Michael Berg for U.S. Congress in Delaware: A Voice Against War

Roger Horowitz

ON JUNE 8 Americans awoke to the news that the U.S. military in Iraq had killed Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, alleged leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. In the midst of press coverage that cravenly accepted government claims that this was, once again, a turning point in the war, one voice in the mass media dramatically countered government claims – that of Michael Berg, Green Party candidate for Delaware’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Michael Berg came to attention of the U.S. press, and many of us, when his son Nick was abducted and killed in May, 2004 in Iraq in retaliation for the murders, rapes, and torture of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison. Similar to Cindy Sheehan, Berg placed responsibility for his son’s death on the US government, when he declared to reporters camped on his front lawn, “Nicholas Berg died for the sins of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld.”

Zarqawi’s organization took responsibility for killing Berg’s son, so the calls to Berg began at 4:30 am when news of Zarqawi’s death first reached the states. A full day of press interviews ended that night with Berg’s appearance on Larry King Live, CNN’s prominent talk show.

Again and again Berg refused to be cast in the role the press wanted, as the grieving father glad that justice was done. Instead he told King, “Killing Zarqawi won’t bring my son back. Killing Zarqawi will only continue what really killed my son.” He countered the media/Bush administration blitz that the death would change the progress of war.

“Another person will come in and take over the job of Zarqawi,” Berg explained to the millions of viewers, “What you’re talking about is a grass roots effort, in Iraq, by everyday people, who have given their lives as suicide bombers and who believe very deeply in what they stand for.”

Michael Berg’s campaign reflects a strategic decision by the Delaware Green Party (GPDE) to emphasize national issues and to capitalize on widespread dissatisfaction with George Bush, and especially the president’s Iraq policies. Previous campaigns in 2002 and 2004 had been for state and local offices, and garnered vote percentages in the neighborhood of 5-8%.

These campaigns had aspirations of making the Green Party a contender in Delaware politics; while they garnered significant attention for the party, the results fell short of activists’ hopes.

Delaware Greens met Berg soon after he moved to Delaware from southern Pennsylvania. A long time antiwar activist, he began attending weekly peace vigils also frequented by Green Party members. He also registered as a Green, disappointed with his brief contact with Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry during the 2004 campaign. Not long thereafter, leading Greens approached Berg and asked if he would run for Congress against incumbent Republican Mike Castle, a so-called “moderate” who had supported the PATRIOT Act and backed the president unconditionally on the war. Berg agreed, and in May the GPDE formally endorsed his candidacy.

From the beginning Michael Berg told Delaware Greens, “what you see is what you get.” Berg prefers bicycles to cars, wears antiwar t-shirts adorned with many buttons, and promises that he will never wear a suit and tie to campaign appearances.

His preferred campaigning mode are small house meetings where he can talk personally with potential supporters, and speaking at political events, especially anything against the Iraq war.

Rather than the typical handshaking at festivals and focusing on local issues, Berg has preferred to run a social protest campaign attacking the Republican administration and its policies, not only on the war, but in the areas of health care, environment and social security. Delaware peace activists and other progressives (albeit a small community) are fully behind Berg even though most are not Green Party members.

Berg’s effort is bolstered by an extremely weak Democratic candidate with no name recognition, no previous political races, and little active support from local Democrats, whose energies are focused on winning the Attorney General race. Greens present Berg as the best way to defeat the Republican incumbent and, quite fairly, paint the Democrat as the spoiler.

The unusual opportunities offered by Berg’s campaign have brought Delaware Greens national support from the Green Party and other progressives, especially those committed to opposing the war. Substantial financial contributions have come around the country, a substantial help to Delaware’s small, and poor, progressive community. Berg also has received a great deal of advice, much unsolicited, on how to maximize his campaign’s potential.

Some activists committed to progressive change have urged Berg to look more like a traditional, albeit progressive, candidate. This would mean, in practice, altering campaign strategy to emphasize maximizing outreach to those who vote regularly in elections and targeting constituencies with tailored messages. These activists also suggested that the peace message, though remaining highly visible, should be balanced by other political positions to round out Berg’s image as a candidate.

While appreciating the advice, and also working to develop other positions, Berg and Delaware Greens have remained committed to peace as the central message of the campaign. The campaign’s main slogan, “Vote Berg – Vote Peace” reflects this decision. Berg is himself deeply committed to the peace movement and believes that the most important issue facing the United States today is the Iraq war. Delaware Greens agree with him that peace is the number one issue, and that ending the Iraq war is the precondition to progressive change in other areas.

The campaign plans to continue its emphasis on the war while developing other issues and fund raising for a fall “offensive” of leafleting and selective radio advertising. With strong long support and backing from Greens and antiwar activists throughout the US, anticipate a strong race by Michael Berg and Delaware’s Greens against the Republican incumbent. For more information go to www.BergforCongress.us.

ATC 124, September-October 2006