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Former Rep. Pat Schroeder: The Peace Movement Made “Huge Difference” in Ending Vietnam War

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In 1972, Pat Schroeder of Colorado was elected to Congress, becoming the second-youngest woman ever elected to the House of Representatives. She ran on an antiwar platform. Once elected, she pushed to cut off funding for the war. She spoke recently at the conference, “Vietnam: The Power of Protest.”

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In 1972, a young woman was elected to Congress, the second-youngest woman ever elected to the House of Representatives. And she became a stalwart example of what a statesperson is supposed to be like, what a government servant, a servant of the people, is supposed to be in government, Pat Schroeder.

PAT SCHROEDER: Oh, I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear my voice. I was sitting there quaking, thinking I’m going to have to go after Ron Dellums again. I mean, that’s only the worst place in the world to be, although it’s pretty tough to follow you two guys, too. But anyway, what happened to “ladies first”? No, I’m kidding. I’m kidding. Anyway, anyway, what a delight to be here. And I just want to say it’s hard for me to stay within the timeline, when I’m a recovering politician in the 12-step program. And my husband says I go to the refrigerator, open the door, the light goes on, and I talk for 10 minutes and then realize I’m talking to celery. But I’m going to try very, very hard. So, here I am, and I am so happy we had all the young people last night, because, otherwise, I was afraid, yes, it would look like 50 shades of grey. And, you know, we’ve got to keep the young people coming so we leaven up this color line here.

So, my whole area with the war movement was, one, when I was first in college. Then I was in law school, where everybody was terrified about the draft. And I remember several times waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, dreaming I had been drafted. My husband kept saying, “If we get up and the toilet seat’s up, that’s it. You’re getting out of this law school.” When we went to Colorado, we were very involved in the antiwar movement again. And then we were trying in Denver—Boulder was doing so much, obviously—we were trying in Denver to do a different type of thing. We were showing up, mothers with strollers and grandmothers. And we were trying to do all sorts of things. We got oil men out there. We were really trying.

And I kept trying to get an appointment with my congressman to talk about the war. He was supposedly the most popular man in Colorado, and I could never get in. And I ran a little ad with his picture, saying, “Has anyone seen this man?” He sent me—every time I would send him a letter, he’d send me something. I got an agricultural yearbook. I got a calendar. When the baby was born, I got, you know, how to raise my baby. And I was so angry about it that in 1972, when someone said, “Well, the Democrats already have a candidate. He’s the minority leader. But why don’t you at least run, for those of us who are angry?” and I thought, “Sure, why not?” Right? And, of course, I was the plaintiff on the bussing suit, I was on the fair housing committee, I was on Planned Parenthood—I was the lawyer for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains—and very, very involved in the war, antiwar things. So, I remember Phil Burton, the congressman from California, coming out and saying, “Don’t worry about all of that. People will stand up and will say, 'And then she's for this. And then she’s for that.’ And folks will say, 'No, she couldn't be for all of that.’”

Anyway, whatever they did, somehow I got elected, which was the shock of Colorado and everybody else. We ran with posters, and our posters were a picture of the military cemetery in Colorado with a bird flying over it and a quote from Nixon’s speech: “Many of our troops have already been withdrawn.” And it was heavy, but it really, really said to people, oh, my goodness—think about this: Our average campaign contribution was $7.50. Can you believe that in today’s world that we’re living in? It’s just shocking. So, anyway, it was very, very exciting, and off I go in 1973 to be sworn in, and unfortunately it was with Nixon. Again, one of the interesting things is Nixon carried my district by 20 points. How people voted for Nixon and Schroeder, I have no idea. But it says something to me about how so many people get so tired of the same old yap, yap, yap in politics. You can’t tell who’s for what. You know, they’re all—in Colorado, the politicians used to run these incredible things. You couldn’t tell whether they were Republican or Democrat 'til you got to the last page, because they were always there with their family, and then they were outdoors, and then they were in a grocery store, and then they were with a cop. And on the last page, the Republican would be on a horse, and the Democrat would be on a bike. And that would be it. You know, you couldn't tell. So I think to have somebody out there taking stands on all of these things, people thought, “Well, what the heck? You know, let’s try this.” Anyway, it was wonderful.

I had a—I had a pilot’s license, so I wanted to be on the Armed Services Committee, as did my wonderful friend, Ron Dellums. And our wonderful chairman vetoed both of us. For the first time, they overruled a chairman’s veto, and Ron and I both got on the Armed Services Committee. So, we walked in in 1973 to take our seats, and there happens to only be one seat for the two of us. He went off on something about he didn’t want these security leaks on the committee and how terrible it was he had been overruled, and, you know, it was not even worth being chairman anymore. I mean, it was like a bull elephant, just “Moooo-oooh,” and he was really upset. So Ron kind of said, “With great dignity, we are going to walk in, and we are going to sit, cheek to cheek.” And we did. And I—luckily, Ron has always had snake hips, because otherwise we probably wouldn’t have made it. And Barney Frank always said that was last half-ass thing that either of us did. But we continued to make our chairman absolutely miserable with—by doing things like wanting to write alternative views to the Armed Services Committee reports and stuff like that, just made him crazy. I remember he called me into his office. He gave me a copy of his book that he had written, and he had autographed it, “The lord giveth, the lord taketh away. I am the lord and your chairman, F. Eddie Hébert.” And it was—I mean, you know, so it was really a pretty miserable couple years.

But Ron and I and Bella Abzug were out there, and we were working very hard in the Democratic Caucus to try and get the funding cut back, so that there could be no funding for Democrat—for use of combat in Vietnam. And I will never forget. The three of us had been working hard, and Ron was giving one of his wonderful speeches, and he got up there, and he said, “There are only three of us in this room that have the balls”—and we pulled on his sleeve and said, “I don’t think that’s describing our coalition right.” Do you remember that, Ron? But as you know, that finally happened. It finally happened that we cut off the money. And thank goodness.

And then we went on, and we got the War Powers Act. And yet, nobody seems to want to comply with it, do they? It’s just absolutely amazing to me what has happened to that Congress, when I think about where we’ve been and where we haven’t been of late. So, we also had impeachment going on. We had the '73 war in Israel going on. When people say to me, “Oh, but things are different now, because the issues are so hard,” I keep saying, “Are you kidding me? We had Vietnam, the ’73 war, impeachment. I mean, how many more things can you juggle at one time?” And yet, we were treating each other, even if we disagreed, with respect and decency, and debating on the facts. And what worries me so much today is that I don't see that at all. I see name calling, and it really reminds me of the junior high lunch room. It’s just one food fight after another. And it’s very sad.

I went on to serve on many, many things that went on. We worked very hard on getting recognition, finally, by the government that Agent Orange was indeed a terrible thing. And one of the people I want all of you to know—Charles, you don’t get away without standing up. Anybody know Charles Bailey? He’s wonderful. He has continued to work on the Agent Orange issue. I went with him three years ago in the Ford Foundation, and he’s worked even more on that. We’ve gotten Congress to get some funds. But talk to Charles. He’s just—it’s such a tragedy. I thought the Vietnamese would be chasing me down the street with pitchforks. And they were so wonderful and so—the healing was just incredible. They really reached out to all of us, and you really wonder why, when you know the history. But anyway, that was such a terrific thing.

I don’t know what to say about all of this. I always think it was so interesting that in 1969, when all of us were so involved, Nixon said, “That peace movement, that doesn’t have anything to do with me. I’m president, and I’m doing what’s right.” Remember all that stuff he was saying. But if you remember, nine years later, in his book, he said the peace movement kept him from escalating the war. Now, none of us want to say anything, but it really did make a big difference. It made a huge difference. And I just think it is so wonderful that all of you are here to celebrate that. And let’s go out and get young people thinking about it in the environment that we’re in today, too. I worry so much about Iran and how many people seem to want to go to war with them. I worry so much about what we’ve done in Iraq and Afghanistan and those places. We really, really, really need to spread what we have learned. Thank you. What a great [inaudible] and really an honor.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Colorado Congressmember Pat Schroeder, one of the youngest women ever elected to Congress. She was speaking recently in Washington, D.C., at a conference called “Vietnam: The Power of Protest.” After this break, we’ll hear from former Congressmember Ron Dellums of California. He is former chair of the House Armed Services Committee. If you’d like to get a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. We’ll be back in a minute.

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Former Congressman Ron Dellums: Organizing for Peace Forces Us to Challenge All Forms of Injustice

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