Dear all: Okay, okay. I got a bit carried away. This was a great convention. Believe it or not, I didn’t capture it all in this lengthy report. I look forward to hearing from Michael, Bruce, Pam, and Mel about their observations. Enjoy. Doug
CHAPTER 001 PRESIDENT’S REPORT
SOW JUSTICE – REAP PEACE:
STRATEGIES FOR MOVING BEYOND WAR
AUGUST 9TH – AUGUST 13TH
First off, let me thank the chapter for allowing me to represent you at this year’s annual convention. It was held at the spacious and lovely University of Washington campus. I found the conference to be one of the most engaging, best organized events that I’ve been to in recent years. There were thirty-six workshops to choose from over a two day period. There were nightly plenary sessions that included music as well as thoughtful speeches. The camaraderie and energy levels were on “high alert” as young veterans (up to about 50 Iraq Veterans Against the War) mingled with the “old’ (only in years not spirit): Gulf War I, Vietnam, Korean War, WWII, and a couple of Abraham Lincoln Brigade veterans. All told, there were over 500 of us there. Interestingly enough, a gender balance was struck for the first time in memory; there were many women veterans in attendance, and at least one evening’s set of speakers was comprised entirely of women presenters. Unfortunately, racial diversity is still an issue on the national level, but there are some initiatives afoot to correct that imbalance.
I think the best way to do this report is to give you a running narrative of the days’ events from my perspective. I won’t attempt to give you an overview of the whole conference; rather I’ll tell you about what I attended. As material (photos and text) come in about the convention from others, I’ll post whatever I receive on our web page.
The festivities began on Wednesday evening, August 9th. There was a reception on the patio of the main residence hall where many members stayed, starting at about 5:00pm. Bruce Gagnon and I got there at about 6:00pm to meet a large gathering, including Perry O’Brien, and to hear rousing songs belted out by the local “grannies” group. Later that evening I attended a poetry reading, which drew a crowd of about 100 people, to hear veterans read their stuff. Very interesting. By the time I got the mike (11:15pm) the numbers had dwindled to about 25. We vacated the premises at 11:45pm or so.
On Thursday morning, August 10th, I set up our chapter’s table in a large hall with such other groups as varied chapters, the Iraq Veterans Against the War, the national’s table, a table from Code Pink, the VVAW table, an Agent Orange information table, a Women in Black table, and a few others I’ve probably forgotten. Our Chapter 001 table included the Cost of War display, our Hugh Thompson display, our Blue Angels demonstration, our PTSD Symposium, our web site, and a few other artifacts to show what the Maine Chapter’s been up to. But the biggest attraction was Rob Shetterly’s postcard display. Rob let me sell a bunch of his cards (we sold $140.75 worth at $2.50 each), with half the take going to our chapter’s coffers. People were very interested in the cards, but our other stuff drew attention. I have to admit that this table was mostly a self-directed one since I was off attending workshops and business meetings throughout the weekend. It went over pretty well.
Thursday afternoon at 1:00pm the Convention was officially opened by President Dave Cline. He immediately introduced the “bikers” – bicyclists who rode up from Eugene, Oregon to emphasize the point that we need to become more energy-efficient (the ride was about 400 miles). They circled the convention floor. One bicyclist was S. Brian Wilson, the VFP charter member who lost his legs blockading a munitions train in the mid-1980’s; he used “arm power” to get to the convention. More about him later.
Our national vice-president, Sharon Kufeldt, then introduced the convention’s first speaker, Camilo Mejia. Camilo is known to many of us as the brave sergeant who, after returning from Iraq, refused to be re-deployed and sought conscientious objector status. He did ten months in jail. He spoke of the courage it takes to confront one’s government over war. He then announced that almost 50 Iraq War vets (IVAW) were in attendance at this year’s convention and that the group now has 300+ members. After Camilo left the stage, Dave Cline reflected on how he was there when Camilo turned himself in – the move away from the supportive veterans to take the lonely, singular walk through the gates and into the army’s hands. Very moving.
Dahr Jamail was the next Thursday afternoon speaker. He had just returned from covering Lebanon after a “vacation” in Syria. He was in Damascus when the Hezbollah and the Israelis went at it, so, of course, Dahr had to see what he could see. His theme for this presentation was the impact of a corporate media on our democracy and the extent to which our mainstream media is complicit in this illegal war and, subsequently, complicit in war crimes. He worked off the “refrain” of “assumptions” that the media makes about the American people:
That concluded the 1:00 opening session.
Thursday 2:30 workshops included counter-recruitment, spiritual activism in times of war, the national security implications of global warming, PTSD, empowerment groups for IVAW veterans, and war profiteering and U.S. strategic goals in the Middle East.
I went to the last workshop, which was facilitated by Dahr Jamail. In this workshop, Dahr used the personal stories of his friends in Iraq and some statistics to counter the U.S. propaganda that the war “is going well”:
What then, asks Dahr, are the U.S. plans in Iraq? Well,
Thursday 4:00pm workshops included: diversity in the peace movement; creating safety through nonviolent communication; depleted uranium and agent orange; ten reasons the U.S. should leave Iraq; Military Families Speak Out Roundtable; how to stop the coming police state.
I attended the workshop on nonviolent communication (I was getting a bit weary of theoretical constructs and wanted to get involved in a hands-on kind of workshop). I wasn’t disappointed. Although some people might have tired of “creating safety through connection,” I found the facilitator, Kathleen MacFerran, to be engaging, smart, and very experienced (she works with students, prisoners, and g.i.’s.) as she put us into a few role-playing situations. She suggested that we look at the web site www.cnvc.org. Ms. MacFerran began with some basic statements: Non-violent strategies are used to disarm the parties in conflict. If we are to communicate, we need to make our communication non-violent. We are all hard-wired to be compassionate. We are all interdependent. My needs can’t be met at the expense of yours. We have universal needs. So what are we blocked from communicating with each other effectively? Why is our humanity not being communicated?
Then she asked the people in the workshop (20 or so) to name a difficult situation we faced. One VFP member said that he is constantly being accosted by people who claim that their loved ones are in Iraq and that we protestors are putting their lives in danger. Often the accusations are fraught with recriminations and the person is screaming and won’t listen to reason. She walked us through a strategy to deal with these folks.
Non-violent communication involves talking, listening, and observing. We bring to all communication our needs, our feelings, and our requests. To get at the heart of nonviolent communication, we need to find the needs that are underneath every message. We need to understand that basic needs are universal; so a conflict occurs because of faulty strategies not because of conflicting needs.
Thursday Night: Cindy Sheehan, one of the keynote speakers for the evening, could not attend – she was hospitalized later on because of her participation in a 37-day fast – and Diane Wilson, another speaker, could not attend because she was on her way to Lebanon with a delegation of humanitarians to stop the fighting after attending the Code Pink visit to Jordan. Amazing that our speakers come from such a pool of quality folks. Ann Wright stepped to the mic to represent Diane and Cindy, which she did admirably. She is a retired colonel who resigned from the state department in protest to this administration’s policies in the Mideast. She had just returned from Jordan (she was in Jordan with Medea Benjamin and 15 others to work on a reconciliation plan for the ending of the Iraq War). Their plan calls for the elimination of U.S. permanent bases in Iraq, immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, and amnesty for insurgents.
Ann spent most of her time speaking about Diane Wilson (an army medic and war resister during the Vietnam War), the Texas peace advocate known for her willingness to take on the chemical companies in her state; she used fasting as a tool against them, and she’s using fasting now to take on the Bush administration. She was with other Code Pink members who broke their fast to attend the Jordan reconciliation committee.
The next speaker was Diane Benson, mother of a wounded Iraq veteran from Alaska. Her son is one of the many victims of this government’s stop-loss program. He lost both his legs from an IED in Kirkuk thirteen days after he should have left Iraq. She spoke of the trying process she went through with her son in Iraq and then flying to Germany to be with him after he was wounded. He was “wounded beyond recognition: loss of both legs, hands blown apart, head swollen….” She is currently running for local office in Fairbanks on an anti-war stance.
The next speaker was Doris Kent, whose son was killed in Iraq in 2004. He died at the age of 22 after being in Iraq for five weeks. Doris received her son’s last letter two days after he was killed. In that letter he remarked: “This will be the last birthday the army will steal from me.” Her son’s time in Iraq has been put into a documentary film entitled “The Corporal’s Boots.”
At 9:00pm a bunch of us went over to see the play “What I Heard About Iraq,” put on by actors from the Juneau, Alaska chapter. “Taking its inspiration from an article by Eliot Weinberger in the London Review of Books, Simon Levy’s drama, which he claims is ‘neither speculation nor fiction,’ utilizes comments from politicians, military chiefs, Iraqi citizens, and U.S. soldiers.” It was an excellent combination of text and video.
On Friday morning the first set of workshops included “Walking to New Orleans,” how to speak the truth in difficult times, the peace movement: knowing what to do next, health consequences of war, department of peace, and the politics of obedience. I chose the last workshop, which was presented by a person I admire a great deal – S. Brian Wilson. He’s a long-time VFP member who is probably most known for his tragic encounter with a munitions train in the 1980’s. He and others were engaged in an action to stop supplying weaponry to the Contras. He lost both his legs. But that has not stopped him from working with the Chiapas Indians in Mexico, fighting militarism, etc etc.
Brian began his workshop by referring to the young man who chose the VFP National convention to “turn himself in” Friday morning at 9:00am. He had been a deserter for a year and was now going to refuse to deploy to Iraq. He had been an interrogator in Iraq and wanted to have nothing more to do with the military. His courageous stand prompted Brian to remember his acquiescence during the Vietnam War and to ask: “Why was it so easy to follow orders, to be so obedient, to do illogical, unnatural, and immoral things because I was ordered to?” Why are we so obedient to authority? He referred us to a text, THE POLITICS OF OBEDIENCE, written in 1553 that addressed this very issue. Brian claims that for the past 5,000 years we as humans have been subjected to “vertical authority structures” and that all groups emanating from the “civilization model” have been ruled by fear and propaganda.
Representative democracy is really a disguise for oligarchy and plutocracy, and we are all complicit in the actions of the social structure we choose to live under. America, from the time of the colonies, has been ruled by white male supremacists; the degree to which we believe in the myth of a democratic America reflects the degree to which we refuse to resist. We must educate ourselves and others. In order for democracy to work it must be “direct” and must be a function of small groups of people.
As most of us know, the “oil blip” with its emphasis on speed, volume, and lack of concern about the consequences of technology is about to end; during this period of time in our civilization our habits (work, leisure, thoughts) have been determined by what oil has allowed us to do. At the same time, we have enjoyed a “middle class blip” : from the close of WWII to the Reagan years, the middle class grew in size and influence. Now it too is in decline, and we’re witnessing a collapse of all the systems that we of the post-WWII era have grown used to: social, political, etc etc. We are addicted to a way of life that is not sustainable. Racism, imperialism, and “exceptionalism” are deeply rooted in America.
Once Wilson established this scenario, he then went into his own theory that has been greatly influenced by the Jungian concept of archetypes: we as humans cannot live for long without engaging our tendency toward empathy and equity; for a long time, the collective American way of life has been way out of whack. Now we can start changing our addictions by thinking of what we do on a daily basis. If we engage empathy, we consider the consequences of our actions and are aware of the pain inflicted upon others by what we do. By stripping away various defense mechanisms that prevent us from seeing how we have distanced ourselves from others, we can whittle away the anxiety and fear that overwhelm us and prevent us from reconnecting with others. We are capable of “: reaccessing our humanity.” Finally, the Bush administration has given us an incredible opportunity to look at our social structures, at our obedience, and to say enough; now is the time for massive disobedience. No more business as usual. We must not remain loyal to a nation state; rather, we should become citizens of the planet and be mindful of what we are doing to the earth. One approach is what Wilson and some citizens of Arcata, California are experimenting with: a “200 mile diet”: they are only eating food that is produced within a 200 mile radius of where they’re living. They are changing their eating habits and maintaining an awareness of where their food comes from. Tax resistance is also another strategy to thwart this unsustainable culture we live in, although Brian (a total tax resistor for 20 years now) warns how difficult it is to take this step and is very clear about the personal dangers that one can encounter along this path. We must all acknowledge what Wilson calls the “American holocausts” that we as a nation have not had to “pay for” yet:
The second set of Friday morning workshops included: waging peace: an overview; voices of women veterans; how can we avert the converging catastrophes of global climate change; creating a culture of peace; treatment alternatives for PTSD; and the structural causes of war. I attended the last workshop on the structural causes of war introduced by Todd Boyle (a Navy veteran who quit his software/financial manager position at a prestigious firm to become a full-time peace activist in 2003) and then presented by Antonia Juhasz, author of THE BUSH AGENDA: INVADING THE WORLD, ONE ECONOMY AT A TIME, and a visiting scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies. She has served as the Project Director of the International Forum on Globalization and as a legislative assistant to two members of congress (John Conyers being one of them).
Boyle started the session by declaring that the Military Industrial Complex is a “real thing,” not just some abstract notion cooked up by a bunch of lefties. It is not some “conspiracy theory” nor some “Rorschach test that can be interpreted in many different ways.” It is real and the direct cause of war. It exists in many different governmental contexts from telecom industry to agriculture to the media to education, to transportation, etc. It is a war-making “corporation” that is profit driven but does not “deliver value” to anybody. Its economic transactions, where goods and services are exchanged for patronage, are referred to by Washington insiders as a “self-licking ice cream cone” because no one is really responsible for the cost of their actions and everyone involved is enclosed in a very close, “self-regulating” loop.
Antonia Juhasz then stepped to the mic to discuss her book THE BUSH AGENDA and other related issues. Basically, Bush is using the military to pursue an economic agenda; his so-called “free trade” initiatives are benefiting a sub-set of corporations linked to his administration. If we can understand these links and unravel the Bush agenda, then we can better understand the war in Iraq. Juhasz’s current emphasis is to get this information out to potential recruits and current soldiers so that they really know whom they’re “serving.” In her book she looks at four corporations that have had a long history in Iraq and with Saddam Hussein:
Our history in Iraq has been a long one. Juhasz picks it up during the Reagan administration when we were supporting Iraq and Saddam during the Iran/Iraq War. We wanted Saddam to sign a contract with Bechtel (George Schultz was our front man). George Bush, Sr. was trying to push Chevron’s interests in Iraq as well as Bechtel’s. Saddam wouldn’t sign the Bechtel contract. So we went to war (Gulf War I). Then sanctions were put into place, but there was mounting pressure from the European community to lift the sanctions throughout the nineties. However, if sanctions were lifted, then more than likely the U.S. oil companies would be cut out of future oil contracts with Iraq. So we went to war again. Once we “won,” Paul Bremer started doing the bidding of the four companies mentioned earlier (members, she adds, of Cheney’s Energy Task Force who were busy creating our new national energy policy): Iraq oil was to be turned over to private companies and all pre-existing contracts were ripped up; a flat tax was imposed that brought down corporate taxes from 40% to 15%; largest contracts went to Bechtel, Parsons, Fluer, Shaw (all who were also involved in New Orleans post-Katrina), and Halliburton, to name a few. Reconstruction contracts were “cost-plus,” which guaranteed huge profits. Unfortunately, 3 and a half years later, only half of their projects have been completed. And, of course, Bremer and his crowd fired scores of Iraqis who were considered “road blocks” to his reconstruction plans and replaced them with Americans.
Our oil companies know that Bremer’s orders are essentially illegal. Therefore, we need a new Iraqi government that can legitimize his game plan. This new government will be “asked” to sign new, “legal” contracts. Bremer’s “oil laws” will clear the way for U.S. companies to reap huge profits while using the American soldiers as a “security force” for Bush’s economic agenda. Apparently, all kinds of contracts and agreements are being signed at “lightning speed.” The good news is that public pressure has finally forced Bechtel and Halliburton to drop out of new contracts -- it’s apparent that the “insurgents” will target U.S. companies but will leave legitimate Iraqi companies alone. Finally, Antonia Juhasz recommended checking out her web site at www.thebushagenda.net.
The first set of Friday afternoon sessions included establishing successful chapters, practicing nonviolent communications, Israel/Palestine question, eliminating weapons of terror from U.S. foreign policy, U.S. war resistors in Canada, and a practical activist’s guide to making impeachment a reality. I attended this last workshop on impeachment.
It was presented by David Swanson, co-founder of the afterdowningstreet.org website and a board member of Progressive Democrats of America. He was to be joined by VFP member Mike Ferner, but he is currently under house arrest for political activities in Toledo, Ohio (two months of monitored house arrest and possible felony conviction for painting “Troops Out Now” on a highway overpass – vandalism and possession of criminal tools. Rather than accept a misdemeanor conviction, Ferner took his case to trial. He is currently facing up to $4,000 in fines, so if anyone wants to contribute to his fund, please send a check to VFP Chapter 127, Education Fund, 1498 Fremont Avenue So., Toledo, Ohio 55101). Bill Moyer (director of the Backbone Campaign who brought a 70-foot backbone to the Democratic Convention in Boston) and coordinator of the Bush Chain Gang performance piece [see our website for pictures]) and Mikael Rudolph (author of the Do-It-Yourself Impeachment Kit) joined Swanson on stage. Swanson’s main point was that we must hold the architects of the Iraq War accountable and that we must stop the war now. He thinks that promoting the issue of impeachment before during and after the next round of elections can contribute a great deal to those causes. He also announced that his organization will be establishing “Camp Democracy” in Washington, DC on September 5th to advance those causes.
Rudolph pushed his point that impeachment is the only legal means to remove this crowd from power. He claimed that not only the House of Representatives can call for impeachment but so too can states, grand juries, and individuals. Check out his web site at www.impeachforpeace.org. If the Dems can take over the House in November, then subpoena power will be used to open up the box of secrets that the Bush administration has constructed. Moyer chimed in with his strategy: use art, spectacle, and ritual to take back the country and its constitution. His organization has impeachment talking points cards that they distribute when they’re on the street. There’s also a video available – “How to Impeach a President.” Swanson pointed out that Bush has already confessed to an impeachable crime (the FISA violation), which he considers to be the best bet for impeachment since spying has the most political traction. Of course there are 27 laws that Bush et al have violated and even, one day, the World Court might follow the Pinochet scenario with George W. and his crew.
The second set of Friday afternoon sessions included: training youth to be peace activists, media communications, “Unity Beyond Wartime,” a film on community education, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, GI Rights and GI Advocacy, the Axis of Evil, and a talk with Bert Sacks, who has traveled to Iraq nine times since 1996. I chose to attend the session on youth activism: passing the torch. The workshop was presented by two members of the Washington State fellowship of Reconciliation and two high school students who were hired to undergo peace activist training this past summer for 20 hours a week for four weeks. The students learned organizing skills, public speaking skills, practical organizing skills, and discussed issues and actions associated with those issues. Each summer the students choose a theme or project (this summer’s was racism in Seattle), and then are “put out on the streets” to talk to people, etc. This group video-taped various activities as well. Another one of their actions involved sending students into recruiters’ offices to pretend that they were interested in enlisting. Prior to their action they were informed about many of the issues we are concerned about, so they were quite prepared to ask the right questions. They then debriefed each other after their visits. One of the students set up his own counter-recruitment booth at his high school (check out the web site www.militaryfreezone.org). Possible funding sources to support an initiative like this: Abe Keller Peace Action Fund, the A.J. Muste Foundation, RESIST. The process used to bring young people into the program involved: a written application form, an interview with staff members, and a letter of support from an adult. This session was one of the more exciting ones for me because I could see this actually happening in Maine – a summer four-week youth activist training camp funded partially by VFP and through grants.
The Friday Evening Activities included songs by the Alaskan activist/singer Libby Roderick and the Seattle Peace Chorus and then a talk from John Perkins, the author of CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HITMAN. The singing was terrific. Since I didn’t take any notes on Perkins’s talk, allow me to just make a general remark. He was interesting and a pretty good speaker, but his “message” didn’t resonate with a large portion of his audience. He directed his remarks at the “corporatization” of our foreign policy agendas. Okay. But then he seemed to think that we can make things all better by working with these corporations and their leaders (“who are, after all, human beings, too”) rather than to dump the whole gaggle of them and renounce the whole neo-liberal economic construct. I left after he started getting bombarded with questions from the crowd that reflected this concern.
All day Saturday was devoted to the annual national Business meeting. Before the meeting we were entertained by Annie and the Vets, a VFP singing group that donates its proceeds to VFP (they gave Dave a check for $3,500 before the meeting). President Dave Cline began the session by announcing that there will only be 8 resolutions to consider, awards to be presented, a mutual understanding with Korean veterans to be signed, eight new chapters to be certified, by-laws to consider amending, and then statements from candidates for the board positions opening up.
We started with the awards. Mike Belcher from Chapter 31 of Philadelphia was recognized for his work on the “Abolish Land Mines” campaign; Ann Wright was recognized for her work as the “Camp Casey Commander”; Bruce MacDonald of the Smedley Butler Chapter was recognized for his years of service; Don and Sally Thompson of the Albuquerque chapter were recognized for their decades of service to the causes of peace; Joan Duffy of the Santa Fe chapter was recognized for her work with Vietnam Agent Orange victims; and the “point folks” from Chapter 16 were recognized for their amazing efforts in relief of Katrina victims (over $500,000 was raised because of their efforts once they detoured the VFP bus (“The White Rose”) from its intended trip to Washington, DC to Covington, LA to begin relief efforts. Over 200 volunteers were directed to New Orleans through VFP. The “point folks” were awarded certificates of commendation and Katrina Relief pins for their efforts.
Next, President Dave Cline and the delegation from South Korea signed off on a memorandum of Agreement calling for permanent peace on the Korean peninsula and world wide. Veterans for Peace of the Republic of Korea and Veterans for Peace of the United States agreed to share human, material, and informational resources in a mutual exchange of fellowship. The agreement is signed as of August 8, 2006 and will continue indefinitely unless one of the parties decides to dissolve it. This marks the first time in VFP’s history that we have signed such an agreement with a foreign membership. In his acceptance speech, the chief Korean delegate spoke eloquently (through an adept translator) of the need for solidarity among those of us who are “starving for peace.” As veterans in South Korea are fighting for the reunification of their own country, they will join us as “pioneers of peace.” At this juncture, the Korean delegate spoke with such passion and force that we leapt to our feet in support of him before the translator could tell us his words in English. We knew what he was saying. He left the podium to a standing ovation.
The Treasurer’s Report submitted by Ken Mayer, Treasurer, from the Santa fe Chapter(I can get a print copy of the full report if anyone wants a copy): as of July 25, 2006, our net income for the first ten months of the fiscal year was $72,485 (after being $3,378 in the hole last year at this time). We currently have $74,297 in our checking account, $14,199 in savings, and $14,898 locked up in inventory. All bills are currently paid; all loans are paid off. The year saw a 50% increase in membership dues raised ; a tripling of donations; and total revenues up by a half from last year with a small increase in total expenses. We are presently 16% above our budgeted revenue. We are in great shape financially.
The Director’s Report presented by Executive Director Michael McPhearson : National membership is at 6,177 (of which 3,617 are veteran members with documentation, 863 are veterans without documentation, 97 are lifetime members, 4 are active duty members, and 1,596 are associate members). Michael did ask this rhetorical question: should we “cap” associate membership in order to prevent a “dilution” of who we are as a veterans’ group?
From September 5, 2005 to July, 2006, VFP has gained 1,335 new members. We raised $306,910 over that span (exceeding our fundraising target by $14,114). There are now 135 chapters, with 8 new chapters joining us during the convention. Membership is now on a 12 month basis ( a member’s renewal date will be based on when she or he joined).
Michael spoke of how much time and energy were spent supporting Camp casey, the Bring Them Home Now tour, the September 24th mass mobilization, the Veterans’ and Survivors’ March, the NYC April 29th action, and various mailings and organizing activities. There have been some real problems with the web technology and the database, so the organization has switched from an MS Access database to ACT in April. New computers are being installed, so the problems should be resolved soon.
Staffing continues to be a bit of a problem because of illness and staff members moving in and out of the office. Michael is currently interviewing new staff members and is confident that a new team will be up and running soon.
Goals for this coming year include implementing a new website; stabilizing staffing; creating an effective fundraising campaign; developing effective communication structures; developing effective national operations coordination; developing effective support material for chapter use; and developing a visionary and realistic long term strategy.
At this point Michael and Dave began a discussion of the Katrina Relief Fund and activities that have been of some concern over the year. Ken pointed out that the accounting books of the relief fund were kept separate from the VFP books. VFP okayed a donation of $50,000 to the relief efforts. At some point in the year, there was some confusion over funding, which led to some accusations being leveled against members of the organization. The board appointed an investigative committee (Bill Collins, chair) that came to these conclusions:
Other Business : Dave Cline announced that on April 29th of this year, the AF of L for the first time in its history took a position against U.S. foreign policy in announcing its opposition to the Iraq War. Members of VFP were deeply involved in this movement.
Honorary membership was confirmed for Henny Upstein.
Vice-President Sharon Kufeldt announced that a member of VFP has been removed from membership to protect the good name of VFP since said member used funds raised for VFP projects for personal use. A public notice will be issued to that effect notifying the public that VFP will not be responsible for this person’s actions.
Eight new chapters were certified by charter:
Saturday Evening Closing Session began with a sumptuous meal (while we were entertained by the amazing folksinger Jim Hinde) followed by a presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award to Abe Asheroff by the poet Sam Hamill, and then speakers Bruce Gagnon, Lt. Ehren Wataka, and Marjorie Cohn. Asheroff (who is 92) was first arrested when he was 16, protesting the ouster of a poor family in his neighborhood. He followed that by joining the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, by organizing for the CIO, by working in the Civil Rights struggle, and is presently involved in counter-recruiting, among many other activities too numerous to list here. He was wheeled to the platform, stood up, steadied himself, and then gave a rousing speech, demanding that we all work to end injustice in the world.
Just as the crowd was settling back into its seats, another firebrand approached the podium: our very own Bruce Gagnon. Bruce reared back and addressed the membership as if they were seated in a union hall: he began with a “confession” which was a direct allusion to the comments made the night before by the “economic hit man.” Bruce, along with others, was upset by this speaker’s implicit acceptance of the corporate model. Last night’s speaker told a story about being seated in a hot tub between two corporate hacks and how he was impressed by their “conversion.” Bruce turned those words around and implored the audience to “get out of their hot tubs and into the streets.” They loved it. He then called for a cut-off in the funding of the war and outlined a sensible plan for the economic conversion of the military-industrial complex. He recounted numbers and told stories to underline the desperate straits that workers in this country are in, completing his remarks with an appeal to consider the moral implications of our country’s labor force committed to jobs that make weapons that kill, dependent upon war for their survival. As he closed his speech, I could have sworn that if there were a strike in the streets at that very moment, the audience would have followed Bruce down the hall and out the door.
No sooner had Bruce stepped down, he was followed by 50 members of Iraq Veterans Against the War gathering in the back of the stage to support the next speaker, Lt. Ehren Watada. No doubt all of you have read his remarks that have been disseminated throughout the internet by Dahr Jamail and others. I don’t need to repeat them here. I will tell you, though, that that banquet hall was rocking with applause and then driven into a riveting silence as the very composed, articulate young lieutenant outlined his reasoned, soulful, and deeply thoughtful case against fighting in this immoral war. He brought down the house.
The final speaker was Marjorie Cohn, a news consultant for CBS News, a political commentator for BBC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NPR, and Pacifica Radio. She has been a criminal defense lawyer and is currently president-elect of the National Lawyers Guild. She has spoken out for Lt. Wataka, Cindy Sheehan, and Jose Padilla. Her remarks were designed to offer support for those in the military who are refusing to fight in this war. Her logical, step-by-step remarks offered a counterpoint to the impassioned speeches that preceded her. By the closing of the banquet and the official closing of the convention, her audience was near exhaustion (consider our age). Sam Hamill wrapped things up with an eloquent poem (Hamill, by the way, is the founder of Copper canyon Press, an internationally acclaimed poet, founder of Poets Against the War, an ex-Marine, and, he claims, the first Marine to become a Buddhist while on active duty).
That evening we walked out of the UW building to stand before the 2500+ crosses and tombstones laid out on the lawn before us. These offered the backdrop for press conferences with Cindy Sheehan, Bruce Gagnon, Dahr Jamail, the young man who turned himself in after a year of “desertion” and others, as well as a somber reminder for why we do what we do.
The next day, Sunday, the 13th, members of VFP got on buses to ride up to the Peace Park on the Canadian border to meet with Army deserters, militarism resistors, and other brave and courageous souls confronting this country’s penchant for going to war. Bruce and I got up at 4:30am to catch a flight home. It was by all accounts, for me, anyways, an exhilarating four days that re-confirmed my strong belief that Veterans for Peace stands with a select few other organizations as one of the foremost groups in the peace movement today. Thanks again for giving me the honor to represent you.
August 22, 2006