April 1, 2008

Beyond Despair--The Young People Are Our Hope

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[Not long after I saw my friend Jeri Reed, mother of an Iraq vet and a fighter to end this catastrophic war since before it began, at Winter Soldier, she sent me this passionate and hopeful piece. Anyone who wants to repost it has her permission.]

I stood out on the street Monday night with about fifteen others. Two members of the Oklahoma National Guard, one a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, both about to deploy to Iraq. Another mother whose two sons have been in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan, one son is in the Green Zone right now. Safer? She worries that he is in the middle of Baghdad, in the middle of Iraq, surrounded by millions of Iraqis who could one day get sick and tired of the American occupation once and for all.

A big supporter of IVAW who distributes their newsletter in his small Oklahoma town drove up from his farm to join us. His Marine son was killed in Iraq on September 6 last year, my birthday, he is my birthday soldier, which probably all of us have by now. We were supposed to be commemorating the death of the 4000th soldier in Iraq. But people weren't even honking any more like they used to. I'm sure a lot of people drove by thinking we were just foolish for even bothering. What's another dead soldier in a sea of so many? What's another dead Iraqi?

We keep standing out there even though it really does not do much to end the occupations. I wouldn't know what else to do. When my son rolled across the Iraq border five years ago on March 21, 2003, it became my eternal responsibility to do something, even if it seemed hopeless, which it does. But maybe that is what a lot of people think---why bother?

We are powerless to end this war, so why try? Better to just ignore it and keep our minds elsewhere. A lot of people have turned their attention to electoral politics, putting their faith into one of the dismal presidential candidates. At the same time, I have not talked to anyone who really believes that any of the candidates will actually end the war in Iraq, and of course, few people think to consider Afghanistan at all.

But some small events have given me hope, actions that have been criticized by others as rash and disruptive. Actions by young people guided by their passion and certainty that the occupation of Iraq is a crime against humanity that needs to stop immediately, by their youthful disbelief that such things could take place and no one would do anything to stop them. On Easter Sunday, six young people, members of a street theater group called Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War, entered the services at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago and staged a die-in, they spread fake blood around, right in the aisle in the middle of respectable parishioners there to quietly hear the mass, not be reminded of the atrocities happening thousands of miles away. They yelled out "Even the Pope calls for peace!" and lay down in the aisles as if dead. They vocally objected to the priest, Cardinal George, meeting with a known war criminal, George W. Bush.

They were arrested, and face felony charges for their actions, bail was set at $25,000 for five of them, $35,000 for Donte Smith allegedly due to a previous arrest at the School of the Americas, they are presently all free after putting up $16,000 of borrowed money. It made me so glad; it gave me so much hope. I was so proud of them.

Because if anyone thinks, after five years of this outrage, after one horrible year of my son invading another country and helping to wreak havoc and death and destruction, after a year of him being mortared almost daily, wading through depleted uranium which is like the ticking time bomb of our lives, after two years of trying to help him deal with the aftereffects to no avail, which of course we are supposed to keep to ourselves so as not to disturb others and simply smile and go about our normal lives which are not normal, after filing for bankruptcy the first year and continuing to sink money I don't have into fighting to end this war, we all do, those of us affected, our cards if we still have them are maxed out, we don't pay our bills. After sharing the pain of hundreds of other families and soldiers for five years, of all of those friends whose kids did not return from Iraq or Afghanistan, of all of those members of Iraq Veterans Against the War who despite the fact that they must deal with their own deep injuries physical and mental are courageously willing to put themselves on the line, even if they are active duty, even if they are in Iraq. Saying nothing of course about the tens of thousands of dead and wounded Iraqis and Afghanis or the lives they must lead in devastated nations, the fear that they live with daily, the sorrow and anguish they face daily. If anyone thinks that after all of this pain and death and disruption and destruction of our lives and the lives of all the people in Iraq and Afghanistan, I care if Easter Mass at Mayor Daley's church was disrupted by six young people with fake blood and cries for an end to this atrocity, they would be wrong. Good. I hope they do it some more. They are our hope.

I'm just saying that because I was looking for updates on the Holy Name 6, the name they have acquired, and ran across a message board, a generally anti-war message board made up of "progressive" Democrats, where opinion seems to be running against them, how dare they, on Easter Sunday yet, disrupt a church service. The innocent parishioners should have been allowed to enjoy their Easter in peace, to think of peace, perhaps to pray for it, then head to their homes for nice Easter dinners with their families. There were children present after all. They were scared.

There are children in Iraq. They are scared. They are wounded. They die. They have needed us to end this occupation for five years. They needed us to stop the invasion before it began. We failed. *None of us are innocent.* If our young people are willing to take risks to try to shock some compassion and concern into the American public who would rather look the other way and spend their time on football scores rather than thinking about the number of dead Americans and Iraqis and Afghanis, we need to support them. This is our hope--sedate crowds of marching old people have failed, devoted prayers of peace have failed, polite conversations with spineless and lying politicians have failed.

The action at Holy Name last Sunday is not the only sign of hope. Earlier this month at the University of Alabama, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Students for a Democratic Society were arrested for staging a mock incident between soldiers and Iraqis in one of the university's buildings. Recreating the day-to-day behavior of soldiers in Iraq towards Iraqi citizens was simply too alarming for those nearby, or in the words of the dean of students, it was disruptive and wrong because it was "mimicking a true emergency." This is a true emergency.

Students at the University of Iowa recently made war criminal Karl Rove very unwelcome after he was paid $40, 000 to speak there. Not only did a couple hundred students disrupt the speaking event, they surrounded the restaurant where Rove ate dinner later, calling for him to "come out with his hands up" over a bullhorn, attempting to make a citizens' arrest of this notorious war criminal, causing him to delay his exit for quite a while.

At a "teach in" near the University of North Texas a few weeks ago, I listened to students talk about ideas for actions, much of it taken from the pages of history. Members of a new SDS chapter like those springing up on campuses around the country were present. I found myself wanting to interrupt; some of the ideas sounded too much like the ideas of 20-year-old college students for me, because they were. I stopped myself from criticizing. It is all right for us to share wisdom. It is not all right to stifle our young people in this hopeless situation. We cannot tell them what to do. We have no grounds. We have failed.

Two weeks ago, Tina Richards spent the evening waiting at the juvenile facility in Washington DC for the release of her fourteen year old daughter who had been arrested blocking a street while chanting "Arrest Bush, not kids!" as part of the Stop-Loss Congress actions, along with many young people who descended on our nation's capitol for what they called Our Spring Break. This was Chrissy's second arrest. With two other young women, she was held for hours in a cell smeared with human feces and male bodily fluids, while the arresting officer kept trying to intimidate them, trying to scare them. They sang instead, they emerged with shining eyes and smiling faces, these three girls. They were proud of themselves and they should have been. And Chrissy was ready to do it again.

This is personal to Chrissy, along with her mother she has had to deal with the problems of her brother Cloy, a former Marine, now disabled with PTSD. She has had to stand by her mother as Cloy collapsed further and further after returning from Iraq, to the point where he called Tina and told her he was holding a gun to his mouth. Chrissy's life is permanently disrupted; I don't think she cares whether the rest of the country feels her pain.

I can remember how I felt when I was young, just realizing how the world really worked, I remember my shock and disbelief, my anger and my passion, and my belief that I could help change things. I think of things that I did that I would not do now, things that seem rash and dangerous. It is easy to look at the alleged excesses of the 60s and 70s with a critical eye, looking at the actions of so many young people then, the actions of ourselves. Some of them were misguided; some of them just did not work out the way they were planned. These were not things done by people who worried about their personal safety or the long-term repercussions of their actions. But then again, the Vietnam War ended and people of color in this country got more rights. None of this happened because people quietly prayed it away or went to the polls and elected the "right" people. Nothing has ever really changed in this country because people followed the rules and did the right thing and did not disturb others.

We live in the most powerful nation in the world with the biggest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, run by people who are murderers and torturers and thieves. Most of us acknowledge that we are ruled by murderers and torturers and thieves, mainly because they don't even bother to keep it from us. You could not bring enough buttons reading "Arrest Bush and Cheney" or the ever popular t-shirt "Arrest Cheney First" into the state of Oklahoma to satisfy demand. Yet no one seems willing to do anything about it. They don't want to disrupt their lives.

When the bombs started dropping on Baghdad on March 19, 2003, then my son drove into Iraq two days later, I knew we had failed. We had not been willing to disrupt our lives to stop this; I had not been willing to disrupt my own life enough even to prevent my own son from participating in these atrocities. I have always thought, what we should have done was shut down the whole country to stop it, no matter what.

None of the actions listed involved any kind of violence; they merely caused a lot of disruption and inconvenience for surrounding people, watch the video if you want to see what the Holy Name 6 actually did. None of these small incidents by themselves did much to end the war. But one can only hope that they are sparks. One can only hope. And if our young people decide that they simply do not want a future like this, that they do not want to give their silent assent to war crimes and war criminals, if they decide to disrupt the whole country to end this, to do what we have not been willing to do, we don't need to criticize them, we need to support them.

Or join them.


Anonymous said...

By the way, the students mentioned in my piece at the University of North Texas had a march and rally the other day, with a turn out of about 150, which I think is gigantic for a student action. When the local Denton paper didn't show to cover it, they marched down to the paper office. A small thing, but you know, if it ever looks popular to do these sort of things, other people will join in. It's just the way it works.

I never have had much hope on this end, even though I know a lot of people wanted to draft students so they had to get out in the streets as a solution. I just never saw a recreation of the '60s as a solution to this, mainly because it really isn't the '60s anymore. In fact, before the beginning of the war, I was very appalled with the glee that the handful of students here who were so looking forward to doing banner drops off the taller buildings and being dramatic, and I'm sure would have been disappointed if no war actually occurred. Then none of them were ever really willing to do what it took to actually get the attendance up at anything.

But you never know, at the beginning of the war I was willing to be a lot nicer, thinking that no one would actually let such insanity continue and it should just be over quickly and people should find other things to organize around. Now, who cares?

Roger said...

There is no depleted uranium ticking time bomb -- you need to get a dose of reality and learn a little science -- the anti-depleted uranium crusade started with Saddam and was easily bought off on by US/European peace activists with no real scientific acumen. The truth of the matter is that there is NO DU to wade through. The only time your son might have been at risk is if he was in or adjacent to an armored vehicle that had been hit and destroyed by a DU kinetic energy penetrator munition. Learn about uranium, go to www.depletedcranium.com and watch the video -- then go to this link http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/DUStory/message/55 and read what international scientists have found when researching DU in the battlefield. You will set your mind at ease at least about the DU - the traumatic experience of combat still may leave some scars in your son and I hope and pray that they quickly heal.

the OB Rag said...

Thanks Jeri, for sharing your story.

It was my honor to attend a die-in in San Diego in front of the NBC building (they sent out a rookie to cover it, he said he had just been hired and handed a camera, but we never saw any coverage outside of bloggers and independent websites), and to be among a crowd of about 100 young people, most of them the same age as my own kids. I was proud of them too.

I hope soon there is peace for you and your son, and for the rest of us too.