Sunday, November 9, 2008

Boots On The Ground By Dusk. A visit from Mary Tillman

I have met so many dedicated and fascinating people through my work in the antiwar movement. None so dedicated as the mothers. This weekend the DC chapter of IVAW hosted a book discussion with Mary Tillman, mother of slain NFL star/soldier Pat Tillman.

I'd met Mary Tillman a couple of times briefly when she was here in Washington for the hearings surrounding her son's death, but I'd never had the chance to speak with her. My first impressions of Mary were that of a tough and angry mother. Just as I imagine any other mother, including myself, would react in a similar situation; Mary seemed to have a steely determination for justice.

After a couple of weeks of wheat pasting Mary Tillman's face all over light boxes throughout DC, I recognized her at once when she walked into the IVAW house. After she was given the obligatory house tour and then she settled into the living room. The evening was full of good discussion on updates to Pat's case and just conversation in general.

The next time I saw Mary Tillman she was coming in the IVAW house with Geoff Millard and the IVAW intern Robbie Diesu. They had made a visit to Walter Reed Hospital. You could see the weight of their visit on their faces.

We talked about the treatment of the vets and we shared stories about our respective teaching careers. I think that her trip to Washington, this time around, taught Mary Tillman about the kind of people involved in the movement. If a room full of military veterans, a mother of a fallen soldier and this old hippie can find so much common ground....we are doing pretty good.

Mary Tillman's talk at Busboys and Poets consisted of reading from her book Boots On The Ground by Dusk and a question and answer period. It is clear to me that many people have read extensively about the Pat Tillman case and Mary courageously answers them all.

I was truly moved by this experience, as I so often am around the parents of fallen soldiers. I hope I continue to have opportunities like this and that my path crosses that of Mary Tillman's again.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Support The're doing it wrong!!!

I've not posted for awhile. It's been a busy time around Washington. Much of what I have been doing has surrounded the work of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). I believe the plight of the veterans and the voices of the veterans are some of the most important in the movement.

The night of the last presidential debate at Hofstra, I went to the DC IVAW house to watch and have dinner. Most of the house had traveled to Hofstra to demand that the debate include questions about Iraq. Just as we were sitting down to our meal, the phone rang. It was a young activist named Lily calling to say that one of the members had been trampled by a police horse. Nick Morgan, the veteran who was injured, is one of the warmest people I've met in some time. The rest of the night was spent on the phone, hugging Nick's girlfriend and pacing.

RNC Police Tactics v. Iraq Veterans with a Message for the Candidates

A group of us from World Can't Wait went to Hostra University yesterday before the debate. Several different groups had messages outside the gates. Immigrant rights activists (Hempstead has a large Salvadoran community) came on a march with student anti-war groups, World Can't Wait, Code Pink and many local activists. The Long Island Alliance of peace/environmental groups, and about 50 Planned Parenthood supporters, along with a mix of Obama supporters had a rally inside a fenced-in "free speech zone." We were all in a kind of fluid mix across a wide turnpike from where the debate was held, while elsewhere, a free concert was held for Obama. All the national media were inside the campus.

Iraq Veterans Against the War had announced last week that they had questions for Obama and McCain about the war and treatment of veterans, and wanted their representatives allowed into ask them. IVAW had a meeting earlier with the local police, assuring them would be non-violent. At 7pm, the deadline they gave the debate organizers for an answer, 15 members of IVAW led a march across the street. At least 100 of us followed them, backing them at the entrance of the campus, and shouting "Let them in!" We were met by a solid line of police on horses, with nearly 100 riot police.

Matthis Chiroux and Kris Goldsmith read the questions they wanted to ask the candidates, and when they stepped forward a few feet to attempt to go on campus, they were arrested. In the next few minutes, a total of 10 IVAW members were arrested, some after standing together, pushed across the turnpike by cops on horses. They never raised their arms. The horses were used repeatedly to charge into the crowd, and especially at the IVAW members, in uniform, who were able to stay upright for nearly 10 minutes. As we were pushed to the opposite sidewalk, the batons came out, and horses pushed several veterans to the ground, including Geoff Millard. Nick Morgan was stepped on by a horse, and treated at a hospital (only after the other vets demanded it) for a broken cheekbone and possible concussion, then sent on to jail. Two women in the crowd were also hurt by horses.

The several veterans who were not arrested spoke to the independent media afterward, full of outrage. Jabar Magruder, who was stationed in Iraq as part of the national guard, said he had not seen people attacked like that since he was in Iraq, and "I don't need to see that here".

Those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct and refusal to obey an official order, and released for a November 10 court date. There was almost no mention of this protest in the news today. New York Newsday and The Army Times were the only daily newspapers to cover the story. Local TV affiliates sent cameras after the arrests. See independent media reports:

Democracy Now
The Indypendent
Be the Media

Nick is back in DC after a stay in the hospital. He and the other 15 arrested will be in court on Monday, November 10. There are suggestions on how to support Nick and the rest of the "Hempsted 15" can be found at the IVAW site.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

...and then my head exploded.

You know, John McCain and I don't have too much in common. He has more houses than he knows...I live out of a suitcase; He has a private jet...I have a metro smart card; He thinks "The Surge" has been a success...I think that the US has killed or bought off enough people to make the statistics look better. The one thing we do have in common is that neither of us is an expert on the economy.

In the last month, I have struggled to learn as much as I possibly can about the economic crisis the world is experiencing. Derivatives, Fanny and Freddy, sub-prime, bubbles, bonds, mark to all makes my head hurt. Unfortunately, the events unfolding in this country leave us little choice but to learn and learn quickly. Burying our heads in the sand can only lead to more misuse our our tax dollars, more undeserving CEOs walking off with the store and more corruption. Learning this stuff has become the job of the responsible citizen.

As much as I would prefer to spend 100% of my time working to end this horrible war and to ensure that the troops and vets are truly supported, this economic crisis seems to have it's tentacles in ever issue including the war and so learn I must.

Here's a snippet of video of our protest the day of the first bailout vote..

The BBC recently featured a "Layman's Finance Crisis Glossary" The article includes graphics and word definitions along with analysis for those of us, like me and Senator McCain, who are challenged by the topic.

In this graphic, the venn diagram gives a perspective on the size of the bailout.

The following terms are also defined in small chunks for us amateurs:
Bear market
Bull market
Chapter 11
Collateralised debt obligation
Commercial paper
Credit crunch
Credit default swap
Dead cat bounce
Hedge fund
Investment bank
Limited liability
Loans to deposit ratio
Mortgage-backed securities
Negative equity
Preference shares
Profit warning
Retained earnings
Securities lending
Short selling
Sub-prime mortgages
Tier 1 capital
Toxic debts

I have found this quite useful. Whether you check this out or something else, it's of the utmost importance that we grasp this crisis, before the greedy grasp all we have left.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Stop Loss, The Movie, The Policy and The Troops

Last night, I went with friends to watch the film Stop Loss as part of the DC Labor Film Series. Our friend, Adam Kokesh, of IVAW was scheduled to speak afterwards and we wanted to support him and the film series. I had heard from folks who saw the film in the theaters that it was disappointing and missed the mark.

The idea that our country makes an agreement with it's soldiers only to renege on that agreement is infuriating. So many of our young soldiers have been through so much by the time their enlistment has ended and still the country sends them back until they are dead or used up. I run into people all the time who oppose my protesting the war. They are always under the impression that the troops and the veterans are being treated great. This film, however flawed, is a vehicle for bringing information to the masses.

The battle scenes were realistic and the movie did touch on many of the issues facing the veterans I've met. It was tough to watch. I've come to care so much for so many of the young vets I've met that it was hard not to personalize the movie.

The ending of the film had the main character returning to the Army and redeploying with his friend rather than going to Canada or Mexico. I think the movie would have done much for those being stop lossed if it had shown the character choosing to resist the redeployment. Adam felt that the ending was unrealistic considering how far the character had gone to escape the stop loss.

As the film ended, I was so full of emotion. I'm not a fan of war films as a rule and this one hit close to home. I could see many around me crying. I had such an urge to go and hug Adam, not just because he's a friend, but that at that moment he represented the men and women who's lives have been forever altered by this insane war.

We walked down the street and each had a shot of tequila before going home. It seemed the thing to do. Thank you to DC Labor for hosting this event.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Activist Hospitality

No matter where you are, activism takes some personal sacrifice. It takes time, energy, dedication, faith, money and more to devote your life to a cause. I left a comfortable job and home to come to DC and fight against the war and government abuse. Many others have done the same and more.

One thing that makes it possible to go on is the hospitality of other activists and concerned citizens. I want to address the support we activists give each other. We feed, fund raise, sit in court and outside of jails, we make posters and hand out fliers for each other.

The DC antiwar community is no different. I have slept on couches, enjoyed meals, a much needed glass of wine and gracious hospitality here in DC. I have given rides to, wiped the tears of and nursed the ills of other activists here. It's what makes the work possible. This is no utopian thing, it's a family with fighting and button pushing and the whole nine yards.

Last night, I attended the Wednesday night potluck dinner at the Code Pink activist house. There is a lovely atmosphere of welcome in the "Pink House". The Pink House is a hub of activity everyday, but on Wednesday night you can get a great meal, meet fascinating people and share a belly laugh. This kind of hospitality is the fuel that powers the movement.

Check out more about the work of Code Pink and their house at or .

Monday, October 6, 2008

Travels With IVAW: Northeast Winter Soldier

This past weekend was Rochester's long awaited Northeast Winter Soldier. The event was still in it's planning stages when I left for DC. What the activist community in Rochester can achieve is such a source of pride for me.

This Winter Soldier event is the third I've attended. Winter Soldier in Silver Spring and on Capitol Hill before the Progressive Caucus were powerful thought provoking events and I will never forget any of it. What these veterans have to tell us about the war, courage and humanity is awe inspiring. Holding a Winter Soldier event in Rochester brought this message to more people.

We started out from the DC IVAW Activist House. My traveling companions were Nick Morgan, Adam Kokesh and Geoff Millard. Don't tell any of them, but I had a freakin blast with them. I got to know them a bit better, eat some sour patch kids, and I learned a whole lot more words you shouldn't say in public.

I got to Monroe Community College, the site for the event, at 9 am and there was already a flurry of activity. So many folks showed up to volunteer that there were some leftover to organize a coffee run. (I have my priorities straight) It was freakin beautiful to see the number of people taking the time to make this event a success.

I got a ton of hugs, got to see Lobo and Elliott Adams shootin the shit together with Bill Fischer, got to see my homeboys Jake and Mark and it all just makes me smile thinking about it. Everything seemed to be running without a hitch. If anything was going wrong you would not have known it to look at Bryan Cassler, the president of the Rochester IVAW chapter, or Brian Lenzo, Rochester Against War Facilitator.

The first session were the speakers Elliott Adams, Michael Schwartz and Tod Ensign. Michael Schwarts and Tod Ensign addressed topics from their new books Elliott Adams' perspective as a Vietnam vet and his years of experience in activism is a great example to the Iraq vets.

The second panel was the Testimony of Iraq vets. I'm not sure I can find the words to describe the jumble of emotions one gets from witnessing the testimony of these brave veterans. The closest I can get to describing this is a combination of horror, sadness, anger, empathy and an overwhelming sense of honor for getting to be there with them.

The march that followed was great. The crowd left the auditorium and marched down East Henrietta Road to the VA Clinic that isn't open on the weekends, stranding local veterans without health care from Friday night til Monday morning. Not only did we take the street, but this one was a 6 lane job in the middle of a big old burb-o-tropolis. We did manage to piss off the police because we didn't pay any attention to them. At one point I had a cruiser right behind me blowing it's policey horn and I didn't even turn around to look. The organizers got a stern talking to and managed to send the officer away scratching his head.

The next morning (read 1:00 pm) we started out for our trip back to DC. We stopped quickly at the Storefront at the beginning of the RAW meeting. I was never so proud of the Rochester antiwar movement. I'm glad DC and Camp Casey friends got to see what's going on in Rochester.

On the drive back to DC I got to hear more good music, eat some suspect candy bars and learn even more words I should probably not say in polite company. Thanks guys!


Rochester Iraq Veterans Against The War

Iraq Veterans Against The War

Veterans For Peace

Rochester Against War

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Busy Few Days of Bailout Bullsh*t.

We've been told that our nation is close to financial collapse. We have been told that our only recourse is to hand over $700 Billion dollars to a former Wall Street executive with no rules for the spending of these dollars. Yesterday started early with preparations to demonstrate against the "bailout" in front of the White House. From there we went to support some homeless folks being thrown out of the only men's shelter in DC. That was pretty intense. We basically had a very slow walk around and around the intersection in front of the shelter during rush hour in Washington, DC. For some reason, fear leaves me in these times. It's empowering and I stop worrying about things that would normally make me pretty jumpy.

I have to say, this makes me nuts. When the people ask for universal healthcare, we are told that it would just be too expensive, drive taxes sky high and it would be far far too complicated a thing for the government to handle. Well my friends, you want to talk about too expensive, high taxes and complicated, let's take a look at this bailout ordeal.

People did try to get Washington to address the foreclosure problem, but they just couldn't really come through. Now, that the foreclosure issue hits the rich, the issue has become an Emergency.

On Monday, September 29 I joined Code Pink in a Die-in on the steps of the Congressional Office Building and in front of the Capitol. We started the day by visiting the offices of Rep. Barney Frank and Speaker Pelosi. After a lively debate, we went outside for a press conference. We were all dressed to represent a group of Americans who have been hurt by the economic nightmare, but not bailed out.

The full set of photos can be found here: