An Interview with Barbara Lee: A Woman on a Mission

By CHRISTOPHER KROHN Special to the Planet
Friday July 30, 2004

The Democratic National Convention is much more than just who becomes the presidential and vice-presidential candidates. Almost 5,000 Democratic Party delegates descended upon Boston for a week of conventioneering, yes, but there were also seminars on organizing, forums on getting out the vote, seemingly endless discussions on best strategies to follow in order to beat Bush, regional and national dialogues on potentially divisive issues, and information sharing—all part of this convention scene. At such gatherings political junkies got together and hashed out differences, drink to similarities, and re-focus and re-energize for the 93 days between the end of this convention and Election Day. It was at just such a gathering that the Daily Planet caught up with 9th District Congressional Representative Barbara Lee.  

Lee is president of a group called “Revolutionary Women, Boston 2004.” On July 27, day two of the convention, she hosted a day-long series of lectures, panel discussions, and music at the New Boston Convention Center on the harbor. The list of speakers reads like a women’s who’s who in the United States government: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former U.S. presidential candidate Carol Moseley Braun, and many other senators, representatives, and governors. 

Barbara Lee wrote about the premise behind holding such an event: “Electing a critical mass of women at all levels of government will transform our country. That is because women legislators are more likely to advocate for families, protect the environment, champion social justice, and seek nonviolent strategies to resolve conflict.” 

As Congresswoman Lee was rushing off to get to her next event on Wednesday, the Daily Planet sat down at the curb with her while she waited for a cab and discussed the war in Iraq, John Kerry, and her priorities in the coming year. 


Daily Planet: Should Kerry and Edwards get elected, what will your priorities be? 


Barbara Lee: It’s changing the priorities of the country. With a Kerry-Edwards ticket we want to make sure our country repairs its relations with the world to achieve global peace and security. We’ve got to do that with our allies. On the domestic front it’s important to repeal the tax cuts, that we fully fund public education and housing, and that our resources are reprioritized into building schools and housing for people…and that it become a country of the people, by the people and for the people. Right now it’s for the wealthy. 


DP: What is the single most important issue relating to your work in Washington that relates to your district? 


BL: Can’t prioritize issues as they relate to my district as the single most important issue. We have schools that are dilapidated and our children deserve federal funding for their public education. We have people out on the streets that are homeless. We need affordable housing. We have transportation needs. You know my district cares about peace in the world and we’ve got to have a new foreign policy. You have to look at foreign policy and domestic policy and how they interrelate to each other and how our budget process and budget priorities drive a rational foreign policy. 


DP: How will the current U.S. foreign policy in Iraq change with a Kerry-Edwards administration? As you look at the current Democratic Party platform there is no language concerning when the troops will be brought home? 


BL: Of course, I would like to see a transition plan and an exit strategy to bring our troops home. Sen. Kerry and his Defense Department are going to have to figure how to do that. In fact, they’ve got to do it. 


DP: What kind of pressure can folks like you in Congress bring to bear on John Kerry and John Edwards to bring the troops home once they get elected? 

BL: Same kind of pressure we’ve been putting on Bush…I mean you know [laughter], passing resolutions saying to the president…it’s really about the people in the country. I mean it’s not just members of Congress that are saying that this war is wrong. It was a war that did not need to be waged. Where are the weapons of mass destruction? The people in our country have to push the Congress, that’s when the Congress moves. And so it’s going to be up to the democratic processes to work to allow the voices of the people of our country to be heard so that a new White House would know how and when to do this. I think it should be done. 


DP: You’re not at all worried about the fact that there is no clear language in the Democratic Party platform to bring the troops home? 

BL: I’ve seen many Democratic Party platforms. This is one of the smallest ones I have seen. I don’t worry about anything but electing John Kerry and getting rid of this Bush administration...that’s what I worry about. The platform is a document that has to be open enough and broad enough to include a variety of points of view. For me, you know what I believe and what I want to see. But I think that we’ve got to make sure that the Bush administration goes and that’s my priority. 


DP: Talking about Washington politics. You said you’ve been following these events closely since 1972. Is this the most divisive, the most partisan you have ever seen it between Democrats and Republicans? 


BL: It’s always partisan when you have Democrats, Republicans and an Independent [laughter]. It’s gotta be partisan. You know our values are different. I don’t think people understand. They don’t want to see us caving in to everything the Republicans jam through the Congress. Who would want as a Democrat to allow these huge tax cuts for the wealthy? Would you have wanted to see me vote for that and support that? Most Democrats didn’t. So I think sometimes you better see that partisan fights are fights where we’re fighting for ordinary folks, for working men and women, for the poor and those who have been shut out…and yes, I am going to be partisan about those issues. 


DP: In a world in which the Democrats get the Congress back, and the presidency, how long will it take to repeal the tax cuts? 


BL: I certainly can’t say how long. I will work to make it happen as soon as possible. 


And with that the congresswoman boarded her taxi and sped off to the next round of panel discussions.