May 20, 2009

Bellingham City Council Unanimous Vote for GI Sanctuary City Public Forum

Marchers took to the streets of Bellingham Saturday afternoon 

rallying for peace in the first annual Bellingham Peace March 

photo by Keith Daigle Western Front

A Victory for Peace & Sanctuary!

Last night, May 19th,  the Bellingham City Council voted 7-0 to host a Public Hearing on the matter of sanctuary for war resisters. Many people spoke eloquently in favor of such a hearing. Congratulations to Sanctuary City organizer Nick Spring and committee members who inspired a community movement around this issue. Please stay tuned to find out the date and location of the public forum. 

Check out this week’s Western Front newspaper for an article (see below) about Saturday’s Peace Walk hosted by Sanctuary City and co-sponsored by the Whatcom Peace & Justice Center, Community to Community Development, Whatcom Human Rights Task Force, and Veterans for Peace. What an awesome day of hope and resistance with 200 participants. Thanks to everyone who participated!

-thanks to Bellingham GI Sanctuary City.

Campaign proposes ordinance to protect AWOL soldiers

by Julia Means   

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bellingham Peace Walk participant Ron Felix held a sign saying “Bellingham GI Sanctuary City” as he walked from Maritime Heritage Park in downtown Bellingham to the Village Green in Fairhaven. The Whatcom Peace and Justice Center teamed up with the Bellingham GI Sanctuary City campaign for the walk, which focused on a theme of hope and resistance.

Fairhaven student and Sanctuary City organizer Nick Spring said a GI sanctuary city is a place where soldiers can reside if they wish to exercise their right to object war.

Felix said he believes because war exists, people need to gather together to show they oppose it.

“I feel like everyone that can be here is representing someone who can’t be,” Felix said.   

The event coordinator of the Bellingham Peace Walk, Channing Showalter, said she met veterans of the war in Iraq last year who inspired her to find out what is going on with the war in Iraq.

Showalter said one of the goals of the Peace Walk is to bring attention to the United States’ occupation and the realities of what the U.S. is doing in Iraq.  

Showalter said she believes when we know these realities, actions must be taken as a community, such as supporting GI war resistors.

“We are all going about our lives as if nothing is happening,” Showalter said.  “It’s a jumpstart voicing the realities of occupation.”

The Bellingham GI Sanctuary City campaign is proposing an ordinance to the Bellingham City Council that will spell out, in writing, Bellingham’s position on the execution of military warrents for soldiers who are absent without leave (AWOL), Spring said.  

The ordinance would exclude 'acting on federal warrants' in the job descriptions of Bellingham law enforcement officials, Showalter said.

“Right now our tax dollars are paying for them to work on this,” Showalter said.  “We need to focus on local issues.”

Currently, if a police officer pulls a person over, runs his or her license and finds is AWOL, the officer can arrest the soldier and contact the military, Spring said.    

The group’s belief is that it is the responsibility of the military, not the Bellingham Police, to act on the apprehension and detainment of service members absent from military services, he said.

“We’re just trying to get it out there that this makes sense,” Spring said.

The group wants to create a public forum in the form of a town hall meeting, so Bellingham community members can discuss the issues surrounding AWOL soldiers and the responsibilities of the Bellingham Police, Spring said.

City Councilman Terry Bornemann said he made a motion for the Bellingham City Council to sponsor a public meeting for the sanctuary city forum.   The motion was seconded at the committee meeting Monday, May 18.

Bornemann served in the Vietnam War and said he understands how difficult it can be for soldiers who face the moral decision to engage in the war or leave because they feel it is an illegal war.  He said he agrees with the ordinance and that it should not be the responsibility of the local police. 

“I don’t know if it’s something we need to spend our resources on,” Bornemann said.

Councilman Stan Snapp said he is supportive of the public forum, but he has some concerns about the ordinance and the idea of a sanctuary city.

“I’m for the public meeting because it’s a public issue and is controversial as well,” Snapp said.

Council members have been approached for some time on the idea of a sanctuary city, Snapp said.  He said the idea of a sanctuary city is a little over the line for him personally.

“It’s beyond a moral issue of war,” Snapp said.  “It’s about a patriotic commitment.  Once you sign on [with the military], you sign on.”

Evan Knappenberger, an Iraq veteran and community activist, enlisted in the army and was forced to sign away his benefits when he was asked to serve a longer term than originally agreed upon.

Knappenberger said he wants the military to recognize that people change their minds and might not want to continue in the war.

“The reason I [tell my story] is to negate what happened to me happening to someone else,” Knappenberger said.  “We need to make a change and see a difference.”

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