Friday, September 05, 2008

WALKING THE PERIMETER @ RNC by Di Wood


Friday, September 5, 2008, High Noon

ST. PAUL, MN -- This is a flower and a plastic band I picked up on my final walk around the Xcel Center perimeter a few minutes ago. The forklifts are busy loading the folded, black mesh fences onto flatbeds; the media is packing up all the lights, cameras and action into rented trucks. And it is actually a deceptively quiet, beautiful afternoon in downtown Saint Paul. With the fences down, it's easier to breathe a little better. But the sight of them is still unsettling; I know they did their job all too well.

I am so proud to know so many brave, honest people who showed up in Saint Paul to voice their opinions to their leaders -- to speak truth to power -- no matter what danger it posed to their own lives and personal safety. Thank you for your service and keep on marching. Please remember what happened to Carlos' son -- and the continuing plight of all our sons and daughters, in all occupied nations, who are lost or still facing horrific, life-altering situations because of the power and greed of a few.
Bring them home now! (ivaw.org)


"Holli Drinkwine, spokeswoman for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department, denied Thursday that police used excessive force. “The police showed great restraint in what they were doing," she said. "They were dealing with 300 criminals on the street while trying to protect the 10,000 peaceful protesters that were in St. Paul."

"Minnesota State Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion said the arrests were made at an interstate overpass that separated the marchers from the Xcel Center, where Sen. John McCain was preparing to address the GOP faithful. He said the objective was to contain the protesters and keep them from reaching the convention hall."

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Here are some closing observations, feelings and questions as I look back over the last few days:

The RNC security force was loaded for bear, heavily stocked and armed, and ran a very tight ship on the streets of Saint Paul. There was tolerance for protest within certain, very restrictive limits. Delegates needed to be protected, yes, but voices need to be heard in a place where so many of our elected officials gather. What is the cost to freedom of speech?

The show of firepower did not maintain the peace, it destroyed it – strengthening a “them and us” attitude and causing some people to feel obligated to fight back. The City of Saint Paul did a great job protecting the Xcel Center, but at what cost? Thousands came to show peaceful support mostly for the ending of the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet many were turned back or arrested by heavily armed police, National Guard and others -- front line foot soldiers set up to take the fall for leaders hiding behind miles of barricades, scary rhetoric and misued American flags. Sound familiar?
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The streets of Saint Paul felt progressively like an occupation.
Instead of the “enjoy the RNC events,” publicity those of us who work in Saint Paul received from our companies, encouraging us to come to work and join in the spirit of the convention, the streets of Saint Paul felt progressively like an occupation. It was an occupation, mirroring the foreign policies of our government turned on its own people – for what?

Who is the bad guy? It is a very strange thing to be marginalized for voicing opinions to our own elected officials. To be portrayed (and protected against) as the bad guy by such powerful forces is crazy. Once again, the most sane people I know – the ones who attempt to live inclusive lives and continue to speak truth to power – are marginalized, bullied and assaulted. But why?
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The turnbacks on the other side of the city impacted the Peace Picnic on Harriet Island. With the protestors trapped on the other side of the city, the heartfelt, inclusive, gathering designed to bring everyone together at the end was much quieter than anticipated. This was an event where people of all ages could converse with people like Carlos Arrendondo (whose son died in Iraq) and Hart Vigas (the first IVAW veteran testifier at Winter Soldier 2), Michael & Cynthia Orange who blogged for VetSpeak (and who continue to speak truth to power in their own writings and out in the world); Vets for Peace, and other peace organizations. The music played, the lemonade flowed, the children played, but the silence was deafening.

Love, Di Wood, 9/5/08, 11:43 AM, Saint Paul, MN

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I'm PISD!

By
Agent Orange
(From the RNC)

I’m suffering from PISD (Politics-Induced Symptoms of Deflation). It’s a form of depression caused when na├»ve hope for political change is rapidly squashed by the reality that the powerful elite who run the Empire will only permit a limited dose of democracy. I’m prone to the disease because I still suffer from an innate optimism that periodically compromises my immune system.

As I write, I’m taking a brief break between the Vets for Peace (VFP) national convention that was here in the Twin Cities last week and the peace marches triggered by the RNC Convention that began Monday in St. Paul. To parallel the bumper sticker, “If you aren’t mad, you’re not paying attention,” I’ll say, “If you’re not down, you don’t know what’s going down.”

I felt the first symptoms of PISD during the VFP convention. One of the keynote speakers, James Yee told a story that was so unbelievable it had to be true (here’s a link to a Democracy Now! Interview with Mr. Yee:
http://www.democracynow.org/2005/10/6/fmr_army_chaplain_james_yee_on.) Amazing that the same organization that graduated Yee from West Point as an Army officer and assigned him as the chaplain in Guantanamo for Muslim guards and prisoners would then charge him with treason, threaten him with the death penalty, imprison him in solitary confinement for 78 days, and subject him to the same sensory deprivation abuses he spoke out against at the prison. When the Army could produce no substantive evidence at his court martial, it dropped all charges, awarded him two medals for this same service, and then granted him an Honorable Discharge.

Among the prisoner abuses he spoke of were those that only left scars on the soul. The military of the religious right, which asserts so much control in this country, uses the prisoners’ religious beliefs in a jujitsu move designed to demoralize them and inflict deep insults. He confirmed the stories we’ve all heard: how the interrogators desecrated the prisoners’ copies of the Koran by urinating on them, and how female interrogators used their bodies to assault the prisoners’ religious and social mores. Yee also described how interrogators forced their Muslim charges to bow down within a circle painted on the floor with a Satanic pentagram in its center while they screamed at them to pray to Satan. It reminded me of the stories I read as a youth of the Roman Empire’s persecution of the early Christians’ faith. Kafka couldn’t write a stranger story even with Solzinetzin as a coauthor.

Before I could climb out of the rabbit hole created by Yee’s speech, the next speaker at the VFP convention that night, Jeremy Scahill, knocked me right back in with his description of the Empire’s private military. Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling
Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. My wife, Cynthia (VetWrite), and I had heard him speak when we witnessed the Winter Soldier hearings last March in DC. Even though it was the second time I heard the story of the Bagdad massacres by Bush’s Blackwater mercenaries, Scahill’s unique and riveting storytelling, replete with details and tongue-twisting Iraqi names and places, captured my attention once again and placed me back in that mental horror movie.

Noam Chomsky warned about mercenaries when he wrote about Vietnam, “Usually wars like the Vietnam War are fought with mercenaries—like the French Foreign Legion. The U.S. tried to fight what amounts to a colonial war with a conscript army. And a colonial war is a very dirty kind of war. You’re not fighting armed forces. You’re fighting mostly unarmed people. And to fight that kind of war requires professional killers, which means mercenaries.”
[1]

The clincher that brought on full-blown PISD for me was Scahill’s description of Blackwater’s pervasive presence in New Orleans immediately after Katrina’s landfall. Armed with war-zone weaponry normally reserved only for the military and police in this country, Blackwater mercenaries explained to Scahill that they had been deputized by the Governor of Louisiana to “confront looters and stop criminals” and to “protect FEMA” even though FEMA personnel did not arrive in the area until days later.

“Bagdad on the bayou,” as Scahill termed it three years ago, served as a warning of our “radical privatization of government” and increasingly militarized society. He said we still have 40,000 more private contractors than US troops in Iraq and that a shocking “70% of our intelligence apparatus is now in private hands,” including the separate CIA-like division of Blackwater. Scahill cautioned us against expecting real change even if Obama wins the Presidency. “Obama’s staff told me that he has studied the issue of mercenaries and has not ruled out their use.”

In a similar fashion, we now have St. Paul under siege with the arrival of the Republican National Convention and hundreds of private guards, National Guard troopers, FBI, Homeland Security, and local police, armored with fearsome automatic weapons, gas and concussion grenades, pepper spray, and three-foot-long night sticks. Like futuristic cyborgs—part human, part head-to-toe black Kevlar—they line our streets in police-state fashion. As we VFP members gathered Sunday on the lawn of the State Capitol to lead a permitted march of five hundred into downtown and up to the double rows of fencing that protected the Republican conventioneers from the unwashed, a menacing formation of five Black Hawk assault choppers circled low and slow over our assembly and then returned a half an hour later for a repeat of the maneuver.

All of this was not just a show of force intended to intimidate (which it most certainly does); it’s applied force. For example, St. Paul Police, under orders from Homeland Security, conducted preemptory raids on homes and arrested people on conspiracy charges (which triggers memories of the Chicago Eight who were charged with conspiring to incite a riot while crossing state lines on their way to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, convicted, and later found innocent on appeal). Police here have abused protestors and even arrested journalists, including Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! and her staff (refer to
http://www.counterpunch.org/cohn09022008.html). There have been gross overreactions by police in response to minor acts of property damage and acting out by hooligans (got to wonder how many are working for the FBI, which again triggers memories of the agent provocateurs of the 60s).

Another keynote speaker at the VFP convention was Scott Ritter, the former chief United nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He floored me with his prediction of this election year’s “October Surprise.” Hours before in my workshop on the decisions that led into the quagmire of Vietnam, I had described the “October Surprises” engineered by Nixon for his election in 1968 and by Reagan for his election in 1980. For 2008, it will be the restart of the Cold War in Georgia, Ritter predicted. Worse yet, Ritter said the Georgia crisis will only delay the inevitable attack by the US on Iran.

You can’t catch PISD from depressing news alone. The severity of the disease comes from the distance that separates the highs of optimistic hope for change and the lows of crushing reality—the deflation factor. The VFP conference, my first although I’ve been an active member since 1991, showcased the vitality and dedication of our membership. I met so many people with amazing stories of how the dark sides of their military experiences have become the engine for changing their own lives and helping to improve conditions in the country. The esprit de corps was palpable. Only a Dr. Phil workshop would have had more men hugging each other.

Fortunately, my writer mentor and wife of 35 years (VetWrite) provided a beautiful description of the moving opening ceremony for the conference that featured Native American speakers and drummers so I need not revisit that topic (refer to entry on 8/28/08 at
http://vetspeakblog.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2008-08-30T20%3A13%3A00-05%3A00&max-results=5). I’ll turn instead to our Executive Director, Michael McPhearson, who made several cogent remarks to open the conference including the exhortation that we “get out of our comfort zones” to further the mission of VFP. Referring to the Million Doors for Peace Project (http://www.milliondoorsforpeace.org/), he said, “We’ll have to get out and talk to our neighbors.”

We heard from two dozen excellent speakers and I attended half a dozen workshops. A real asset was the presence of so many members from the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW, read more about the group’s dramatic march to the RNC Convention to demand a briefing with John McCain,
http://ivaw.org/). These are young men and women who bring an energized momentum to VFP. They are expert taking great advantage of the now well-developed peace infrastructure and the organizing power of the Internet and cell phones. But we all ride on the many shoulders of our heroic predecessors in the movements of the past (anti-war, labor, suffragette, civil rights, prisoner rights, etc.)

A highlight of the VFP conference was the speech by Rick Hanson, a member of Military Families Speak Out. The Hanson’s son, Eric, served two tours of duty in Iraq. He spoke to the shared mission of all assembled: “It is good to be surrounded by the integrity of this gathering. To have the IVAW with us here renews our hope. . . . [You speak out] with a validity that can not be dismissed by anyone. The Veterans for Peace individually and collectively . . . serve as role models to all of our groups . . . . We are grateful to be the recipients of your experience and heartfelt empathy. . . . We are whole-heartedly committed to succeed in our combined mission of ending this catastrophic war and taking care of our kids as we get them home.”

For a final comment, let me express how pleased I am that at my side throughout the VFP conference and the peace marches was my wife, Cynthia, and for some of the events, our daughter and her husband. Waging peace is a family value.

www.VetSpeak.org

[1] “The Lessons of Vietnam: An Interview with Noam Chomsky,” reproduced form Indochina Newsletter, Issue 18 (November-December, 1982).

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Support and Honor the Warriors; not the war...


A PERSONAL INVITATION FROM THE...
You are Cordially Invited to a Meet & Greet with the six (6) Members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War next week when they roll into San Diego on the final stop of their “State of the Union: 2008 Summer Base Tour" of eight U. S. Military Bases on Thursday, September 4th in a casual one on one Private House Party setting before they visit the U. S. Marines at Camp Pendleton on Friday.
  • What: Meet & Greet Private House Party, Conversations with Iraq Veterans

  • Who: Six (6) Activist Members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War on the last stop of their 2008 Summer Base Tour.

  • When: Thurs, September 4, 2008, 5:30pm to 7:00 pm,

  • Light Dinner and Refreshments 7:00 pm “Sharp” to 9:00 pm

  • Where: 12177 Briarleaf Way, San Diego 92128

Please RSVP by: Wednesday, 09/03/08 to jan.ruhman@vetspeak.org or call Jan Ruhman @ 858-361-6273. Thank you.

Bios of the Crew Members:

Jason Washburn
Originally from San Diego, CA, Jason Washburn served four years in the United States Marine Corps as an Infantry Rifleman. He was deployed to Iraq three times with two different units during his enlistment, serving in Al Hillah, Najaf, Haditha and much of Al Anbar province.
“This tour is so important because service members have the most credible voice in the nation in regards to what is being done in Iraq in the American people’s name, but that voice is continually silenced,” said Jason.

Steve Mortillo
Originally from Nutley, N.J., Steve Mortillo served 3 years in the US Army as a Cavalry Scout. In March of 2004 he deployed to Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division and returned home in February of 2005. “The biggest threat to American freedom is not at the hands of foreign extremists, but a corrupt government that refuses to abide by the Constitution or the will of the people,” said Steve. He wants to ensure servicemembers who disagree with the administration’s occupation of Iraq are no longer silenced. “This base tour is about making sure our brothers and sisters know they are not alone,” he said.

Marlisa Grogan
Originally from Wayne, NJ, Marlisa Grogan received her commission in the US Marine Corps in May 2002. She underwent officer training at The Basic School in Quantico, VA and was stationed at New River, NC, as an adjutant for Marine Aircraft Group 26 (MAG-26) for her four years of service. In 2005, Marlisa deployed with her unit to Al Asad, Iraq, for 12 months before her end of active service in June 2006. Marlisa Grogan is currently a Captain in the IRR and transitioning from her work as a union organizer to graduate school at the Columbia University School of Social Work. She intends to focus her study on veterans’ issues, namely the rising rates of suicide and homelessness.

Jason Hurd
Jason Hurd, of Ashville, NC, joined the Army as a medic in 1997 after graduating from high school. He did so despite his father’s opposition, a Marine who served in the Pacific campaign and saw both the battles of Tarawa and Guadalcanal – two of the bloodiest occurrences of the war.
Hurd was “gung-ho” at first, but slowly became disillusioned with the Army’s prevailing leadership style of threatening and intimidating Soldiers to keep them submissive.
In November 2004, Jason deployed to central Baghdad with Bristol, Tennessee’s Troop F 2/278th Regimental Combat Team. Over the next year, he saw numerous car-bombings, body parts, dead civilians, dead Soldiers and witnessed the general suffering that followed the U.S. military across Iraq.

Ray Curry
Ray Curry was born and raised in Annapolis, MD, on a diet of GI Joe, Rambo and Full Metal Jacket. The week of the attacks on Sept 11, 2001, he found himself shaking hands with a Marine Corps recruiter and signing papers at age 17. As a 19-year-old Non-Commissioned Officer, he was deployed with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit to the Al Najaf Province of Iraq. After 10 months of the Muqtada Militia, fallen service members, Iraqi civilian “collateral damage” and providing security for the regional “elections,” it became clear that the occupation of the Sovereign Nation of Iraq was both illegal and immoral.

Sponsored by:

Veterans For Peace-San Diego Chapter
Military Families Speak Out-San Diego County Chapter
Vietnam Veterans Against the War-San Diego County Chapter
VetSpeak.org


Y'all come...hear?!

www.VetSpeak.org

A QUIET WALK @ THE RNC by Di Wood

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008 - High Noon
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SAINT PAUL, MN -- The streets of Saint Paul are nearly deserted as I walk the perimeter of the Xcel Energy Center in silence. It's lunchtime -- and compared to a normal business day, things are at a half-roar, not so much subdued, as uncluttered by everyday pedestrian traffic and cars.
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Real life has left Saint Paul for the safety of the suburbs.
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To me, the bizarre emptiness of the downtown scene places even more emphasis on Carlos' pick-up truck, with his son's casket in back, cruising the streets of Saint Paul, trying to get a witness, trying to make the right connection with the right authorities and bring them all home now.
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Even more important than our empty pockets and gas tanks, is what Carlos Arredondo and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War have to say. Hearing it through all the carnival sounds and sideshows of a national political convention can be nearly impossible.
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Everyone on the streets seems to be some type of carnie, hard at work at trying to extract something from us. Few people seem to be here to give anything: to communicate, to understand, to look beyond the high metal fences and the ready-to-pounce authorites, to get beyond the outrageous amounts of firepower to protect -- what? The collective societal dysfunction that continually sends our young men and women off to unbelievably, unthoughtout wars for profit? Don't they realize it isn't all about "them and us" -- but about us all?
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Are all those heavily armed guards -- obviously filled with pride at the great job they are doing -- aware of what their job actually is? Are you there to keep our elected officials safe inside? Or to make sure the people don't try too hard to get inside?
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Why do our elected officials need such firepower to protect them?
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Is it because firepower (like war) costs money and can generate a hell of a profit? Or is it something deeper that requires thought, wisdom, communication, understanding and true forward-thinking to hear? Are you afraid that Carlos might burst your bubble in there?
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"My husband urged me to stay home today," I heard one woman say in Rice Park a few minutes ago. "But I just had to see this for myself."
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"You're better off staying inside the buildings, another woman said to me. "After those hundreds of protesters destroy the place, anything can happen." There was a smile on her face, "mal-curiousity" and I can see that her life must be devoid of the true excitement that living an inclusive, loving, generous life might bring to us all.
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"Didn't you see the damage those idiots did to the banks, the police cars, the windows? They just want to bring America down."
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Yes. I see the damage. And I hear how people are grabbing onto those images to discount the thousands of veterans who marched yesterday for peace. There have always been detractors from all sides and we must keep on marching anyway.
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Truth has its own way of rising to the Big Top. It is the Big Top. And all the red,white and blue popcorn, chocolate McCain & Obama suckers and free t-shirts in the world won't keep it down. And in this case, truth can be found in the faces, determined strides and lives of the young men and women of Iraq & AfghanistanVeterans Against the War and their supporters.
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And so, as I march the streets of Saint Paul, all by myself on my lunch hour, my heart hurts and my stomach screams out for Carlos' son and all the victims of our collective madness that I have witnessed in my lifetime.
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The most sane people I know, consistently through life, have been relegated to living lives as fringe dwellers, always wondering who's the crazy one. Why is that?
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Vietnam Veterans taught me about this. And it is a lesson I remember daily for fear of drowning in the collective madness myself. From the pain of Vietnam, all the way to the very now, humankind has seemed to work to destroy itself. If that isn't certifiable, then what is?
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And so, I say, because this is a blog and my place to sound off:
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RNC Leaders/Politicians: Open the gates of the Xcel Center. Meet your constituents. Call off your dogs! Be moved by us! Greed, profit, and personal gain feel "good" in the short run but in the end will destroy our children and life as we know it in the end. It is time to see the forest through the trees and honor the power we have given you by electing you to your posts. And it is also time to end the greed, profit and personal gain impulses in ourselves. We do not need to bring down our neighbor to build ourselves up. We are all in this together.
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And from my excellent vantage point in Saint Paul (that I hope I can get beyond emotion to report more fully from) I want to report that yes, I can see the entire carnival from where I stand. But what I believe is the most difficult thing of all to see is:
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Me -- looking back at you.
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Love,

Di


w BRING THEM HOME NOW!

Monday, September 01, 2008

IVAW DNC Update re LA Times: Once more into the breach!

Together Then...
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VVAW Silent March on Nixon, Demanding our country and our flag back, in Miami, at 1972 RNC
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Together Again...
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Obama camp meets with Iraq war veterans protesting at Democratic convention
By Nicholas Riccardi and DeeDee Correll, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers August 28, 2008

DENVER -- About 50 Iraq war veterans led a boisterous crowd of about 4,000 protesters to the gates of the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday evening, demanding to speak at the podium inside.The four-mile march began at the site of a concert by leftist rock group Rage Against the Machine. It ended five hours later, after the Obama campaign resolved a tense standoff outside the Pepsi Center by agreeing to meet with
representatives of the group, Iraq Veterans Against the War. Click here for complete article.

Another Deja Vus Flash
By
Willie Hager

Winter Soldiers, then and now; speaking Truth to power. Hopefully, this time, the "Change" will actually take. Unlike the last time. And when the champion wins the day, that they honor their words with actions that benefit us all, not just a few voter demographics, like they did after we threw Nixon out and gave the government back to The People.
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I was in Miami in 1972, with the California contingent of the Last Patrol, and was on the Silent March. We were faced off with the Florida Highway patrol, and elements of the 82d Airborne and Florida National Guard. There was fear in their eyes as we shuffled silently by, on our way to the Fontainbleau, where Nixon was holed up. Our silence unnerved them, just as it was intended to do. I am sure that many of them thought that we were going to keep marching right up to the Fontainbleau penthouse (Nixon Bunker) and drag him out into the streets, for all to see and publically revile. They were visibly relieved when we pulled up and rallied around the front of the hotel and began making speeches supporting our Demands, and accusing Nixon and his cronies of being war criminals. You coulda' cut the tension in the air with a knife. What a rush!
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I was in front of the tube, down here in Cracker Swamp, as the New Winter Soldiers of IVAW made their March to the doors of the Pepsi - I'm a Coke man, myself - Center, with their Demands. I pretty much watched full coverage of all the days; never a blip...media blackout, much as with the Winter Soldier I&A in Silver Springs, MD, this past March. I didn't know that The March had happened until I received an e-mail from Jan Ruhman, a back to back VVAW Brother, from The Day. He is also a major SoCal IVAW Supporter, and the Southern California Organizing Contact, for VVAW, with the LA Times IVAW DNC piece attached.
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When I opened it, and saw the picture of the IVAW marchers, striding silently, with such purpose; I really did have a deja vus flashback! What a rush! I knew then that Hope was alive. That the imagery of those few proud Americans facing off with the powers that be, and having their demands met in such a public way and in face of such overwhelming odds, would once again, demonstrate to the American People, as it did in our day; that the power of True Change lies in the principles and in the hands of those willing to sacrifice to bring it about; it is then the Constitutional Duty of the American People to see that it is placed, and retained in the hands of those who share the same principles and sense of Truth; and who won't sell us out, again for personal, political, or capital gain.
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Semper Fi...
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