Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On Sixth Anniversary of Iraq War...

For Immediate Release March 21, 2009
Press Contact: Ben Lowengard at 410-371-7203

More than 10,000 march on Pentagon & leading war profiteers
A "throng of war protesters swelled Saturday as they marched across the Memorial Bridge." (AP) The protesters marched on the Pentagon and what followed was a dramatic direct action at Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and KBR, corporations that demonstrators labeled "merchants of death." The predominantly young crowd continued to grow as the day proceeded. They marched through the Pentagon north Parking Lot and then into downtown Crystal City, where the leading war corporations' headquarters are located.
The march was led by a contingent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

There was a significant delegation from members of the Arab and Muslim communities and many students participated.The Arlington County Police mobilized in full riot gear in an attempt to block the demonstrators from delivering symbolic coffins at the doorsteps of the war corporations. They brought tear gas, snarling dogs and pointed guns loaded with rubber bullets directly at demonstrators. The Arlington County Police also put out an absurdly low count of the demonstration, which was more than 10,000 people.
This is the last two thirds of the March, as captured by Getty Images, reflecting the fallacy of the Arlington County Police's reported numbers, and the general media treating it as a non-event:

In Los Angeles, a simultaneous demonstration drew 4,000 people, which culminated with a dramatic die-in at the Kodak Theater. Another 4,000 demonstrated in San Francisco, where police carried out violent attacks on demonstrators and arrested numerous people. "This is the launch of the anti-war movement in the post-Bush era. Bush is gone, but the occupation of Iraq continues, the war in Afghanistan is escalating, and the people of Palestine are living under a state of siege," stated Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition.

"Veterans" photo: Bill Hackwell


Thursday, March 19, 2009

End The Occupation Update

Iraq War Veterans Drop Banner at Veterans Administration Headquarters:

"Veterans Say No to War and Occupation! March 21st - March on the Pentagon"

Iraq War veterans carried out a dramatic banner drop at the headquarters of the Veterans Administration in Washington, D.C., on the 6th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

A U.S. Army National Guard veteran scaled the facade of the VA building and dropped a 25 foot-long, 6 foot-high banner that read "Veterans Say No to War and Occupation, March 21st -March on the Pentagon." He was handcuffed and detained.

The dramatic banner drop was carried out in front of a well-attended press conference organized by the Veterans and Service Members Task Force of the ANSWER Coalition.

"This is the beginning of three days of sustained activities timed to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the illegal invasion of Iraq. On Saturday, March 21st, veterans and service members will be the lead contingent in the National March on the Pentagon," stated James Circello, an Iraq War veteran and a spokesperson for the group.

Other speakers at the press conference included representatives from Iraq Veterans Against the War. Also present were delegations from Veterans for Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Eric Murillo, a U.S. Army veteran from El Paso, Texas, decried, "Military recruiters are targetting young people in Latino communities. Our communities face high unemployment and young people are struggling to be able to pay the tuition costs necessary to go to school. The recruiters are offering the promise of citizenship to immigrant youth. This is the most cynical manipulation by the Pentagon. Our young people need real jobs. We need affordable education and immigrants need full legal rights."

Similar actions were organized today in cities throughout the country by the Veterans and Service Members Task Force of the ANSWER Coalition.

Click here to read about the Associated Press article about the action that was published by the Army Times.

More than 1,200 organizations are co-sponsoring the protests set for Saturday, March 21st in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco. The demonstration in Washington, D.C., will begin at 12:00 noon at 23rd St. and Constitution Ave. NW. The demonstration will march to the Pentagon, and then on to the headquarters of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and KBR (the former Halliburton subsidiary), located in Crystal City, Virginia. The marchers will carry hundreds of flag-draped coffins representing the multinational victims of the U.S. war drive.

Photos: Bill Hackwell, AnswerCoalition.org


Post 3/21 Pentagon Demo Musings

To those who plan to be in DC this Saturday March 21 for the March on the Pentagon,After the march there is a vet poetry reading at Busboys and Poets. Come join us and read.
Veterans’ Reading at
Busboys and Poets
Langston Room, 14th & V Streets NW,
Washington, DC

Saturday March 21th, 5 - 7PM

…searing raw-whisky poetry by military veterans …
For some, the intense experience of war can only be expressed in writing, while others are driven by the need to say something openly political:
Reading their own work are, Camillo “Mac” Bica Thomas Brinson, Dayl Wise and others...

Book proceeds to Veterans for Peace.

Published by Post Traumatic Press, Woodstock , NY
D. Wise,

The soldier-poets:
Camillo =E 2Mac” Bica , Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. As a veteran recovering from his experiences as a United States Marine Corps officer during the Vietnam War, he founded, and coordinated for five years, the Veterans’ Self-Help Initiative, a therapeutic community of veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. He is a long-time activist for peace and justice, a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and the coordinator of Veterans For Peace Long Island. Poems and articles by Dr.Bica have appeared in The Humanist Magazine, Znet, Truthout.com, Monthly Review Zine, Foreign Policy in Focus, and numerous philosophical journals.
Thomas Brinson currently serves on the National Board Directors of Veterans For Peace, is the Poet Laureate of VFP Long Island Chapter 138, and Long Island contact for Vietnam Veterans Against The War. He served in the II Corps Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, and as a Peacemaker on the Nonviolent Peace Force in Mutur, T rincomalee, Sri Lanka from 2003 to 2005.
Dan Wilcox is a poet and photographer who is said to have the largest photo collection of unknown poets on the planet. Dan hosts the “Third Thursday Open Mic” for poets at the Social Justice Center in Albany, New York and reads poetry on a regular basis at various clubs throughout the Hudson River Valley. He is a member of a poetry troupe, known as “3 Guys From Albany.” He is the author of Meditations of a Survivor (A.P.D. The Alternative Press for Albany’s Poets) and has published eight books including two more of his own and a book for Anthony Bernini. He is an active member of Veterans for Peace, chapter 10 in Albany, NY.
Dayl Wise is the author of Poems and other stuff (Post Traumatic Press) and recently edited a collection of work by veterans titled Post Traumatic Press 2007. His poems have appeared in The Veteran and More Than a Memory, Reflections of Viet Nam. He was drafted into the US Army in 1969 and served in Viet Nam and Cambodia in 1970 with the First Air Cav. He is a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Veterans For Peace.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rally For Peace: End 6 Years of Occupation!

Together Then...

VVAW, Miami RNC, 1972

Together Again...

March on the Pentagon: Washington, DC

When: March 21, 2009 at 12:00 PM

Where: 23rd St. & Constitution Ave
Join VVAW, VFP and IVAW.

Demands: From Iraq to Afghanistan to Palestine, Occupation is a Crime
Jobs & Education - Not Wars & Occupation


Monday, March 02, 2009

If We Don't Do It, It Won't Get Done...

The VVAW's Future In the Anti-war Movement Under an Obama Administration, West Coast Tour
Willie Hager

Cracker Swamp, Fl – After one of the more intense (in a good way) weeks of my surprisingly long life, I am finally getting back to normal. Well, make that as near normal as I am capable of getting, under the circumstances. But that’s a story for another day. This day is for the story of that week, and the dynamics that led up to it. Hopefully, the story of that week will be the story of the future of grass-roots organizing under the governance of an Obama administration. Particularly as it relates to the effects of seemingly un-ending war, and especially it’s impact on Veterans, their families, and their quality of life issues.

This was the week that Vietnam Veterans Against The War (VVAW) went out on the road, all the way to to California. (Photo was taken at front gate, Los Angeles National Veterans Park. L to R are George J, Jan R, Willie H & Marty W). We had come to assess the current vital signs of the ant-war movement, and to discuss possible planning for activist political organizing in the political environment of an Obama administration, and to report back our findings to the National Coordinators of VVAW.
In reality, the week began shortly following the Winter Soldier Investigation - Iraq & Afghanistan in March of last year. Just as with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War’s 40th Anniversary gathering in Chicago, the WSI I&A event, which was co-sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against The War (IVAW) and VVAW. The event generated a turn-out of old school VVAW types who had gone on to other lives after the fall of Nixon. The passion of current events, to include Iraq and Afghanistan, and a VA demonstrating badly needed reforms, has rekindled an energy in many of these folks that is seeking direction for release, and ensuing therapeutic action. After each of these powerfully motivating events, folks were asking, “What now…? Where does VVAW go from here…? Where do I go from here…? Where do us old school VVAW types fit in with all of this?"

Well, that conversation went on behind the scenes for awhile, amongst many of us who had come back together after thirty or so years. But it was also going on in all of the e-lists that we all belonged to. That repetition of questioning, in and amongst the various groups and organizations cried out, it seemed to us old school VVAW types, for the formulation, implementation, and maintenance of a pragmatically realistic and doable operational plan. One that would provide a bonding in struggle at the grass-roots level of not only passionate and principled individuals, but also diversified resources and talents rallied around a set of shared political principles and pre-determined, mutually prioritized, focused, objectives.

One that would give VVAW and other progressive organizations a re-newed focus, and a channel for newly re-generated energy, based on the formula that had worked so successfully for VVAW, back in The Day; unity + struggle = victory. This model is perceived as an operational plan which like back in The Day, would provide a unified front of multiple organizations, all coalesced around issues that touch all aspects of the Veterans’ and the families of Veterans and active duty G.I.s, and Veterans’support groups. The VVAW West Coast Tour was set up for the purpose of seeing if y'all agreed with this perspective, and if so, could we, together, organize an effective grass-roots anti-war campaign, in today's political world?
The Week, In Retrospect

Previous discussions of these pressing questions within VVAW had culminated in the “VVAW STILL STRONG AFTER ALL THESE YEARS”: The Antiwar Movement Under An Obama Administration, West Coast Tour. A tour that began in the San Francisco Bay area on the 15th of February, and concluded in San Diego at Jan Ruhman's house on the 21st of February, 2009.
A tour that was in search of answers.
The VVAW traveling road show was headlined by Barry Romo and Marty Webster, VVAW National Coordinators; George Johnson, of Veterans For Peace (VFP), San Francisco Chapter 69, and a long standing member of VVAW, was on board, and served as Northern California tour coordinator and subsequent panel member; Jan Ruhman, the VVAW SoCal Organizing Contact and VP of San Diego Chapter of VFP, was the over-all West Coast Tour coordinator, and a subsequent panel member.

The SoCal leg of the Tour, which began with two day visit to the California Central Coast Chapter of VVAW, headquartered in Camarillo, Ca, and coordinated by Steve and Carolyn Crandall. This leg of the Tour was also accompanied by Mickey Krakowski, an old school SoCal VVAW type from way back when. A back to back brother who got wind of the Tour all the way up in Grand Junction, Colorado, and wanted to come to listen and learn; and, finally, myself, Willie Hager, currently a VVAW Florida Organizing Contact, and once upon a time long ago, Regional Coordinator of VVAW, Calif/Nev, circa 1972-1974, who had come to listen and learn, as well.

Fact is, that’s why we were all there. That’s what the tour was all about. To find out what’s working, and what’s not. To get out amongst the grassroots and personally meet and talk with folks still committed to the fight (in Florida, we call this grippin’ n’ grinnin’ vs e-in’ and keyin’). To listen to what they have to say, and work to coordinate all our efforts in a broad unified front, based on a networking of talent and resources and organizations. We didn’t come to tell folks what they should be doing, or how to do it…we came to listen, and to learn, and to contribute our historical perspective of the realities of todays political arena as it applies to grass-roots organizing. I personally participated in all of the panels and discussions, beginning in Camarillo, and ending in San Diego, at Jan's house, for a house party and discussion group.

Many of us had poured our re-newed energy, and our eternal hope, as well as our grass-roots organizing talents into the Obama presidential campaign. Many others were afraid that we would get fooled again, as in “new boss same as the old boss…”, and just hunkered down and hoped for the best. Again, when the dust settled, and Obama had won the day; “What now…? Where does VVAW go from here.” The other e-lists and groups, such as Veterans For Peace (VFP), Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Military Families Speak Out, Orange County (MFSO-OC), and Courage To Resist, were all asking one another the same question; “What now…? Where do we go from here?” All of the panels and meetings on the VVAW tour were attended by folks from the above mentioned organizations. They were still asking these same questions when we met with them in their home 20s.
Framing The Argument

Here's my personal take on all that I saw and heard, during that week...
They all, at every stop, agreed on this much; that we should all be doing something. But what to do? How to do it? What with? By when? Who to call? All that was missing it seemed, was a plan. Here were all these folks from all these different organizations who shared political principles, if not shared ideological bases or philosophies, eager to seize on a mission. Folks who realize that the struggle for change is long term, and that change is what we make it. All were in agreement at every stop that, indeed; yes, we can.

It seemed as though we were already, by default, a Coalition Of  The Un-willing. Un-willing to support a militaristic foreign policy; un-willing to ignore the critical need for VA reform of current mental health diagnosis and support paradigms, as well as the service model of it’s disability claims division’s processes; un-willing to accept the increasing rate of active duty and veterans’ suicides; un-willing to ignore the sexual abuse of our women in uniform, often in combat theatres, and finally; un-willing to give up the fight for G.I Rights. It seemed like all that was needed, now, was… a plan.

Together Then - Together Again

Here were the doers…those who keep all of our organizations alive at the grassroots. Here they were, one-on-one, and as representatives of the various organizations already mentioned, in all of the communities that were on the VVAW West Coast Tour. And, here they all were, in peoples' living rooms and groups' meeting halls, all asking one another; how can we be most effective, in light of an Obama administration, a massive economic restructuring, and changing war on terror strategies, tactics, and theatres? I was honored to be part of the discussion.

As I understood them, these were the propositions that were recurrent throughout each of the gatherings that we attended:
  1. That the concept of finding a way to present a unified front of organizations (affinity groups) that are rallied around, and focused on, a manageable number of issues or goals, which are realistically attainable, and that are mutually supportive focal issues and/or objectives, is a viable strategy that is worthy of further review as we move into the Obama era of grass-roots community organizing.

  2. That it would be a good idea for the groups that were represented to set up follow-up meetings, where, together, they could identify mutual goals and objectives, and discuss a plan of action for their local groups and chapters to work in consort with.
  3. That folks should outreach other local groups for the discussion, as well. The discussion to center on how to work together, each under our own particular organizational banners, sharing resources and talent on pre-determined, mutually agreed upon, operational plan
  4. That it was not only possible, but that it was in fact our best option, to adapt a pragmatic model of critical thinking in our planning, rather than waste precious time and resources on protracted debates on philosophy and ideology that drain energy and impede forward momentum on pressing issues.
Here are the mutually supportive issues that were expressed by those in attendance at each of the gatherings that I attended:
  1. Full funding of all Veterans care
  2. x
  3. VA reform of mental health PTSD diagnosis, treatment, and service delivery paradigms
  4. x
  5. Sexual abuse of women in uniform, often in combat theatres
  6. x
  7. Military recruiting practices, on campus & abroad
  8. x
  9. GI Rights, i.e. Robin Long
Seize The Moment

There were other suggestions worthy of consideration, of course. The ones that I have listed were simply the most frequently referred to as potential focus issues. My feeling is that, whichever ones would work best in your local area, with what resources are available amongst group members, should be decided on by an organizing committee that is composed of representatives of each organization in your area that is interested in this concept, and can speak for their local group or chapter. I believe that decisions of this nature should come from those who they most directly effect, not from those who think them up while having no personal stake in either the the process or the outcome. But, that's just me.

This Tour was a very powerful personal experience, as well as a powerful learning one. I was mightily impressed with the amount of energy and commitmant that we found out there at the grass-roots. I want to close with the concluding sentence from an organizing pamphlet, one that Jan Ruhman and I created together for California/Nevada VVAW, back in The Day. It reads, "Again, the main thing is not to be intimidated by myths about your community, but to find out for yourself what needs to be done and to go do it." The only word I would add at the end of that sentence, for all our considerations, is "together..."

To all the great folks in California who worked to put the Tour together, and to all the other folks that we met with all along the El Camino Real; Thank you for your gracious hospitality...it warmed a Southern man's heart. And, most importantly, thanks to all of y'all; we now have a plan!

Nothin' left, now, but to do it...

Unity, Struggle, Victory!