After nearly two hours of speechifying and preaching by the South Coast’s peacenik choir, the Santa Barbara City Council voted 6-0 in favor of a resolution calling for the withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq within the year. In so doing, Santa Barbara has become the 69th city in the U.S. to make such a symbolic political statement against the war. At the instigation of Councilmember Roger Horton-who initially had been leaning against the measure-the resolution also included language calling for the United Nations to fill the void left by the U.S. to prevent what Horton termed “an even bigger bloodbath than the one already taking place.” The council’s action was consistent with earlier resolutions adopted by a previous council shortly before the United States invaded Iraq, opposing the “unilateral use of pre-emptive force” against a nation that had not invaded the United States.
The resolution was crafted by Councilmember Das Williams and Mayor Marty Blum, who are hoping it will persuade the State Legislature to enact a similar proclamation, which, in turn, will increase the pressure on any presidential aspirants seeking to win the hearts and minds of California voters in the state primary this February. In anticipation of criticism of City Hall’s meddling in foreign policy, Williams and Blum buttressed their resolution with facts and figures detailing just how many federal dollars Santa Barbara would have received if not for the cost of the war effort. As of September 11, 2007, they estimated Santa Barbara has lost $156 million in tax revenues. Left in the lurch were federal block grants that fund countless nonprofits, $150,000 a year in housing subsidies, the Army Corps of Engineers’ flood control plan for lower Mission Creek, and harbor dredging. Six police officers have served in Iraq, and City Hall pays their full salary while they’re deployed. Williams argued that one reason it’s been so hard-and expensive-to attract and retain officers is because the war has drained the ranks of public safety personnel throughout the state. Blum said were it not for the war, the city would have been able to strike a deal with the National Guard to take over the downtown armory. Instead, she said, the war has deprived California of adequate National Guard response in the event of an earthquake or tsunami.
It turned out that Williams’s and Blum’s concerns about criticism were unfounded. Of the 22 people who addressed the council, not one rose to speak against the resolution. Many speakers argued that the war itself was unconstitutional, illegal, and initiated under false pretenses, and likened the nation’s current situation to that of the American colonists fighting against England’s King George in the American Revolution. Many opined the war had been waged for oil corporations’ greed and complained that the Democrats who command majorities in the U.S. House and Senate have done little to end it. “However helpless we feel, when we choose silence, we choose complicity,” thundered Nancy Tunnell. Many called for the impeachment of George W. Bush, but Marc McGinnes went further. “Picture this,” he said. “George Bush apprehended in Baghdad and then hung by the neck for his crimes.”
Each of the councilmembers present-Grant House was absent due to a family illness-spoke strongly in support of the resolution, but none more vehemently than Brian Barnwell, for whom this meeting would be his last. “I think we’ve become pigs,” Barnwell charged. He also accused the United States of waging a war of terror against Iraq. “When George Bush says the terror is unending, certainly that’s because he has made it so,” he said. Barnwell derided anyone who would argue the council had no business taking such a stand. “This is a moral issue,” he said. “I don’t need no stinking badges.” When Barnwell concluded, those in attendance gave him a vigorous round of applause and Councilmember Williams rose to give him a standing ovation.