Sunday, July 11, 2010

Peace through play

This weekend, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War organized and held their first independent convention since their founding in 2004, and they chose Austin as their host city. Lucky for us! Our CodePink group provided the childcare for the convention, and I enjoyed the opportunity to be part of the convention in this way.

I spent most of my time at the convention with the children. We did free play, with a sort of "Adventure Playground" approach, where the children had basic materials with which to build and create things of their choosing. The convention was held at Huston-Tillotson University, and we had a standard classroom as the childcare room -- bare linoleum floor covered with about 20 heavy student chair/desks. Provided with sheets, blankets, paper, yarn, tape, clothespins, markers, paper blocks, books and a few other basic materials, the kids made use of the desks to create an inviting "fort" area that expanded throughout the weekend and led to various other projects they dreamed up. As always, with some basic adult guidance and support, kids will weave a world of marvelous invention.

Perhaps this is the underlying philosophy that leads me to reject militarism, occupation and war. If people have their basic needs met -- adequate and healthy food, water, health care, creative outlets -- then, generally, they (we) will thrive. Most people know what is best for themselves and will grow in healthy ways if given half a chance. Human powers of creation and invention are great. Why channel any of our inventive resources into such hugely destructive things as predator drones, cluster bombs, landmines, IEDs, automatic rifles?

In addition to the time with the children, the weekend was filled, for me, with meaningful, if brief, encounters with several of the veterans and invited guests to the convention, all of whom seemed to reinforce this essential message. As longtime friend, nonviolent activist, author and teacher, Kathy Kelly, said during her panel presentation, "If you want to counter terror, build justice." Justice begins with the building blocks of simple, elemental conditions that children need to grow and prosper.

Photos: IVAW member, Joe Wheeler and his daughters, Lily and Ivy (with one of the paper outfits she designed)

Friday, July 9, 2010

IVAW Convention covered in Killeen Daily Herald

Good to read this front page story in today's Killeen Daily Herald:

Activists Protest War Outside Post

by Amanda Kim Stairrett

In conjunction with the sixth annual Iraq Veterans Against the War convention in Austin, Killeen's Under the Hood Café is hosting a concert and barbecue Saturday.

Under the Hood, at 17 S. College St., is a "place for soldiers to gather, relax and speak freely about the wars and the military," according to Organizers also provide support services for soldiers and their families, including counseling and legal advice.

Set to perform are Travis Bishop, who was arrested in August at Fort Hood after refusing to deploy to Afghanistan, Ryan Harvey and R.A.S. Admission is free for those with military identification and a suggested donation of $5 each for those without.

This is the first large-scale event Under the Hood has hosted, said Manager Cynthia Thomas. The goal of Saturday's event is to let veterans and the military community know Under the Hood is there and willing to support them, Thomas added.

The Iraq Veterans Against the War convention began Thursday at Austin's Huston-Tillotson University and ends Sunday. Activities include Fort Hood outreach, panels and workshops.

Iraq Veterans Against the War is a nationwide organization made of past and present soldiers who have served since Sept. 11, 2001, according to information from the organization. It was founded six years ago during a Veterans for Peace convention in Boston "to give a voice to the large number of active-duty service people and veterans who are against this war, but are under various pressures to remain silent," according to its website,

It is also "dedicated to fighting for adequate physical and mental health care, full benefits and other support for returning veterans," read

Goals of the convention are to discuss important issues in the veterans' movement and "serve as a significant opportunity for support in a recovering community," Jose Vasquez, executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War, said in a statement released by the organization.

Austin was chosen as the convention site because it is an hour from Fort Hood.

"This community, especially due to past traumatic events, deserves our outreach and everyone's attention," he said. "It is part of (Iraq Veterans Against the War's) mission to reach out to those service members and veterans who have been fighting since Sept. 11. If they are questioning the illegal wars and occupations and choose to resist, we support them."

Local protest

Conference attendees and local activists protested at Fort Hood's East Gate Thursday, chanting and displaying signs that said they support troops when they disobey their officers; calling for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and return of American troops; repealing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and Arizona's immigration enforcement law; getting Israel out of Gaza; and supporting no war but the class war.

The protesters, many of whom were Iraq veterans, marched along Veterans Memorial Boulevard and Fort Hood Street, chanting and carrying signs.

Chants included "Resistance is justified when people are occupied," "They're our brothers, they're our sisters, we support war resistors," "Money for jobs and education, not for Afghan occupation" and "Occupation is a crime from Iraq to Palestine."

Matt Southworth served as an intelligence analyst from 2002 to 2004, serving a tour to Iraq. He now works as a campaigns program assistant for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobbying group that operates in Washington, D.C.

Southworth said he and others support the troops, but are against the war, and one of his prime focuses is ensuring veterans get the health care they need.

Support is key, said Chris Capps-Schubert, a former signal soldier who served for three years before being discharged for desertion. The convention and protest aim to show veterans at Fort Hood that Iraq Veterans Against the War has a presence. It's a place to turn to, he said, adding that veterans can get in contact with those who can support them.