Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Robin Long: Prisoner of Conscience...

Ed Note: Jan A. Ruhman,’s Operations Coordinator, VVAW SoCal Regional Contact, and VFP San Diego Vice President elect, has for the past year been working together with others there in SoCal to form a coalition of groups with Veterans’ issues at the fore of their activity agendas. One of those issues is G.I Rights. Specifically; the right to resist participation in an illegal and immoral war. This SoCal coalition, with the support and assistance of the G.I resistance organization, Courage to Resist, has chosen to speak truth to power through their unified support for, and adaptation of, one such war resister, now turned political prisoner; Robin Long.

Robin is the first active duty American G.I. Iraq war resister to desert the United States military and seek asylum in Canada. He was subsequently extradited and turned over to the US Government for prosecution. What follows is an open letter from Jan regarding support for and a recent visit with Robin, at the Miramar MCAS brig, where he is serving his sentence.

Jan’s Letter…

It's 4:00 pm Sunday, December 7th and myself and Ms. Dawn O'Brien, Chapter President of Military Families Speak Out in San Diego just left Robin at the Naval Consolidated Brig at MCAS MIRAMAR here in San Diego.

It is the second time in three weeks that we have had the pleasure of visiting with Robin. Robin is allowed visitors on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays from 1-3 pm. Each visit begins and ends with a hug and in-between, we spend time talking, reflecting, and laughing. Yes…laughing!
The trails and tribulations that Robin has endured since having been arrested, and ultimately ripped from his adopted community of friends in Canada; separated from his son, Ocean; deported into U. S. Military custody in the United States; tried in a military court at Fort Carson, Colorado, where he was sentenced and sent to the Brig at Miramar to serve his sentence; all have not broken his spirit, nor his dreams for the future. His smile and the twinkle in his eyes are as strong as ever.

He speaks fondly of his memories of Nelson and of the beautiful people of Canada whom he has met, and the many more whom he has yet to meet, who have taken him into their hearts and who have stood up for him and for the greater cause of peace and justice. All Americans of conscience owe you, our brothers and sisters to the North, a heartfelt thank you.
The San Diego Chapter of Veterans For Peace, Iraq Veterans Against The War, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and Military Families Speak Out, all have adopted Robin while he's here in San Diego. Seven veteran members, two women and five men, have volunteered to be part of an ongoing rotation of visitors each weekend and holiday until Robin is Freed on July 8, 2009.

We are also exploring ways to help publicize his case here locally in the media and to raise awareness among the progressive activist community of the cause of war resisters and prisoners of conscience in the struggle to win Robin a pardon. In this effort, we are in the initial planning stages of organizing candle light vigils outside the front gate at Miramar MCAS during the Christmas Holiday Season of "Peace on Earth".
That Robin has taken such a courageous stand on moral principles, and as a result would have to serve one day, let alone 15 months, in a cell, for the act of refusing to serve and kill in an illegal and morally bankrupt war, is beyond belief. He is quite simply, our "Prisoner of Conscience".
For me as a veteran of Vietnam, another illegal and immoral war, his statement to the judge who asked him prior to sentencing to explain himself was eloquent and to the point; "I believe my President lied to me," spoke volumes. A lesson that I had to learn the hard way over forty long years ago in Vietnam, he had learned before having gone to war. Whenever I speak with Robin, I realize that he's wise beyond his years.

If anyone wants me to personally deliver a very short message to him when next we meet please feel free to send me an email at Include your name and a brief memory or statement. We would happily read them to him, when next we visit.

Link To Robin Web Site developed by his attorneys:

Links for The Law Firm of James Matthew Branum: - Firm website - Our church website - BlogOffice phone: 866-933-ARMY (2769)Cell phone: 405-476-5620Mailing address: 1306 NW Sheridan Rd., #296, Lawton, OK 73505, USA

Hoa Binh (Peace in Vietnamese)
Jan A. Ruhman

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Attn: Obama Transition Team re Max Cleland

In consideration of Max Cleland as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs
Willie Hager
Crackerswamp, Fl -I write this from the perspective of someone who has actively worked at the grassroots level with Veterans, dating back to 1972; in that light, I wholeheartedly endorse Max Cleland for this cabinet post. One that is so important to all who have served, or will in the future, serve America, in the armed forces.

I am also encouraging all of my fellow Veterans to participate in a public call for this appointment, as a unified body politic. In addition, I (and I hope all of you, as well) will be making efforts to gain support from with-in the ranks of the existing organizations to which I belong, or have a history with.

This includes Vietnam Veterans Against The War, the VFW, and Vietnam Veterans of Florida, State Coalition, and the IVAW, regardless of any other considerations that these organizations might be fostering at this moment. I hope that all of you will join me in doing the same.

Max is one of us. He is not a political opportunist, nor a lackey of anyone's doctrine or political party, nor is he running for any other office. He is a pragmatist who has been there, and who speaks the language of Veterans...something we call "VetSpeak", here at

He is not an operative of anyone's political agenda, or an operative of any organization or political party. He is also not a man who hesitates to Speak Truth to Power when the chips are down. In addition; he never, ever, abandons the troops when the incoming fire seems overwhelming, or when it is the seemingly politically expedient thing to other words, Brothers and Sisters who have also served; he has our backs! This, regardless of which war we may have served in, since WWII, The Big One...or which political party we support.

He is knowledgeable, articulate, charismatic, and mission oriented...and, yes, Jimmi Hendrix; he is experienced! I mean, he has already been there 'n done that, after all. As is referenced here in a posting that I found at, who is formally endorsing Max, and where I found this quote; “Max has the experience, he served as head of the VA under Jimmy Carter. He served as a US Senator. He knows veterans, he knows the issues, he knows the job ( see,”

Hell, he has most everyone's respect, if not their direct support; with the exception, of course, of the Swift Boat clones and their operatives, who have already done their best to destroy his character with their slanderous dribble. Just as they did to John Kerry's, and just as they are, at this very moment, attempting to do over at

Appointment to any other post would be under-utilization of his talents, abilities, and experience, not to mention a throwaway to Democratic Party favorites. Ones who have less experience, or heart, or sense of purpose. We are not the Democratic Party; we are America's Veterans, joined in blood and service as a result of having faced mortal danger, back-to-back, during America's most troubled and dangerous times...regardless of political affiliation. We are entitled to an honest broker and advocate to oversee our affairs, as such.

I don't see this as a contest twixt he and Tammy Duckworth (divide and conquer tactics), as some have suggested that it should be. I see this as the positioning of someone to this most important post who has in their heart the best interests, and the best quality of life possible for America's Veterans, and who has an eye towards implementation of their most pressing priorities. This, as opposed to the positioning of someone to protect the current appalling administrative situation at the V.A. A situation that routinely denies Veterans, at every opportunity, the well-earned, blood-soaked, and traumatizing entitlements, that they so richly deserve.

This is about the positioning of an advocate, in face of confining budgetary considerations. Considerations that are top heavy in administrative costs, and short on "service". In short, we need a new paradigm for Veterans' care. A re-vamped, efficient and caring delivery system for Veterans. One that advocates for the Veteran, rather than makes every effort to screen them out and deny benefits, and which employs a draconian, self-serving appeals process. I believe that, based on history and experience; Max Cleland is just such a person.

Speak out; don't let them make this about choosing up sides between Duckworth and Cleland, thereby creating schisms amongst our own ranks. Don't lose sight of the ball, or the goal line. Make it about choosing the most demonstrably experienced, qualified individual for the job. Speak out for the sake of all Veterans, all the time; rather than when it is simply politically expedient, or might garner a few more votes.

Semper Fi!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Long Beach Veterans Day Redux

The Battle of Long Beach:  

Traditional Veterans Day Parade(rs) vs. Pro Peace Vets


Horace Coleman

 Ed Note: Horace's piece is the story of the culmination of a campaign that embarked on in of November of 2007.   It was a successful grassroots cyber-campaign, one that carried the day for anti-war Veterans' groups who had been denied participation for over thirty years, as so eloquently demonstrated in Horace's reflections on the day.  Two of the original SoCal VVAW Veterans who had been denied access back in 1972;'s  Jan Ruhman and George Johnson, both active in VVAW and VFP, as well as VetSpeak family, were on hand to savor the People's victory over partisan governance. It gives meaning and new life to the old movement battle cry; Power to the People!  It gives also gives substance to, and belief in, the new People's rallying cry; Yes We Can! WH

In 2007 Long Beach, CA made national news.

It wasn’t for something typically Californian. Not an earthquake, forest fire, movie première, Rose Bowl game or a surfing contest.

It wasn’t about something new to inject into your lips or face, the latest fashion craze or the “in” recreational drug. It was about veterans and veterans support groups being kept out of a parade. Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Military Families Speak Out (MFSO and Veterans for Peace (VFP) were banned from marching in a city backed and aided public Veterans Day parade.

Impassioned speeches were made. Tears were shed by conservative vets. Parade permits were filed and then rescinded—just before the 2007 parade started.

An old, disturbing, American trend has reemerged. Free speech is alright—as long as there’s mass approval of your opinion and presence. “Free speech zones” have become popular. You know, those places far away from an event, those attending it and the media covering it, where folk whose existence “bothers” others are corralled.

Members of the Long Beach city council were involved in parade planning. City resources were used. Active duty military personnel, conservative and traditional veterans groups, high school bands, floats, DAR members, Gold Star Mothers and bikers were welcome.

The city got a highly publicized black eye last year for banning “dissident” elements. Negotiations with the city included not carrying protest signs or distributing literature. No problem. Jabbar McGruder (then president of the Los Angeles chapter of IVAW) was told he could even ride in the same convertible as a parade marshal—as long as he didn’t wear a T-shirt or any thing else that identified what group he belonged to. No dice!

This year IVAW, MFSO and VFP contingents marched, wearing T-shirts with the names of their group, behind banners with the names of their groups. Yes, they carried American flags. The name of each group and what they were about was announced just as it was for every other group in the parade. Watchers clapped and yelled in approval.

When the pro peace / anti war groups passed, people cheered. One woman said “Thank you for what you’re doing!” Some people shouted “Obama!” as they went past.

The next day’s local rag, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, had a gallery of parade photos. In it was a picture of an MFSO member’s hand flashing the “V” sign and wearing a “Bring Them Home Now” bracelet. There was one of Ryan Endicott, a Marine and Vice President of Los Angeles’ IVAW chapter. He was wearing a blue head band with white stars and a black T-shirt with white letters (“IVAW;” “Iraq Veterans Against the War). Ryan carried an American flag folded into a triangle. He held it the same way a troop does when presenting the flag to the next of kin of a dead service person.

People from neighboring cities and counties—veterans, military family members and sympathizers—marched proudly. To paraphrase the late singer Sam Cooke, “change has come!” But it didn’t just happen.

People like George Johnson and Jan Ruhman, members of both VVAW and VFP, spoke before the Long Beach city council. They don’t live in that county but vets were being disrespected and they, as they often do, saw a need and helped fill it. They marched.

So did Pat Alviso—a founder of the local MFSO chapter and the very dynamic mother of a son recently deployed for his third tour in the War on Terror—who was also instrumental in getting the city council to reverse its decision. Many others helped. It took a lot of axe blows to fell towering high handedness. Maybe the powers that be realized they didn’t have a legal leg to stand on. Or, that a person can be a genuine, patriotic vet and honestly think every war this country fights isn’t waged well or justified.

Perhaps the city didn’t want any more bad publicity. Or, some one realized that many more people “support” the troops than become troops (less than 1% of the public does military service) and all that do serve deserve respect.

Perhaps the Gold Star Mothers, who on this Veterans Day called IVAW members “traitors,” wanted other mothers to really feel their pain.

Some French guy named Voltaire said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” That’s un-American—so some think. They seem to prefer chauvinism. That word is derived from the name of a French over-the-top super patriot. Two off its meanings are “militant and boastful devotion to and glorification of one’s country” and “fanatical patriotism.” That’s the not the “American way;” or is it?

All “wars” don’t involve physical violence. A war isn’t “good” because the U.S. is in it. Maybe when (if) we learn that we’ll have better—and fewer—wars.

A double amputee war vet was in the front rank of the VFP contingent. Is that patriotic enough for you? The charge for walking in the Freedom March, open to individual citizens who marched at the end of the parade, was $10. As veterans know, patriotism has a price.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The part of the RNC that America didn't see on TV...

Darth Vader Clones Come to St. Paul
Russ Scheidler

Ed Note: Russ is a founder. He has represented our efforts at the VVAW 40th Anniversary gathering in Chicago, and at the IVAW Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan. Now, here he is again, at the RNC , in St.Paul, Minn. It took him a couple of weeks to regroup from this event, but it didn't diminish his perspective. We are proud to share it here as a reflection on how little has changed in America, since the VVAW historical Silent March at the RNC in Miami, 1972WH

Well, it’s been six weeks since the Republic National Convention was held here in St. Paul and I’m just now able to write about it. Veterans for Peace (VFP) and Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) also held their national conventions in a south suburb the weekend before. I attended there to help out at an info and merchandise table for the chapter from the Bay Area in California. I had not sat down for more than five minutes when I felt those old freaky vibes of PTSD dragging me down. It only helped a little to play my guitar and I suppose most of my songs sounded a bit like the blues.

It was a very difficult scene seeing the old GI Movement guys and gals along with VVAW members that I hadn’t seen in over thirty years right next to the IVAW people. The old crew all had their VA meds for their daily aches and pains, most wore glasses now and moved a bit slower than the last time we saw each other. I think the average age was around sixty. The younger IVAW folks were much more active and prone to smile. But, I just couldn’t get happy to think that here we are again with another ill-defined war that has degenerated into a counter-insurgency fought with "smart bombs and stupid leaders" so that a few of the Uber-rich can make a ton of money.
Just how much money and how much war has changed became very clear after reading the book “Blackwater” about the mercenary contractors in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We now have more mercenaries in Iraq than we do real soldiers. They are paid many times more (billions and billions of dollars) than the real troops and they are answerable to no one! Not Iraq law and not US law. I cringe whenever I read about some soldier being court-martialed who let the moment get the best of him and shot some prisoner that may or may not have deserved it in a place where you can’t tell the good guys from the bad. Meanwhile, the “Contractors” create a free-fire zone whenever and wherever they feel like it.
And then the Republicans came!

Every freeway ramp between the airport and both downtowns
(Minneapolis and St Paul) had cops guarding them. Downtown St Paul had become an armed camp full of riot cops. With their black helmets, kneepads, boots, heavy vests, visors, shields, riot sticks, etc. they looked like hundreds of Darth Vader clones. The block next to where I work is the old police station. At lunchtime or after work, locals had to walk through 100-200 heavily armed cops in small groups as they prepped their gear and chatted about their families and the upcoming night when most of the action was going to happen.
As a local union officer in the Capitol area, I had been to a meeting months before with the State Patrol Major that was said to be in charge of security planning. He said they didn’t expect too much trouble because the bad guys could hardly afford a used car. He also said that not much would be happening in front of the capitol. Then he told us where they would be setting up barriers for both the inner and outer rings of security.
It only took one glance to see they were creating an “Ambush Alley” for the demonstrators. I also realized that the Major either didn’t know what he was talking about or he was lying and I hoped it was the latter. The greens in front of the Capitol are a natural gathering place with lots of open space and multiple options of access into downtown. Most of those were blocked off with snowplows (huge trucks with very imposing and monstrous snow blades on the front). They take up most of an intersection by themselves. And, of course, most of the demonstrators are college educated. They may be poor, but they are not stupid.
The IVAW opened things up with a powerful silent march behind Arrrendo's casket on Sunday.

The main show began on Monday, Labor Day. The main march made it through the cops kill zone without too much trouble. However, demonstrators created actions that bracketed the downtown area at four main entrance points. About the same time, a group of neo-anarchists broke from the main march and smashed a few store windows and slashed a few tires. They chanted “These are our streets!” as they threw newspaper boxes and trashcans into the street. I knew they didn’t mean that they would be back this winter to help shovel snow or next spring to help fill potholes or would help pay the increased taxes needed to keep the streets from decaying into trash. In my heart, I felt Buenaventura Durutti turn in his grave. The Anarcho-Syndicalyst from the Spanish Civil War had from 500,000 to a million people attend his funeral in the middle of a civil war. Durutti’s anarchists were a type of trade unionists. The people on the streets of
St Paul had the look of someone who hardly ever worked more than a part-time job at Starbucks.
The cops strike back!
It was at that point that we began to see the new tactics. There were flying squads of about twenty cops per squad on bicycles in light riot gear who got there first. Then came the small caravans of 4 or 5 mini-vans filled with about 5 to 8 fully dressed riot cops that descended
on the scene. Finally, the main guard showed up and the street became a free-arrest zone. Anyone and everyone in the zone was arrested. Demonstrators, journalists and locals who just happened to be there were all swept up in a vast and uncompromising net of cops. Tear gas and pepper spray were everywhere within the zone. Concussion grenades or flash-bangs were thrown into the crowds to create confusion. It wasn’t hard to be confused with all of that happening within a few minutes and occurring over a several block area in a downtown canyon of buildings.
And then came Thursday night when the test of wills resulted in the cops directing people to cross the Sears parking lot. They told the marchers they would be OK if they went that way. Then they swept up a huge group of people and forced them onto a bridge over the freeway. There they arrested hundreds of people. Again, they gassed and flash-banged the demonstrators, journalists and locals in a huge ambush.
They didn’t have to arrest those people. The fight was pretty much out of them by that time.
There had already been three or four skirmishes as they tried to march that evening when delegates would actually be at the Convention Center. No evening permits for marching were ever given for that night. The prevailing reason for the round up and arrest of over 800 people that was given was that they couldn’t expect the cops to take the time to distinguish journalist from demonstrator. That is not only an insult to my intelligence, it is an insult to the four-year degrees that each and every one of those cops has to have to become a police officer.
Real soldiers on the ground in
Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to distinguish friend from foe even when they all look alike and real bullets are flying. However, cops in America cannot be expected to make any distinctions among the home folks when the most dangerous thing they seemed to have was a bucket of piss!
I have seen the future, which is really still the past; and it looks like an army of Darth Vader clones whose enemy is a free press and, most of all; We the People!

Friday, September 05, 2008


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! (

"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."


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?
w w
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?
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


Agent Orange
(From the RNC)

I’m suffering from PISD (Politics-Induced Symptoms of Deflation). It’s a form of depression caused when naïve 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: 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.”

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 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 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 (, 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, 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.

[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...

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 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

Y'all come...hear?!


Tuesday, September 2, 2008 - High Noon

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.
Real life has left Saint Paul for the safety of the suburbs.
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.
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.
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?
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?
Why do our elected officials need such firepower to protect them?
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?
"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."
"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.
"Didn't you see the damage those idiots did to the banks, the police cars, the windows? They just want to bring America down."
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
And so, I say, because this is a blog and my place to sound off:
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.
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:
Me -- looking back at you.



Monday, September 01, 2008

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

Together Then...

VVAW Silent March on Nixon, Demanding our country and our flag back, in Miami, at 1972 RNC
Together Again...
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
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
Semper Fi...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Who is the true Elitest?

MCCAIN’S HOUSES – 4? 7? 8?


Bonnie Cabrerax

Ed Note: Bonnie Cabrera is the wife of Calixto Cabrera, who is a fellow USMC Vietnam Veteran, and who has been a close and personal friend since back in the day. He is a VetSpeak original, and has been posting with us on various topics for a number of years; including from New Orleans, when he was a shelter manager with the Red Cross there and in Mississippi, following Katrina.WH

McCain says “Obama is affluent and elite.” Those living in multiple glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

McCain doesn’t even know how many houses he has and the number keeps growing? Obama doesn’t zip between multiple houses in a private jet, and Michelle doesn’t spend $750,000 on credit cards in 1 month.

So between them who is really affluent? Let’s compare financial biographies.

McCain grew up in a privileged military family and for 30 years has enjoyed super wealth with multiple homes, a private jet, and a wife who can spend $750,000 on credit cards in 1 month. They have never struggled financially a day in their lives.

Obama was raised by a single mother on food stamps. His father abandoned them when he was 2. Michelle’s family of 4 lived in a 1 bedroom apartment. Barack and Michelle put themselves through school on scholarships and student loans. After college he worked as a community organizer on $10,000 a year with an old car. He and Michelle have 1 home, and in the last 4 years they have become wealthy.

McCain cannot relate to 95% of Americans. We don’t have 8 houses.

Many of us are trying to keep the one we have from foreclosure, or still dreaming about owning 1 home. McCain is out of touch with everyone except the wealthy.

So which affluent candidate will put “Country First?” Not McCain. Even though his family is extremely wealthy, he wants to give himself an even greater tax cut than Bush did, while the working and middle class get no new tax breaks.

Under Obama all the working and middle class receive tax cuts, while ONLY the very wealthy, including Obama, will pay higher taxes.

Obama is a diverse leader who can relate to all of us, not just the very wealthy. The Obamas have done it all - poor, middle class and wealthy, always maintaining solid family values. Michelle still buys toilet paper at Target.

McCain is so “affluent” he doesn’t even know how many houses he has.

He should stop throwing stones!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Healing (and Working) As family

Cynthia Orange

(from the Vets for Peace National Conference)

"How do Americans impacted by the war heal while most of America is in a state of denial?" asked Joan Najbar, a psychologist and mother of an Iraq vet in the workshop she led called "Grieving and Healing from the Wounds of War." One way, she said, is to honor ourselves, our losses, and our struggles by:
  • Talking about the impact this war has had on us and our families.
    (This doesn't only mean Iraq and Afghanistan vets. Michael and I know of so many Vietnam vets, peace activists, etc. who were re-traumatized when the U.S. invaded Iraq. We need to acknowledge and honor those old wounds, old scars too that surfaced again as we continue [with no awe but with plenty of ongoing shock] to witness another debacle)
  • Taking care of ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities.
  • Doing what we need to do to heal from the wounds of war, one day at a time. Joan said this could be by being in nature, doing yoga, opening our eyes and hearts to the beauty around us, doing some art [writing, photography, drawing, poetry. . .) by loving. . .
  • Believing we don't have to suffer in silence.
  • Coming together to take care of our veterans and their families.
  • Finding strength when we come together in action, celebration, and self care.

She demonstrated these last points by having those in attendance stand inside a big circle of spandex material we held behind us (sort of like holding a big, contiguous beach towel around you that extends from shoulders to knees). What became immediately apparent was that each of us leaning against the stretchy fabric allowed the others to also lean against it. We provided strength and resilience to each other, but if our "support" was withdrawn suddenly, the entire group was affected.

This reminded me of a story my dear friend Christina Baldwin (author of "Story Catcher") told me about a village in Africa that endured tribal wars where the guerrilla armies of the hill people stole the young boy children of the valley people and forced them to fight against their own tribe. UNICEF heard of this atrocity and decided to buy back the children and reintroduce them to their villages.

The UNICEF workers would drive into these remote villages with several boys who had been gone for two, three, four years; boys whose childhoods had been stolen, whose souls were wracked with the guilt of what they had done. They went to the tribal elders and asked them ‘We have brought them home to you, but they are not the same. What will you do?’
‘We will light a fire in the center of the village every night for a year,’ the elders replied. ‘The boys will be required to come and tell their stories and listen to the reactions of the villagers. We will weep together for what this war has done. We will talk until the war is talked out of them, until the sorrow is healed, until the fire is burned up.’

Christina reminds people that the word "heart" has "ear" in the middle of it, and she urges us to listen with the "ears of our hearts."

For me, this is a large part of what this conference is all about: gathering in tribe as people have done since ancient times; sitting around our metaphorical fire as one family--warriors from many wars, peacemakers from different eras, and fathers and mothers who worry and wait for their soldiers to come home and grieve those who won't return to them.

I walk down the halls of the Ramada and hear so much laughter, witness so many embraces, watch as new friendships are forged, new intense conversations unfold. Attendees go from workshop to workshop (and there are so many diverse workshops), from experience to experience, and emerge revitalized; clearer in their peacemaking tasks, buoyed by just being together in family, as tribe.

As anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Heroes: Then, Now, and Still...

Cynthia Orange

Yesterday at lunch, my husband Michael asked Twin Cities peace icon and Vets for Peace member Marv Davidov who his heroes are today. Without hesitation, he nodded at one of the many Iraq Veterans Against the War who are here holding their own conference in conjunction with the Vets for Peace annual conference. “These young vets are my heroes,” said Davidov. “And my surgeon…”, he added.

Marv, some 70 years young, is still waiting for a kidney transplant. When he first met the doctor who will do the surgery, Marv asked him right off what he thought about the Iraq war. After stating his strong opposition to it, the doctor shared that he had been kicked out of the Air Force during Vietnam for refusing to drop cluster bombs on villages there. “I got kicked out of the Army!” Marv told him. The fact that Marv was the founder of the Honeywell Project—the corporation so infamous for making those horrific cluster bombs—only intensified the bond with his doctor.

Marv showed us a gorgeous book that has just been published about the 1960s freedom riders who rode buses to Mississippi to register southern blacks to vote. Of course Marv (who spent 45 days in a Mississippi jail for his civil rights activities) was one of the featured activists.

That was just one of his over 50 arrests for nonviolent civil disobedience, and he was lamenting the fact that he should probably no longer risk getting arrested because of his health. He has dialysis three times a week but was able to change dialysis days next week—so rest assured he’ll be marching on Sunday with Vets for Peace and on Monday during the RNC.

Through the years and various peace actions, we’ve had the privilege of listening to Marv tell his tales that are dotted with other paragons of peace: The Chicago Eight, Noam Chomsky, the Berrigan brothers, etc. etc. etc. etc.

This place is filled with heroes like Marv—the brave vets and their sisters and brothers in the peace movement, including the Gold Star families, who are also here, grieving together over the loved ones lost to the insanity of this war. They are threads in the colorful tapestry of peace we continue to weave. And in their tireless efforts, a bright hope emerges. . .

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hearts and Voices United

Cynthia Orange

“Drums are a heartbeat,” explained Deborah Guerrero, before she helped launch the Veterans for Peace national conference today in the Twin Cities with her open-throated, open-hearted indigenous songs. And you could feel it...the heartbeats of veterans and those who support them, pounding in unison as the energy of being in community, in family, grew and enveloped us. She sang and drummed an “honor song,” paying tribute and giving back to those who have given so much. “Bless this path we all walk together,” she sang, and I envisioned the hundreds gathered together at the Ramada hotel—just across the way from that icon of excess: the Mall of America—garnering collective courage, walking together toward the common goal of peace.

And then Clyde Bellecourt, one of the founders of the American Indian Movement (AIM), whose spirit name is “Thunder Before the Storm,” talked about his warrior father, a veteran of World War I, who taught him it was the responsibility of those in the tribe to feed those who didn’t have a father or big brother to feed them. “We didn’t wait for the last Thursday of November,” he said. “For us, every day of the month and every month of the year was Thanksgiving.” Bellecourt said his brother who fought in World War II, carried the war with him until he died of alcoholism—an escape too many veterans seek.

And then he invited seven representatives to come forward and smoke the sacred peace pipe with him as world champion Native American drummers echoed more heartbeats.

It was the perfect start to what promises to be a memorable experience.

It is fitting that this conference began on this, the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the 80th anniversary of the day the government recognized that women had the right to vote. Michael McPhearson, Executive Director of Veterans for Peace, said it is no coincidence that these anniversaries come at a time when we had a Black man and a woman running for president and a Black man (McPhearson) standing before us as executive director of a predominantly white organization introducing a woman (Kelly Dougherty) who serves as executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW)—a predominantly male organization. It is a reminder, said McPhearson, that our rights belong to us—they are not the government’s to give.

Kelly Dougherty had just come back from the Democratic National Convention in Denver. She described the amazing victory IVAW had there when they teamed up with the popular band “Rage Against the Machine” at the Denver Coliseum to deliver their message of peace to an audience of 9,000. “We announced from the stage that we were leading a march (unpermitted) to the DNC at the Pepsi Center. It started out with about 3,500 and grew to 8,000-10,000.” Dougherty said it was their intention to deliver a letter to Barack Obama stating the goals of IVAW and asking him—the purported anti-war candidate—to endorse their stances on veterans’ rights and issues. She described being blown away by the cooperation of the police, who escorted them to the Pepsi Center and their ability to deliver their letter to Obama staff. Her victory was shared by the audience who rose as one to give her—and IVAW—the standing ovation they so deserve.

Father Roy Bourgeois, a cofounder of the School of America watch, described his first time in jail as a “sacred” experience. “When we are compelled to follow our conscience, we are free,” he said, reminding us of Bishop Romero’s words: “Let those who have a voice speak for those whose voices have been taken away. Let those who have a voice work for justice.” Those who gather together at this conference as veterans and peacemakers have a voice, he said. It is up to us to speak clearly and boldly in the difficult days ahead.

Folksinger and peace activist Larry Long concluded the opening ceremony with stories of his own journey as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and peace activist with a song he wrote for his friend, John, who died from complications of Agent Orange exposure last year. “I thought the war was over, but the war has just begun for my wife and children; for the ones I love. They said there was no danger; this I did believe. I was bound to serve my country. My country ‘tis of thee.”

For the hundreds of Vets for Peace and those who support them--witnesses of too much war and too much pain—the war and the world is too much with them. But their voices—those brave and strong voices who dare speak truth to power—are coming together here at this conference, singing their songs of peace and hope. And their hearts—their warrior hearts that ache with the heavy burdens they bear—beat together in a unified drumbeat they hope the world will hear.