The Antiwar Liberal | Jan Schakowsky

By Shailagh Murray and Elizabeth Williamson
Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rep. Jan Schakowsky knows a few things about protests. In 1989, she headed a group involved in the legendary uprising by Chicago senior citizens against Medicare changes -- one that featured enraged seniors jumping on the hood of Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski's car.

So when Senate Republicans decided to block a Democratic measure to withdraw troops from Iraq during an all-night debate last week, Schakowsky reached back to her community-activist past. Off the printer came blue fliers: a "Candlelight Call to Action" to "Stop the Republican Iraq Filibuster." At the appointed hour of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, 57 House Democrats gathered to march to a Senate park.

"All they're asking, our Senate Democrats, is that they get an up or down vote," Schakowsky announced as the group gathered. "We're going to go over there and support them. We're going to walk over right now, to the Senate side, down the stairs and out to the park to join them." The crowd responded with whoops and claps.

There was no jumping on cars last week, but Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, was excited. She was particularly thrilled to see the lineup of freshmen Democrats, including Reps. Paul W. Hodes (N.H.), Christopher S. Murphy (Conn.) and Patrick J. Murphy (Pa.), all three of whom owe their elections to the war's unpopularity. The turnout far exceeded what she had expected. But then, she had overcompensated on the invitations, blitzing offices with phone calls and e-mails, in addition to the fliers.

"Has everyone signed the letter to the president?" called out Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a fellow member of the Out of Iraq Caucus, waving a sheet of paper and a pen as the lawmakers lined up. The letter said the signatories would oppose further Iraq funding, except related to the safe, orderly redeployment of U.S. troops. By the end of the week, Schakowsky was one of 70 House members who had signed up.

At the rally, she stood in the front row next to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and spoke without notes when her turn came. Her loud, clear voice quieted the crowd.

"Do you know that 18-year-olds who are being recruited today, some of them were 13 years old when this war began?" Schakowsky said, her eyes blazing. "We're not going to have any more teenagers growing up to go to war in Iraq. We can end it. We need your help."

The Republican filibuster won out the next day. But, as Schakowsky beat a retreat around 10:30 p.m., she said, "People really felt energized by that event, which is exactly what its purpose really was."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company