News Release

Mike Gravel’s Challenge to Militarism and Push for Real Democracy

Sen. Mike Gravel, best known for having risked censure and expulsion from the Senate by reading the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record exactly 50 years ago on Tuesday, died on Saturday at the age of 91.

Gravel twice sought the presidency. In 2008, he challenged the other candidates, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, from the debate stage: “They frighten me. When you have mainline candidates that turn around and say that there’s ‘nothing off the table’ with respect to Iran — that’s code for using nukes.” He then told then-candidate Biden: “You have a certain arrogance. You want to tell the Iraqis how to run their country.” President Biden bombed Iraq and Syria on Sunday.

The DNC kept Gravel off the debate stage in 2020 to his protests, but his campaign gave rise to the Gravel Institute, which is powered by a group of young people, has become a force on Twitter and produces short educational videos.

On Sunday, Daniel Ellsberg, who disclosed the Pentagon Papers, a massive top-secret government study that documented its own deceit of the public during the Vietnam War, appeared with Gravel’s daughter, Lynne Mosier, on the Katie Halper Show.

Ellsberg lauded Gravel’s courage for entering the top-secret documents into the Congressional Record — saying he helped assert a “precedent that no one else has taken advantage of in 50 years” — meaning virtually no other Senator has used the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution to expose classified information that should be made public.

In 1971, the New York Times and other papers were enjoined by the courts against publishing further material from the Pentagon Papers. Gravel obtained a copy from Ellsberg who was then underground, and read from them in Congress. He said on the night of June 29, 1971: “People are dying, arms and legs are severed and metal crashes through human bodies because of policy decisions conceived in secret and kept from the American people. Free and informed public debate is the source of our strength. Remove it and our democratic institutions become a sham.” And then he wept.

The following day, June 30, 1971, the Supreme Court ruled against the Nixon administration.

Gravel sought to get a book publisher to publish the Pentagon Papers, but no commercial or university press would do so. Finally, Beacon Press, an arm of the Unitarian Universalist Association, published the “Gravel Edition” of the Pentagon Papers and was targeted for years afterwards by the Nixon administration and the FBI. See talk by Ellsberg, Gravel and Robert West, who was the president of the UUA.

Consortium News — see their obituary of Gravel — is currently publishing excerpts from his memoirA Political Odyssey The Rise of American Militarism and One Man’s Fight to Stop It, for the anniversary of the Pentagon Papers, co-authored with Joe Lauria.

In 2010, Gravel told the Institute for Public Accuracy: “Whenever something comes up that [Senate minority leader] Mitch McConnell is opposed to … he just threatens a filibuster.” Then, the Democrats “back down and pundit after pundit says you need 60 votes to pass it. Baloney. You need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, but a filibuster is a really costly thing to do.

“I used the filibuster for five months to end the [military] draft in 1971. I succeeded. I’m proud of what I did. I helped end the war in Vietnam. But I paid a price politically and among my colleagues for using the filibuster.”

Much of Gravel’s final years were focused on constitutional solutions to the public effectively being left out of the governing process. He founded the group The National Citizens Initiative for Democracy and wrote the book The Failure of Representative Government and the Solution: A Legislature of the Peoplearguing for the creation of a fourth branch of government which manifests a form of direct democracy.

LYNNE MOSIER, lynne@mosier.name
Mosier, (pronounced Moe Z A) is Gravel’s daughter. She just wrote an obituary of her father which encompasses these issues and others, including his opposition of nuclear power, his embrace of renewables, his early backing of drug legalization, and his backing in the 1970s of the Trans Alaska Pipeline: “Gravel was instrumental in lifting Alaska from one of the poorest and most unequal states in the U.S. in the 1970 Census to one of the richest and most equal by the 2000 Census. The state’s Native population moved from poverty to the middle class and from a subsistence economy to a mixed subsistence/cash economy with educated young Native leaders managing multi-billion dollar corporations in one generation. He was a leading proponent and one of the key congressional players in settling the indigenous land claims of Alaskan Natives. The settlement created 12 Alaska Native regional corporations and over 200 village corporations that have helped transform Alaska’s economy.”