Tuesday, December 21, 2010

After Action Report: Taking A Stand, Washington D.C. 12-16-2010

Ed Note:  This e-mail regarding the 12-16-2010 Take A Stand demonstrations, from Bill Homans (Watermelon Slim), a friend and fellow VVAW member, was originally sent for posting in the VVAW Veteran and on VVAW lists, when they publish the next ish.  It was so well done that after I saw it, I called and asked Slim if we could post it as an After-Action Report, here at VetSpeak, as well.  He readily assented. I believe that it is time that we all re-assess our impact on ending the war in Afghanistan, to date.  I have inserted photos by Bill Perry, Zach Choate, and Cheryl Biern.
Many believe, as I do, that we haven't been as effective as we could have and should have been.  That we should re-energize and re-organize, with the Veterans in the forefront of the anti-war movement as back in the day, and that the time for direct action is upon us.  Direct action that takes many forms but that requires personal commitment; not just words, but deeds. What we have been doing hasn't worked, so far. The 12-16-2010 Civil Disobedience actions in Washington D.C. are a reflection of that belief, and a lot of frustration, as well as an example of the power of commitment to principle, beyond political ideology.  We are all in this together, after all.  I am posting this and other follow-up here on our pages as inspiration for others to step up and join with us in ending these wars;  Not Tomorrow - Not Next Year - Now! WH
From: bill homans 
Subject: RE: [vvawcontacts] Thanks to DC protesters
To: varc@googlegroups.com
Date: Sunday, December 19, 2010, 1:50 AM

Well, Hola, Brothers and Sisters, 
Guess it's time I checked in. Zach Choate-- what a freakin HERO-- and Wayne Parker are halfway to Baton Rouge as I write, having dropped me off in Clarksdale around 10:15 CST.
It was an honor to have gone to Washington for my first time at a specifically antiwar demonstration since-- what-- January 1973?-- IN THE COMPANY OF SUCH STALWART BROTHERS AS THIS. Besides re-encountering my dear and close comrade from "the old days," Dave Ross!! Vietnam Veterans Against the War took more than active part in this action. I need only point you to the several videos which have already emerged from the action: VVAW members who are also members of VFP were numerous, by the VVAW buttons and patches everywhere evident.
Current "regular" members Doc Bjornson, Bill Perry, Al Kovnat, Sam Adams from Philadelphia, Patrick McCann from W. Maryland and Jim Baldridge from Baltimore, as well as this writer who came from Mississippi, represented the organization with grace, appropriate solemnity and that righteous anger that comes from standing next to the place where the levers of power are being handled by-- to be most generous-- a man not in control of an almost atavistic process of America desperately throwing its weight around. Flailing. Floundering.
Zach Choate, IVAW (with flag) at The Fence
The whole world now knows Zack Choate, the 10th Mountain Division Purple Heart Spec-4-- a gunner-- with whom I rode up to Washington. He and Wayne Parker, another Louisiana vet (Army 79-84) picked me up in Clarksdale, and we proceeded to operate with remarkable discipline (Who, Bill Homans?? ;) ). Zach and I were going to chain ourselves together on the fence. However, he was in his dress greens with one layer of thermals undernath, really not sufficient for this weather. He was at a bit of risk of hypothermia, so we opted not to chain ourselves back to back. But like a 10th Mtn. Div. trooper, he hung in there against the cold, until his turn came to be arrested. What a freaking WINTER SOLDIER. No greater honor could I have had than someone like this in my affinity group.
Zach Chaote, 10th Mtn Div., IVAW
Under Arrest 12-16-2010
There was what I must report, having watched the entire process, a certain moment of caving-in, or perhaps only lack of tactical preparedness on the part of the leaders of this nonetheless successful action (Holy shit did Ellsberg zing it!!). Plastic handcuffs were ready for use. There was a box of almost 200 of them (I brought a couple home for souvenirs, lol).  But somewhere between the briefing meeting Wednesday evening and the demo, someone forgot to distribute (or made the decision not to) the handcuffs, and then, inexplicably, showed up at the site with the whole box of them, which of course the Rangers said no, so there weren't any handcuffs. There was even talk about the distribution of the handcuffs, but I wasn't sure that anything was done (I was already prepared with my chain) about it. Unfortunately, it was not.
Thus, having concluded as well as possible that the police would be actively resisting the handcuffing, Sam and I decided that the best plan was for me to chain myself (since Zach would not be with me) as close to the fence as possible, in a place where I too would have to be arrested. We chose a lamp post that unfortunately ended up being the wrong end of the protest for press coverage, so I really didn't get very much coverage whatsoever. I did, however have the benefit of, as it were, an F.O. position, and was able to observe from a different, and better, angle than most the entire CD-and-arrest process, so it wasn't a total tactical blunder.
The police behavior was really quite exemplary. They were doing their jobs, and they knew that so were we. The gravitas of this crowd was one that they haven't ever dealt with, maybe. The police dealt with vets in '71. Now they're dealing with some of the same vets, but at their grandfather's age. It makes for respect, and I saw various sign of respect from the the police to the antiwar activists. Mike Hopkins, the IVAW infantry vet, is a really big ol' boy, pro linebacker size, and he insisted on being limp-dragged. The police assigned to him whined about it a little at first to him, but then did their jobs as cheerfully as possible, according to Hopkins. The holding and processing part was a bit slow, but there were rookies assigned (a few) on their FIRST DAY, and there were detectives at the end volunteeering to do the paperwork. And they were all cheerful. I gotta say, good job by them.
And the "Taps" ceremony was done with the greatest respect. I noted to the crowd that we needed not only to resist but to mourn, and that the burden of this war is being borne unevenly. The flag we used was (I couldn't make this up) at a thrift store, a St. Vincent's I think, and is obviously a coffin flag-- used once and then discarded!! I bought it for $15, and told them what it was-- it really didn't make that much of an impression on the ladies-- like, "Oh, that's nice. I never thought about that." I asked at the briefing meeting whether there were any Gold Star Mothers who would be attending, and no one spoke up, else we would have presented the flag to one after folding.

Zach C. arrives at WH with Tri-fold Flag
In all dispatches I may make, I am going to continue to say "Vietnam Veterans Against the War did .... or said...." when we act. We all must do so, and if someone wants to be in the position of denying what the organization DOES, then that's his or their decision. I speak for this organization, just like all us contacts-- all us members-- do.  But VVAW was definitely part of the December 16 action. I and the other members were proud to represent us, and those around us were proud that we were there. 
I made it home thinking I might go back out to the juke joint (oh, btw, the after-party was very small but memorable. Wouldn't be surprised if you saw some good Youtube video, including my song "WBCN" about us and the Nazis at The Last Patrol).

Bill Homans
VVAW Mississippi Contact
Prouder than ever Life Member