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 Parade permits were filed and then rescinded—just before the 2007 parade started.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.