2009 Veterans for Peace Convention

Listening, Laughter, Tears and Song:  Engage

Wally Myers is the President of VFP Chapter 157, chartered in October, 2008.  I arrived at Wally’s house in Raleigh the morning of 8/5 for our drive to College Park, MD, the site of the 2009 Veterans for Peace Convention.  Wally attended the ’08 Convention in Minneapolis, and I participated in the ’07 Convention in St. Louis. 

During the drive to MD, Wally shared his extraordinary journey from Air Force warrior to peacemaker, and his travels, studying and teaching all around the country.  He’ll be 63 in August, and teaches computer applications at Douglas Elementary, an arts magnet school in Wake County.  He’s also the board chairman of NC Peace Action and the author of www.ncveteransforpeace.org.

Driving toward DC, we had occasional disagreements with the nice lady reporting from Wally’s GPS system in his Prius.  But we found our way to the Queen Anne dormitory on the U. of Maryland campus before dark, and checked into our room.

There was a social hour at the student union, and I had the opportunity to greet Thomas Brinson and Will Covert of the Camp Casey Chapter, former president Elliot Adams, and Executive Director Michael McPhearson.  Babs and Mia arrived from Raleigh, charter members of Chapter 157.  They had a room at the Days Inn, a mile or so north of campus on Baltimore Ave.  During the social, Michael welcomed us conventioneers and introduced us to Rajia, (not her real name) our guest from the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan.  RAWA is the oldest political/social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy and women's rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan since 1977.

Thomas led a poetry read back at the dorm, and Wally shined with his renditions of “Uncle Sam” and “Uncle Mo.”  Tina Richards shared her poetry, and the words of her son, Cloy, one of the founders of Iraq Veterans Against the War.  Cloy is on a good track, after struggling for years with his war wounds.  Tina is managing the New Mexico Congressional campaign for Adam Kokesh, another IVAW activist.

Wally, Babs, Mia and I assembled Thursday morning for the opening ceremonies and a greeting by Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards.  We went separate ways for a variety of workshops, and were joined by Pat Gregory from Raleigh for dinner at Plato’s.  Thursday night I took a conference call planning a Southern Progressive Conference in Georgia in September.

Friday morning, Mike Hearrington and I spotted each other walking up to the Union.  Mike founded the Memphis VFP chapter, and is now active in Atlanta.  His son Connor took over my table at the Athens “Fall Into Peace” Festival in ’07 when it came my turn to speak.  As we walked up to the Union we were met by Dave Taylor from Beaufort, bringing our Chapter 157 delegation to an even half dozen souls.

I heard Ron Fisher’s voice as he came up the stairs to our morning workshop on Holding the Architects of Illegal Wars and War Crimes Accountable.  Ron is a retired Navy captain.  He was in John McCain’s class at Annapolis, and he has been a stalwart in the accountability movement.  David Swanson mc’d the panel, including Ron Fisher, National Lawyers’ Guild Director Marjorie Cohn, and lawyer-journalist Andrew Krieg.  We had a packed room, and too many questions to get to mine before our time ran out.  The conclusions included 1.) There is ample evidence to indict Bush/Cheney and others; 2.) We don’t know if Attorney General Eric Holder will appoint a special prosecutor; and 3.) We don’t know if a prosecutor’s scope would be limited to underling scapegoats.  For background and fresh news, see www.warcrimestimes.org, published by VFP Chapter 099 in Western North Carolina.

David Swanson had arrived with his wife Anna and 4 year-old son Wesley, who waited patiently during the workshop.  They were on their way to a beach vacation, but David extended an invitation to his Charlottesville home, for which I am very grateful.  His book “Daybreak—Undoing the imperial presidency and forming a more perfect union”  is coming out next month, and we’ll have to reel him in to the Triangle for a reading.  (See davidswanson.org.)

Lunchtime hosted a Chapter 157 table with Ron Fisher, Andrew Krieg and David Townsend.  Andrew is working with Justice Dept. whistleblowers, and cautioned Ron about a rigid approach to accountability.  David is an attorney, and is eager to file charges against Bush government officials in any jurisdiction. 

Friday afternoon Ron and I showed the latest TV torture accountability ads based on David Ippolito’s video and an ACLU production (see www.thatguitarman.com and www.aclu.org). 

Friday evening we got on the bus at the union for a ride to a community event at the Plymouth Church in DC. 

We heard soulful prayers, poetry and songs, a fiery presentation by Reverend Graylin Hagler , an admonition to diversify by Rev. Lennox Yearwood, and the saddest story from Palestinian activist Amer Shuurab, his two brothers dying in his father’s arms from Israeli gunfire in Gaza.

Big Daddy G (aka George Johnson, from San Francisco) led our hootenanny outside the Queen Anne Friday night.  George is a singer-songwriter-activist with Annie and the Vets in SF,   His repertoire is awesome.  I joined in with “Farewell to Nova Scotia” and “Indict Them” when my turn came around.

Our VFP business meeting began Saturday morning.  Everyone is invited to speak during the business meeting, and I shared the addresses to the recent TV ads calling for investigations into the crimes of the Bush/Cheney regime.  But I was disappointed by the defeat of the www.jobsforafghans.org resolution, co-sponsored by Chapter 157 and Ron Fisher’s Chapter 016 in Virginia.  The resolution was submitted at the last minute, and the VFP board cited the lack of a reliable conduit for funds to support Ralph Lopez’s initiative, even though Ralph had recently confirmed his proposal’s legitimacy from the streets of Kabul.

The main event at the Saturday night banquet was the ritual reading of the names of Vets for Peace members who had passed away during the year, each one followed by “presente,” calling on their spirits to gather with us for the occasion, reminiscent of the annual SOA in Georgia.  We had 6 North Carolinians and Lucy from New Mexico at our table to hear Bill Fletcher, Phyllis Bennis and others speak to our extraordinary opportunities and obligations during these tumultuous times.  Code Pink Women for Peace co-founder Medea Benjamin invited me to join the year’s end march to break the siege of Gaza, and Phyllis Bennis joined in with her assessment that not much good can come from reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan until the US led military occupation ends.

Babs and Mia joined Wally and me at our room in the Queen Anne after the banquet, for Mia’s reading of a story about a boy on a night hunt with his grandfather.  While Wally walked the ladies back to Bab’s car, I joined Dave Taylor and Tressa on the Queen Anne veranda for beers and sundries.  Dennis, from NYC, proposed a major recruiting effort for VFP in New England, before our August, 2010 Convention in Portland, Mane.  Phil, from Daytona Beach, suggested a Peace Train all the way up the east coast to Portland. 

I listened to veterans’ stories as long as I could.  When my ears got sleepy, I retired for the night.

Sunday morning we passed the torch to Jack Bussell and the Maine Chapter of VFP for  hosting the 25th anniversary convention next year in the birthplace of Veterans for Peace.  I said good bye to Carlos and Melida, Gold Star Families for Peace, and many other friends.  Kim Carlyle departed with VFP board member Sharon Kufeldt.  Kim is a Western NC VFP, and co-founder of “War Crimes Times.”  Mike Hearrington had a full pick-up truck (5) for their ride back to Georgia.  Babs and Mia loaded up for their return to NC.  Will Covert headed back to California with Tina and Adam, planning to stop in Ohio for a fundraiser for Adam’s campaign for Congress.

After the closing ceremony, Wally and I packed our stuff in his Prius and made our way to the Capitol Mall in DC for a Nagasaki commemoration on the 64th anniversary of the US nuclear attack on a “military target.”  According to expert testimony at the WW II Memorial, the Nagasaki bombing was a successful “science experiment” demonstrating the destructive power of our new miracle weapon.  These events occurred before we learned that the preparation and testing of nuclear weapons constituted war crimes against US citizens exposed to downwind effects of the test blasts.  Our guest from Nagasaki described her own harrowing survival from the attack, and the efforts of her fellow Japanese people to entertain the prospect of forgiveness for the brutality visited upon the civilian populations of Japan, as well as the brutality perpetrated by the Japanese.

My last goodbye at the WW II memorial was to Rajia, thanking her for her courage and determination to participate in the VFP Convention, and wishing her Godspeed on her quest for peace in Afghanistan.

Wally and I wound our way out of DC on our return home to NC.  We shared reflections of the convention, talked about our Tuesday meeting with Students Against Violence Everywhere, and sang along with my collection of Andrew McKnight songs.

During our “spare time” in Maryland, Wally worked to rewrite our appeal to NC Peace Action members, and I worked on arranging joint appearances by Cindy Sheehan and Bob Bowman in NC.   By Monday, Cindy and Bob both confirmed their first joint speaking tour, October 23-27, in North Carolina