Thursday, December 24, 2009

Standing on the side of life

posted today on Common Dreams, as published in the Toronto Star:

Why a Resister Chose Canada Over the War in Iraq

by Rodney Watson

I am from Kansas City, Kansas, and I joined the U.S. Army for financial reasons in 2004 after my steady job of seven years ended.

I enlisted for a three-year contract with the intention of being a cook and not in a combat role. I wanted to support the troops in some way without being involved in any combat operations.

A recruiter promised that I could do this.

In 2005 I was deployed to Iraq just north of Mosul where I was told that my duties as a cook would be to supervise and ensure that the local nationals in the dining facility were preparing meals according to military standards.

But instead of supervising in the dining facility, I was performing vehicle searches for explosives, contraband and weapons. I also operated a mobile X-ray machine that scanned vehicles and civilians for any possible explosives that could enter the base.

I had to keep the peace within an area that held 100 to 200 Iraqi civilian men who would be waiting for security clearances, and shoot warning shots at Iraqi children who were trying to set up mortars to fire at the base.

In Iraq I witnessed racism and physical abuse from soldiers toward the civilians.

On one occasion a soldier was beating an Iraqi civilian, called him a "sand nigger," threw his Qur'an on the ground and spat on it. The civilian man was unarmed and was just looking for work on our base. He posed no type of threat and was beaten because soldiers brought their personal racist hatred to Iraq.

This was not what I had signed up for.

After all the wrongs I witnessed in Iraq, I decided that once my one-year tour of duty was over I would never again be part of this unnecessary war.

When I returned home, my unit was informed that we would be redeployed within four months. This would put me beyond the term I signed up for. I was going to be stop-lossed and forced to serve past my contract.

While on two-week leave I made my decision to come to Canada and not return to my base at Fort Hood, Texas.

I have been here in Vancouver since early 2007. I have been self-sufficient. I have fathered a beautiful son whose mother is Canadian. I plan to marry her and to provide our son with a loving and caring family unit.

I have made many friends and I have built a peaceful life here.

My son and my wife-to-be are my heart and soul and it would be a great tragedy for my family and for me personally if I were deported and torn away from them.

I think being punished as a prisoner of conscience for doing what I felt morally obligated to do is a great injustice.

This Christmas I hope and pray that people will open their hearts and minds to give peace and love a chance.

I appeal to the Canadian government to honour your country's great traditions of being a place of refuge from militarism and a place that respects human rights by supporting my decision, and the decisions taken by my fellow resisters to refuse any further participation in this unjust war.

I ask that you urge your government to respect the will of the majority of Canadians by acting on the direction it has been given twice by Parliament to immediately stop deporting Iraq War resisters like me and to let us become permanent residents here.

My heart goes out to the families who have lost loved ones in this unnecessary war.

© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2009
Rodney Watson is an Iraq War veteran who was ordered deported by the Harper government this fall. On Sept. 18 he took refuge in Vancouver's First United Church. Dec. 27 will be his 100th day in sanctuary. Watson's request to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds remains outstanding.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Word Show

For anyone still out there checking this blog from time to time -- hello. I've been absent from the blogosphere for a while. Lots going on -- as with most folks these days. Family, work, home, art, study.

As mentioned in earlier blog posts, my partner's sister, Sharon Webster, is a poet and visual artist in Vermont who, this past month, curated an exhibition in Burlington called "The Word Show," an inventive collection of works that mix text and images. Included in the group of artists in the show are Iraq veterans, Drew Cameron and Jon Turner, who have been active with the "Combat Paper" project, creating art with paper made from the cloth of military uniforms. One of their pieces is shown above, an interactive display that invites viewers to put their own prayers into the boots strung on the wall.

Combat Paper artists were also in Texas last month to do a paper-making workshop in San Antonio and a writing workshop at the Under The Hood cafe in Killeen. I find the project a very meaningful form of creative resistance to war, as well as a vehicle for dealing with the effects of PTSD related to combat experience.

Some of the paper made with the uniforms becomes a medium for visual art, poetry and prose. Pieces have been published online and in both hand-made and traditionally printed books through the Warrior Writers project. See more about Warrior Writers here.

photos: (top two) Poetry book covers by Jon Michael Turner
(lower two) "Prayer Boots," an installation by Drew Cameron and Jon Michael Turner
from "The Word Show" at Flynndog Gallery, Burlington, VT
photos by Sharon Webster

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Yesterday, an op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman from the LA Times, "Military must guard its ranks" warned about people in the military belonging to hate groups. The editorial stated, "A long-standing Defense Department directive decrees that 'military personnel must reject participation in organizations that espouse supremacist causes...advocate the use of force and violence, or otherwise engage in efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights.'"

Really? Soldiers can be kicked out of the military for participating in the military? Well, let's do it. Let's invite those young people back into the community doing what a community needs done. Growing food, building homes, fixing plumbing, teaching kids, making sick people better and making the sick planet better. That's what will make me feel more secure for sure. Afghanistan badly needs its young people to do the same there. Iraq desperately needs its people back from exile to rebuild homes and unbuild walls. Stop piling war on war. As President Obama said at Ft. Hood last week, killing people to show that killing people is wrong is and always has been twisted logic.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Letter handed to President Obama today on behalf of Iraq Veterans Against the War

I hope that President Obama will read the following letter that was presented to him today by Michael Kern of the Ft. Hood chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War. A friend wrote that Michael handed President Obama this letter as the President shook the hands of soldiers in Michael's barracks. The letter was accepted by the President's security detail, apparently.

Here is the letter, straightforward and sincere.

President Obama:

In your recent comments on the Fort Hood tragedy, you stated "These are men and women who have made the selfless and courageous decision to risk and at times give their lives to protect the rest of us on a daily basis. It's difficult enough when we lose these brave Americans in battles overseas. It is horrifying that they should come under fire at an Army base on American soil." Sir, we have been losing these brave Americans on American soil for years, due to the mental health problems that come after deployment, which include post-traumatic stress disorder, and often, suicide.

You also said that "We will continue to support the community with the full resources of the federal government". Sir, we appreciate that-but what we need is not more FBI or Homeland Security personnel swarming Fort Hood. What we need is full mental healthcare for all soldiers serving in the Army. What happened at Fort Hood has made it abundantly clear that the military mental health system, and our soldiers, are broken.

You said "We will make sure that we will get answers to every single question about this terrible incident." Sir, one of the answers is self evident: that a strained military cannot continue without better mental healthcare for all soldiers.

You stated that "As Commander-in-Chief, there's no greater honor but also no greater responsibility for me than to make sure that the extraordinary men and women in uniform are properly cared for." Sir, we urge you to carry out your promise and ensure that our servicemembers indeed have access to quality mental health care. The Army has only 408 psychiatrists — military, civilian and contractors — serving about 553,000 active-duty troops around the world. This is far too few, and the providers that exist are often not competent professionals, as this incident shows. Military wages cannot attract the quality psychiatrists we need to care for these returning soldiers.

We ask that:

1. Each soldier about to be deployed and returning from deployment be assigned a mental health provider who will reach out to them, rather than requiring them to initiate the search for help.
2. Ensure that the stigma of seeking care for mental health issues is removed for soldiers at all levels-from junior enlisted to senior enlisted and officers alike.
3. Ensure that if mental health care is not available from military facilities, soldiers can seek mental health care with civilian providers of their choice
4. Ensure that soldiers are prevented from deploying with mental health problems and issues.
5. Stop multiple redeployments of the same troops.
6. Ensure full background checks for all mental health providers and periodic check ups for them to decompress from the stresses they shoulder from the soldiers they counsel to the workload they endure.

Sir, we hope that you will make the decision not to deploy one single Fort Hood troop without ensuring that all have had access to fair and impartial mental health screening and treatment.

You have stated on a number of occasions, starting during your campaign, how important our military and veterans are to this nation. The best way to safeguard the soldiers of this nation is to provide ALL soldiers with immediate, personal and professional mental health resources.

-Iraq Veterans Against the War

Monday, November 9, 2009

One of the lessons of Killeen: cover the news of nonviolent resistance

There certainly has been a lot of commentary and speculation about the motives of the perpetrator of the Ft. Hood shootings. When I first heard the news and read that Major Hasan had, at some point before the shootings, expressed his objections to the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, my first thought was to fervently wish he had pursued his objection through the nonviolent means available to him, as many other enlisted persons have done. I wondered what prevented him from doing that. What were the barriers? Did he simply not know about the avenues of nonviolent resistance that exist? Had he never read or heard about enlisted people, including officers, who have refused deployment on moral, legal or religious grounds? It seemed to me that, given his age and education level, he must have known that such options existed.

Or did he? Hasan apparently was working at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC at the time when the Winter Soldier hearings were being held near there by Iraq Veterans Against the War. This would have been an excellent place to hear from veterans and military personnel who were questioning the wars and speaking openly about their own experiences. Hasan might have realized he was not alone in his doubt and pain. He might have been moved to become a GI resister himself, to refuse deployment and to accept the consequences. Yes, he would have incurred personal risks -- of losing a well-paid job, being ridiculed or harassed by others or facing a court-martial and possible prison time. Did he consider these risks? Did he know he would be supported by others on this path?

The thing is, it's quite likely that Hasan never knew about Winter Soldier or about the GI Rights Hotline counselors who are available to discuss options and consequences. He might not have known about these things because the major news media in the US passed on the Winter Soldier hearings and have generally ignored or minimized news about nonviolent GI resistance.

Investigators will want to ask Hasan many things about his motives and his actions.

If I could question him, this is what I would ask: If you were opposed to deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan, why didn't you resist nonviolently? Were you aware of those options or not? Why did you ruthlessly murder people instead?

If I could speak to the major media, this is what I would continue to say: Cover the stories of those who pursue nonviolent resistance to war and militarism. Because if you do, more people will know what to do with their turmoil rather than lashing out through family violence, suicide and murder.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The rest is commentary

I've set aside blogging in recent weeks. The hiatus was occasioned, in part, by reading this passage from a shabbat service I attended in early October.

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?

Do not say, 'I shall study when I have leisure.'
You may never find the leisure.

Do not separate yourself from the community.
Judge not another until you are in his or her place.

The world is sustained by three things:
By truth, by justice, and by peace.

What is hateful to you
Do not do to your neighbor.
This is the heart of the Torah.
The rest is commentary."

The shabbat service was the first I had ever attended. It was the occasion of my partner's nephew's bar mitzfah. I was impressed with the coming-of-age tradition, the idea that teachings and responsibilities are passed from one generation to the next in this way. It's a serious rite of passage that seems timely for 13 year-olds -- who need that special combination of belonging to a strong community while also establishing their own identity.

So, being part of an adult community passing along our common wisdom to the next generation, I found the advice applicable also to myself. Blogging is commentary, and I've been doing that for some time. Behind all the commentary stands the principle that undergirds all faith traditions, as stated above: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor." This most basic piece of practical and moral guidance could hardly be more clear or more universal. Living it is the challenge -- and the perennial opportunity. If not now, when?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nonviolence is key

A very nice article by Stephen Zunes, posted today on Common Dreams, originally published in the most recent issue of Yes! magazine:

Weapons of Mass Democracy
by Stephen Zunes

On the outskirts of a desert town in the Moroccan-occupied territory of Western Sahara, about a dozen young activists are gathered. They are involved in their country's long struggle for freedom. A group of foreigners-veterans of protracted resistance movements-is conducting a training session in the optimal use of a "weapons system" that is increasingly deployed in struggles for freedom around the world. The workshop leaders pass out Arabic translations of writings on the theory and dynamics of revolutionary struggle and lead the participants in a series of exercises designed to enhance their strategic and tactical thinking.

These trainers are not veterans of guerrilla warfare, however, but of unarmed insurrections against repressive regimes. The materials they hand out are not the words of Che Guevara, but of Gene Sharp, the former Harvard scholar who has pioneered the study of strategic nonviolent action. And the weapons they advocate employing are not guns and bombs, but strikes, boycotts, mass demonstrations, tax refusal, alternative media, and refusal to obey official orders.

Serbs, South Africans, Filipinos, Georgians, and other veterans of successful nonviolent struggles are sharing their knowledge and experience with those still fighting dictators and occupation armies.

The young Western Saharans know how an armed struggle by an older generation of their countrymen failed to dislodge the Moroccans, who first invaded their country back in 1975. They have seen how Morocco's allies on the U.N. Security Council-led by France and the United States-blocked enforcement of U.N. resolutions supporting their right to self-determination. With the failure of both armed struggle and diplomacy to bring them freedom, they have decided to instead employ a force more powerful...

Read the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hoodstock: 4 hours of peace & music on August 30th

A commenter to a post on my Austin American-Statesman reader blog said that we "Code Pink ladies need to do more to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Well, I wish we ladies could do that all by ourselves, but of course we need everyone to pitch in.

Here's one way you can help: Attend the upcoming Hoodstock benefit for the Under The Hood Cafe on Sunday, August 30th at Jovita's at 1617 South First St. Or, if you can't attend, you can donate right on the Under The Hood website.

Help keep the doors open to GIs needing a place to think, socialize, speak freely and access resources off-base near Ft. Hood.

Here are the particulars:

Benefit show for Under The Hood Cafe, a GI coffeehouse in Killeen, TX
Sunday, August 30th, 5 to 9 pm
Jovita's, 1617 South First St. in Austin
$10 suggested donation at the door
Featured bands:

Gary Graves
Will T. Massey
Castro's Beard
Shootin' Pains

GI resister, Travis Bishop's stand of conscience

Kudos to the Austin American-Statesman and AAS reporter, Jeremy Schwartz for the fair and accurate front-page story published Saturday about the GI coffee house, Under The Hood Cafe in Killeen.

I joined a group of people who gathered that afternoon for a vigil at the Bell County Correctional Institution (a new facility in the middle of nowhere) to express our support for Victor Agosto and Travis Bishop, who just began serving sentences for refusing to take part in US military operations in Afghanistan. Travis will be transferred to a military brig and Victor will serve out his sentence at the county jail.

Several of the people at the vigil had witnessed both of the recent court-martial proceedings that took place at Fort Hood. Alice Embree of Austin has written good accounts of both, posted on The Rag Blog. Dahr Jamail, who has authored a book about GI resistance, also witnessed Travis Bishop's trial on Friday and has written about it on Truthout. The Truthout posting includes Travis Bishop's full statement to the court, which I am copying below. I think it offers insight into the arbitrariness of the way the US army carries out its regulations regarding the right to conscientious objection. As Travis Bishop argues, if soldiers are not informed of their rights, their rights are abridged. Also disturbing is the description of the jury in Travis Bishop's trial, comprised of officers several ranks above his own. It was certainly not a "jury of his peers."

I am upset by the long sentence imposed on Travis Bishop. A jail sentence is not something I wish on anyone, but especially not on someone who takes a stand AGAINST killing. It's a backward ruling. I'm glad to learn that Bishop's attorney plans to take the case to higher courts.

Here is Travis Bishop's statement, made during his court-martial:

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Panel,
The prosecution raised the point that 'ignorance of the law is no excuse for the crime.' And here is proof of that. Case presented, verdict rendered, Sgt. Bishop is guilty. I have been convicted of the crimes that I committed, and I cannot argue that.

All I can say is this: If I had a Soldier that acted on impulse and did something illegal that I, his Sergeant, could have trained him on, there is no doubt in my mind that I would be in the First Sergeant's office the next morning explaining how I 'failed' the Soldier, leaving this Soldier untrained and, ultimately, unprepared.

Since the day I was promoted to this rank that is now in jeopardy, the idea of the Sergeant being responsible for even the individual actions of the Soldier has been drilled into me; especially on the issue of training your Soldier. My rank would be in jeopardy if my Soldier was doing things that I could have, according to my superiors, prevented, as long as I had taken an interest in my Soldier's life, and trained my Soldier as best as I possibly could.

But today, I stand alone. My actions and decisions, based on a seemingly unapproachable command structure, and a lack of training of my rights as a Soldier, remain defended by myself only. I have defense counsel, but the 'buck' stops with me and me alone, and I don't believe that this would be true in any other situation in the Army.

So why is that? Why is there such a stigma around the words? Conscientious Objection. To me, for the longest time, it was only an archaic term from somewhere back in the Vietnam Era; not something that applied to me, the modern Soldier. COs were the butt ends of jokes; they were punch lines. But why?

Maybe it's because since day one of anyone's career in the military, fierceness and bravado are pounded into every potential Soldier, and fear and doubt are viewed as weaknesses. This leaves Soldiers that feel as I feel in quite a predicament.

Does a Soldier who feels as I feel tell someone in their Command? Or a peer? And risk persecution and ridicule? I have never heard the word 'coward' used more than when I say the words conscientious objector around a group of Soldiers.

But what most Soldiers don't realize is that CO is not only a regulation, it's a right. To file for conscientious objector status is an individual right of every Soldier in the Army. This right ensures that Soldiers with the beliefs that I share have the opportunity to request to be discharged due to said beliefs. But, unlike other regulations in the military, this one remains unpublicized.

Ladies and gentlemen of the panel, there are many regulations that offer Soldiers individual rights that without these regulations, they might not ultimately have, even though the average Soldier has no idea these regulations and rights exist. And yet, regardless of knowledge of these regulations, they still fall under these rights given to them by the military.

My key point is this: AR 195-6 covers Army polygraph procedures. If a Soldier doesn't know their rights covered and protected under this regulation, does this give persons giving the polygraph test free reign to ask whatever they want? Just because they don't know the regulation?

If a Soldier doesn't know that, under AR 600-8-22, they are entitled to receive a Good Conduct Medal after 3 years of outstanding service, does that mean that it is ok to not award this Soldier?

If a Soldier doesn't have a clear understanding of AR 600-8-3, Unit Postal Operations, does that mean that the Soldier isn't entitled to receive mail in theaters of combat?

It is my firm belief that the Conscientious Objector regulation is not a regulation only, but an individual right of every Soldier, and that the responsibility to teach this regulation falls on Unit Command Teams. There are plenty of regulations that we do teach Units about, sometimes quarterly even. Why not this one?

In closing, I am not trying to say that I did not commit these crimes. The point I'm trying to convey is that, had I known that the process for applying to be a CO was still alive and well in the Army, I would have applied to be discharged as such a long time ago.

The truth is, as soon as I discovered that the process existed, I acted upon it. I left because I did not feel that I would have a sympathetic, understanding command structure to fully take my problems to, and also to give myself time to prepare for my CO application process, and the legal battle I'm currently fighting.

These are not excuses. These are explanations. My hope is that you truly treat them as such during your sentencing deliberations. Godspeed.

-- Travis Bishop

photo of Travis Bishop at Under The Hood Cafe, photo from

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Aung San Suu Kyi receives international support

As reported in world news today, Burma's spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to another year and a half under house arrest by Myanmar's military regime, most probably in order to keep her out of the country's electoral process.
Political leaders around the world have made statements condemning the ruling. There is pressure now, even from leaders such as Britain's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown and members of the European Parliamentary Caucus, for the UN Security Council to issue a global ban on weapons sales to Myanmar. This will mean convincing Myanmar's trade partners, notably China, Russia and India to concede to such an embargo.

Once again, one can see how the weapons trade influences politics and how certain countries are willing to go only so far in pressing for human rights. Foreign weapons sales still represent the largest export of the US.

President Obama issued a strong statement today in support of Aung San Suu Kyi, calling for her release, but stopped short of expressing approval for an international weapons embargo on the junta in Myanmar. Why?

Portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi by artist, Shepard Fairey, who created the most well-known Obama campaign portrait

Friday, August 7, 2009

Witnessing the court-martial of Victor Agosto

Thanks to Alice Embree, who attended the court-martial proceedings for Victor Agosto and wrote this piece about it, posted on The Rag Blog.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

GI resister, Victor Agosto, takes his stand

It was good to see the Austin American-Statesman cover the story of GI resister, Victor Agosto, whose objection to participating in the escalation of US military operations in Afghanistan led to his court-martial at Ft. Hood yesterday. As reported, he will serve a one-month sentence before being discharged with a loss in rank.

Victor's court-martial was also covered in the NY Times and the Miami Herald.

Just an hour or so before his trial, Victor was interviewed via phone by Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now! news program. Victor is a man of few words who answers Goodman's questions with concise and thoughtful candor.

"I have learned that nothing is more frightening to power than a direct and principled challenge to its authority. The truth is on our side, and those who have incarcerated me know it. My only apologies are to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope that someday they can forgive me for my contributions to their distress."

-- from a statement by Victor Agosto to his supporters, as quoted in the Miami Herald

photo of Victor Agosto by Carlos Lowry

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Youth speak, organize

I recently returned from Chicago, where I attended the national counter-recruitment conference, "It's our world - change it!" organized by the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth and hosted by the Chicago office of the American Friends Service Committee.
The conference was exceptional, partly because of the large contingent of youth participation and leadership in the workshops. I learned a lot. Here is an article about the conference posted by one of the leading scholars on the subject of youth and militarism, Jorge Mariscal, who was a conference panelist.

Another highlight was joining a group of youth and adult allies to hear the Brave New Voices youth slam finals that were coincidentally taking place in Chicago not far from our conference site. The team from Guam performed a poem about their homeland that had us on our feet. I can't find it on you-tube, but here is another poem from a Guam team member that riffs on the same themes of identity and colonialism.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Riding the Peace Bike

While listening to reports on climate change from the G-8 Summit in the midst of our own drought and heat wave, I'm drawn to my bicycle.

I was inspired by the art cars in the Houston Art Car Parade this May, and I decided that since I don't own a car, I could make my bike into an art bike. A peace bike. It would be the perfect opportunity to ride with a message: peace is green.

The 4th of July was a good target date for getting the bike spruced up, since our neighborhood planned a block-long parade with decorated bikes, dogs and kids. I was the oldest kid out there.

Later that evening, my partner and I rode our bicycles down to Auditorium Shores for the fireworks, and the next day, we rode downtown again to Mellow Johnny's for the Tour de France celebration where others came with decorated bikes, too. So far, the peace bike has had a warm reception.

Having an art bike makes it even more tempting to hop aboard the bike when I've got to go out. It's been fun loading it on the bus, too.

I feel as though I'm following in the wheels of my dad, who still, at age 81, rides his bicycle for as many errands as he can around the town where he lives in Wisconsin. Amazingly, he still rides the 3-speed Schwinn bike that he bought from a college student in about 1959 -- 50 years ago! He rode that bike almost every day to his office at the college where he taught for 30-some years, and used it to do errands then as he does now. He has never used a lock for his bike, and it's never disappeared from where he's parked it.

Roll on, Dad, and I'm going your way!

photo by Jeff Webster

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Howard Zinn on the Revolutionary War

On the 4th of July, when our CodePink contingent was walking through the crowds at Auditorium Shores with our PEACE signboards, one man came up to us and said something like "you know that we need war in order to have peace."
Well, no. The means become part of the ends. War breeds more of itself.

Most folks in the US like to think of the Revolutionary War as one of the good wars, or a necessary one, especially on the 4th of July. But, here's an essay by historian, Howard Zinn, that provides some good food for thought on that one. I was just thinking about Howard Zinn, remembering when I had the fortunate opportunity to interview him when he was in Austin in 2006 to keynote the first Historians Against the War conference. His experience as a WWII bombadier is part of what led him to expose the myth of good wars by delving deeper into history.

Here is his piece, published yesterday on Common Dreams, as reposted from The Progressive.
Untold truths about the American Revolution

by Howard Zinn

There are things that happen in the world that are bad, and you want to do something about them. You have a just cause. But our culture is so war prone that we immediately jump from, "This is a good cause" to "This deserves a war."

You need to be very, very comfortable in making that jump.

The American Revolution-independence from England-was a just cause. Why should the colonists here be occupied by and oppressed by England? But therefore, did we have to go to the Revolutionary War?

How many people died in the Revolutionary War?

Nobody ever knows exactly how many people die in wars, but it's likely that 25,000 to 50,000 people died in this one. So let's take the lower figure-25,000 people died out of a population of three million. That would be equivalent today to two and a half million people dying to get England off our backs.

You might consider that worth it, or you might not.

Canada is independent of England, isn't it? I think so. Not a bad society. Canadians have good health care. They have a lot of things we don't have. They didn't fight a bloody revolutionary war. Why do we assume that we had to fight a bloody revolutionary war to get rid of England?

In the year before those famous shots were fired, farmers in Western Massachusetts had driven the British government out without firing a single shot. They had assembled by the thousands and thousands around courthouses and colonial offices and they had just taken over and they said goodbye to the British officials. It was a nonviolent revolution that took place. But then came Lexington and Concord, and the revolution became violent, and it was run not by the farmers but by the Founding Fathers. The farmers were rather poor; the Founding Fathers were rather rich.

Who actually gained from that victory over England? It's very important to ask about any policy, and especially about war: Who gained what? And it's very important to notice differences among the various parts of the population. That's one thing we're not accustomed to in this country because we don't think in class terms. We think, "Oh, we all have the same interests." For instance, we think that we all had the same interests in independence from England. We did not have all the same interests.

Do you think the Indians cared about independence from England? No, in fact, the Indians were unhappy that we won independence from England, because England had set a line-in the Proclamation of 1763-that said you couldn't go westward into Indian territory. They didn't do it because they loved the Indians. They didn't want trouble. When Britain was defeated in the Revolutionary War, that line was eliminated, and now the way was open for the colonists to move westward across the continent, which they did for the next 100 years, committing massacres and making sure that they destroyed Indian civilization.

So when you look at the American Revolution, there's a fact that you have to take into consideration. Indians-no, they didn't benefit.

Did blacks benefit from the American Revolution?

Slavery was there before. Slavery was there after. Not only that, we wrote slavery into the Constitution. We legitimized it.

What about class divisions?

Did ordinary white farmers have the same interest in the revolution as a John Hancock or Morris or Madison or Jefferson or the slaveholders or the bondholders? Not really.

It was not all the common people getting together to fight against England. They had a very hard time assembling an army. They took poor guys and promised them land. They browbeat people and, oh yes, they inspired people with the Declaration of Independence. It's always good, if you want people to go to war, to give them a good document and have good words: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, when they wrote the Constitution, they were more concerned with property than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You should take notice of these little things.

There were class divisions. When you assess and evaluate a war, when you assess and evaluate any policy, you have to ask: Who gets what?

We were a class society from the beginning. America started off as a society of rich and poor, people with enormous grants of land and people with no land. And there were riots, there were bread riots in Boston, and riots and rebellions all over the colonies, of poor against rich, of tenants breaking into jails to release people who were in prison for nonpayment of debt. There was class conflict. We try to pretend in this country that we're all one happy family. We're not.

And so when you look at the American Revolution, you have to look at it in terms of class.

Do you know that there were mutinies in the American Revolutionary Army by the privates against the officers? The officers were getting fine clothes and good food and high pay and the privates had no shoes and bad clothes and they weren't getting paid. They mutinied. Thousands of them. So many in the Pennsylvania line that George Washington got worried, so he made compromises with them. But later when there was a smaller mutiny in the New Jersey line, not with thousands but with hundreds, Washington said execute the leaders, and they were executed by fellow mutineers on the order of their officers.

The American Revolution was not a simple affair of all of us against all of them. And not everyone thought they would benefit from the Revolution.

We've got to rethink this question of war and come to the conclusion that war cannot be accepted, no matter what the reasons given, or the excuse: liberty, democracy; this, that. War is by definition the indiscriminate killing of huge numbers of people for ends that are uncertain. Think about means and ends, and apply it to war. The means are horrible, certainly. The ends, uncertain. That alone should make you hesitate.

Once a historical event has taken place, it becomes very hard to imagine that you could have achieved a result some other way. When something is happening in history it takes on a certain air of inevitability: This is the only way it could have happened. No.

We are smart in so many ways. Surely, we should be able to understand that in between war and passivity, there are a thousand possibilities.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Peace in the Park for the 4th

On Saturday, the 4th of July, our intrepid CodePink Austin group gathered at the symphony-and-fireworks festivities at Auditorium Shores in downtown Austin to display a freedom message of our own: PEACE -- and what peace means. Five of us women, along with our supportive CodePink associate, Jim, strolled through the crowd wearing our signboards and carrying peace flags, two of the flags sewn just for the occasion by our own Betsy Ross channeler, Heidi Turpin. On the backs of our signs were the messages, "Peace is Freedom from War," "Peace Takes Courage," "Peace is Creative," "Peace is Healthy," and "Peace is Matriotic."

Response was overwhelmingly positive! Some people applauded as we walked by. Many flashed us peace signs and smiled. Lots of folks wanted to take our picture, with quite a few wanting to have their picture taken with us. It was fun and inspiring. People everywhere want peace!

Thanks to Heidi Turpin and Jeff Webster for the photos

Recent press

I am encouraged that several items have been published lately in the Austin American-Statesman that address "truths that are self-evident," -- the costs of war and occupation, the injustice and illegality of the continuing Guantanamo incarcerations and the ongoing people-power demonstrations in Iran and Honduras that have shown the strength of nonviolent freedom movements.

Economists, Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes have been writing for some time about the costs of US policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and finally, an op-ed of theirs was published yesterday in the AAS that includes the straightforward statement, "This wartime spending undoubtedly has been a major contributor to our present economic collapse."

In all the "tea party" spouts and even in the majority of news stories about the US economy, the obvious connection between spending on war/occupation and the lack of funds for domestic programs is the elephant in the room. Last month, huge spending bills for military operations in Afghanistan were passed in the US House and Senate, and I saw no mention in the AAS when the bills were passed. To his credit, US Rep. Lloyd Doggett voted against the bill, and was the only Texas Democrat to do so.

On Saturday, July 4th, the op-ed by Air Force JAG, Barry Wingard, "No Justice Today," was another straight-ahead look at the terrible unfreedoms wrought by members of the Bush Administration as they sought to consolidate power and capitalize on public fear after Sept. 11th. Knowing how the US treats its prisoners is the truth that will eventually set us free from such injustice.

I appreciated today's story by Patrick George, "Family sees firsthand as chaos unfolds in Iran," about Austinites who were in Iran to visit family during the major street marches last month (although I found the story's title strange -- were the demonstations really "chaotic"? If so, how does chaos "unfold"?). The story points to several positive consequences of the people's movement that I believe will lead to further positive change, even amidst the clampdown.

It wasn't that long ago that the Bush Administration was talking about bombing Iran, lumping all Iranians together in its "axis of evil" category, as though every Iranian shared the views of one Iranian president. Thank goodness most people in the world didn't think the same about US citizens during the past 8 years. During the DNC demonstrations last summer, I recall seeing pictures of a display of photographs of Iranians that represented the people as people. There were many such humanizing projects in recent years, including delegations to Iran by CodePink and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, that helped show Americans that Iran is a country of individuals, many of whom are young and admiring of people in the US, and who have been striving for more openess in their own government.

Now, they have shown us and the rest of the world en masse. The notion of Iran as a monolithic "enemy state" is dispelled. Their own president can't ignore it, even if he claims he does, just as our former administration couldn't stop the push for change in the US.

Observing Iran, I see parallels with what could have happened in Iraq had the US not pounded the country with bombs in 1991 and punished it with crippling economic sanctions on top of the destruction of its infrastructure. Saddam Hussein's ruthlessness was not well-loved by most Iraqis, and he could have been ousted by a citizen movement had citizens not been forced into struggling for basic survival instead. In fact, the seige only strengthened Saddam Hussein's hand by making the people more dependent for goods like food and fuel. What I learned from those who traveled to Iraq in the 1990's was that Saddam Hussein held a status like a godfather boss. Unfortunately, the Iraqi people were dehumanized in the West right along with their president, as though it was not possible to separate the universal hopes and desires of a nation of people from the despotic behavior of their president.

Prior to the US bombings of Iraq in 1991, Iraq had strong participation by women in civil society and it had health care and education systems that were exemplary in the region. Those strengths could have provided a firm foundation for increasing democratic reform. Instead, their healthy underpinnings were pulled out from under them, leaving a refugee crisis on top of the destruction of their systems of education, health care and physical infrastructure caused by war, sanctions and occupation.

Every time I hear someone in the West declare that Iraqis must now "stand up," I picture the abusive relationship, a battering partner yelling at the abused partner to get him or herself together. Blaming the victim, adding insult to injury, continuing the pattern. It's bullying, it's destructive, and it's an abdication of responsibility for damage done.

Most people do want to stand up, to control their own destinies and to live helpful, meaningful lives. Part of standing up is to acknowledge and face up to what has been done. We can encourage this natural impulse for a full accounting, or discourage it. We can report it or ignore it.

In this light, I am hopeful for the Honduran people as they build on the courage demonstrated by Iranians and do as much as they can to make their voices heard without resorting to violence. A CNN video report aired over the weekend shows some very interesting scenes, including close-up views of the soldiers -- one can see how young they are, and how confused and fearful they appear to be about what they are doing. There is also an encounter between an armed man suspected of being a provocateur, who is carefully surrounded, disarmed and escorted out of the crowd by several demonstrators without being harmed. Here's the link to the video:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Slam poets and gender talk

I appreciated the story, "Schooled in hip-hop, changed for life" by Deborah Sengupta Stith featured on the Austin360bets page of the Austin American-Statesman on Saturday. The article described how local poets have come together to form the Cipher, a spoken word project for local youth.
I'm a slam fan myself, and I especially admire the work of one of the Cipher organizers, Chris "Gator" Ockletree. I first met Gator several years ago when he was a winner in our Nonmilitary Options peace poetry contest. At the time, he was a student at Reagan HS and was also active with the Texas Youth Word Collective. Gator is featured on our Nonmilitary Options peace wheel of fortune, too.
One thing I find especially encouraging about the Cipher project, as told in Saturday's article, is the young poets' growing awareness of gender/power balance and the use of language regarding women.
Gator also addressed these issues through his participation in recording "Drop Jewels," a CD produced last year in collaboration with A Call To Men, a national men's organization that works on the premise that ending violence against women is primarily the responsibility of men.
Drop Jewels is a collection of songs by the local group, Public Offenders, and it's been one of the recordings I've listened to most often this year. I feel like it helps put me in the shoes of the young men and women who are trying to figure out their roles in the world. Public Offenders, by the way, stands for: POVERTY UNITED BUILDING LOVE IN INNER CITIES - OUR FUTURE FOR EVERY NATION DOES EFFECT REALITY.
I wasn't able to attend the Cipher event this weekend, but I hope to attend at least one of the upcoming showcases for this year's youth slam team who will be representing Austin in the Brave New Voices slam competition in Chicago next month. This year, for the first time, the Austin team is ALL-WOMEN! Awesome.
Here are the upcoming dates planned by the Texas Youth Word Collective, where we can hear the work of these young poets before they head up to Chicago:

July 2, Slam Bowl, 8 pm, $10 cover, Club Illusions, 2700 S. Pecan, Pflugerville --Team Competition between the Austin Youth Poetry Slam Team, Neo Soul Slam Team, Austin Poetry Slam and Killeen Poetry Slam. Come watch the younger generation teach their elders a lesson or two!
July 5th, 7 pm, Spoken and Heard Feature Performance, Kick Butt Coffee, 5775 Airport, Suite 725
July 6th, 7 pm, The Hideout, Feature Performance, 617 Congress
July 7th, 7 pm, Ruta Maya, Open Mic, 3601 S. Congress
July 10th, 8 pm, Old Skool Chi-City Send Off Dance Party, $10 cover, The Independent, corner of E. 5th and Brushy St.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi

Today is Burmese Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi's 64th birthday, which she is spending in prison. Last month, she was taken from her home, where she had been under house arrest off and on over the past two decades, and imprisoned because of an odd incident where an American man swam to her residence and tried to meet with her. The military junta of Myanmar claimed this incident violated the terms of her house arrest.

Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma. She has steadfastly urged nonviolent resistance to the dictatorial military junta in Myanmar. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Suu Kyi is included on the "peace wheel of fortune" that our Nonmilitary Options group has used in the high schools this past year. Of all the students who tried out the wheel, only one knew who she was, because he had written a report about her (and, I must say, he was a Quaker). We realized Suu Kyi would be unknown to most students, but thought there would be some recognition because of the massive nonviolent marches by the Burmese monks in the fall of '07. Not so. We hope we increased her name recognition even a little. My Nonmilitary Options colleague, Hart, had laminated a newspaper photo from '07 showing a line of robed, unarmed monks facing a line of black-clad heavily armed soldiers. He showed it to students at our table, asking them, "who looks more afraid?"

There is greater attention on Burma from other parts of the world than from the US. I think world attention and Aung San Suu Kyi's insistence on nonviolence is what has preserved her life, so I believe more could be done in the US to highlight the oppression in Burma through the media and through US diplomatic pressure.

Obviously, there are some human rights violations in the world that the US is more willing to address than others. It's important to ask why. In this case, I expect the reasons mostly involve US relations with China. When US debt to China is so high and keeps growing, there become certain issues to which the US is willing to turn a blind eye.

In honor of Aung San Suu Kyi's birthday, there are events being held today around the world. If the US media helped publicize these as they are the expressions for democratic reform in Iran, the regime in Myanmar might have to pay attention.

Great reforms could be achieved in Burma/Myanmar. After 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela emerged to become South Africa's first black president. Economic and diplomatic pressure from around the world made a difference, as did Mandela's, like Suu Kyi's, continued adherence to nonviolent resistance.
photo of Aung San Suu Kyi from wikipedia

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Line items

Following on a green theme ... whoa, it's like living in a virtual clothes drier this week. I happen to love hanging out laundry -- it's my favorite of all household tasks. I do it year-round. It's a mystery to me why more folks in Austin don't air dry their laundry. I think AAS writer, Denise Gamino wrote an article about this once. She, too, is a devotee of the clothespin and open air.
I guess I come by it naturally. My folks, in their 80's and living in Wisconsin, still hang out their laundry as often as weather permits, and through the winter, they hang it on lines strung in their basement. For us, it's partly frugality and a desire to be green, as well as a preference for the fresh outdoor fragrance and the exercise. But we also like the way it looks.
Oh, I know, some people object. When I first heard of neighborhoods actually prohibiting clotheslines, I was shocked, especially in a southern climate where getting to hang laundry outdoors where it will dry quickly is at least one benefit of our scorchers.
To me, laundry on a line is beautiful, so it sometimes becomes my subject matter. Above is a drawing from this week's napkins drying beyond our zinnia patch. Who's to say they are not also prayer flags?
If you don't already know the joys of a clothesline, put our sun and wind to good use and create something beautiful and green (along with other colors) in your own yard!
drawing by makingpeace

Going green in San Francisco

A recent article in the Austin American-Statesman described the recycling and composting program in the green vanguard of San Francisco.
A couple of days ago, I ran into one of my neighbors, who lives part of the year in that fair city, and I asked her if she liked the recycing process there, and how it worked for her as a resident.
She wrote back with a great description of the program from her perspective, and, by permission, I post it here:

I am glad you asked me about composting in San Francisco. I love it! The City has made it very easy for apartment dwellers to compost, and I'd love to tell you about it.
As you may know, San Francisco is truly a leader among cities when it comes to waste disposal reduction. We have recycled for years and now are composting. In fact, I just read in the paper recently that the City will be hiring some trash cops to go around and make sure that people are truly recycling and composting. In San Francisco, recycling and composting are mandatory, not optional.
I live in a large, downtown apartment building. Earlier this spring, the City started a campaign to distribute recycling equipment (not much is needed, just a bucket and some "green" garbage bags, i.e., bags that are made out of something biodegradable, like corn).
I was home one day and answered a knock on my apartment door. I opened it to find a young woman with curly hair and jeans who looked like she'd just gotten home from a Peace Corps stint abroad. She explained to me that the City was commencing its recycling program and that my building was now a part of it. She handed me a small green bucket, one even more diminutive than my kitchen trash. In fact, my recycling bucket may only be one gallon. It is made out of a green mesh plastic. The City also provided a starter supply of recycling bags. (Weeks later, after I ran out, I was able to get new ones at my nearby Whole Foods Market. I understand that they are available in lots of places, including Walgreens.)
San Francisco is composting just about anything edible. Because the City also requires all restaurants to use biodegradable takeout containers, we are also composting coffee cups and napkins and plates and spoons. If one does not eat that leftover Chinese food, into the compost it goes, container and all!
Now that I am both recycling (including all paper and all rigid plastic) and composting in my apartment, my trash is reduced to nearly nothing. As soon as I buy some of those cloth produce sacks, I will hardly be throwing anything away. Sadly, plastic produce bags are my trash downfall....
My apartment building has a trash chute on every floor down which we launch our garbage bags to the basement. But, in order to recycle and compost, I have to go down the rickety back stairs of my 1920s Art Deco building, into the basement, where I deposit my paper bag full of recyclables and my bio bag full of food and soiled food containers into their respective blue and green bins.
It's not the highlight of my day but it seems like such little effort for a large return. And I am delighted to see that people in my building are recycling and composting in droves. I hope that someday I'll be able to buy a condo in a more modern building. I understand that the City is now requiring new residential construction to build in three chutes, one each for trash, recycling, and composting

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Flag Day

Sunday was Flag Day. I've seen quite a few nice peace flags over the years, and especially now with the peace sign back in full force, I thought I'd sketch a flag design that includes something about what peace involves (above).

I feel as though I've stepped back about 40 years in time, seeing the peace sign ubiquitous again!
I remember about 10 years ago, our Nonmilitary Options for Youth group brought one of our first literature displays to Austin High School to ask the counselors there if they would place the display next to the recruiting literature. We had permission from the district to make our materials available to students in the high schools. The counselors at Austin HS held a meeting to decide about our display, and we were told later that they would take the literature, but not our (home-made) literature holder. Why not? Because one of the counselors put his foot down, saying the peace sign on the display was "too controversial." They designated a shelf for us instead. I wonder what that counselor thinks now with every other student wearing peace symbols -- and probably some of the counselors, too!

The peace sign turned 50 years old last year. It was designed by Gerald Holtom, a British conscientious objector and textile designer, for use during an Easter march against nuclear weapons in England. Holtom used the semaphore signals for N and D (for nuclear disarmament), overlapping them to form one symbol. The logo caught on quickly and spread to the US not long after.
Long may she wave.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Roll on, Bikers

Maybe I was a biker chick in a former life. Maybe I am one now. In either case, it was pretty thrilling to be standing at the corner of Cesar Chavez and Congress Avenue last evening as the thousands of bikers turned the corner onto our main drag along their parade route from the Exposition Center. It was even worth inhaling all that exhaust to be so close to the rumble.

In fact, a group of us dressed in pink biker duds and pink police uniforms were part of the spectacle. We decided to bring a Peace/Stop War message to the biker audience to see how it played. And we were heartened by the overwhelmingly positive reaction from the crowd that rolled by.

I held a sign reading "Biker Chicks for Peace" along with our black, denim and pink-clad entourage, and two of us wore pink police uniforms and held a large "Stop War" sign in the shape of a stop sign. As the bikers passed by, the majority flashed peace signs back at us, smiling and nodding in response. The women, especially.

Now, we did have our eyes peeled for even one pair where the woman drove and the man sat in back. We spotted one three-wheeler with a woman at the throttle and a man in back, but he seemed to be a designated videographer, so we weren't sure that counted. One of these days, there's going to be a brave pair who will break the taboo -- and then, maybe the dam will break and real men everywhere will want to prove their manliness by handing the controls to a woman -- and not back-seat drive, either....

Hey, a biker chick can dream. And we did see quite a few women riding solo.

I was impressed with the care bikers had to take to ride so close to each other in a parade of that size. And, as I walked up and down Congress afterward to take a closer look at the bikes, I marvelled at how they kept their machines so shiny and pristine, many of the bikers having traveled many dusty miles to attend the rally.

There's certainly an allure to the motorcycle and the open road. Maybe it's also the artistry of the bikes, and the riskiness of the ride. A bike that got a lot of attention was toting a trailer in the shape of a coffin that had, "A Ride To Die For" written in script on the side. Riders are both extra tough and extra vulnerable, as the tragic accident later that night on US 290 attests.
As I rode home on my trusty bicycle, I did appreciate the quietness of my ride and the lack of fumes. I'm most in love with my green machine. But, I wish the best for the bikers who roll a different way.
Thanks to Heidi Turpin for the photos!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Cindy Sheehan visits Austin

When I entered the Unitarian Church on Wednesday evening to hear Cindy Sheehan speak about her new online book, "Myth America," I saw Cindy in a hallway studying a framed poster of "100 Unitarian Universalists Who Made a Difference." She gave me a hug (though she doesn't really know me), and we looked at the poster together, noting some people we hadn't known were Unitarians -- astronaut, Laurel Clark, for example, who was killed in the space shuttle Columbia accident in 2003. And author, Sylvia Plath. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, my father's dissertation subject, was a Unitarian. And, of course, Thoreau. Cindy noticed how many were writers. In the lower right corner of the poster was a little mirror, subtitled, "You here."
"I'm a Universalist," said Cindy, looking in the mirror. "But I don't think I'm a Unitarian."

In the church sanctuary, Thom the World Poet coincidentally - or not - riffed on these themes in his free form poetry and word play, backed by musicians improvising along with him. He urged attendees to fill the front pews first, to recognize the uniqueness of this evening, of this particular selection of people, which would never be gathered quite this way again. We are unique beings, single units, but we are also part of a whole, indivisible from one another. Fences, barriers, borders, are constructs. Separation is illusion. "Let's de-program, unprogram, re-program," said Thom, noting that we were not holding programs in this congregation.

Displayed in back of the altar where Cindy spoke were three verticle banners, part of the church decor. The first read, "To Come Alive." The middle banner read, "To Seek Truth," and the third, "To Heal Our World." Coincidentally - or not - the banners became perfect headings for what she had to say, in just that order.

"People tell me I should just get on with my life," Cindy said. Do they just want her to fade away? The death of her son, Casey propelled her into the peace movement and his death is part of her life still. Parents whose children have died for any reason report similar feelings -- life never gets "back to normal." Outliving a child is not the normal course of things. And, as Cindy says, "There can't be healing until there's accountability."

Cindy described her visit two days prior to the street in Dallas where the former president has retired. She carried a sign asking the same straightforward question she brought to the gates of the Bush ranch in August 2005: "For What Noble Cause?" In the face of a "let's move forward" climate that would like to bury the memory of her son, Cindy's insistence on accountability, "even if we don't succeed," she says, is a way to not forget Casey.

If the former president won't face the question of causes of war, the answers keep Cindy up at night. She said that she began writing her new book when the title sprang into her head one night and she decided she'd better get up and just start typing. She settled on addressing ten myths that she felt she had been taught about the US, and as she travels on her book tour, she keeps adding to the list in her talks.

In this book, Cindy divides Americans into two classes: the "robber class," and, of course, "the robbed." While I don't find it helpful to categorize people like this, I can't deny many of the facets of truth about theft, nor the pervasiveness of the myths she explores. The first myth she names, "The USA is the greatest country in the universe" finds overt and subtle expression in our churches, schools, families ... even in our new, more universalist president's addresses to the world.

I agree that class divisions are the most significant of all the divisions American's have created in this country, despite the "everyone could pull themselves up by their bootstraps" mantra and our meltingpot history. And I agree that wars usually serve to profit the wealthy, increasing the distance between the very wealthy and the very poor. But, I also think there is responsibility to be shared among most Americans. Who is a robber, really? Is it the CEO of Halliburton or Xe? How about the person who knowingly buys stock in companies that profit from war? Or the teacher whose retirement benefits come partly from investments in banks, or insurance companies, or oil companies or weapons manufacturers? Most of us, maybe all of us, are tied into some level of complicity, and I think it's instructive to consider how, rather than divide ourselves into perpetrator and victim. In important ways, most of us are both.

Actually, Cindy seems to address this point in her book's "revolution conclusion." She said she wanted to leave her readers with suggestions for positive action. Examples she cited in her talk at the Unitarian Church included: work at the local level in politics, "where it has some effect"; take savings out of the big banks and establish accounts in credit unions; stop using credit cards; simplify possesions; buy local. In such ways, we each seek accountability rather than wait for former or even current presidents to do it.

Although Cindy and I are the same age, we have traveled different life paths, and her conclusions echo the ones I reached in the 1980's when I first moved to Austin after college. I have never used credit cards, for example, but I was also privileged to be able to attend college without student loans because my father was a professor. I didn't have children, so it's been easier to lower my living expenses and to stop driving a car. I haven't had to live with the pain of the death of a child, so it's easier for me to see our former president as a man who should be tried for war crimes, but not labeled "a murderer."

What I appreciate most about Cindy Sheehan's continuing activism is that she is not afraid to stand up to what whe sees as wrong-doing. She speaks and writes plainly and with humor, too. She hasn't, as many would like her to do, just gone away. If a democracy, as Pete Seeger says, rests on an obligation to participate, Cindy has done that. She knows her First Amendment rights, and she uses them. She is an eager student of history and has embraced the methods of historical nonviolent movements.

In many ways, there are and have been grassroots movements rising up in the US which are now acknowledged as being so mainstream that the major media have jumped on the bandwagon to amplify them. News about green building, supporting local business, growing more food at home, supporting public transportation, recycling, increasing bicycle use ... all this is becoming the rule rather than the exception, and it's happening because it really must.

Will war collapse of its own dead weight, like the big banks, insurers and auto makers? As people withdraw their support from the pillars of war and establish alternative, sustainable economies, will the US withdraw military forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and its hundreds of bases worldwide because there is simply no more money for or interest in retaining them?

I don't know. The drive for power, to retain power, is very strong, but so is the power of necessity. Maybe we will become true Universalists because we must acknowledge our reliance on our common planet's resources. We will never unite about everything, but our diversity is what makes us healthy. Different paths seem to be converging into shared conclusions. Every person's experience is one's own truth, yet because we are all parts of the whole, we see that our experiences are intermingled in countless ways. Sharing our stories is the opposite of robbery. Seeking truth can heal the world, and we can live on.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Health care for all

On Saturday afternoon, May 30, I went down to City Hall to attend the rally sponsored by Healthcare for All Texans. I heard that mayor-elect, Lee Leffingwell and councilmember, Mike Martinez spoke just before I arrived, and it's encouraging that they support a Single Payer plan. Several other speakers were health care professionals who support a Single Payer system based on their work experience.
I was disappointed that the rally wasn't mentioned in yesterday's Austin American-Statesman. Although Single Payer plans are successful elsewhere in the world, US insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies are exerting their influence to deny consideration of HR 676/S703.

The main refrain from speakers at the rally: universal health care is a universal right. There were a few people who stood along Cesar Chavez St. with opposing messages. One man's sign read, "Health care is NOT a right." Some rally attendees engaged these folks in discussion to try to figure out what they meant by that. A friend of mine who talked with them said that they didn't mean that people who are sick should not be cared for, but they didn't think others should have to pay for it. But on the question of who would pay, they weren't clear. They mentioned they were tea-partiers on April 15, when, as covered in this blog, I and others offered a different message at the post office that evening: money for health care could easily be found in the war budget. It's a matter of priorities.

There will always be difficult ethical questions when it comes to health care- such as when personal health habits impact health care costs. But, it does help to examine some examples before us. We in the US have come to agree that veterans should be given health benefits even after their service is over (although it wasn't always like that, and veterans and their families had to work very hard - and often still do - to gain their right to health care.) We've come to agree that the elderly and differently abled people have a right to health care. And that people with no money to pay aren't turned away. Our general trajectory over time has been to expand care, not constrict it. So, let's continue in that direction and make it universal. Drawing lines between who is and isn't eligible is proving unworkable.

"I've got mine" is an attitude that prevents many from speaking out on the subject of universal health care coverage.
But the speakers at the rally, most of whom are insured, I gathered from those I talked to, were taking the time to advocate for health care as a human right for all. "As long as we have air in our lungs, we have a voice," said one of the representatives of Healthcare for All Texans. As though to prove her point, a nurse who followed her on stage breathed from an oxygen tank that she carried on her back as she spoke movingly about her patients as well as her own health situation.
The rally included music, as rallies in Austin must do. The very tasteful 3-piece guy band, Voyces, kept things lively with some 60's numbers, including some Bob Dylan. Hearing the lines, "How does it feel -- to be on your own?" took on extra meaning as we considered the issue of the day.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Roofs and roads

Here's something I've been thinking about -- a bit off topic from recent posts, but then again, it's all connected. Oil wars... marketing of petroleum products ... barriers to green building... the personal is political.

I just listened to the "Wait Wait.... Don't Tell Me!" segment on NPR that was taped in Austin this week. Jeff Salamon's piece about it in today's Austin American-Statesman is what alerted me to it, since I rarely listen to the show, even though NPR is my station of choice most of the time.
I have to say that I didn't find the show as hilarious as those in the audience seemed to. It was pretty white-centric. Interesting that quite a few of the jokes involved drug use, as though it's fun or funny to use illegal drugs and defer the risk of the drug trade to those who have to break the law in order to provide the goods. I'm just sayin'.

Here's what I really wanted to write about, though, based on a quick current event item mentioned in the program: white roofs. I think this news brief is what was being referred to, about the mayor of Phoenix suggesting painting roofs white to reduce energy costs. I believe a similar push has been made in Atlanta.

I've had roofing on my mind for the past year because our house needed a new one after the hail storm of last spring. We hoped to get a metal roof to replace asphalt shingles, but, in the end, we felt we couldn't afford the cost, so we went with customary shingles. Because we also needed new decking, we sprang for the plywood with a foil radiant barrier to hopefully keep the attic cooler. So far, that seems to be helping. We haven't used our AC at all yet this year.

Because we needed a roof, I began looking more closely at roofs all around. Why were so many roofs being shingled with dark colors in our climate? Our old shinges were "white" asphalt, and we wanted the same light color in the dimensional shingle we were choosing. But, when our roofer brought by the sample board, only one of the options was a light gray, not even as light as our old shingles. Most of the colors ranged, basically, from black to brown. When I asked the roofer about it, he said he didn't know why dark colors were more prevalent. Style? That was his guess.

When we chose the lightest color on the sample board, we were then told that it would be a few months before that color was available -- did we want to choose another? No, we didn't. The light color wasn't out of stock because it was in high demand, but because relatively few people chose it, apparently.

Eventually, the roofer told us that another company made a shingle in a similar light color and we chose that one. In that company's color selection, too, dark tones dominated.
Most new homes, condos and apartment buildings in Austin, even at the new green Mueller development, are roofed with these dark asphalt shingles. I was surprised to see so few metal roofs at Mueller. There are metal awnings, but the main roofs are dark shingles. Mueller would be the perfect place for metal, I'd think, since they don't yet have large trees to drop leaves and cause corrosion. I could picture every home collecting its own rainwater for their flower beds, but I didn't see personal rainbarrels when my partner and I tooled around the development on our bikes last weekend.

This year, I've used air travel several times, which felt novel because I usually use Greyhound. Since roofs were on my mind, I took note of the roof colors as we passed over the cites where we landed and took off. Black and dark brown asphalt were by far the norm, north and south.
I don't know about painting roofs white. Paint will peel. How about unpainted galvalume? How about light colored clay tiles? Now, clay tiles are very expensive, but if they were more common, would the cost go down? Roof framing would have to be stronger, I guess. I like the new, green (that is, actually green and growing) roofs that are being tried here and there, and solar panels on roofs will surely become more common. We looked into that, but our two large shade trees prevented viability of that option -- and solar panels are still quite expensive.

I do have to wonder if, someday, asphalt in our roofs and our roads is going to be considered just too unhealthy for us and the environment. Can the oil industry transition to safer alternatives? I think it's got to if we are serious about saving ourselves and the planet. In the meantime, are dark asphalt shingles a fad or a marketing choice by roofing manufacturers? I don't know, I'm just askin'.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Jackie's Memorial Day reminder

Kids are always teaching me things. On Memorial Day, after the historic march up the main drag of Killeen, TX to the gates of Ft. Hood, I hung out with the youngest daughter of Cindy and Tim Thomas, who hosted the BBQ fundraiser at the Under The Hood GI coffee house. Cindy manages the café, and throughout her organizing efforts over the past two years, she usually brought her two daughters along to meetings in Austin while Tim was in his third Army deployment to Iraq. When Cindy and her girls, Jasmyne and Jackie, walked into a meeting, they brightened up the room.
For Memorial Day, Jackie had decorated her own poster for the march. She said that it was a sign recycled from a previous use, with an “s” added to the “End the war” message. She also added columns of peace signs and flowers, which matched the flowery peace sign design on the shirt she wore for the march.
As I mingled with folks after our hot but triumphant return to the cafe, Jackie came over with her sign and a pack of colored markers to ask if I would write my name on the back of the poster. There were already a few other signatures, including her own: “Jaclyn.” Then, I became her assistant as she made the rounds of the other folks at the café, shyly but persistently gathering signatures until the poster became a bright montage of proof: “We were here!”
Jackie was our angelic provocateur, our informant who informed us, quietly going about creating a record of our presence that helped draw us together. Her collection of names lowered the barriers and heightened our joy in sharing the rare occasion of a peace march led by soldiers to the largest Army base in the world. We marchers represented different and sometimes divergent ideologies. Some of us have been at odds with one another for years over strategies and beliefs, and others of us met for the first time that day. But, I watched our differences become something beautiful as Jackie approached each person – socialist, anarchist, Christian, teenager, retiree, veteran, civilian, soldier -- documenting our uniqueness while inviting us to make a common affirmation.
We see the child, and we know the reason wars must not be pluralized. Peace is as necessary as water to the child and the flower. Marching won’t, by itself, end war; we know that, too. But we join our streams to water the earth, and we grow.
thanks to Heidi T. for the photo and to Jackie for the inspiration!

Got rights? First peace march in Killeen in decades is led by soldiers and military family members

The Killeen Daily Herald published a good story on Monday's Memorial Day March for Peace. Also, Dahr Jamail posted this article featuring Ft. Hood GI resisters, Victor Agosto (right, top photo) and Travis Bishop that was published yesterday on Common Dreams.

Here's the Killeen Daily Herald article. Thanks to Heidi Turpin for all the photos above!
Anti-war protesters exercise freedom to march

Posted on Tuesday, May. 26 2009 by the Killeen Daily Herald

By Rebecca LaFlure

"Get up. Get down. There's an anti-war movement in this town."A group of active-duty Fort Hood soldiers and nearly 70 other anti-war protesters took to the streets of Killeen Monday afternoon in the city's first peace march since the Vietnam War.

Toting picket signs that read, "War is not the answer," and "Blessed are the peacemakers," the demonstrators gathered for one common purpose – to call for an end to the wars in the Middle East.The action, held on Memorial Day, was organized to honor the nation's fallen soldiers, and help prevent the further loss of lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We're paying homage to the ones we've lost. We don't want to lose anymore," said Chris Saylor, an Iraq War veteran who traveled from Detroit to participate.

The protest was organized by Under the Hood Cafe – a local outreach center for soldiers. Members from peace organizations across Texas as well as college students, active-duty soldiers and veterans came out to show their support.The march began at the cafe house at 17 College St. and continued down Veteran's Memorial Boulevard to Fort Hood Street and then up to Fort Hood's East Gate.The demonstrators waved colorful flags decorated with peace symbols and chanted slogans like, "They're our brothers, they're our sisters. We support war resistors," and "What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!"

Many people honked their car horns as they drove by. Not all the responses were positive, however. One man shouted, "You don't have the right to do this!" as he drove by.

Ben Fugate, an Army specialist who returned from Iraq two months ago, was one of several Fort Hood soldiers who came to the event. Wearing a black T-shirt with the slogan, "Got rights?" Fugate called the Iraq war "unjustified" and recently decided to speak out against it.

"They say they're there to build up Iraq, but all you see is destruction of Iraq," he said. "There are thousands of guys who are not coming home to their mom and dad. I lost three buddies in my platoon in Iraq and for what? Why lose more when we don't have to?"

Cindy Thomas, manager of Under the Hood Cafe and the protest's organizer, said she hopes the day's action will influence other military community members to speak out."We want to let the soldiers out there know that we're here. They have somewhere to come to," she said. "A lot of them don't know that they actually have rights. You're allowed to speak out. You're allowed to march."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day: honoring war dead by refusing to add to the toll

Memorial Day. I mourn the dead of war, both soldiers and civilians, young and old, women and men -- all killed in a cycle of manufactured catastrophe.

While US Congresspersons buy more war by voting to pay for it with no exit plan, and the mainstream press neglects to ask them why, there are people still making sense by saying "No," extracting themselves from war's vicious cycle, using the free will they were born with, choosing life.

Last week, I heard about two Army soldiers stationed at Ft. Hood who have refused to deploy to Afghanistan. Their statements lift the veil of "good war." Terror is terror, whether it be suicide bombing, torture, death by predator drone, stoning, human trafficking, assassination, sniper attack, solitary confinement. A war on terror that terrorizes just keeps the cycle churning, sacrifing more lives even when we know that every life is sacred, filled with a universe of possibility.

You can agree or disagree with those who say "I will no longer participate in what I believe is wrong," but you can't deny that the words are being spoken and that resistance is happening.
On Memorial Day, I find it most appropriate to honor war dead by calling for war to end. Let's stop creating more unnecessary grief and pain. "War to end war" is a myth disproven by every successive armed deployment.

Read about the two GI resisters from Ft. Hood here.

“There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect.
These wars will continue until soldiers refuse to fight them. Almost every soldier I know is disillusioned with these wars. Most of them are opposed to the war in Iraq, and many are opposed to the war in Afghanistan. Some consider resisting but do not because they are not aware of a large community ready to support them." -- Victor Agosto

"I am a Patriot. I love my country, but I believe that this particular war is unjust, unconstitutional and a total abuse of our nation’s power and influence. And so, in the next few days, I will be speaking with my lawyer, and taking actions that will more than likely result in my discharge from the military, and possible jail time…and I am prepared to live with that.
My father said, ‘Do only what you can live with, because every morning you have to look at your face in the mirror when you shave. Ten years from now, you’ll still be shaving the same face.’
If I had deployed to Afghanistan, I don’t think I would have been able to look into another mirror again." -- Travis Bishop
photos: Victor Agosto celebrates his 24th birthday at Under The Hood cafe on May 9
photos from Under The Hood's flickr page