Protesters, initially blocked by building security, ask Bob Corker to vote 'no' on Syria

Protesters, initially blocked by building security, ask Bob Corker to vote 'no' on Syria

September 7th, 2013 by Alex Green in Local Regional News

Concerned citizen Penny Gharanfoli, Ash-Lee Woodward Henderson of Concerned Citizens for Justice, Brian Merritt of Occupy Chattanooga and Mercy Junction Ministry and Maggie Martin of Iraq Veterans Against the War, from left, listen while a receptionist explains EPB building security procedures and why they are not allowed upstairs as they attempt to deliver a letter against military action in Syria from their respective groups to U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at his office on Friday. The group was later admitted but media were not permitted to record.

Photo by Maura Friedman/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should the United States help bomb Syria?

Not again, with military action against an obscure Middle Eastern dictator.

A handful of protesters tried to say that to Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker on Friday, showing up at his Chattanooga office with a letter asking him to vote against American military intervention in Syria in a Senate vote next week.

Corker voted in favor of limited action during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting Thursday.

"We're here, basically, to tell Senator Corker that we, as his constituents, as well as the American people, do not support strikes against Syria," Maggie Martin, an Army veteran, said Friday. She did two tours in Iraq, in 2003 and 2005.

Martin was in a small group of activists mounting a grassroots effort to stop the conflict, including representatives from Iraq Veterans Against the War and Concerned Citizens for Justice.

"I've witnessed the human cost of war," Martin said.

After briefly meeting at Miller Park, the group crossed Market Street and headed to Corker's sixth-floor office in the EPB building. They were met in the lobby by security and strange looks from EPB customers. Security officers told the protesters they could not go up to Corker's office without an appointment.

"They can go to another country and die for their country, but they can't carry a letter into their senator's office," Penny Gharanfoli, a Chattanooga resident and EPB customer, said about Martin and other veterans. "That's ridiculous."

EPB spokesman John Pless told the protesters that Corker "is basically a tenant" of the building, and because sensitive data is stored in the upper stories, public access is restricted.

"They lease space from us," he said. "They're the ones who have to invite guests into their offices."

Corker's office was staffed by one intern when protesters arrived, but within 40 minutes, another staffer arrived and agreed to see the group. Reporters were not permitted.

Afterward, Ash-Lee Henderson, an Ooltewah native and Concerned Citizens for Justice advocate, said she is discouraged that Corker voted for American intervention in Syria earlier in the week.

"We think that bombing people and calling it humanitarian is oxymoronic," she said. "We'll remember that when we go to the polls next time."

Todd Womack, Corker's chief of staff, said Friday afternoon that "Syria is a serious matter, and we expect to hear from Tennesseans about it. Senator Corker does not want the U.S. involved in an open-ended conflict."

Womack also said Corker's Chattanooga representative was in another meeting when protesters arrived, but saw them as soon as it ended. He said Corker wants President Barack Obama to provide better evidence of the need for "limited action in Syria."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-673