Protesters Say Mikulski's Anti-war Rhetoric Does Not Match Her Actions
By HALLIE C. FALQUET, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski will continue to support funding for troops in Iraq despite constituent protests in her Senate office Tuesday afternoon that resulted in four arrests.
Mikulski voted against the war in 2002 and opposes the president's call for a troop surge, but remains adamant that the soldiers already in Iraq need the proper funding to maintain the necessary equipment.
"Her stance is that she will not abandon the soldiers on the field or once they come home," said Melissa Schwartz, Mikulski's communications director.
Members from several anti-war groups gathered for the second time this month in the senator's office on Capitol Hill to persuade her to vote "no" on President Bush's supplemental funding bill, which budget analysts say will contain requests for more money for the Iraq War.
The bill will probably be introduced in the next two weeks, but is not available at this time, said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, during a session with the media Tuesday.
Mikulski will not discuss her vote on the supplemental budget because she has not seen it yet, Schwartz said, an argument the protesters do not accept.
"She (Mikulski) really needs to put her actions where her words are," said protester Kristin Sundell of Baltimore, who was later arrested.
"She's called the president reckless and irresponsible...you don't just keep providing money to a reckless and irresponsible individual."
Protester Mary Musselman of Peace Action Montgomery said she and other group members have tried to get a personal appointment with the senator to relay their concerns, but were told she did not have the time.
As a former community activist, Mikulski supports her constituents' right to come to her office and express their views, Schwartz said. Mikulski "has not refused to meet with anyone and has met with protesters before."
As for this particular group, some members have met with Mikulski's staff, not the senator directly, and discussed the war issue at length.
However, fed up with the results of those meetings and Mikulski's continued support of war funding, the activists staged their first "sit-in" on Feb. 15 in Mikulski's office to get her pledge she will vote against the supplemental bill. The protest ended without arrests.
The group of about 20 returned to Mikulski's office at 3 p.m. Tuesday to read aloud the names of deceased Maryland soldiers and attach their pictures to the office wall.
Mikulski was not present. She was questioning Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on funding for Iraq war veterans at the time.
In accounts corroborated by Schwartz, several protesters and police, at 6 p.m. Schwartz told protesters the office was closed and they must leave or face arrest. All but four people left.
The office staff then let the police know they were going to be closing the office and needed people to leave, said Sgt. Kimberley Schneider, public information officer for the U.S. Capitol Police.
The police issued three warnings and when no one moved, they arrested the remaining activists for unlawful entry.
The arrestees were not jailed, but released on condition they appear in court on March 13.
Veteran war protester Stephen Lane, 66, of Bethesda will "presumably plead guilty," he said.
"I am guilty. I did it. I'm proud of doing it...because my country, in my name, is committing crimes and I am personally responsible, to some small extent, for those crimes. If I don't do everything I can to stop it, I'm condoning it."
The third activist arrested, Jean Athey, also of Peace Action Montgomery, said she hopes that the protest and subsequent arrests will affect Mikulski. "We would hope that she would understand how deeply her constituents feel about the war."
The name of the other activist arrested could not be confirmed because the police reports were unavailable Wednesday evening.