On the eve of the deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran, 430 citizen advocates descended on Capitol Hill to urge their elected representatives to support the ongoing negotiations. These advocates traveled to Washington, D.C., from 43 states for the Friends Committee on National Legislation's #DiplomacyWorks lobby day. With over 200 meetings with congressional offices, and dozens of member-level meetings, this marked the biggest pro-peace, pro-diplomacy lobby day of the year.
Award-winning actress Judith Light, Evangelical mega-church leader Pastor Bob Roberts, and State Legislators Patricia Higgins and Lon Burnam were just a few of the hundreds of advocates who urged members of Congress to support diplomacy to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran and the risk of another war in the Middle East. The hundreds of constituent lobby visits included dozens of in-person meetings with members of Congress.
U.S./Israeli Security Experts Say Yes to Talks
Conference attendees were briefed by leading Iran and national security experts as they prepared for congressional visits. Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security organization that helped fund the event, contextualized the historic nature of this moment to help rid the world of nuclear weapons. Former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, provided insight into the widespread concern among military officials about the disastrous consequences of not reaching a deal.
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut was awarded FCNL's Edward F. Snyder Peace Award for National Leadership in Advancing Disarmament and Building Peace. While accepting the award, he shared with the crowd his perspective on the core role that grassroots advocacy plays in motivating and sustaining congressional action:
It's a note of thanks to your organization's decision to be so out-front in promoting diplomacy and specifically your decision to exert your influence and devote a significant amount of energy and time in giving backing to those of us who have decided to be very upfront about our feelings with respect to importance of these nuclear negotiations and very upfront with what we believe to be the disastrous, cataclysmic global consequences of these negotiations failing, potentially because of congressional action that could play a role in scuttling them before they have born fruit in the end.
Support for Diplomacy, Not War, From All Walks of Life
The lobby day participants included people from all walks of life, speaking from diverse perspectives as to why they were in Washington, D.C., to voice support for U.S.-Iran diplomacy. Some participants were Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV's) who served in Iran prior to the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis and the Islamic Revolution. Others were clergy members, business leaders, retired university presidents, and state legislators, who shared Senator Murphy's concern that Congress could scuttle the best chance in years to keep Iran from the bomb and keep the United States from yet another war in the Middle East.
Some participants had personally witnessed the devastating impact of war. Paul Barker from Oregon recently returned from Afghanistan after spending 30 years as an aid worker in conflict zones around the world. Sean Hunt, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan from Nevada, had a chance to voice his support for diplomacy instead of war directly to Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). Will Hopkins, one of the veterans who served in the Iraq war, and now serves as the Executive Director for Peace Action, had a chance to speak with Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). Humanitarian aid workers spoke from their experience serving in war zones around the world about all diplomatic options must be on the table.
Some participants came because they were survivors of wars. Felice Schrager, a retired university administrator who has lived in for over 50 years New Jersey, fled to the United States in 1939 to escape the persecution of Jews by Nazi Germany. She was one of various Jewish Americans joining the lobby day, representative of the 84% of American Jewish voters would support a comprehensive agreement with Iran that reduces enrichment capacity, strengthens inspections and gradually eases sanctions.
Israeli General: This Is the Time for Diplomacy
Israeli Brigadier General Uzi Eilam, the former director of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission and a 30 year Israeli Defense Force veteran, spoke from his extensive experience in nuclear science to explain why the likely conditions of an agreement could effectively protect the world from a nuclear-armed Iran. Amidst all the threats for sabotage of the negotiations, he made the case for diplomacy:
Some people would say that there is no time for diplomacy. Some people would say that we better bomb all installations in Iran and put them on their knees. Some people would say....that we should even have more sanctions. I would say, the way it looks to me, it's not so. The way it looks to me, this is time for diplomacy. And at least until they prove to me that it didn't bear fruit, I will believe that this is the way.
Brig. Gen. Eilam (ret.) is not the only prominent Israeli validator speaking out in favor of the diplomatic process. Leaders like former Chief of the Mossad, Efraim Halevy, and Knesset member Merav Michaeli have publicly advocated for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran through this negotiation process.
The hundreds of citizen advocates on Capitol Hill at this crucial juncture for diplomacy reflect the overwhelming support from people in the United States that want to see Congress support these historic negotiations to peacefully resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.
Join the majority of the American public and countless U.S. and Israeli military officials who support diplomacy to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and the risk of another war.