Wednesday, March 23, 2011

After Action Report: Madison, WI - 03/19/2011

“On the 8th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, join us as we call for an end to the wars against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and an end to the war against the working people of Wisconsin.”  (IVAW March 19th Call to Action Flyer)


VetSpeak Co-Founder
Photos by Andie Wood 

Where was the Opposition on March 19th in Madison, WI?
MADISON, WI – All the players were there – the inspired masses and clever signs; casual, dressed-down politicians – a friendly, slightly older crowd of about 30,000, expressing solidarity with America’s workers and angst over the 8th anniversary of America’s involvement in Iraq. It was a happening, albeit on a smaller scale than previous weekends in Madison, that shouted: “Pay attention, America! Our labor problems are your labor problems. They will soon be your problems, too. “

Like other recent protests, Madison on March 19, 2011 was amiable and well-orchestrated, a colorful banding together of like-minded souls for a unified “fight” over labor and occupation issues. Well worth the time, over-stimulation and sore feet in camaraderie alone, was it just a cathartic and meaningful preaching to the choir? The well-intentioned mayor and labor leaders led shout-outs; the dynamic African American fire chief chanted with the crowd and made a joke about how all firemen look alike. An organized group of grandmothers entertained the crowd with humor and song. Did the innate spectacle elevate the day to the highest form of reality theater or something more significant and promising?

Where was the debate, the dialogue, the opposition, the opportunity to take it to a higher level? Was the middle-aged woman frowning down on us from the second floor Capitol window (above) the only opposition Madison could muster? Were her futile attempts to close the office curtains the only expression of a possible alternative opinion in the crowd? Who will we inspire but ourselves if no one from "the other side" shows up? Is America so polarized and/or lethargic these days that we end up protesting in a vacuum? What fruits will the day bring to veterans, firefighters, teachers and people of war-torn nations? What did we teach the world about the issues that we didn't already know?

As a person nearing elder status, these questions are of concern.

From the earliest days of the Vietnam War, the presence and commitment of veterans protesting the very wars they had just returned from fighting left me, a member of the crowd, near frantic with grief and inspiration. Forty years ago, when the media observed the efficacy and power of soldiers and Marines protesting at the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami, I became the sultry, long-haired woman on the stage with the guitar. Vietnam Veterans Against the War (who were running security for IVAW in Madison) were the young bucks and does in tight t-shirts on the streets with the 1,000 yard stares. And everywhere – and I mean everywhere surrounding them – there was controversy, opposition, debate and dialogue. Change happened as a direct result of thousands of very painful exchanges. Our actions were purpose-driven and relentless. Disillusionment, like catharsis, was a means, not an end. Banding together was a means, not an end. These things helped us sort through our thoughts and motives to stay on the straight and narrow path for real change. Rhetoric about “winning the fight” and “them and us,” became meaningless as more and more of our brothers and sisters lost their lives in meaningless combat. Who cares who is right or wrong if we can bring them home now? 

I can guarantee you that not one IVAW vet needs the ego inflation that recalling an errant politician would bring, if it would mean bringing one more soldier home alive today. What they want is an end to the occupations NOW. It really is a matter of life and death.

In Madison, on March 19th, it was IVAW's day. No “Wuck Falker” signs, or singing grannies could touch the heart and spirit like a single IVAW veteran walking with purpose toward the capitol dome – no less in a formation of fifty or more. As Gerry Nicosia wrote in his huge and controversial) Vietnam Veterans’ movement tome, Home to War:
“They were clearly soldiers, their faces, and sometimes their bodies, showed that they had been there. These men spoke with the voice of experience, and their chants erupted from somewhere deep in their guts, with an irrefutable conviction.”

As I scanned the crowd as part of the security contingent for IVAW, I saw that same irrefutable conviction in the faces of the veterans all around me: IVAW’s Aaron Hughes (above) leading the way, Kelly Dougherty (below) showing she still cares.
and Jason Moon (below) rousing the crowd with his voice, songs and guitar.

Big John Zutz (below) stood like a mountain behind the stage scanning the crowd for any signs of trouble in his role with VVAW security.

Marty Webster (despite serious health problems) personed the stage gate (bottom, right) while retired mail-handler, Barry Romo – with no less than 40 years of service to fellow veterans as leader of VVAW – kept the security contingent alert and on the job (left).

Three first-time security workers, teenagers Aleah Anderson, Andie Wood and Milly “Sachi” Wood (below), struggled to balance keeping an eye on the crowd with the draw of dynamic speakers and a moving contingent of firefighters there to support the day.

Other VVAW and VetSpeak veterans and supporters on the security detail included Patti Gmeiner (Western WI), Brian Matarrese (below, center -New York), Hannah Frisch (Chicago), Red Kettenhofen, Janet Parker (Madison), Kathleen Taylor, Nicky Baltrushes, Rich Peters, Kim Scipes and others I did not catch. All, in their own ways, willingly endured significant personal sacrifice to lend their presence to the cause.

When I dragged my overly weary butt back to the rent-a-car that afternoon, it wasn’t the festive aspects of what I’d witnessed in Madison that stayed with me: It was the haunting faces of the veterans marching two abreast at the front of the parade. Straight past the clever signs, three powerful contingents of American veterans: Iraq Vets Against the War, Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Vets for Peace said NO! to a 9th year in Iraq and the calling up of the national guard to defend a misguided governor. As singer-songwriter and IVAW member Jason Moon said, “Scott Walker! You don't need to call the National Guard – we're already here!”

We've got the marches, protests and clever signs to give voice to the problems. We've got solid recall actions. We've got camaraderie and information. Now it's time to get the the power players into the same room to pound out real solutions to these crucial, life-threatening issues. Solutions that work for a few but impact the many aren't good enough. "There cannot be a dictatorship," noted Spring Valley, WI educator Ned Hilleren. Debate, dialogue and action initiated by a vital, concerned citizenry – that is what it is all about. Without it, actions like March 19th could end up being just another Sunday in the Park with George.

Vietnam Veterans Against the War Security Detail