Thursday, March 31, 2011

After Action report: Washington, DC, 03-19-2011...

Once More Into The Breach...
Willie Hager

Sue Thompson - Photo-Journalist
(Photo: M.Westbrook)
Jason & Rushelle - IVAW Savannah
(Photo: Jason)
I had traveled north from Jacksonville, Fl. In our vehicle, we had our own small coalition headed north. Sue Thompson a Global Peace Rally advocate, and professional photo-journalist had come up from Orlando to share a ride to DC, and to document the actions for VetSpeak, and for ANSWER Coalition, too. We left Jax at 11;30 p.m, on March 17th. We got to Savannah around 2 a.m. and picked up Jason Hurd, IVAW SE Organizer, and his partner, Rushelle Fraizier. We then (mostly Jason) drove straight through, and got into DC at approx. 11 a.m., Friday morning the 18th. Bill Homans, VVAW Ms, did the same, up from Baton Rouge with Zach Choate, and a new face to me, Ethan Crowell of the newly formed Baton Rouge chapter of IVAW. We all arrived at the Harrington Hotel, VVAW hdqtrs in DC, at about the same time. Most of that first day was spent seeking out VVAW types, and getting caught up on the plan.
Zach Choate & Ethan Crowell - IVAW Baton Rouge

David Ross - VVAW/VFP Vermont

Willie H & Scott Camil

There were VVAW groups from Baltimore, Philadelphia, Ohio, and the Southeast, as well as many other VVAW members from the Northeast region, there in DC. One of them was a VVAW member named David Ross, from Essex Junction, Vermont. I had crossed trails with David, as far back as the Gainesville 8 trial, when we all had camped out on land donated by the city of Gainesville for VVAW supporters of the Gainesville 8, who came to town in convoys to support the 8. Bill Perry of Philly chapter was VVAW POC, and Ward Reilly was liaison with the parade organizers and police. Here in DC, today, VVAW was still strong in spirit and organizational skills, if not in numbers reminiscent of the day. VVAW, the tie that binds so many together over the years, was now bonding them together, once again.
Sam Adams, Doc Bjornson, Al Kovnat - VVAW Philly
This time, although far fewer in numbers than back in the day, VVAW had come to DC to link arms with Veterans of other major anti-war Veterans organizations; Veterans For Peace (VFP) & IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against The War), who, together had come in protest of America’s continued involvement in Afghanistan, 11 years and 1513 US KIA, later. This in addition to 4441 KIA in Iraq, to date. VVAW had come to participate in a STOP THESE WARS – EXPOSE THE LIES – FREE BRADLEY MANNING march on the White House, and to also participate in a civil disobedience (CDO) action with other Veterans, once we arrived there. What we missed in numbers, we still had in attitude; it was planned that, following the march we would all take to the fence of the White House, and refuse to disperse when ordered to by the US Park Police, and we all agreed that we would be arrested, if it became necessary….”we’ll all go down together…”.
Jim Baldridge (R) & Member - VVAW Baltimore

Bill Homans - VVAW Ms
Chains At The Ready!
(Photo: Willie H)
The Mission: We would all be arrested on Obama’s doorstep for bringing a message of peace, justice, and compassion from America’s warriors, to the President of the United States. Unlike back in the day, the arrests were pre-organized by the march organizers, and would be carried out by the Commander- In- Chief’s Park Police, who would, image wise, be arresting America’s Veterans for the crime of attempting to speak truth about the wars that they fought in, and publically calling it a misdemeanor offense (PP19690 – Failure to Obey - Bail $100.00). A powerful image of dissent back in the day and, we believed, still a powerful message, today…if we only we could get it out to the American people, as some of those present had managed to do at the same White House fence, on 12-19-2010, including my brothers Zach Choate ( IVAW), and Bill Homans (VVAW). I would say that the mood of the troops was solemn, rather than reunion festive, which wasn’t the case of several other of the groups in attendance. Another hold over, from back in the day.

Amber Stone - IVAW
(Photo: Willie H)
Prior to the march, there were a couple hours of speeches by various organizational representatives. Most notable and on message to me, were those of

Code Pink - ON STAGE!
Michael Kern of VFP, and Amber Stone and Zach Choate of IVAW. The rest, it seemed to me, were simply sophomoric revolutionary political rhetoric by ANSWER affiliates, with political theatre provided by Code Pink.

And so it was, as we prepared to march forth from Lafayette Park on the morning of the 19th, 2011...
(Photo - Bill Perry)

Jason Hurd - IVAW & Willie Hager - VVAW
(Photo: Bill Perry)
I was privileged to be on the lead banner for the parade, along with Jason Hurd. It was a strong image of Veterans’ unity around the march’s demands, the VFP banner demanding STOP THESE WARS – EXPOSE THE LIES – FREE BRADLEY MANNING, flanked by Veterans in IVAW and VVAW colors. As I looked back down the line during traffic pauses it appeared that the march stretched out for blocks, and was rich with marchers, signs, and color. Solemn Veterans shuffling along silently, in lead of a colorful and chanting contingent of pissed off protestors, a rewarding visual. Zach, Ethan, and the rest of the IVAW troops gathered behind Jason and I, with an IVAW banner sandwiched in between the “official” VFP banners. Our cadence was a Korean Drum group that marched right behind the Veterans.

(Photo: Bill Perry)

As we approached the White House, the area immediately in front of it had been cordoned off.
(Photo: Bill Perry)
There were cops everywhere; walking, on motorcycles, and riding horses. They had a
(Photo: Bill Perry)
little booking tent, and two awaiting Metro buses already in place…right out in the middle, blocking the view from the street on the other side of their cordon, which was filled with protestors. On the business side of the booking tent, Veterans had begun lining the Whitehouse fence. There were other folks there as well. Daniel Ellsberg and Col Ann Wright came too take a stand, and be arrested with us. The effervescent Code Pink ladies entertained with political cheer-leading routines as the rest of us tensely awaited the order to disperse.

It didn’t come for a long time. When it did, it was low key as Ward negotiated the arrest of Daniel Ellsberg, and Ann Wright. Shortly after that they arrested Ward and began to arrest the remaining individuals, one at a time, including the Code Pink ladies in their regalia, a very surrealistic scene. It was a long process that was intended, I am sure, to dampen our spirits. But, it didn’t work. During the whole process, I saw no Cable or Network news groups, but plenty of alternative media. It was all so unspectacular, that it became apparent that the powers that be realized that low-key was the way to go. They were well organized for the task, were courteous enough, and were, these days, well schooled in managing dissent. Not to mention making all that overtime and bail money that they realized, as a result of our efforts. There were ultimately 113 arrested, at $100.00 a pop. They finally took us to a county holding facility, where they were all set up for a quick n’ easy processing-out for all of us who had defied their order to disperse

(Photo Credits: Bill Perry & Sue Thompson)

Later, as we were released, we gathered just off jail property where pre-arranged shuttles were picking folks up and carrying them back to their hotels. I and a few others were picked up in a van driven by Elaine Brower, who I had met at a GI Organizing work-shop in Savannah a year or so ago. She works with a group of GI Rights activists in New York. Thanks, Elaine, it was getting’ sort of chilly, out there. After we returned to the hotel, it was down time. We were all sharing one of the Harrington’s “large” rooms.

Ward & Slim
(Photo - Willie H)
Scott & Zach
(Photo: Willie H)

My new friend, Marcia Westbrook of Ohio was our benefactor, and allowed us to share her room with her. It sort of became the Harrington Hotel VVAW hospitality room. We had a cooler of beer and plenty to smoke. Watermelon Slim played tunes throughout the evening, and Scott Camil came up with the members of his Gainesville VFP Chapter, who had traveled up and marched, getting arrested along with the rest of us. With Dave Ross in the room with Slim, Scott, and myself, there were VVAW types that went back together, forty years. What a great PTSD therapy session that evening. Then, all too soon, it was time to turn in, as we were all headed to Quantico MCB, to protest in support of Bradley Manning, the next morning, the 20th of March.

The downside of the past week-ends actions in Washington, DC, is that the “anti-war movement” had to go back, again…how many times does this make that we have traveled to DC, over the past 8 years in protest of continued US involvement in Iraq & Afghanistan? Anyone else think maybe Obama and Congress are just not listening? Or, is there a message, that we as an “anti-war movement” should re-group and reconsider the effectiveness of our current strategies?

Now, 8 years into Afghanistan (I don’t like to think of it as an “anniversary”, but rather, as an annual gathering of militants to protest the continued waste of American blood and treasure in the desert sands of the mid-east, in wars of un-necessity), and 8 years into Iraq, and 10 in Afghanistan; I suddenly find myself, on 03-19-2011, once again, in the streets, being arrested. It all seemed sadly desperate, looking back on it.

How was it that all of that political ground, and all of the momentum that we had gained with our mass demonstrations, and blood, sweat and tears back in the day, was lost over the ensuing years of complacency and political infighting that followed the then victorious and politically unified Democratic party, a merger of civil liberties and ant-war movements....what power! Whatever the reasons; here we were again, mobilizing mass demonstrations just as we did so many years ago. In a further twist of irony; in this -latest “limited incursion int0 Washington DC”, the 03-19-2011 Vietnam Veterans Against The War contingent was made up of several individuals who were part of those mass demonstrations and political victories, way back in the day. I, among them.
(Photo: Bill Perry)
Would I do it all again? For the right objectives? Not just YES, but HELL YES! But I do think that we should all rethink our long term position in light of the economy, and the new age of instant communications and electronic networking, and perhaps begin to design some winning strategies out in the grass-roots, and bring our message to America’s door steps, rather than to just Obama’s. I sadly believe now that “they” have figured out how to deal with the tactics that we have carried over from back in the day. We must build an effective and modern grass-roots anti-war movement for the 21st century…all the rest is history.