Wednesday, April 06, 2011

After Action Report: Washington, DC - 19 March 2011 & Quantico, Va - 20 March 2011

Ed Note: In spite of having posted on these pages my own journey to DC for this event, I am now posting Bill Homans' journey, as well. More expansive than mine, his is a two part report; Washington, DC on 03-20-11 & Quantico MCB re Free Bradley Manning, on 03-21-11. We both came up from the Southeast, he from Mississippi, and I, from Florida. We both brought OIF/OEF folks with us; members from the Baton Rouge and the Savannah chapters of IVAW. We were both there, not only for the demonstrations, and CDO actions (we were both arrested at the White House), we were there to rally other VVAW folks sitting at home, who might have thought VVAW wasn't still in the game, and to hopefully inspire others to commit to action, once again, through our example of presence and unity of purpose with the our other co-endorsing anti-war Veterans' organizations; VFP, IVAW, and March Forward, in future similar actions. Finally; Bill's report on Quantico is a very powerful piece, on it's own. No one can tell it, or play it, like Slim.WH

By Bill Homans AKA Watermelon Slim
VVAW Life Member & VVAW Ms Contact

Washington, DC - March 19, 2011

On Thursday the 17th, Army Iraq vet Zach Choate and Coast Guard vet Ethan Crowell (who served in SE Asia) drove up from Baton Rouge, after Zach had picked Ethan up in Mobile. We took off from Clarksdale. We hammered it in about 16 hours, 955 miles, getting into Washington early into the afternoon.

After a few misdirections by our GPS, who was known as either "Linda" or "Shutup, bitch," we pulled into the Harrington Hotel. As soon as we got into a room, it was time to go to the big music-and-briefing meeting at the coffee/internet bar, Busboys and Poets.
Watermelon Slim @ Busboys & Poets
(Photo: Sue Thompson)

I was able to give people an inspiring moment when movement musician and band-leader-for-the-night Margaret Flowers brought me to the stage to sing my song, "Blues for Howard" about Howard Zinn, with the band, that had actually practiced it!

I assured them that the spirit of my dear comrade Howard was with us all, just as it was in the last communication Howard ever sent me. In that letter, Howard Zinn sent me $1000 and told me to do what was best with it. I gave it to IVAW toward the WSI in Austin.

After some other magical, if rough, musical moments with the band over the duration of the meeting, I finished the show with Sweet Home Chicago (honest, it was on their set list!). Tip o the hat to y'all up in National.

A beer or two was had at Harry's, at the Harrington, and we got a good night's sleep. In the morning, after a good breakfast served by sympathetic people, it was off to the site, where everyone busied themselves about all the things that are required for a good demonstration. Stage erection, literature ready, PA system there and working on time (as a musician, I'll tell you that one's real important, lol), tables set in place.

It is the same in the movement as it is in the music-festival business: the movement culture sustains itself through volunteers and volunteerism.

The speeches of Ralph Nader, Daniel Ellsberg, Chris Hedges and Ann Wright are all on Youtube now, so I won't summarize them. My remarks, representing VVAW, on the morning of Saturday, March 19, were short, and directed to President Obama.
Col Ann Wright Speaks at Lafayette Park
(Photo: Willie Hager)
I noted at the beginning that the President was not currently there and listening, but urged whoever was listening to take notice. I declared that several things having to do with the wars in Afghanistan (and Iraq, whether they will still call it a war or not) were unacceptable.

"First, bankrupting our children and grandchildren with the need for ever more deficit spending to cover two wars-- economically unacceptable!

Militarily overextending US forces for years, to the point that there would not be sufficient forces to bring to bear in the event of attack by a potential real enemy like North Korea-- militarily unacceptable!

And the creation of more and more combat veterans, maimed in body and mind, in a war that has no real prospect to end-- socially and morally unacceptable!

Mr. Obama, these started as Bush's wars. They are your wars now, and I can't believe I'm having to say that. Why not bring our troops home and let the country reap the peace dividend of the net difference between logistically supporting two wars, and threatening in other theatres, and bringing the troops lunch on the southern border?

I have a suggestion for you: why don't you bring our troops home and station them on the southern border if you want to satisfy both right and left at the same time? If you provide a military mission that honorably defends America, you will never lack for recruits.

A US combat role in Afghanistan through at least 2014? Utterly unacceptable!

Mr. Obama, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War are back in Washington, as we were in 1971 when the man in the White House was Richard Nixon. We're saying now exactly what we were saying then:
VVAW returning medals, Washington DC, 1971 - Operation Dewey Canyon III (Photo: VVAW File)
Bring 'em home. Bring our brothers home. Bring our brothers and sisters home-- NOW."
VVAW Silent March to Fontainebleau Hotel (Nixon Bunker), RNC, Miami, Fl 1972 - Operation Last Patrol (Photo: VVAW File)

(Photo: Willie Hager)
That night, there were IVAW events which raised significant money for Operation Recovery. This reporter sat back in room 533 at the Harrington and played his guitar, thinking to go to sleep early-- big day tomorrow in Quantico-- but ended up doin' a little concert for VVAWs Willie Hager and Marcia Westbrook, as well as former VVAW brother Scott Camil, and some of their friends from Florida, and some other VFP and Code Pink folks, we had the room pretty full pretty late. I knew Zach, Ethan and I were going to highball back south as soon as we were done in Quantico, so I had to pull out the instruments sometime, lol.
(Photo: Willie Hager)

Quantico MCB, Virginia - March 21, 2011

(Photo: Willie Hager)
We got to Quantico Marine Base, south of Washington in Virginia, early Sunday afternoon. There were somewhere pushing 1000 people at the first action in Washington-- probably 800-- and my estimate of the crowd which eventually assembled on the land across from the Iwo Jima Memorial was also around that.

(Photo: Willie Hager)
I would say that there was more press at the second action than the first, though brother Ward Reilly says he saw plenty at the first. One thing about a world where Japan's reactors are threatening to melt down and the US is projecting military force into Libya-- which they did, it is not to be forgotten, on the very day we are deploring in infamy, the invasion of Iraq in 2003!-- antiwar demonstrations might easily get lost in the shuffle!

Zach Choate was first to speak. The 10th Mountain division turret gunner was given the Purple Heart when he suffered injuries from an IED attack. He resurrected all the ghosts of Operation Dewey Canyon III when he asked, "What does this Constitution mean, when Bradley Manning is being treated like this?" He tossed the pocket copy of the US Constitution to the ground.
(video: )
"What do all these ribbons mean? They're worthless, if he's being treated this way." And with that ripped medals, Combat Action Badge, Unit Commendation and name tag off his dress greens, leaving nothing on the shirt but a "Free Bradley Manning" button.
L to R: Ward Reilly, Bill Homans, Willie Hager - VVAW, Unidentified Member - VFP, Tassie McKee (behind Zach) and Jason Hurd - IVAW & Ryan Endicott - March Forward (Photo: Sue Thompson)
Zach had to really work hard to get through his speech, but he had his brothers standing behind him. This is a young man with a great soul.
(Photo: Bill Perry)
Among the other speakers was David Hames (sp?), who somehow has been able to see Bradley Manning. This is a spectacular looking and speaking young "computer scientist", as he identified himself. I suggested to him that he was a special person for Bradley Manning, and to keep on being there for him.

Eventually, after I had played Taps, Choate, Ellsberg, Wright, Camil and several others were able to go and lay flowers at the Memorial. Or-- no, wait a minute, at the last moment, the police, or the Marines, or the DoD-- never was clear about that-- denied the representative group access to the grounds to actually lay the flowers on the Memorial.
At the Barricades, Quanatico MCB - 03-21-2011
(Photo: Ward Reilly)
The flowers had to be laid through the fence. Rather significant symbolism, I thought, but there was no help for it. Eventually, Ellsberg, Wright and 28 others were arrested by the Virginia State Police for sitting down in the road opposite the Memorial.
Daniel Ellsberg, Col. Ann Wright and 28 others stage sit-in, and are arrested
(Photo: Willie Hager)
I have written at length on agents provocateurs, and their role in the furtherance of right-wing policy throughout my 40 years of political history. It was, in fact, in March of 1971, while loading wetcast concrete forms in one of my various dead-end jobs of the early 70s, that my ruminations on the war were reaching a climax. A month later I would be in Washington for my first great moratorium march. I was a VVAW the next month, and I'm a Life Member today.

It is up to those of us who have the hard, first-hand experience (one defendant in the Gainesville Eight Trial was present at both actions, and arrested-- voluntarily this time-- in DC) with agents provocateurs to police the movement. At the Quantico action we identified two police posing as protesters, circulating through the crowd-- big, burly, buzz-cut fellows, couldn't have been more obvious.
(Photo: Willie Hager)
A few people loudly baited them. The more serious among us surveilled them. Pictures exist, digitally and in people's minds. Those two fellas will never be effective undercover in the antiwar movement. Job done, even though there might have been more of them that we didn't catch.

Personally, and as a Vietnam Veteran Against the War, I was honored to speak from the same platform as Daniel Ellsberg , Ralph Nader and Col. (Ret.) Ann Wright Saturday morning before being arrested at the White House fence again. Ellsberg and Wright were arrested for committing civil disobedience twice in successive days, first in Washington, and then in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial, at Quantico.

I was also honored to have joined Ellsberg in arrest twice now, though my musical role, and my security role, were more important at Quantico. We had to get home, and could not spend the night in a Virginia jail, so we busted ass back for Mississippi, or in Zach Choate's case, Baton Rouge. He oughta be as far south as Jackson now, on the Blues Highway (US 61 runs right from Clarksdale to Baton Rouge).
I will be back in Washington again. The wars are not going away.

And no one protest is going to make them. This is not Egypt or Tunisia, or Libya.

The political, social and economic system of the US is built with quantums more redundancy of responsibility and chain of command than it is in those countries. There are no peasants in America; even the illiterate have the boob tube. All the better to behaviorally modify you with, my dear!?

We have not felt the pinch of an economy sufficiently desperate and a government sufficiently oppressive simultaneously to make the middle class vote in an enlightened manner, i.e., run against and throw out all the bums responsible for our messes (very crudely stated). And we certainly have not reached the beyond threadbare shape of a Libyan society that had to resort to arms against the longest-ruling dictator (oh, that one on the island doesn't count).

I don't know what it will take to truly threaten the American people into taking to the streets, into being a society in which being in "the movement" is a reality for a majority, instead of what I acknowledge that I am, one of the commited hard core of; a relatively tiny minority. I would question whether more than a few million people in the US-- maybe 10?-- have even done so much as to send a check to Vets for Peace, or VVAW, IVAW, ANSWER, March Forward!, or any of the liberal orgs like MoveOn, PDA. etc.

As for real activists-- well, I'm purty sure that nationwide we've got hundreds of thousands of people who will stand on the corner with a "Stop the War" sign, or will go to a demonstration if it's not too far away. People who are actually ready to do civil disobedience (and this has been the civilest disobedience I ever took part in; the cops, Capitol and Park primarily, were exemplary in Washington), are probably in the thousands, maybe 10s of 1000s nationwide, but it's hard to tell that, because the people just haven't been pinched enough.

However, those numbers could go up with stimuli as direct as $5.00 at the pump, or as indirect as an unseen cloud of radiation from Japan.

An aside on police relations:

I would say that relations between protesters in Washington and police have never been so good! We were literally being asked for consultation as to what we intend to do, and they were allowing us to do it. Of course, we won't be lulled, but I've had first-hand contact with one high-ranking police person, and he was very cordial.

Along the way, in DC, I committed a funny tactical error: I had myself all nicely chained up to the White House fence when one of the cops came by and told us that the arrest area would be some distance down from where I was chained. So after thinking about it, I concluded that I was going to have to unchain and re-chainup further down the fence.

Wrong move. As I was taking my leisurely time (seeing as how the police were being so nice) finding another spot, the captain supervising the entire police presence tapped me on the shoulder and told me they couldn't just let me do that. "You were already chained up, you had your chance," he said, shaking his head.

Bill Homans & Officer Friendly re chains
(Photo: Marcia Westbrook)
He was cordial, I didn't plead much with him. He said something quite cool too, as I was removing the chain and giving it and the lock to him personally: "I'm just trying to protect my people the way I know you'd be protecting yours." Given my proactive attitude toward security, he was righter than he knew.

VVAWs present included Bill Perry, Ward Reilly, Al Kovnat, Sam Adams, Doc Bjornson, Pat McCann, Marcia Westbrook, Willie Hager, and a whole raft of brothers from the old days who wear the VFP colors too-- but there were certainly 30 wearing ours. I am encouraged (though only slightly so; I would have sworn the good weather would have brought out more "sunshine patriot" movement supporters. Those who came were dern sure enthusiastic, and many constructive contacts were made!

Others will undoubtedly report, but this'll be the longest and most personal of 'em, I'll wager.

Free Bradley Manning!

VVAW's Roots Run Deep - 1971
(Photo: "The New Soldier", Collier 1971)