Standing alone by your convictions
“As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore!”
Three days after the tragic events of 9/11, on September 14, 2001, representative Barbara Lee stood alone, facing 420 of her colleagues in the United States Congress. Lee was the only member of the House of Representative to vote against a resolution regarding a military response to the madness that had been wrought.
It should be noted that the Senate had passed that resolution, the day before, with a 98-0 margin.
Last week, Lee explained her rationale for making that courageous vote, facing down a level of hysteria fuelled by an insane act. She pointed out: “All the resolution said was that the President could use force, for ever, as long as that nation, individual or organisation was connected to 9/11. It was a total abdication of our responsibilities as Members of Congress.”
This composed Black woman had consulted a small group of advisers and concluded that the resolution would result in endless war — something that has been made evident over these past two decades.
Barbara Lee makes it clear that she is not a pacifist; she has always understood that there are some situations that require a military response. She is proud of her father’s role as an army officer during the Second World War and Korean War. Her key premise for that “no” vote was based on her understanding of a sound psychological principle that one should avoid reacting during highly emotional circumstances. A sane response to challenging conditions requires a pause and mindful consideration.
That said, Lee admits that she had to “dig deep” in deciding to take that courageous stand. She notes that she relied on her “moral compass, her conscience and her God”.
Lee points out that it was a quote she heard earlier that day, made by one of the clergy members at the National Prayer Service in response to 9/11, which sealed the deal for her. It was the quote regarding avoiding “...becoming the evil”
After Lee’s brave stand, the first call that she received was from her father, whom she had avoided consulting on the issue, and he praised his daughter’s visionary stance. Lee received 60,000 messages in the days after her vote — 60 per cent opposed her stand, some threatening her in unspeakable ways; and there were 40 per cent who supported her, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Coretta Scott-King.
Notwithstanding the negativity she endured, Barbara Lee reports that over the two decades since that vote, some things have changed. Barbara recounts an incident at a political rally, leading up to the 2020 General Election when she was approached by a “large White man with his young son”. In tears, he admitted that he had written her a threatening message after that vote; but that over time he has come to understand Lee’s rationale, and he wanted his son to witness him apologising for his deed.
When asked what gave her the internal strength to take that brave stand, she explained her birth circumstances.
Lee was born in El Paso, Texas, and when her mother went to the hospital, expecting to have a Caesarean section, she was refused admission because of her race. Her mother insisted on getting service, but was left unconscious in the hallway and, through a set of circumstances that threatened the lives of both mother and baby, Barbara was born.
Representative Barbara Lee stand offers an example to all of us facing these challenging times. Circumstances will call for us to take a stand, make use of our moral compass, resist being caught up in the crowd and avoid becoming the evil we deplore.
• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda