On September 14, 2001 Barbara Lee strode up to the podium and made this speech to explain her vote against the AUMF in Afghanistan.
Rep Barbara Lee was the lone dissenting vote.
The AUMF passed 420-1 in the house. We have now been at war in Afghanistan for almost 16 years. Her courageous vote that day echoed Jeanette Rankin’s lone vote against declaring war on Japan and entering World War II.
As Lee explained in her speech:
“We are not dealing with a conventional war,” she said. “We cannot respond in a conventional manner. I do not want to see this spiral out of control … If we rush to launch a counterattack, we run too great a risk that women, children and other noncombatants will be caught in the cross-fire … Finally, we must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target. We cannot repeat past mistakes.” — The Guardian
Today, almost 16 years after her lone dissenting voice was heard on the floor of the House of Representatives, Rep. Barbara Lee’s amendment to sunset the 2001 AUMF was adopted in committee and will head to a floor debate. If her amendment passes and brings to a close this unending war, it will have been one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of our country and Congress.
Lee represents California’s 13th district, which covers Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda and surrounding areas in the East Bay. She has a long association with the area, and studied at Mills College in Oakland. While there, she volunteered with the Oakland area Black Panther party, and worked on Bobby Seale’s bid for the mayor’s office. As a student, Lee was inspired by and worked on Shirley Chisholm’s bid for the Democratic nomination for President. She later went on to earn a Masters degree at UC Berkeley.
Lee was born in Texas into a military family, and named Barbara Jean Tutt. Her father, Garvin Alexander Tutt retired from the US Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. Lee worked on Congressman Ron Dellums’ staff for several years and served in the California State Assembly for 8 years (1990-1996). Dellums was a founding member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and the only member of Congress to identify as a socialist.
When Dellums retired in 1998, Lee ran for and won his seat in the 9th district. She succeeded one of the most progressive voices of his generation. Upon re-districting in 2013, she ran for office in the 13th district, succeeding Pete Stark, another strong progressive voice, and one of the earliest members of the CPC. Lee has served as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and co-chair of the CPC.
The vote against the AUMF was a defining moment for Lee and led to severe criticism including death threats. Lee has never backed down and has remained steadfast in her commitment to peace. She voted against the Iraq War Resolution, several bills to fund these wars, and the military action in Libya. She has continued to be a vocal, courageous voice for ending our perpetual war. In a speech to her alma mater, Mills College, in 2014, as we embarked on another series of attacks in Iraq and Syria, she had this to say:
“I have called and will continue to call for a full congressional debate and vote on any military action, as required by the Constitution. The American people deserve a public debate on all the options to dismantle ISIS, including their costs and consequences to our national security and domestic priorities.”— The Nation
That Nation article also notes that Lee, is among a dwindling few other Democrats and Republicans
rejects the argument that resolutions from years ago and votes on amendments to funding measures meet the standard for congressional authorization of new military strikes.
In her autobiography, Rep. Lee revisits that moment three days after September 11, 2001 and explain, once again, her lone dissenting vote. She says that even as smoke continued to rise from the ashes of the World Trade Center, she knew, and acted upon this truth:
Congress voted, almost unanimously, to give President Bush a “blank check” to attack an unspecified country, an unspecified enemy for an unspecified period of time… I stood alone against this “blank check” for what has become known as the Global War on Terror. I knew then that the administration would turn this into a Global War and tried to warn the nation and my colleagues in the Congress. — Renegade for Peace and Justice: A Memoir of Political and Personal Courage
Progressive Lion is an occasional series celebrating a politician or activist exemplifying progressive values. The goal is the recognize their achievements and lives. If you know aspects of their career or work that are not in the diary, please share them in comments.