October 23, 2002

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opinion
by ross mirkarimi

On the home front

WE FELT WAR immediately as we crossed the Jordanian border into Iraq and sped toward Baghdad. A sense of impending catastrophe, difficult to define at first, became as common as oxygen. My eyes absorbed the beauty of an ancient nation destroyed indiscriminately by modern technology.

It was shortly after the Gulf War in 1991, and I was part of a nonpartisan public health-scientific team organized by Harvard University and others to chronicle the impact of the war and of sanctions on the Iraqi civilian infrastructure. The study team, the first to detail the comprehensive damage to Iraq's populace and environment, established the baseline data that is still used today by nongovernmental organizations in assessing infant mortality, economic instability, and environmentally borne diseases. Our team's findings were reported worldwide, even in the United States for a brief period. The numbers told the story – cool and efficient on paper. The study was scientific. The toll was horrific.

The data spoke for itself: surgical strikes lacked precision, and the aftermath of combat claimed much more than the reported collateral damage to innocent bystanders and the support systems that nurtured their lives and society. The United Nations was supposed to convene a special session in Nov. 1991 to receive our report, but due to Security Council protocol, any permanent member nation was allowed to reject such a hearing. One nation "under God" asked that such a hearing not take place. The study team's posture was relegated to fringe status.

Instantly, academics and scientists became activists. I was on the road for more than two years, speaking about the need to lift economic sanctions against Iraq's civilians and the need to implement an honorable peace.

Time passed, and my interests turned more to San Francisco politics. I decided that my contribution toward a peaceful coexistence between the United States and its Middle East adversaries was better served by reforming democracy here at home. I knew that 5,000 Iraqi children would continue to die each month from inordinate causes as long as the United States insisted on leveraging sanctions against a despot who sits on one of the world's largest oil reserves.

And now it's 2002, and our nation is on the brink of war again – and we can't say why.

In 1991 we screamed, "No war for oil!" Today I'm screaming for "public power in San Francisco." As long as the United States remains dependent on oil as its primary fuel, American consumers will remain hostage to world market fluctuations and energy corporation manipulations. Real energy independence is achievable only through a national and local energy policy that reduces our fossil fuel reliance over the long term.

What bothers me most about the impending war now is how our nation's leaders cloak themselves in the legitimacy of the flag while casting its shadow on the Nov. 5 election. George W. Bush took a chapter from his father's playbook to distract the nation from its domestic woes by focusing on war. Too many Democrats are complicit through their silence.

Nevertheless, there are pockets of national outrage. A big pocket is here in the Bay Area, and yet elected officials – like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who voted for war against Iraq – have joined hands with their corporate allies in a launching a domestic assault to undo critical progressive reforms.

The language of protest must be equally vehement about solving problems at home. We can't afford to ignore federal, state, and local candidates and ballot measures, some of which offer an antidote to the unbridled, unregulated greed that has made the nation vulnerable to energy crises, homelessness, class inequality, and unabated poverty. We must organize and stay organized to defend and advance our progressive goals. Protest loudly by volunteering for local progressive campaigns; by voting yes on Propositions B, D, and L; and by voting no on Propositions N and R.

Ross Mirkarimi is running the Yes on D campaign.