A somber occupation
On Thursday, February 9, along with seven other concerned citizens, I spoke with Senator Collins via teleconferencing technology — we being in her Bangor office while the senator sat in Washington. Our purpose was to demand that the senator participate in a town meeting forum so that Mainers could air opinions with regards to the war in Iraq. Both Congressmen Allen and Michaud have “hosted” several such meetings. On all of these occasions citizens proved to be well-informed and passionate, respectful, and nearly unanimously spoke out against the war.
Our group argued the case that such forums have enabled our representatives to take full measure of the sentiments of large numbers of constituents. Senator Collins steadfastly refused to concede that these large forums (from 80 to 600 people have attended) are critically different than the small group exchanges that the senator prefers. (See "A Somber Occupation," December 16, 2005, and "Visitors Sent Packing," December 23, 2005, both by Sara Donnelly.)
I read the below statement which the senator found “insulting” and which she chose to cite as evidence that she was unlikely to be treated with respect at a larger forum.
“Senator Collins, I am a Naval Academy graduate and a Vietnam War veteran. I am also a very proud member of Veterans for Peace and I teach at the university and high school level. When I share with my students our inability to persuade you to participate in a town meeting they are perplexed and confused as am I.
I have wracked my mind — the only conclusion I reach is that you just do not want to hear what you expect you would.
I want to speak to you about the notion of responsibility — the responsibility of citizens in a democracy. It is in the best interests of a democracy that it functions at the behest of an informed citizenry.
You have a responsibility to listen, to hear your constituents. How else can the democracy work if you will not? The will of the people should be honored — at least heard!
Why would you not wish to hear a congregation of your constituents address these most important matters? I think there are three broad groups of people to whom you might answer: There are the very wealthy, those generally represented by Jack Abramoff and his colleagues, some 35,000 who pressure you, pushing corporate interests. There are the voiceless of Maine — the many people who haven’t the time and the luxury and, perhaps not the inclination, to inform themselves, and there are us —constituents who are paying attention, common people, but people desperately trying to be part of the process and to respond to our consciences.
It doesn’t necessarily follow that members of this latter group have all come to the same conclusions about the war. However, you would be surprised to hear the level of awareness, the depth of knowledge, the passion of their opinions and — you would be surprised to hear of the overwhelming objection of the majority to this war.