Am- Bushed on Oprah

Category: World Affairs Topics: George W. Bush, Iraq Views: 1159

Editor's note: The following are two accounts from Danny Muller and Andrew Mandell about their visit to a U.S. television talk show hosted by Oprah Winfrey. They are both members of Voices in the Wilderness, an organization aimed at ending the sanctions against Iraq. Members of this organization have witnessed the impact of the sanctions firsthand and have worked tirelessly to share their experiences with others.

(September 18, 2000)- Five AM is early. Early enough to make you really question what merits getting out of bed at such an ungodly hour. But today was different. I was surrounded by others who felt called to provide a voice for children half way around the planet who are being ravaged by the effects of our sanctions and our bombs. People who feel that our foreign policy in Iraqis genocide and that it must change.

Andrew Mandell and I had tickets for the Oprah show today, an event that would not normally be on our list of events to attend. But George W. Bush was being interviewed in the aftermath of his call for increased militarism and a vow that he would "get tougher on Iraq." As we stood in line to enter, members of the Voices affinity group offered each audience member a rose affixed to a postcard, urging that the flower be worn to commemorate children who have died due to economic sanctions on Iraq. The cards also suggested questions to raise with Mr. Bush. We felt gratified that so many people took the rose, read the card, thought for a minute and then pinned the rose on their clothing as they waited to enter the studio.

But other forces were also in motion. As we stood to pass through the metal detector, a bewildered voice, in an almost apologetic tone, announced that everyone must remove their flowers "for some reason, don't ask me." An image I will not forget for a long time was people lining up to hand over their roses as they approached the metal detector. In a society where free speech and free expression are so prized, the regular infringement on the right to free speech is almost as surprising as the complacency of those who are prevented from speaking.

Three hundred Oprah fans and a couple of non-complacents sat down to watch Oprah interview Bush on a variety of topics. None of these topics addressed the roots of problems affecting most of the world's population, like hunger. Or poverty. Or trying to fall asleep as warplanes screech across night skies, over villages that lay in rubble and filth, with children condemned to death by people they will never know. And I wonder What is more frightening? The few who profit from US policy toward Iraq, the handful who set the rules, sell the guns, dominate the oil sales-or the millions who stand by and pay, through their taxes and their silence, for crimes that afflict children? Will any of those who excuse governments for their crimes at least understand why people get up at 5AM for any other reason than to laugh on cue to rehearsed answers to even more rehearsed questions...

Standing up, about halfway through the show, I asked "Mr. Bush, would you continue the Democrats' policy of bombing and sanctions that kill 5,000 children a month in Iraq?" Cutting to commercial on cue, Bush was spared having to answer. But he was not spared the question. Andrew stood and asked about what Iraqi children burdened by sanctions can expect, a reference to Bush's earlier remarks about great expectations for those who support his campaign. Mr. Bush stared directly at Andrew while Ms. Winfrey rebuked me, saying "You can't do this." I explained to Ms. Winfrey that I felt compelled to speak, that after traveling to Iraq and witnessing children die for lack of medicine, I needed to act. The room was silent. Ms. Winfrey gave me a momentary look of concern before I was escorted out. In the fleeting moments of what many might perceive as a stark confrontation, Andrew and I locked eyes with Ms. Winfrey and Mr. Bush, and I felt that there was a chance we reached two people who wield tremendous influence in our society.

To see people who create nonviolent change by creating beauty and asking questions that are not asked is a lesson in nonviolence. I hope we as a country can learn this lesson before it is too late. After our action, though, what lingers is sorrow. Sorrow and overwhelming sadness. That good people, like the audience members today, can remain complacent in the face of tremendous evil. That people like the beautifully attired young Bush supporter outside the Oprah show could say, when she was asked whether Bush, if elected president, would support the murderous sanctions regime, "Oh, I don't know anything about that, I'd need to know more." Sorrow that disruption is necessary to address basic facts about mortality rates and body totals that we are responsible for. Sorrow that the other 300 people in that room were not on their feet, that millions of Americans joined them on their couches and not on the streets speaking a simple message - do not kill our brothers and sisters in Iraq and around the world.

So with 6 weeks before we vote in this democracy of ours, if life were an Oprah show, would you sit or would you stand?


Roses in September

We brought flowers in the name of the lost children of Iraq. The lady in front of me carefully attached one to her dress. Her companion was much too enlightened for that. She knew that this sort of thing was "politically motivated" and therefore suspect. One has to be careful when rallying behind dying children. There is no telling whose they might be. The flowers didn't make it in. At the doorway into America's living room, which looked surprisingly like a common metal detector, these red roses were collected and bagged. They, as well as the questions on the hearts of the Iraqi people, were not part of the script.

Bush is speaking about forgiveness. Not regarding the offering of grace on any international scale or even in regards to the domestic questions that seem to swirl around the hanging governor from Texas. He stays on the receiving end of forgiveness and even there leaves any detail aside. "I am running for President" is his excuse for this ducking of substance. Like the knowing, well-trained acting troupe the room feigns amusement and puts on its best "we know what it takes to rule the world" face. Danny is going to interrupt as it seems clear now that this head-to-head confrontation is a long commercial for the discerning impaired. First, a commercial break and then a video clip of George W. offering to be the pilot of our Great Expectations. This is the last straw. Dickens' rolls in his grave and when we return to the show Danny Muller stands up and asks Mr. Bush about the children of Iraq and their expectations. I try to follow up but the risk of empathy is avoided by a commercial break. The crowd is of course shocked. Not because our policy and economic sanctions are crushing a civilian population against a tyrant but because anyone might consider such everyday activities the basis to interrupt the grown- ups. My daughter understood the interruption if not the response, when she hears us speak of the suffering in Iraq. She writes letters in crayon to the leaders and in all faith asks them to intervene. I have to go home and tell her that not only does the next-in-line refuse to imagine anything higher than the price offered so coldly by Ms. Albright, but that George W Bush cannot be bothered by such questions. They are not "part of the format". I never liked grown-ups.

-Andrew Mandell

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: George W. Bush, Iraq
Views: 1159

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