ROCKVILLE – When a few dozen protesters organized at Sen. Ben Cardin’s Montgomery County office Thursday demanding that he support President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear nonproliferation deal, the group put the dos and don’ts of effective political organizing on clear display.
Cardin’s staff reported Thursday that the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was officially undecided about whether he would be one of the 34 senators Obama needs to uphold the agreement.
That left an opening for rally organizer Jean Athey of Brookeville, who called Cardin’s local assistant, Ken Reichard, informing him members of Peace Action Montgomery would drop off an envelope supposedly stocked with 6,000 petition signatures of nuclear deal supporters.
“Beating up the staff is not a good thing. It’s not the way to get our attention. The way she did was the way to get our attention,” said Reichard.
According to Reichard, a lifelong Montgomery County resident, Athey told him her group’s plans and spoke nicely to him on the phone.
Her tone won her group an audience with Reichard, who noted he needed to write a report about what happened with the group at the office on Thursday.
“The reason I made arrangements … is because she treated me with respect on the phone. She was nice. Not too many people act that way,” said Reichard.
In fact, he cut short an earlier meeting to come back in time for the noon rally.
However, when dozens of people showed up in front of Cardin’s second-floor suite, Reichard invited them inside so that they wouldn’t disturb other workers on the same floor and heard them out.
“The best way to do it and the least-disruptive way to do it is (to organize) a rally at some place,” recommended Reichard, adding that organizers can then invite politicians or their staffers to attend.
Athey, who became politically active in 2005, two years after the start of the second Iraq war, arrived at 451 Hungerford Drive in a Peace Demands Action shirt from the Peace Action Montgomery group.
She alleged that nuclear deal supporters would hold Democrats “accountable” in the next primary election if they did not also back the president’s deal.
The Brookesville resident wasn’t willing to say whether she would vote for a Republican in a general election over such a Democrat.
“The antidote to despair is activism,” Athey said, later adding, “I think if we don’t support this deal, American diplomacy is dead.”
Vietnam War medals pinned to the brim of Silver Spring resident Michael Marceau’s camouflage-colored bucket hat included a purple heart, a gallantry cross awarded by the South Vietnam government, and several other general service markers.
All of them provided a contrast to the dove and olive branch Veterans for Peace emblem at the center of his hat and his white T-shirt.
“A lot of it should be done through diplomatic venues than military means,” he said about foreign policy.
Marceau explained that he supports the Iran deal as a way to deter war, something that has quite literally scarred him over the past 45 years.
During Marceau’s combat service in 1969-1970, a rocket attack left his left arm and hand partially paralyzed.
“I’m missing my left lung,” he added.
His left wrist poked out at an obtuse angle away from his curled-up fingers as they gripped his sunglasses and the bottom corner of his white “MD Vets Say ‘Yes!’ To Iran Deal.”
Projecting his voice from the left side of his mouth, Marceau explained that veterans like him “have seen the other side of war.”
Along with battlefield deaths and casualties, he highlighted veteran suicides, homelessness and post-traumatic stress disorder as perpetual problems on the home front for those who experienced foreign combat.
Fran Pollner, a 74-year-old who protested against Vietnam and in support of the 1960s civil rights movement, held a sign stating, “I live in Takoma Park (Maryland) and I support the Iran peace deal. Senator Cardin should too.”
“We know that the majority of people in this country want peace,” she said.
Following the rally, Reichard sat at the end of a long, wooden table inside Cardin’s office.
With a blazer over his button-down shirt, Reichard described the two-term senator and longtime congressman as a “wait-and-see kind of person.”
Part of his information-gathering process includes hearing from constituents about an issue.
While Reichard outright dismissed the effectiveness of form emails or scripted phone calls to influence a politician’s opinion, there is one sure-fire attention grabber, as long as it based on individual thought instead of group rhetoric.
“What makes the big difference (is) when you get a handwritten letter,” he said.