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Action Alert 

Bastion of Dissent Offers Tribute to One of Its Heroes

22 October 2001

Oakland, California: Danny Glover, the actor, called her a hero. Alice Walker, the writer, called her inspiring. The crowd, 3,500 strong, awaited her appearance with the giddiness of autograph seekers awaiting their favorite Hollywood star.

It is not often a fairly new member of Congress is honored so publicly, by so many, for a single vote. But Barbara Lee, the Democratic representative of the Ninth Congressional District since 1998, was honored today with songs, poetry and speeches for being the only lawmaker in the House or the Senate to vote against granting the president the authority to use military force against terrorism.

When Mr. Glover walked Ms. Lee to the podium about two hours into the program, the crowd gave her a Super Bowl touchdown roar.

“We wanted to show the world that Barbara Lee's vote represented her constituents,” said Nancy Nadel, an Oakland City Council member who helped organize what she called “a community gathering for Barbara Lee” outside City Hall this afternoon. “We wanted to show that she spoke for us and that we support her and that the press was not reflecting that. Not to mention, that we think what she did was so courageous.” Few here would argue that Ms. Lee would have received this hearty a celebration anywhere in the country. In the weeks since she cast her dissenting vote on Sept. 14 (because, she said that day, “I am convinced that military action will not prevent acts of further international terrorism against the United States”) Ms. Lee has received great attention, but much of it has not been welcome.

Beyond being bombarded with calls, letters and e-mail messages questioning her patriotism, she has received death threats, enough to cause pause. She travels with bodyguards these days, and her schedule is secret. (Members of her local district staff said they did not know if she was in town, when she was already here.)

And while she has also received plaudits for her vote, or the courage to cast it, from all over the country, nowhere has that one vote been more popular than in her own district, a bastion of left-liberal politics where the two-party system means Democrats and Greens. (Just the other day, the Berkeley City Council, which had already voted to honor Ms. Lee, officially called for an end to the bombing in Afghanistan.)

In her district, which includes Berkeley, where the Free Speech Movement was born, Oakland and the neighboring city Alameda, Ms. Lee would probably have raised more hackles had she voted otherwise.

“It would have been very surprising if she hadn't voted against the resolution,” said Tim Redmond, executive editor of The San Francisco Bay Guardian, an alternative weekly that keeps close tabs on the area's politics. “It was the right thing for her to do as the representative of one of the most progressive Congressional districts in the country.”

Bruce Cain, a professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley, said that Ms. Lee's district, where she won 85 percent of the vote, “is the best district in the country to cast that vote.”

While the vote has spawned a challenger Audie Bock, a former state assemblywoman, who hopes to unseat Ms. Lee come the Democratic primary in March it will also probably earn her votes from the liberal voters who had considered Ms. Lee not liberal enough, Mr. Cain said.

“There are people so far left of Barbara Lee that they never would vote for her,” he said. “They would vote Green, or Independent.”

Ms. Bock, a Democrat who became a Green Party member, then an Independent, then a Democrat again, has begun a challenge to Ms. Lee based on the lone vote. Ms. Lee, she said, “cowers behind her bodyguards, knowing she has wronged both the living and the dead.” Ms. Bock has also started a Web site, http://www.dumpbarbaralee .com.

Ms. Lee's supporters say her vote took courage because it could marginalize her in Congress. But Ms. Lee, a former state assemblywoman and senator who was former Representative Ron Dellums's chief of staff, has voted alone before. In 1999, she was the sole House vote against President Bill Clinton's plan to use force against Serbia. In 1998, she was one of five House members to vote against bombing raids on Iraq. She has also pushed for more money for H.I.V. and AIDS treatment in Africa, opposed military aid to Colombia and protested the Boy Scouts' policy of excluding gays. A former social worker, she recently introduced legislation to increase the worldwide affordability of AIDS drugs and to link international debt relief to the prevention and treatment of H.I.V. and AIDS.

Today, Ms. Lee was honored twice: in front of City Hall and, later, by a women's group, the Women of Color Resource Center, which honored Ms. Lee with its third annual award for women who have made significant civic, cultural, artistic or political contributions to society.

She was clearly moved by the outpouring of support this afternoon at City Hall. “I want to thank you for being the greatest and most progressive Congressional district in the country,” she said, in her brief remarks to the crowd. That received the loudest applause of the day.

Evelyn Nieves.
Published in the New York Times.
(c) 2001 The New York Times Company.

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