents come in and give their point of view,” he said.
Israel continued its 11th day of its military assault in Gaza on Tuesday. The Israeli government has said it is responding to missile attacks from Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza, but critics say Israel’s use of force has been excessive. Palestinian medical officials, according to The New York Times, said more than 560 people have been killed, many of whom are civilians.
The “March of the Dead,” which drew about 150 protesters in Madison, was conducted in concert with similar protests in Washington, D.C., New Orleans and other U.S. cities.
About 20 of the participants wore eerie white masks, and many bore the names of those killed in military actions in Gaza, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The letter the group took to lawmakers said: “We are here in your office in Madison to remind you that many innocent people are suffering and dying as a result of the policies of the U.S. government. With the war and the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, with the military aid to Israel, with threats of aggression to other counties around the world, we cannot remain silent. It is our right and our responsibility to speak out, to come to your offices today and remind you of the work your constituents want you to do.”
First — fresh from a municipal trial where she and two other activists were contesting obstruction charges for drawing chalk outlines of war dead on the sidewalk in front of the downtown post office — organized the protest in the name of the Madison Pledge of Resistance and the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project. But several groups, including the International Socialist Organization, Veterans for Peace, the Madison-area Peace Coalition and the Madison Network for Peace and Justice were represented in the march, as were several members of local Muslim and Israeli communities.
The protesters began their trek in a stiff winter wind at the City-County Building, then grimly marched to the beat of a single drum to the Capitol Square office of U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, where several of them cornered staffer Joylynn Gilles.
Gilles handed out comment forms and invited the protesters to send them back with their complaints.
The protesters then rounded the Square and headed to the downtown office of Baldwin, where scores of them were herded into her district conference room to air their complaints to Finkelmeyer.
The group then left to deliver their letter to the Middleton office of U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold.
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