Veterans for Peace
William Ladd Chapter 1
February 5, 2011
William Ladd Chapter 1
February 5, 2011
PRESENT: Dud Hendrick, Nicole Moreau, Kristina Wolff, Peggy Akers, Doug Rawlings, Dave Crowley, Frank Donnelly, Rita Clement, Jean Parker, Bob Dale, Al Larson, Richard Clement, Tom Sturtevant, Mary Sturtevant, Bob Lezer, Ian Collins, Clarence Smith, Dan Avener, Suzanne, Hedrick, Bill Laidley, Tom Whitney, Alison Whitney, Dan Ellis, Michael Uhl, and Ed McCarthy
- President Dud Hendrick began the meeting with his usual graciousness, welcoming us all and thanking us again for our commitment to VFP. He then recognized Frank Donnelly for his work as a war tax resister; he further recognized Loukie and Stan Lofchie for their work over the years (a later celebration of their contributions is planned).
- Dud asked us all to share some thoughts about where we are now as activists and how we got here. The replies follow (editor’s note: I apologize in advance for not fully representing the eloquent statements made on this glorious morning):
- Dud Hendrick (Deer Isle): his military experiences in Thule, Greenland set the groundwork for his continuing concern for those displaced by our military’s policy of establishing bases around the world. He revisited Greenland in 2008 and is currently working on a documentary film with his brother that will educate us further about this despicable practice. So far he has interviewed Chomsky, Bacevich, Turse among others.
- Tom Whitney (South Paris): he is ceaselessly annoyed (but not surprised) at how often people in power within our government and military abuse that power by treating some people as if they were “disposable” (people of no account). This moves him to act on the behalf of those treated unfairly by our government.
- Allison Whitney (South Paris): she was moved by the work of Vinie Burrows, the African-American activist/performer that she and Tom brought to Maine recently. Allison was able to empathize more strongly with the African-American experience in the U.S. because of Ms. Burrows.
- Suzanne Hedrick (Nobleboro): she has been in a war zone (Nicaragua during the Contra Wars as an observer); has been to Venezuela, Cuba, and El Salvador, to mention a few more Latin American countries. She comes to VFP gatherings to recharge her batteries. A recent concern is Governor LePage’s pronouncement that he’ll support more National Guard presence in our state’s schools. As a Franco-American, she knows what it’s like “to be black,” to be the other in the U.S., and that has informed her work on behalf of others also treated as “disposable” by our government.
- Bill Laidley (South Portland): he has stood on the Casco Bridge in solidarity with those concerned about the abuse of economic and political power. He is frustrated by the lack of concrete action in Afghanistan and Iraq. He’s at this gathering to see what we’re going to do this year.
- Ian Collins (Liberty): he shared a story about his van being broken down and how the person he brought it to delayed working on it. Finally, when he confronted the mechanic, he was told that no work was done because the mechanic objected to his VFP bumper sticker. Ian then asked if we couldn’t develop a list of businesses in the state that are friendly to VFP and then encourage members to use their services.
- Bob Lezer (Freeport): he reminded us that VFP goods are for sale. He wants to remain hopeful by working on causes that promote human needs (health care, jobs, education). He believes there is power in what each individual can do for something as opposed to being against various things. He is thinking of doing a two or three week fast around the Spring Equinox to be in spiritual solidarity with those who have been victimized by our government.
- Tom Sturtevant (Winthrop): VFP’s collective actions around the recent Egyptian movement have given him some impetus to keep on going. But the militarization of our culture still disturbs him greatly. For example, the Blue Angels will be in Brunswick in August –“show business” for the military and an obvious recruitment tool. We in VFP need to strike out against these popular icons of militarism. He encourages us to join him in a creative series of protests in August.
- Mary Sturtevant (Winthrop): she appreciates what VFP is doing and has done, and she supports Tom in his work on our behalf. She is appreciative of what Dud is doing in his work against the U.S. military’s bases.
- Richard Clement (Pittston): he just recently retired after working 20 years as a kitchen supervisor at Togus Veterans Hospital. He shared his practice of putting up war-related material on his bulletin board, including the daily account of war dead and wounded, Cindy Sheehan’s material about her son, etc etc. He thought because he had a son who served in the Iraq War that others at the hospital never called him on that. He did announce there over and over that Bush will be impeached for his war crimes. He is against the Obama administration because, for one reason, they have not held Bush and his administration accountable for these war crimes. He was witness to the increasing numbers of Vietnam veterans who came into Togus as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars heated up. He is concerned about the future of our veterans, including his son.
- Al Larson (Orono): he went back to Vietnam in December (first time there was in 1966). He found the country to be beautiful and the people gracious and welcoming. He started off in Hanoi, where he met a former NVA soldier whom he could relate to as a fellow veteran. Virtually everyone he met was quite willing to put the American War behind him or her. In Dalat he debated communism and capitalism with students. In Sai Gon (Ho Chi Minh City) he was moved by his visit to their war museum: a requiem exhibit of photographs taken by war correspondents killed in the war; a box in a glass case from an American sergeant that included his medals and the statement “ I am sorry. I was wrong.” After viewing an exhibit on the toll of Agent Orange, he became upset and had to leave the building to collect himself. What got to him was the damage our country had done; how our military was driven by the corporations to do their bidding; and how gracious and forgiving the people were. After 44 years he was struck again at how ashamed he was of his country and its military for what they did to the people of Vietnam.
- Dan Avener (Belfast): he mentioned two books that have had a major effect on him: Confessions of an Economic Hitman (how it recounts what we all know – our country goes to war for money – but also shows us how this is done – creating a fake emergency in a country, then sending “foreign aid” to that country in the form of contracts very beneficial to American corporations). Three Cups of Tea (Greg Mortenson’s account of building schools for Afghan women as a means to stop terrorism). He left the last book with some degree of hope for our future. “Don’t quit before the miracle happens.”
- Clarence Smith (South Portland): he pointed out that every NFL football game he watches, the announcers always send a message out to the 175 different places where U.S. troops are stationed. He is depressed by the inability of people to associate this with our domestic financial difficulties. The military-industrial complex is in full swing. Depressing.
- Jean Parker (Brunswick): she understands and supports the VFP mission, while empathizing with our concerns over the level of action required to be an activist organization. She feels like she’s on a top going round and round as she considers working for peace. She appreciated our recent walk for peace. She works at a food bank, reads a great deal, works with Bob on peace issues, and has the energy to write letters as well. She expresses the concerns many of us have as we deal with conserving our own energies for the fight ahead.
- Rita Clement (Pittston): she had to remind us that she and Richard make up a pretty darn good bowling team. No one contested that claim, for sure. She tries not to become negative and lose hope. The elections recently sent her on a spiral downwards, but then working with little kids as their teacher gives her hope – she is making a difference in their lives. She is teaching non-violent problem solving to four year olds as part of her contribution to world peace; she shows them that they are worthy of love. She’ll keep plugging away at her good work. She does not want to bail Richard out now that he’s retired….
- Dave Crowley (Portland): he reminded us of how useful the BOOK OF CHANGES might be. His specific question to the BOOK: “what’s going down this year and how can we respond?” This question generated a symbol for “conflict.” Its advice: “Sincerity is obstructed. Consider the beginning. Harmonize potential conflict. Don’t push through to a decision.”
- Peggy Akers (Portland): she is humbled and privileged to be with all of us. She goes between hope and hopelessness. She knows that something has to happen. What can we do? How can we be more physically involved as the people in Egypt have been recently? It’s important that we stay involved.
- Nicole Morneau (Livermore Falls): Her town is a breeding ground for the military. A friend of hers who has returned from the war is a shell of his former self. He represents to her the human costs of war.
- Bob Dale (Brunswick): he wants to do more to help VFP become more visible on the national stage. He distributed a letter to the national suggesting that they replicate Maine’s Peace Walk throughout the nation, ending in Washington, DC on Veterans’ Day.
- Frank Donnelly (Lemoine): he acknowledged that it was nice to be with a group of people who think of peace. Most of the people he’s around now are “caught in a prison of violence.” Since he’s been incarcerated in a halfway house for his war tax resistance, he’s been considered the “peace creep” by others for his interest in VFP. He appreciated all of the letters he has received in support of his war tax resistance. He’s going to continue to be active. Last night he was at the Meg Perry Center in Portland at an event that was not well attended, yet the restaurant across the street was packed with young people who were probably supportive of the peace event taking place at the center. How do we get young people involved?
- Kristina Wolff (Farmington): she doesn’t agree with those who think this current generation of young people is apathetic. The challenge is that they want change but they don’t know how to get it. History has been lost and there is a generation gap that needs to be closed. One problem stems from the “No Child Left Behind” policies – kids don’t know how to think critically. We need to help them build confidence in themselves and provide them with the skills they’ll need. We need to bridge the gap; we have to go to them (to “bring the Peace Center across the street to the restaurant rather than waiting for them to come to us” [reference to Frank Donnelly’s comments]. VFP is a grassroots, chapter-driven organization; we do good work in our communities.
- Doug Rawlings (Chesterville): he thought that there is reason for hope (it’s weird to write about myself in 3rd person – feel like Nixon) because younger generations are willing to learn more about change and do look to us for help if we’re willing to give it. He was impressed and moved by the various interactions that took place during the fall Peace Walk through Maine. That gave him hope. He feels that we need to get the Howard Zinn message out to younger people – show them the real history of America (we are not a classless society) and encourage them to develop their own actions and movements based on a better understanding of nonviolence history. He sees VFP as a confederation of local, grassroots chapters that needs to help individual chapters maintain their autonomy; at the same time, we do need national representation to continue to “market” us as a viable peace organization.
- Dan Ellis (Brunswick): he began his “education” after he was drafted in 1969 and sent to Pearl Harbor to work in a military print shop. His awareness started there. It is easy to get discouraged since the military-industrial complex owns everything, including our congress. We need to work in small groups like our VFP chapters and align ourselves with groups like Peaceworks, the Global Network, etc. There are hopeful signs for change like the recent Egyptian uprising.
- Michael Uhl : After years of going to VFP conventions, he believes that our 25th anniversary convention was the best one yet. We did a “helluva” job. Our objectives to create unity and to celebrate our quarter century were achieved. He resigned from the national board and as editor of the national newsletter after the convention (Dan Ellis is still responsible for the layout and printing of the newsletter). Over four and a half years on the national board, he argued for the national office to be mostly administrative with very few policy objectives to work on. The role of the national office is to project chapter work, to nurture self-starting local chapters and not to disrupt or interfere with activism at the local level. Every chapter should be an autonomous unit that remains unique. His sense is that there is now a tendency at the national level to create a “cadre organization.” There has always been tension between the local chapters and the national office, but he finds the recent tendency toward consolidation at the national level to be disturbing. He has now gone back to focusing on his writing and has retreated to a more local issue oriented lifestyle.
- Dud Hendrick: Dud wrapped up this portion of the retreat by commenting on how valuable it is to share what we all think and how privileged we are to belong to such a strong group of individuals. Despite deep despair at times and a sense of hopelessness, he finds hope and energy from VFP. He feels sometimes that his life “has been high-jacked” and often might want to quit his work for peace, but then he realizes that he has no choice but to do what he’s doing now. He then asked for people to start a booklist of recommended readings. And then he passed out 19 copies of Barry Sanders’ book THE GREEN ZONE: THE ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS OF MILITARISM (a generous gift from him) for us to consider as we move forward.
- PTSD SYMPOSIUM: The steering committee consists of Dud, Michael, Kristina, and Doug. Michael mentioned that last year’s attempt to hold a symposium was somewhat disastrous since we had to cancel at the last moment due to our keynote speaker’s (Dr. Judith Herman) last minute withdrawal. He did note that Dr. Judith Herman’s work with PTSD and trauma and the therapeutic relationship between client and health-provider is still the best around. Editor’s comment: I have the greatest respect for Dr. Herman as well; she really tried to come to our symposium but failing health finally made it impossible. Her regrets were sincere and heart-felt. Michael continued by informing us that the logistical work is moving along nicely: the date is set (April 23rd); the place is reserved (Abramson Center at USM); and three keynote speakers have committed: Camilo Mejias (Iraq War veteran and courageous conscientious objector); Dr. Charlie Clements (Vietnam War veteran, noted author, current director of Harvard’s Carr Center on Human Rights, and subject of an Academy Award winning documentary on his work in El Salvador during their war); and Kate Braestrup (chaplain of Maine’s Game Warden Service; best-selling author of books designed to help families deal with trauma; Kristina “recruited” her after hearing her speak at a national conference on PTSD). Michael explained that the concept for the symposium is more focused this year — the theme is “human resilience” and has more of a positive spin than past symposia. Based on the work of Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, we will focus on surviving this trauma. Older veterans will have a chance to discuss the trauma with younger veterans. Michael pointed out that no matter a person’s political agenda, he or she must agree that PTSD is truly a cost of war and the “price tag” for PTSD is increasing. Kristina pointed out that Braestrup’s presence will appeal to other communities besides veterans and will expand the outreach of our work to these communities. Michael noted that we’re after one more keynote speaker – someone to address the more clinical, medical aspects of the trauma; someone who can define what PTSD is scientifically. He is trying to “enlist” the Chief of the Togus PTSD clinic or perhaps have her recommend someone to speak on this issue. Finally, we on the steering committee are at the stage of developing appropriate workshops for the afternoon sessions (we anticipate an agenda similar to past symposia: a morning dedicated to keynote addresses; lunch; an afternoon dedicated to three or four workshops; and a closing plenary session for people to ask presenters questions). We are also concerned about addressing issues around Military Sexual Trauma and Brain Trauma Injuries, which are also the costs of these current wars. Suicide of PTSD sufferers must also be considered as well as the plight of caregivers who have the burden of PTSD “shifted over” to them. Obviously, discussion of PTSD and its various manifestations is a complicated issue that will require careful handling. We need to work with the media to ensure that the symposium will be portrayed as a “public service” to a wide audience. We hope to duplicate the financial outcome of past symposia – they have paid for themselves—while still reaching out to audiences who can’t normally attend conferences like this. We will establish a CEU policy that will encourage health-givers to attend. Peggy shared her concerns that the symposium looks like it will focus too much on the military – what about others like immigrants from war-ravaged countries? Will we be able to help out community counselors who are faced with dealing with trauma of their clients? Michael responded by reminding us that we need to operate within our veteran mandate, to maintain a connection between war and militarism. Peggy insisted that we go beyond that orientation and include those who have been victimized by the U.S. military. Michael is concerned that we’re trying to be “all things to all people.” Kristina suggested that we expand our coverage during the afternoon workshop sessions – a workshop on MST; a workshop on BTI; a workshop on alternative treatments; and a workshop on international trauma victims. Peggy mentioned that social workers need to come to this symposium. Doug mentioned that clinical workers need to be there, too. Dud reminded us that we are still in the process of seeking out “experts” in the field and asked Peggy to see if she can find someone who could lead a workshop on the immigrant population’s needs. Ed asked if this symposium would appeal to a more general population since most people seem to be unconcerned about the effects of PTSD on war veterans. Doug mentioned that we should aim for the ideal community we have reached somewhat in the past – healthcare providers, veterans, veterans’ families, and, now, social workers and recent immigrant communities. Dud mentioned that VFPO has developed a certain credibility with people in Maine because of our previous symposia. Bob Dale mentioned that he knows people who are anxious to attend. Tom Sturtevant reminded us that the symposium is taking place the day before Easter; perhaps a religious community might be interested in the symposium. He encouraged us to listen to those immigrants who are victims of war. Perhaps Wells Staley-Mays might be asked to work towards having that population attend. Dud closed the discussion with an announcement that the Symposium Steering Committee will meet soon (February 14th) to further this discussion and have sketched out a possible brochure for advertising the event.
- Dud began the next portion of the retreat by asking: “Where are we going as a chapter, as an organization, as a nation?” He mentioned that Chris Hedges at our last convention left not much room for hope; now he has let hope “creep into” the conversation after his participation with VFP at the December 16th protest in Washington. He then referenced two articles brought to our attention by Tom Whiney: “Death of the Liberal Class” by Hedges and “Obama Is A Poster Child for Death of the Liberal Class.” He then turned the retreat over to Tom Whitney to lead us in a discussion of Hedges’ take on our future. Tom began by announcing that he disagrees with Hedges’ analysis of our country’s dilemma. Tom presented what he considered to be Hedges’s conclusion: “we” have lost and the corporations have won. And then Tom asks: “who is this ‘we’?” Who lost? Well, the “liberal class” according to Hedges. But what’s that? And Hedges’s post-Washington/December 16th demonstration announcement that only “physical resistance” is left to us troubles Tom as well. Tom then referred to Frederick Douglass and Rev. Lucius Walker as he reflected on the power of the “many.” And how do we look at history: from the perspective of “ideals”? Interests? Wishful thinking? Well, according to Hedges ideals have lost out. Tom then brings in idealists like James Lawson and Vinie Burrows to remind us of the power of ideals during the civil rights and women’s movements. He believes that hedges has missed out on the complexity of class struggle by suggesting that there’s even such a thing as a “liberal class.” Tom thinks that’s too simplistic; that we are made up of many classes. He then asks what VFP can do. Should we act from a position of moral righteousness? Should we focus on the conversion from a militarized economy to an alternative economy? And, if so, how do we do it? He pointed out that we are missing out in engaging allies such as the group Peggy referred to – the victims of our wars. Tom then opened the floor to questions and comments.
- Michael does not support his demoralizing position. We need to take into account the decline of the American Empire and the reaction to that decline in America. We should be concerned about the rise of the right although Hedges’s presumption that we can only resort to physical resistance to do so is misguided. Can America ever replicate the Cairo scenario of hundreds of thousands rising up to resist and to struggle? He doesn’t know if the Washington, DC demonstration of the 16th is the right thing to do.
- Doug thought that we need to continue educating people about the Zinn historical perspective that begins with the premise that we are indeed a society divided into classes, with some classes historically oppressing other classes. We need to get our perspective right. He also recommended looking at Paul Loeb’s ideas about organizing effective communities (see SOUL OF A CITIZEN) and seeing if we can’t apply some of his ideas to our organizing efforts.
- Tom Whitney suggested that we support the Cuba Five (and disregard the UAW). He handed out a petition, encouraging us to write letters on their behalf.
- Suzanne: We need to connect the dots and realize that Egypt, for example, is the recipient of a billion dollars a year in military aid. We need to stop that flow.
- Peggy: She tore up Hedges’s stuff. He didn’t know who he was talking to at the banquet. We’re looking for hope. And we’re part of a class struggle. Vfp has to bring in more diverse groups – minorities, women, younger veterans.
- Ed: We have to work with the mainstream and work with the mainstream media. Is chaining yourself to a fence in fron of the White House going to do any good? His position has drawn fire from members of the Palestinian working group that considers him to not be “left enough.” What’s VFP’s position about working with the mainstream? He has trouble with setting up “them vs us” dichotomies. For example, the Palestinian position that they have to fight the Israelis is counter-productive at best.
- Dud: He was at the Washington, DC demonstration on the 16th. The demonstration was mostly under the influence of the national planning group. They are upping the ante of the level of resistance. It would have been more helpful if the media were paying more attention despite the fact that the national group did all it could to get them involved. International coverage was good. On the negative side, the whole thing seemed choreographed; everyone knew how they’d be treated. It is discouraging that the charges have been dropped. We have to continue to resist; leaders of VFP at the national level are committed to this. On March 19th, there’ll be a follow-up demonstration in Washington with VFP leadership and various chapters being involved. He believes that we need to take steps to involve others. He took it upon himself to share with Hedges the criticism leveled against him, and he seems to be making amends toward us. Dud highly recommends Jim Douglas’s book on JFK that convinced him we are a “CIA-infected” country.
- Ian: We need to be active and to educate others. Look at the Tea Party. We as liberals traditionally work from philosophy; conservatives go after emotions (fear). Our message of hope must come from the heart.
- Tom Whitney: People respond to hope. But we do get discouraged. How do we cope with burnout? Miles Fortin said: “We make the road by walking.” We gain solidarity and build espirit de corps through baby steps. We are not alone, and we can build a people’s movement. It has been done before.
- Dud brought the discussion to the chapter level – what can we as a chapter do? We need signature events to increase our visibility. For example, Bruce’s BOW$H is gaining traction both within and outside of the state. Herb (in abstentia) suggests that we focus on a service project, much like the Children of War project. Bob Dale reiterated his idea that we encourage national to go, well, “national” with the Peace Walk, ending in Washington, DC on Veterans’ Day. Suzanne suggested that we work to keep the National Guard out of our schools, a LePage campaign at the moment. Ed Mccarthy reminded us that our actions should be as non-confrontational as possible. Kristina used the Arlington West project as a warning – she claims that the project has totally consumed one chapter; we should choose smaller projects but not get caught up in major ones. We can’t replicate the convention. We should commit ourselves carefully. Tom Whitney suggested that we as a chapter continue to support individuals involved in projects (such as the SOA Watch) who are acting under the auspices of VFP. We need to figure out how to recruit younger people into VFP.
- Dud opened the afternoon portion of the retreat with an acknowledgement of the contributions that Loukie and Stan Lofchie have made to the organization. We will formally recognize them at a later date. Dud also publicly thanked Terry Tempest Williams and Noel Paul Stookey for their gracious donation of their time at the convention. He would like to confer honorary membership on them. He finally passed around a plaque designed by Bob Lezer and Dan Ellis to recognize the contributions that honorary member Rob Shetterly has given our chapter over the years. He then went on to thank and acknowledge the efforts of Mary Beth Sullivan, Bruce Gagnon, Dan Ellis, Bob Lezer, and Doug Rawlings for their work on the Peace Walk. Two of these folks were present to receive fine VFP jackets for their good work — Dan Ellis and Bob Lezer. Anticipating the gift-giving proclivities of our current president, Doug Rawlings refused in advance a Speedo emblazoned with the VFP logo. Who knows what MB and Bruce are going to get. Finally, Dud passed around a VFP calendar for us to sign and give to Art Whitman to wish him well.
- Returning to the earlier discussion of our chapter’s direction, Dud warned us not to be too grandiose in our plans. We then listed major events/actions we have taken over the past year – planning for the PTSD Symposium (cancelled at the last moment); the Brunswick Peace Fair; the Common Ground Fair; the Hope festival; The Veterans’ Day March; the Peace Walk; the National Convention; and assistance on the BOW$H Campaign. Except for the convention (phew) and perhaps adding a Memorial Day event, we should look to carry on the same activities this year, with immediate attention being paid to the upcoming April 23rd PTSD Symposium. Tom Sturtevant emphasized adding a major August demonstration against the Blue Angels to the list (perhaps a banner drop; “Real Angels Don’t Pollute”; “Green Angels” cavorting around). Dud suggested that we form a committee to work on the Blue Angels protest – Bob Dale, Tom Sturtevant, Doug Rawlings, and (we assume) Bruce Gagnon will be on the committee. August 22nd and 23rd are the action dates. Bob Dale wrote a letter to the National Commander of the American Legion pointing out that he has a “renegade” chapter in Portland that refuses to give our group of veterans their right due. Dud suggested that Bob Dale go into more detail about the Peace Walk at our next meeting (AGENDA ITEM).
- Dud, Dan Ellis, and Doug then led a discussion on the tensions between the national office and the local chapters. Some expressed concerns that national is headed in the wrong direction, becoming more and more involved in chapter affairs. Dud brought up the November Newsmuseum banner drop in Washington, DC that national was responsible for – the banner read: “Mr. Obama Stop These Fucking Wars. War is the obscenity.” Members at the chapter level were not contacted about this representation of our organization; it was completely an action of a few individuals at the national level. Is this appropriate? What communication has to take place between the national office and the general membership before an action is taken? Is it dangerous for our organization to work more and more secretly in planning actions? Food for thought. Doug then brought up the debate that swelled up recently on the VFP list-serve about the definition/function of associate membership. Sandy Kelson is concerned that we as a veterans’ organization should be careful about how many associate members we allow in our ranks and then what role they can play as spokespersons for VFP. I was proud to see much resistance to his ideas; when we set up VFP we purposely designed a tool to welcome in those willing to abolish war and do so nonviolently who didn’t happen to be military veterans. They would have equal membership rights except for holding national office. We trusted everyone to represent themselves accordingly when approached by the public – no military veteran would claim to be a “war veteran” if he or she didn’t serve in a war; no associate member would claim to be a veteran; and all would defer to those with more experience when appropriate. Over the past 25 years I haven’t been aware of too many problems; I also don’t think we should base our organization’s actions on what some perceive to be possible reactions from others bent on discrediting VFP. Kristina is concerned about some gender issues around associate membership (most associate members are women); Ed pointed out that prudent public relations strategies clearly dictate who should be speaking for VFP on military issues. Dan then led the discussion about dues: essentially, are chapter members beholden to pay national dues as well as chapter dues? Although national uses its dues structure to raise money, many members at the chapter level nationally are not national dues-paying members. Michael pointed out that this has been a recurring problem over the years. Dan pointed out that national is now “assigning” new members to chapters without any input from the local chapters (who are notified after the fact). From Dan’s perspective, national sees VFP as a top-down organization, whereas we should be a bottom-up, grassroots organization. According to Dan, VFP National would say that if you haven’t paid your national dues you’re not a member of VFP. Then Dan provided the kicker: out of 161 Maine VFP chapter members, only 71 are national dues-paying members (56% of our members are not paying national dues). The question is this: what does a chapter member get from national that warrants paying dues? I think we need to give money to national to support efforts at the chapter level – not every chapter has the money we have (example: when talking with the Portland, Oregon chapter as they are planning the national convention, I was told that they have a budget of $900). We also have to give them money to act on our behalf and trust them to do so accordingly. A case in point could be national’s pretty good coverage of the Egypt revolt. Rita asked how we can turn the dues paying question around to benefit us. Should we as a chapter be encouraging national dues paying members to also pay chapter dues?
- Ed McCarthy was then given the floor to discuss the Palestine/Israel issue. Ed considers himself to be a moderate when it comes to this issue – we must approach president Obama and encourage him to work towards a peaceful resolution. Ed opposes the position that VFP is on record for: calling on the U.S. to cut off military aid and for U.S. citizens to boycott investments in Israel until a peaceful resolution is reached. Ed considers such a position to be impractical. He also asks if the national position actually matters to the chapters. Are we “required” to put out the national position and then support it? Should the whole issue be a major part of our chapter agenda? Should our national organization act because a relatively small “partisan group” has advanced a particular cause? Are we supposed to promote a position that many don’t support? Or do we just keep quiet on these resolutions and let them slip into oblivion? Or can a chapter take a minority position? Dud asked Ed to draw up a statement that he might think our chapter would endorse and could be considered at the next meeting (AGENDA ITEM).
- It was announced that Clarence Smith and Dave Crowley are our new Chapter Board members.
- Kristina Wolff led the next discussion on gender issues. She reminded us that inequality issues drive most of the problems we face, and that’s what war is all about — inequality. Her experience at national conventions has been marred by sexism; she notes that these issues are difficult to deal with when we care about the people around us. She equated her experience at the national conventions with her military service: women were talked down to and not treated as equals. That’s how sexism works – the language might not be there but the power dynamics are still played out the same way. At the second convention she attended, men were having trouble with women speakers. Other women experienced the same thing. How can we address gender issues at the chapter level? She is a member of a Military Sexual Trauma working group, which is a huge discussion among women VFP members. She believes that issues of inequality, especially with women, is inherent in the structure of VFP. That’s why it’s difficult to increase female membership. Family issues are also being marginalized by VFP because of sexual inequality. We’re losing women members across the country. We have to figure out ways to educate ourselves about inequality and oppression – sexism, racism, militarism, homophobia. We’re missing out on a big part of this discussion. We need to change our consciousness. National has no use for voices that are trying to be heard on gender, racial, sexual preference lines. In this culture veterans are automatically equated with being men. Doug was concerned about Kristina’s statement that sexism is inherent in VFP’s structure. He disagrees. Although individuals may be sexist or racist or homophobic and there are plenty of anecdotes to reinforce that opinion, it doesn’t mean that the organization itself is inherently flawed. Al wondered if IVAW was suffering from the same problems as VFP. He asked if there is a shift of ideas and perceptions. Kristina answered that the behavior hasn’t shifted. IVAW members are leaving because of sexual harassment. Tom Whitney pointed out that we can solve these issues by recruiting new members and giving them the chance to speak openly. Doug wondered what the ideal VFP structure would look like if it weren’t hampered by the inequalities listed above. Dud thanked Kristina for taking on difficult issues and involving us in an educational process.
- Dud asked how we as an essentially Vietnam War-era organization can become more diversified and include younger members. How do we recruit? Can we reach out to the National Guard? Should we send a letter of introduction to National Guard members? Al suggested that we distribute leaflets using the Bangor Airport greeters’ method. What if we got PTSD information out to soldiers just returning from the wars? Nicole suggested that we set up a Facebook ad. Kristina suggested that we reach out to people of her generation, people in their thirties and forties. Rita reminded us that these young veterans have to get some distance from the wars first. Dan agreed. Dud asked us to consider putting together a Facebook ad for the next meeting (AGENDA ITEM). We would ask Dan Ellis to help us out here. Peggy told us that Herb Adams approached her about a new women veterans’ memorial being constructed in Augusta. Al suggested that we post announcements in newspapers about our meetings.
- Dud announced that he’ll be retiring as our chapter president next August. He urged us to set up a nomination process to find his successor. He has been privileged and honored to act as our chapter president over these past few years. He has found it to be a demanding position. Bob Lezer suggested that we might find a few people to act as a council if no one individual steps forward. We all need to help Tom Sturtevant (THEE nominating council) with this important work. Of course we all acknowledged the fabulous job that Dud has done as our president. Bob again suggested that we might find two or three people to “phase in” the new president (acting as a supportive council). Perhaps two people could share rotating six month positions. Kristina announced that we might also have to look for a new treasurer. Dud asked people to volunteer to sit on the nominating committee with Tom – Bob Lezer, Dud, and Doug agreed to serve on the committee.
- Next meeting will be held in Portland on February 24th. We might look into the Holiday Inn as a possible site. Since Dud will be in Mexico at this time, he asked Doug to facilitate the next meeting. Doug might not be there as well, depending on the birth of his next granddaughter. Kristina would then take over if she’s available.
- Bob Lezer told us that Channel 11 will use a VFP Public Announcement (we’re one of three organizations chosen). Great recruiting tool for us. Bob, Bob Dale, Peggy, Bruce, and Smitty will work on the announcement.
- Dud reminded us (or was it Nicole) that the Bring Our War Dollars Home group will be meeting at noon on February 12th at Bruce and Mary Beth’s house in Bath (just down the street from the Galley Restaurant and a little further down – the first Rawlings house in Maine).
- Dud announced the March 19th VFP Civil Resistance demonstration in Washington, DC. Lisa Savage is organizing a rally for those who will be in Maine. We’ll discuss both at our next meeting (AGENDA ITEM).
The meeting adjourned at 3:40pm.
NEXT MEETING: Thursday, February 24, 7 pm, Conference Room, Community Television Network (CTN), 516 Congress Street, Portland.
THE MEETING ADJOURNED AT 9:00 PM.