On Tuesday, Rep. Lynn Woolsey stood in the House of Representatives and gave her 400th floor speech against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I will not rest until we finally bring all our troops home," she said.
After January of 2013, however, the liberal Democratic Congresswoman who represents Marin County and most of Sonoma County will have to continue her anti-war advocacy outside of Congress, as she announced her retirement last month.
On Thursday HuffPost asked Woolsey, who has been in office since 1993, what her long struggle against war has accomplished, given that, as she put it, "it isn't clear when our troops will be home from Iraq, and there's still killing going on there."
"I feel a great sense of frustration," she said, "but I feel pretty certain that we wouldn't be as far along as we are without the leadership of myself and those in the House."
She pointed in particular to the work of the California anti-war "triad" of herself, Rep. Maxine Waters, and Rep. Barbara Lee. They all voted against the resolution authorizing military force against Iraq, and then continued to voice their doubts even through the war's early days, when it seemed to some like the invasion had succeeded.
Woolsey acknowledged that support from her overwhelmingly liberal constituents in the 6th Congressional District had made her position easier, but said it had still been difficult to stand up for her beliefs. Over the last decade she has faced fierce criticism from conservatives, and even Democrats opposed to the Iraq War have sometimes questioned her no-compromises stance.
"We changed the debate," Woolsey said. "I spoke out when the war was popular, when it wasn't popular to say what I was saying, and I think in that regard helped move public opinion."
Lately Woolsey has taken to voicing her concerns about the NATO-led intervention in Libya. President Obama has said that he does not need Congressional authorization for the Libyan conflict, a position that Woolsey has argued "flies in the face of common sense and is an insult to the intelligence of the American people."
Woolsey said "the public is not supporting" the Libyan intervention, an assertion that some polls seem to confirm. So far, at least, that dissatisfaction has not boiled over into a public outcry. Yet Woolsey said she believes Americans will "get pretty sick of it pretty soon. And the most important thing is we can't afford another war, and the public knows it."
With the next election more than a year away, the identity of Woolsey's successor is unclear, especially since California's citizen-led Congressional redistricting process, which Woolsey referred to as "a mess," has not yet been finalized. Lieutenant Governor and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's name has been tossed around, as has anti-war activist Norman Solomon's, along with a number of local elected officials.
HuffPost asked Woolsey whether the next representative elected to serve her Bay Area district will take the same anti-war stance as she has.
"You can hardly run for my seat and not be anti-war, except for the Republican candidate," she said. "Now whether anybody will be quite as dedicated, I don't know, because each person will have their own agenda when they get here."
"There may never be as progressive a person elected in the district as I am, but whoever will be a very good person," she added.
Woolsey has said she won't endorse a candidate in the race to succeed her. But Solomon, who lives in West Marin and has never held elected office, seems to be gunning for the votes of those in the area most passionate about Woolsey's Iraq and Afghanistan efforts.
"Hands down I'm the candidate that has the background to fulfill that legacy," Solomon told HuffPost.
Woolsey was quick to point out that her interests in Congress have extended beyond serving as an anti-war advocate. But she has a suggestion for anyone who is ever put in her position of taking an unpopular stance against a popular war.
"It's the same advice I give anybody that's running for office," she said. "It's that first, you have to know yourself, and you have to know where your beliefs are. Then you have to know your district and people you work for. Don't run in a district where the majority of the people don't believe what you believe. You just don't have to set yourself up for that situation. And then be brave, be bold. It does no good to second-guess yourself every time you make a decision."