On Friday, January 14, about thirty members of a coalition of American and International antiwar and human rights activists gathered for a rally and demonstration at the Queens, New York, District office of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez demanding that she sponsor legislation to finally end US support for the Saudi war and siege on Yemen. Since last July, peace organizations and constituents in AOC’s district petitioned AOC to introduce legislation to end the war. They are still waiting. On Friday, the activists returned with an urgent demand that AOC "take action consistent with antiwar principles."
The group noted that President Biden has broken his election campaign promise to “treat Saudi Arabia as a pariah nation” and continues to offer "a pariah nation" a $650 million arms sale. Hundreds of thousands of Yemeni have already been killed and millions displaced. The United Nations considers the situation in Yemen to be one of the two greatest human rights crises of our time.
Of those who gathered and spoke out in freezing weather on the sidewalk outside the building at 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights where AOC has her district office, not all agreed with the heading on leaflet prepared for the event, stating unequivocally that "AOC IS NOT ANTI-WAR!" Some cited in her favor the congresswoman’s signature on a December 16 letter to Biden from a bi-partisan group of U.S. lawmakers that said, "The United States must make clear that this cruel and senseless blockade is causing devastating harm to millions of innocent Yemenis and is harmful to diplomacy and the peace process." All present, even those most supportive of AOC, seemed in agreement, though, that given the urgency of the situation, signing a letter and making statements calling for justice and peace is not enough.
One member of the press who was present asked why we were at AOC’s office and not at the congressional offices of other representatives in New York. The answer was that it is precisely because of her strong words for peace that there are higher, not lesser, expectations for AOC than the others. "Why hasn’t AOC sponsored a war powers resolution to force an end to the war in Yemen?" asked Gerald Hassett, a Sunnyside resident and vice president of NYC Veterans For Peace, a question that can be reasonably asked of only of AOC and a very few other members of congress.
Several speakers noted that a war powers act resolution is not enough in itself, that it effects only the participation of United States Armed Forces support for the war and blockade. Beyond a war powers act resolution, AOC is further urged to support their demand that the Biden administration end all arm sales to the Saudis and their coalition partners immediately.
"All Americans must do whatever we can to end this war," said one speaker. "For some of us, standing here in the cold with signs, chants and leaflets is what we can do and we are here doing it. For a member of the United States Congress, as AOC is, what she can do is introduce legislation to invoke the war powers act. We are here doing our part, demanding that she do hers."
Because of COVID-19 concerns, AOC’s and many other congressional offices have cut back on in person meetings of staff and constituents. Although they were informed of the demonstration, the office was empty and no one from AOC’s staff responded or came to speak with the demonstrators. At the end of the rally, many of those attending entered the office building where AOC’s office is on the 3rd floor to at least leave our message at her door.
At the lobby entrance, a nervous young security guard for the building tried to block our entrance, telling us that we were on private property. We patiently explained that while the building is privately owned, it is open to the public and that it houses the office of a US representative whom we had a constitutional right to petition. While the guard argued that the only right we had was a “right to go away,” about a half dozen of slipped by him unnoticed and went up the stairs to leave our protest in the form of posters and leaflets taped to the locked door.
Shocked to find that he had been hoodwinked, the guard contacted the New York City Police who were waiting nearby in case there was "trouble." The police met us coming up the stairs just as we were leaving and the event ended without further confrontation. It can be assumed that the day did not end so peacefully for millions of Yemenis as it did for us.
There does not seem to be any response from AOC or her staff since Friday afternoon, but hopefully, that will come soon. Her constituents and others, in New York, in the United States and around the world will continue to press Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to go beyond fine words and take real steps to end the war and humanitarian disaster in Yemen.
Brian Terrell is an Iowa based peace activist and a co-coordinator of Bankillerdrones.org.