Meeting Minutes from inSPIRe Social on January 10, 2009

We had our first social event of 2009 at Carrie s home on Capitol Hill.  We had a nice turnout with close to 35 guests to hear our guest speakers Erik Magnuson and Gerri Haynes.  Thanks so much to Carrie for opening up her home!

Our next meeting Our next social is in the works.  Details upcoming stay tuned!



IAN (Inspire Activist Network) In response to repeated requests from inSPIRe members to provide opportunities for more direct activism, we have formed the Inspire Activist Network, or IAN.  The IAN Board consists of 15 inSPIRe members.  We are currently developing a format that we hope will work well for providing you all easy opportunities to make a difference in our community.  We completed our FIRST ACTION at this social.  After our keynote speakers talk, attendees crafted simple handwritten letters on the key topic for the evening, the Iraqi Refugee Crisis.  Carrie Bogner volunteered to fax these notes to our members of Congress, including Jim McDermott, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.  As a result of this quick and easy action, almost 100 faxes were sent!  More information is at the bottom of these minutes so that you to can take action!

Impeachment Linda Boyd noted that as the recent impeachment of the Governor of Illinois showed, impeachment really is a possible action!

inSPIRe Book Club! We are now reading The Way of the World by Ron Suskind for our next meeting, Jan 23rd.  To join the book club and get on the list, just send an email to


First Keynote Speaker:

Erik Magnuson, Field Coordinator for Fuse Washington.  Fuse is a state-based online advocacy group working to provide a cutting edge online organizing and communications hub for Washington State. Fuse is focused primarily on securing major advances in progressive public policy for Washington State.  Fuse is bringing people like inSPIRe members together to make our state more progressive. Fuse offers busy but concerned people fast, easy and fun ways to make your voice and values heard and make a difference.  Fuse is a one-stop-shop for Washington State Progressives and has over 100,000 members, a sort of rapid response team on important issues.

For 2009, Fuse is focusing on three primary issues.

1.  The budget for Washington State.  Governor Gregoire s budget is so bad that even she has declared I hate it !  It looks more like a budget that would have been proposed by Dino Rossi!  Many, many layoffs and cuts will be upcoming.  Due to Washington State law, the state budget must be balanced every year, and with the revenue shortfall due to the economy, cuts are happening everywhere.  We are looking at 100,000 jobs to be cut from our state healthcare system (approximately 40%), and $400 million cut from state unemployment benefits at a time when layoffs are skyrocketing, a state hiring freeze, the closure of up to 13 state parks, etc.

2.  Campaign Finance Reform on the brighter side, Fuse is leading an effort to reform our state s campaign finance laws to curb the influence of lobbyist money on elections.  As an example, the BIAW, or Building Industry Association of Washington, formed a bogus PAC with a $7 million donation, totally to attack Governor Gregoire this past election.  Fuse wants to reform the system with public financing of campaigns/elections.

3.  Environmental Issues.  Fuse is working with a coalition of Washington environmental groups, the Environmental Priorities Coalition  They have focused multiple environmental initiatives on to four main goals for 2009.  These are as follows.

  • Cap and Invest This is part of the Western Climate Initiative and will serve as an example for President Obama.  By implementing real limits on global warming pollution, we will create new jobs and stimulate the growth of a clean energy economy here in Washington State. Read more.
  • Efficiency First Promoting energy efficient homes, businesses and public institutions will save money, enhance energy security, and significantly reduce global-warming pollution. Read more.
  • Transit-Oriented Communities Washingtonians want to live in affordable, walkable and transit-oriented communities. Read more.
  • Invest in Clean Water From Puget Sound to the Spokane River, clean water is Washington's lifeblood and our communities can't thrive without it.

You can get on Fuse s mailing list to receive email updates of important local issues at 


Second Keynote Speaker:  Gerri Haynes

Gerri Haynes is a Board member and past president of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.  She has organized and led delegations to the Middle East.  She frequently conducts educational programs on the Middle East.  Gerri is a Board member of the United Nations Association Seattle, a National Board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility; A past National Board member of The Peace Alliance Foundation; Chair, 2009 Veterans For Peace Regional Conference and Chair of the 2006 Veterans for Peace National Convention.

Iraqi Refugee Crisis Nearly 20 percent of Iraqis are either in refugee status outside Iraq or internally displaced it is a silent disaster for this huge percentage of Iraqi citizens.  Going home is not an option for most: it s too dangerous, their homes are in areas now segregated by "group", the homes are occupied, or they have no way to earn a living - inside or outside IraqThrough her work with Iraqi refugees, Gerri has been exposed to the struggles of Iraqis inside and outside Iraq.  They are consistent in their reports of desperate economic and social circumstances.  Gerri s talk will focus on the current situation for Iraqi refugees - The Silent Consequences of War and do we learn about what has happened to the people of Iraq, the many costs and what might we do to begin to heal this disaster.

Gerri has traveled to Iraq five times.  On a visit post the US Invasion of Iraq, it struck Gerri as telling that one of the two main buildings that wasn t destroyed by the invasion was the Iraqi Oil Ministry.  This reflected the priority of those leading the US invasion effort, and clearly the priorities did not include the welfare of Iraqi citizenry.  Due to the horrific consequences of war, approximately 20% of Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes.  Gerri has traveled to the region multiple times to visit the refugees in Jordan and SyriaGerri  visited with Congressman Jim McDermott this past summer regarding the status of Iraqi refugees.  Jim told her to keep talking about this , but indicated that he had to focus his time and energy on the current economic crisis we are facing.  Sadly, with the downslide of our economy, the Iraq war and its outcomes have fallen off the radar screen within our media and the hearts and minds of most Americans.  This is not a natural disaster , but rather a sad showing of our US tax dollars at work.  Sadly, Americans are learning world geography through war.

Gerri showed a compelling PowerPoint presentation on the state of Iraqi refugees.  She discussed in detail the tragedies that war and occupation can create.  These include:

  • Refugees (internal and external)
  • Separated families/Loss of community
  • Desperate acts
  • In the areas of focus:  injured or killed women and children and/or left without financial and social security
  • Some child warriors
  • Disrupted normal course of childhood and young adult events:  destroyed education
  • Environmental destruction:  direct bombing (U238), toxic substances remain food acquisition difficult
  • Destroyed infrastructure: clean water, electricity, food and drug storage

Gerri talked in detail regarding the devastating impact of the invasion on women and children in Iraq.  The educational system has been broken.  With no education opportunities, children are susceptible to extremist teachings.  With violence all around them and no real hope, they are likely candidates for extremist actions, the exact opposite consequences we need for peace and stability in the region.  They are also facing massive chronic malnutrition.  UN sanctions against Iraq were more accurately sanctions against Iraqi children. 

In the first go-around of the US bombing efforts, over 300 tons of depleted uranium were dropped on Iraq, leaving a terribly toxic environment for the local population.  More has been dropped since.  Locals are afraid to build needed new infrastructure for fear that insurgents will target the new structures for bombing.  Rebuilding progress is severely limited.  American contractors have performed amazingly poorly in their building efforts.  This has been documented repeatedly.  Our tax dollars have created a windfall for some of these corporations, but have not, economically, resulted in a better society for the Iraqis. 

When did Iraqis become refugees?  In 1991, before, during and after the US attacks (before the attacks, mainly Sunni following the attacks, mainly Shia who participated in the uprising) the growth of Iraqi refugees began.  In 2003, after the current invasion, there were fewer refugees than anticipated, and these were mainly Baathists refugees.  In 2006, following the bombing of the Samarra Shrine/beginning of sectarian warring

With two invasions of Fallujah, the refugee population spiked In November 2007, over 70% of the refugees in Syria had been there for less than one year.  In Jordan, 77% arrived between 2003 and 2007.  Today the UN continues to caution against returning to Iraq due to the dangers they would face. 

Today, more than 20% of Iraqis are displaced.  They have been forced to flee to many different locals through the region and the world.  Many are displaced within the country, estimated at 2.8 million Iraqis (out of 24-26 million total Iraqi population).  In Syria, 1.5 3.0 million refugees have come.  In Jordan:  between 0.5 to 1.2 million.  In the Gulf States, over 200,000.  In Iran, over 57,000.  Lebanon has received between 40,000-100,000.  Turkey has received approximately 10,000 refugees.  Egypt claims 70,000 150,000.  European nations, a few thousand.  In our own country, the USA, only 8,000 to 12,000 have been allowed.  They are largely unsupported here.  (Those who come have often collaborated and are in danger in Iraq.  70% who return to Iraq become internal refugees.)

In Syria we have an example of what will happen with such a huge influx of refugees.  Syria is not a wealthy country, but was able to produce enough wheat to feed the Syrian people.  Then, with the influx of 1.5 3 million Iraqis (most since 2006), the result has been a strained Syrian economy, with a subsequent increase in prices and decrease in affordability.  About 10% of Iraqis in Syria receive food aid from UNHCR, but there is a constant threat of insufficient or no food.  There is little food security for refugees.

A 2008 survey of 754 refugees in Syria revealed the following.  Every one reported experiencing at least one traumatic event.  One in five were victims of torture or violence.  Eighty percent witnessed a shooting.  Seventy-seven percent affected by air bombardment, shelling or rocket attacks.  Many forms of torture reported (beatings, electric shocks, objects placed under fingernails, burns, rape).  Nearly 19% had severe or chronic disease.  Mental health is a major problem.  Education a critical challenge.  These dire consequences are almost unfathomable to us here in the US. 

Gerri showed multiple photos of the Iraqi people.  She commented on how beautiful a people they are, how quick they are to smile as well as how gracious they are.  War and occupation have had dire consequences on their attitude towards America.

All aspects of health has been affected in Iraq.  Trauma physical and mental, has been widespread.  Also widely prevalent are environment illness, emotional well-being disruption, chronic and untreated Illness rise (57% chronic in Syria), difficulties in learning, inabilities to work (due to health problems and lack of work availability), domestic violence (spousal/elder/child) on the rise, a fall in nutrition (hunger, no income for food, etc.), isolation, intertribal fighting leading to further violence/injury/death, a lack of access to recreation, children without parents and the rise of survival sex (prostitution), which was almost unheard of before the invasion.

War and occupation also have dire impacts on the occupier.  Over 1.5 million have been deployed to Iraq.  There have been 4,200 deaths of soldiers (does not count delayed death).  Over 1,000 private contractors have died.  Injuries have risen to over 60,000 in troops (visible injuries).  Over 30% of our troops suffer from PTSD (50 85% of these have serious substance abuse disorders) and roughly 30% have traumatic brain injuries.  Domestic abuse in homes of returned occupiers is rising as is the rate of suicide.  Also, there is a possible relationship to increased birth defects/environmental exposure.

Gerri shared a slide showing the cost of this war.  The direct cost has risen to over $600,000,000,000, but including indirect costs, this war has but a financial burden on the US taxpayer of over $3 Trillion dollars (that s over 3,000,000,000,000).  Just think of what we could have used these precious funds for, especially in our desperate economy.  To assist with this visual, please visit:  National Priorities Project 

Gerri then shared a wonderful quote from Howard Zinn, as follows:  To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic.  It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.  What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.  If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.  If we remember those times and places and there are so many where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.  And if we do act, in however small a way, we don t have to wait for some grand utopian future.  The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

Gerri then shared actions to take to begin to resolve this crisis.  This is a blueprint from Human Rights First - directed at the new US Administration:

  1. Integrate refugee/IDP protection/assistance into benchmarks for political progress in Iraq.
  2. Provide humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees and increase its impact
  3. Lead resettlement of Iraqi refugees
  4. Appoint White House Coordinator for Iraqi refugees

She then shared a quote from Raja Shehadeh: We don t need spectators to witness our suffering and tell us they feel with us.  We need help to put a stop to it.


Q There have recently been many protest against the Israeli-led violence against Palestine.  How can we make a difference?

A Taking action is critical.  If one keeps voicing their views to our leaders, they will be heard.  Public opinion matters.  Repeated efforts are critical.


In regards to the current violence in Gaza, Gerri shared the following quote:  Israel needs someone to rescue it from itself.   Responding to violence with even far-greater violence has been long proven to come with disastrous results.  War begets war.


Q Where are the refugees in Syria and Jordan living?

A The first Iraqi refugees were wealthy.  This caused some resentment among the local populations where the refugees went.  Today, most do not live in camps, but rather have settled in local neighborhoods consisting of mostly refugees.  And, these neighborhoods are very, very poor.  Most refugees have lost all of their savings and are not allowed to work.


Q How do Iraqis feel about the US pulling out of Iraq?

A Some believe it is still too early, but the number of people with this view is going down.  Four different Iraqi factions have plans to come back into Iraq and to help bring Iraq to a democratic state.  A very large cadre of Iraqis want the US out of Iraq now.  But the real chance of the US leaving is ZERO.  We have built permanent military bases in Iraq.  Jim McDermott recently told Gerri that there are now more private soldiers than regular soldiers in Iraq. 


Q Aren t the roots of sectarian hatred now so deep that refugees will never be able to return?

A This is a question that Gerri couldn t answer.  Time will tell.  Some Iraqis think that a Sunni/Shia alliance can be formed, but in this tribal society, and with all of the violence that has transpired after the invasion, this will be very difficult.


Q Will Iraq likely become a democracy?

A Perhaps not as we think of democracy - but this is for the Iraqi to decide.


Q In relation to Iraqi women and their plight, has micro-credit been used to help things?

A There are micro-credit programs in work, but they are really just beginning.


Q Has the Iraqi education system been interrupted to the point that Iraqi children are now ripe for extremism?

A Absolutely.  This is a very dire consequence of our invasion.


Q Why aren t the Iraqi refugees allowed to work?

A Gerri doesn t know the underlying policy, but looking at the demographics, it s easy to see the trouble.  Over 50% of Jordon is now refugees.  It s considered an issue of fair play to create jobs for Jordanians before refugees.  There is much under-the-table refugee employment, but this is not nearly meeting the needs.


As always, many, many questions were asked but not recorded.  Sorry!


IAN Action

At this point we conducted an IAN letter-writing action.  You too can participate!  Just send a version of the following to Congressman Jim McDermott and to our Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell via fax, phone message or email.  Thank you.


Appoint a White House Coordinator for Iraqi Refugees with the rank of Ambassador-at-large, as proposed by Senators Kennedy, Biden, and Clinton. Such a position was first proposed by Senators Kennedy, Biden, and Clinton. The coordinator should be responsible for ensuring that plans to assist Iraqi refugees and to develop long-term solutions are integrated into the new administration's broader policy and strategy in Iraq and implemented across all of the relevant federal agencies

Contact Information

Congressman Jim McDermott

Washington DC

1035 Longworth HOB

Washington, DC 20515
202-225-6197 FAX


Senator Maria Cantwell

511 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
202-228-0514 FAX


Senator Patty Murray

Washington, D.C. Office
173 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: (202) 224-2621
Fax: (202) 224-0238
Toll Free: (866) 481-9186



As always, many, many questions were asked but not recorded.  Sorry!

Many thanks to our host and our speakers!


See you at the next inSPIRe meeting!


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Previous meeting minutes


Previous IAN Events


First Speaker, Erik Magnuson


Second Speaker, Gerri Haynes



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