More than 50 progressive activists marched across Capitol Hill on Wednesday to protest the war in Ukraine and call on lawmakers to push the Biden administration to negotiate an end to the war.
At least 11 of the protesters were arrested outside the office of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) after congressional aides demanded they end a sit-in inside the senator’s office. Several senior citizens, including a handicapped elderly woman, were either handcuffed by officers or escorted out.
The protest movement, organized by the nonprofit organization Code Pink and the Peace in Ukraine Coalition, entered 12 congressional offices belonging to progressive and Democratic lawmakers, according to organizers.
Their anger stems from the tens of thousands of people dying in Ukraine on both sides of the conflict, and the perceived reluctance of the Biden administration to try to negotiate an end to the war.
Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of Code Pink, said she and other protesters were “shocked” and “embarrassed” that Democrats have fallen silent on the issue and are continuing to support more weapons packages without calling for any type of negotiations.
She slammed Ukraine security aid backers for giving what she says is a one-sentence answer to pleas for negotiations: “You can’t negotiate” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which Benjamin said she is not buying.
“We say: Try. We want to see Biden talking,” she said. “We care about lives. We care about the human survival, and we don’t think we’re going to survive as a species if we allow this to go on.”
The gathering involved religious faith leaders and progressive activists from across the country. Green Party presidential candidate Cornel West also spoke at the beginning of the protest in the lobby of the Hart Senate building.
In conversations with congressional office aides, protesters were willing to dig into the facts of the war and the conflict with Russia. Many of them said they were not Putin apologists and condemned the Russian invasion, but argue the U.S. has played a role in the tug-of-war over Ukraine and that there is a path to at least begin negotiations.
They also point out that Ukraine is struggling in its counteroffensive and that, ultimately, the war will end by negotiations anyway — it’s just a matter of how many deaths until then.
“This is not an epic fight between democracy and autocracy,” said Marcy Winograd, co-chairwoman of the Peace in Ukraine Coalition. “We want negotiations without preconditions. None of this, ‘We won’t sit down until Russia leaves every inch of Ukraine and Crimea.’ No, we want it now. I have two grandchildren. I don’t want this for their future.”
Congressional aides said it was not so simple to end the conflict, especially because Putin has shown an unwillingness to negotiate and has conducted a harsh and brutal campaign against the Ukrainian people.
Max Hoffman, a foreign policy adviser for Sanders, said Putin is “still pursuing military goals by military means.”
“He’s launching attacks on Ukraine every day, including attacks on civilians,” Hoffman told the crowd of protesters in the senator’s office. “Ukrainians are on their own territory, they have a right to defend themselves.”
Many supporters of arming Kyiv say the West should not give in to Russia by ceding territory, and that by doing so, it would embolden Putin to invade more European nations.
Ryan Morgan, a policy adviser for the office of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), said it was not so easy to vote against packages, because weapons support might be included in an omnibus bill along with humanitarian aid.
And diplomacy is not so simple, Morgan added.
“It’s not as if there’s a diplomacy button you push and then diplomacy happens,” he said. “Both the Russian and Ukrainian sides have shown no real interest in diplomacy. I think both sides still think they can win, however they define it.”
Sanders sent a letter to the activist group sharing his concerns about “endless wars” and nuclear war. But the progressive senator said he was equally horrified by Putin’s invasion.
“The Ukrainians have a right to resist this assault, both in moral terms and under international law,” he wrote. “Putin and his oligarch friends seek a divided world and the destruction of democracy. … The U.S. should support a just peace in Ukraine, based on the principles of territorial integrity, sovereignty, and international law.”
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