Berkeley Free Palestine Camp. Mx. Granger, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Ralph Nader / Nader.org

At many college campuses, students are protesting in opposition to the Biden Administration’s unconditional backing, with weapons and diplomatic cover, of Netanyahu’s continuing serial war crimes slaughtering tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, most of them children and women. Hundreds of faculty members are defending these valiant youngsters and criticizing excessively harsh crackdowns by failed University presidents who are calling in outside police.

With graduations approaching, pro-Netanyahu lobbies and cowed University heads (like Columbia University President Minouche Shafik, who makes a salary of over $2,000 an hour) expect the students to disperse from campus for the summer and end their demonstrations.

The Israeli genocidal crimes against Gazans will continue and intensify if Israel invades Rafah. Millions of refugees will suffer. What will become of the organized student calls for a permanent ceasefire, greatly increased humanitarian aid and cessation of U.S. weapons shipments? The students who leave their campus protests can and should focus on members of Congress in their Districts and in Washington.

In two weeks, hundreds of Congressional summer student interns will begin arriving to work in Congressional offices. Congress is the decades-long reservoir for Israeli colonial aggression. Moreover, Congress, under AIPAC’s extraordinary pressure, has blocked testimony by prominent Israeli and Palestinian peace advocates since 1948. Not once have any of these peace advocates, many of whom are Israeli retired cabinet ministers, mayors, security and military leaders been invited to a Congressional Committee Hearing.

This power center for the U.S. Empire – Capitol Hill – presents serious students with an opportunity to educate their elders. Such an opportunity materialized during the Vietnam War when Congressional interns in the late 1960s organized a highly visible petition drive and engaged in peaceful protests.

Back in the Congressional Districts, the access is easier and available to many more students and faculty. Because Congress is in “recess” for much of the summer – Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and the entire month of August to Labor Day – students and citizens can demand public meetings preceded by formal summons to Senators and Representatives. (See my column “Sending Citizens Summons to Members of Congress”).

Five hundred to a thousand clearly legible signatures with the individuals’ occupations and emails should get these politicians to your well-prepared community meetings.

There would be no more notorious incommunicado behavior, laced with robo-letters to inquiring constituents. Instead, there would be person-to-person questioning, dialogue, and responses where evasions and sweet talk will be more difficult for the lawmakers to utilize.

The subject matter of these public meetings can extend beyond ghastly scenes of dead, dying, sick, and starving families in Gaza to Biden’s foreign and military policies. Our government is fueling an Empire producing disasters that are conducted in the name of the powerless American people, whose sovereign powers under our Constitution are delegated to Congress and the Executive Branch. The abuse of this power starts with Congress.

Nothing can compare to face-to-face meetings with the lawmakers. Letters, phone calls, and emails rarely can be relied on to reach them directly – that is if you are not a big campaign contributor. Besides, unlike in the past, today’s legislative staffers are much more likely to ignore these missives without even an acknowledgment. (See The Incommunicados report: https://incommunicadoswatch.org/).

A people’s town meeting has an agenda set by the people. Some suggestions follow:

1. There have been no Congressional hearings since before October 7th on the overall policies in the Middle East pursued by the White House and Congress. The House and Senate Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees have not been active. Instead, there have been show hearings berating University presidents to stifle free speech on their campuses and answer hypothetical questions about anti-semitism against Jews but not the other ongoing Congressionally weaponized anti-semitism against Gazan Arabs, who are Semites, being annihilated in that tiny enclave. Disgraceful! Demand public hearings for the citizenry.

2. Make U.S. engagements in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a major electoral campaign issue for November. This is a major opportunity to get the direct attention of the 535 lawmakers and to push them to stop kicking the can down the road. The decades-long control of Congress by the “Israeli-government-can-do-no-wrong lobby” must end. There is too much massive, preventable suffering being ignored in the Middle East, too much danger of wider regional wars involving the super-powers, and too much damage to civil liberties and democratic processes in our own country to avoid these matters any longer.

3. The students and teachers will find allies in their Congressional Districts from long-time advocates like the American Friends Committee (Quakers), the Unitarians, united Jewish, Christian, and Muslim peace groups, the increasing numbers of outspoken labor union leaders, and just plain Americans fed up with the costly U.S. Empire and its military-industrial complex (remember President Eisenhower’s warnings).

People want their tax dollars returned to the crucial public necessities back home. They don’t like big business controlling Congress and getting away with looting Uncle Sam by their out-of-control greed and power. Over 70% of Americans believe these big companies have too much control over their lives including many liberal and conservative families.

Larger reforms, redirections, and horizons of society often start with one compelling abuse or outrageous travesty of justice. This has occurred in the labor, farmer, consumer, environmental, and civil rights movements throughout our history.

There will be high-visibility protests outside the National Democratic Party Convention in Chicago and probable demonstrations at the National Republican Party Convention in Milwaukee this summer. But the laser-focused citizen pressure should be on those 535 members of YOUR Congress, their local offices, and their staff.

Change Congress and you change America! That is leverage!

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Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is an American political activist, author, lecturer, and attorney noted for his involvement in consumer protection, environmentalism, and government reform causes. The son of Lebanese immigrants to the United States, Nader attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School.

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