December 31, 2009

ALL or NONE - Gaza Freedom March Rejects Egyptian Offer to Allow 100 Through

By Ellen Davidson and Judith Mahoney Pasternak

CAIRO, December 30–After long meetings into the night and a heated confrontation between protesters at a Cairo bus station, the leadership of the Gaza Freedom March (GFM) here has rescinded its acceptance of an Egyptian government offer to allow 100 of the 1300-strong delegation to cross the border into Gaza. The group gathered in Cairo to travel together to a Dec. 31 march in Gaza against the Israeli blockade of the territory and to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Israel’s 22-day bombing and invasion that killed 1,400 and left thousands wounded and more homeless. [ READ FULL ARTICLE AT THE INDYPENDENT ]

Painting a banner at the bus station

Statement by VFP Member Bill Perry before the march began:

I am a Disabled Viet Nam Combat Veteran whose main occupation is helping WW II, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan Veterans get the evaluations, treatment, and compensation for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that they deserve.

1,000 other Americans, in addition to myself, will be participating in the Gaza Freedom March (GFM) on December 31st in Occupied Palestine. My main motivation for participating in the Gaza Freedom March (GFM) is that the one common thread in the narratives of most of our Combat Vets, from WW II through Afghanistan & Iraq, is the terrible tragedies that the children victims of war are forced to endure.

December 27th is the first anniversary of the brutal 23 day Israeli assault on Gaza, an area the size of Philadelphia, with roughly the same population. The December 31st GFM is important to me in that it will help focus the worlds' attention on the
ongoingIsraeli siege on Gaza, and the Israeli sanctions that force thousands of women & children to either live in pup tents, or in hollowed out areas in the rubble of their former homes.

During the Israeli assault they used Apache Helicopters with Hell Fire Missiles, unmanned aircraft known as Drones (armed with missiles), F-16 jets w/ 500 pound bombs, and white phosphorous artillery munitions in civilian areas, which burn victims to death and are illegal under International Humanitarian law. The body count was over 1,400 Palestinians (including nearly 400 children) and 13 Israelis (all but three were combatants). Israel trumpeted their 100:1 "kill ratio," without mentioning that half their 10 KIA were from their own "friendly fire", which would, in effect, make their "kill ratio" about 200:1.

A year later, Israel not only continues to block shipments of cement, mortar, bricks, lumber, window glass, and other materials needed for rebuilding Gaza homes and schools, but also school supplies, pencils, pens, sanitary napkins and tampons.

Over 360 Gazans have died since the January assault from denial of medical care, including Tamer Gamel El Sakany, 16, who was banned from traveling abroad for Leukemia treatment.

I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the folks whose history includes imprisonment in the Warsaw Ghetto, a mere 70 years ago, continue to jail the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza strip, in the worlds' largest open air prison (56% of the 1.5 million open air prisoners are children).

Nearly 190 countries, worldwide, have expressed outrage, yet 3 Billion American tax dollars per year help Israel enforce this ongoing human tragedy.

Exactly where and how does the rational and sane world begin the therapy programs for all these traumatized children?

Bill Perry, Service Officer
Disabled American Veteran CSO

Jean Athey invokes Obama showing the contradiction between his words and his actions in Cairo at the Gaza Freedom March

Thursday 31 December 2009
Jean Athey, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

A Gaza Freedom March sit-in on Wednesday December 30th in Cairo, Egypt.
(Photo: Mashahed's Photos / Flickr)

We are in the Middle East, seeking a nonviolent solution to the blockade of Gaza. Free Gaza actions are occurring all over Cairo, and so the police, who are often in riot gear, have had a busy day - they show up wherever we go. They are incredibly young, maybe 18 or 19. Typically, they surround us with movable steel fences, which they line up behind, and they watch us with what seems to be curiosity, not malice. However, their innocent appearance doesn't mean they won't become aggressive; police today were very rough with several Spanish protesters. As internationals, though, we have great protection not enjoyed by locals. Some Egyptians have joined in these protests, and we find their courage astounding.

This morning, I was at the US Embassy with a group of about 40 other Americans. We went hoping to see the ambassador, but instead we were surrounded by Egyptian police in riot gear and kept penned in for some five hours. The police told us that they did this at the behest of the American Embassy, but later the "political security officer" of the embassy denied it. So, who is lying? It is interesting that the French ambassador spent the night outside with the French protesters when they first occupied the sidewalk in front of their embassy, but the American ambassador refused to see us, apparently had us detained, and for no reason.

We went to the American Embassy to ask the US to prevail upon the Egyptian government and allow our nonviolent delegation into Gaza. The US has tremendous leverage with Egypt, of course, and if the US asked Egypt to allow us to go to Gaza, the border would surely be opened immediately. Three members of our group were allowed inside the embassy to speak to an American representative, while the rest of us were prevented from moving outside our temporary pen. Our spokespersons reminded the political officer with whom they met that when Barack Obama came to Cairo in June, he spoke movingly of the power of nonviolence as a way to resist oppression. The president said:
For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding.
The Gaza Freedom March embodies that "peaceful and determined insistence" about which the president spoke. I wonder if the ambassador heard his speech.

In that same speech, President Obama acknowledged the dire circumstances of Palestinians in general and Gazans in particular. He said:
So let there be no doubt: the state of the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own ... Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society. And just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security . . . Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.
And, yet, it seems that we Americans have turned our backs on the people of Gaza; we are doing nothing to end the siege, which is creating enormous suffering. We have done nothing to compel Israel to end the siege. Indeed, the US is presently facilitating a strengthening of the siege: it was announced last week that the Army Corps of Engineers is assisting Egypt in further isolating the people of Gaza by helping in the construction of a huge underground wall. This wall will cut off the only remaining sources of food, clothes, medicine, and all othera necessities of life, which now enter Gaza through tunnels from Egypt. How shameful that the US is working to increase the suffering of the people of Gaza rather than to diminish it.

In his Nobel acceptance speech, President Obama said:
As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of nonviolence. I know there is nothing weak - nothing passive - nothing naive - in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.
Our president applauds nonviolent action and recognizes its strength. The Gaza Freedom March was conceived as a nonviolent response to what President Obama characterized as an intolerable situation and a humanitarian crisis - a crisis that has become increasingly dire since he spoke here in June.

Thus, we are attempting to do exactly what President Obama recommended, and, yet, when we went to our own embassy for intervention with the Egyptian government, we were surrounded by police and detained for hours in an open-air pen, an appropriate symbol for Gaza itself, actually.

President Obama said in Oslo:
It is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive. It does not exist where children cannot aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.

In Gaza, because of US complicity with Israel in the blockade, people do not have enough food, clean water or medicine. There are no books or paper for school children, and the schools that were bombed cannot be rebuilt because building materials are not allowed into the Strip. Unemployment is at 75 percent. There is little hope in Gaza.

President Obama ended his eloquent Oslo speech with these stirring words:
So let us reach for the world that ought to be - that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls ... Somewhere today, in this world, a young protester awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams. Let us live by their example.
And, yet, when we US citizens attempt to speak with representatives of our own Embassy - in a client state - about our desires to help alleviate a dire humanitarian situation, we are detained for hours like animals and refused an audience. Is this the audacity of hope? Is this change we can believe in?

We ask our government to live by the words of our president and to help us end the illegal and immoral siege of Gaza.

Jean Athey is a retired grandmother of six who lives in Brookeville, Maryland. She is the coordinator of Peace Action Montgomery, a local volunteer peace group in Montgomery County, Maryland.

-thanks to truthout

Military Abortion Ban: Female Soldiers Not Protected by Constitution They Defend

It's just another outrage - In a country where abortion is legal, the women who fight for the country are denied these medical services. It isn't clear what the intent is of those who would deny medical care for these women soldiers. It couldn't be because they care about the fetus since they allow abortions in military hospitals in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother - none being the fault of the fetus. It couldn't be because they care about the woman or they wouldn't endanger her by denying her medical services for any reason. It must be a nasty case of misogynists in positions of power.

By Kathryn Joyce

December 15, 2009
Unable to get an abortion during a tour of duty in Iraq, a soldier is left with no option but to do it herself—a humiliating but not uncommon dilemma. Women in the military are forced to obtain a leave to get the care they need; but if they’re honest about why, they put their military career in jeopardy. If they’re not, they put their military career in jeopardy.

Female soldier in Anbar Province in 2006. US Army photo by Lance Cpl. Clifton D. Sams

You hear these legends of coat-hanger abortions,” a 26-year-old former Marine sergeant told me recently, “but there are no coat hangers in Iraq. I looked.” Amy (who prefers not to use her real name) was stationed in Fallujah as a military journalist two years ago when she discovered she was pregnant. As a female Marine, a distinct minority in the branch, Amy was fearful of going to her chain of command to explain her situation.

For military women, who lack all rights to medical privacy, facing an unplanned pregnancy is a daunting obstacle. Thanks to anti-abortion forces in Congress, military hospitals are banned from providing abortion services, except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest (and for the latter two, only if the patient pays for the service herself). Amy says her options were “like being given a choice between swimming in a pond full of crocodiles or piranhas.”

“I have long been aware of the stigma surrounding this circumstance and knew my career would likely be over, though I have received exceptional performance reviews in the past,” Amy explains. Although Fallujah has a surgical unit, and abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures, Amy knew that if her pregnancy were discovered, she would be sent back to her home base at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune, where she would then have to seek a private abortion off-base, or she could request leave in Iraq and try her luck at a local hospital. She also knew she could face reprimands from her commanding officers for having had sex in Iraq (part of a broader prohibition on sex in war zones), and that she might not be promoted as a result: a potentially career-ending situation in the Marines, where failure to obtain regular promotions results in being discharged. Moreover, as a woman in the military, accustomed to proving herself to her male peers over her six-year career, Amy was wary of appearing a “weak female.”

“If you get sent home for something like that, everyone will know about it,” says Amy. “That’s a really bad stigma in the military. I thought, that’s not me, I’ve worked harder and I could outrun all the guys. So I chose to stay, and that was just as bad.”

From a remove of two years, Amy now sees the sex that resulted in her pregnancy as rape: something that may have qualified her for an on-base (though self-funded) abortion. However, at the time, because the rape wasn’t brutally violent, and because she had seen fellow servicewomen be ostracized for “crying rape” in the past, she imagined nothing but trouble would come of making a complaint.

Instead, using herbal abortifacient supplements ordered online, Amy self-aborted. Unable to find a coat hanger she used her sanitized rifle cleaning rod and a laundry pin to manually dislodge the fetus while lying on a towel on the bathroom floor. It was a procedure she attempted twice, each time hemorrhaging profusely. Amy lost so much blood on the first attempt that her skin blanched and her ears rang. She continued working for five weeks, despite increasing sickness, until she realized she was still pregnant.

The morning after her second attempt, she awoke in great pain, and finally told a female supervisor, who told Amy to take an emergency leave to fly back to the United States where a private abortion clinic could finish the procedure. However, Amy was afraid that she would miscarry on the 15-hour plane ride and have no medical escort to help her. She went to the military hospital instead and told the doctor everything. Shortly thereafter, her company first sergeant and other officers were notified of Amy’s condition. The first sergeant came to her hospital room to announce that Amy would be punished under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which addresses violations of general regulations, for having had sex in a war zone.

That night, Amy miscarried alone in her shower. Fearful of the advice of a sympathetic female officer who suggested that Amy might be charged for the abortion as well (she wasn’t), she flushed the fetus down the toilet. “I don’t believe there was ever a life or a soul there,” Amy says, “but I feel undignified for doing that.” When her nonjudicial punishment (a plea sentence for a misdemeanor-like offense) went through, Amy was fined $500 and given a suspended rank reduction.

Master Sergeant Keith Milks, a public affairs officer in Amy’s former unit, the II Marine Expeditionary Force, says he can’t comment specifically on Amy’s case, as the administration action of the punishment and Amy’s personnel details are covered by privacy provisions. However, he says, her sentence is in keeping with the options for disciplining soldiers for breaking the prohibition on sex in a war zone.

At Amy’s request, she was sent home from Iraq, after a military psychiatrist determined that she was “too psychologically unstable” to remain, and diagnosed her with acute anxiety, PTSD, and depression. “They convinced themselves that anyone who would do a self-abortion is crazy,” Amy says. “It’s not a crazy thing. It’s something that rational, thinking women do when they have no options.”

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, says Amy’s horrifying story is the logical outcome of the longstanding military ban on abortion that affects 200,000 female service members as well as female military spouses and dependents living on military bases covered by the armed forces’ Tricare health coverage. Shocking as the story may be, Kolbi-Molinas says, “If you restrict women to unsafe abortions, this is what will happen.”
Military Women “Do Not Receive the Protection of the Constitution they Defend”.

Starting in 1979, Defense Department appropriations bills have been used to restrict or prohibit the use of federal funds—meaning all military health coverage—for abortion services at overseas military hospitals. Although President Clinton reversed the ban shortly after taking office, anti-abortion forces in Congress made the ban permanent in 1995, preventing future presidents from altering the rules by executive order.

What began as a funding ban, compelling women to pay for abortion services themselves, was later extended into a more comprehensive embargo on performing abortions in any military hospital except in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother. Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA), argued that “servicewomen do not receive the protection of the Constitution they defend,” and tried unsuccessfully in 2005 and 2006 to repeal the ban—or at least to bring it in line with current Medicaid standards by allowing abortion funding in rape and incest cases. Opponents like Kansas Republican Jim Ryan postured in response claiming that, “allowing self-funded abortions would simply turn our military hospitals overseas into abortion clinics.”

In fact, before Roe v. Wade the situation was reversed: servicewomen were pressured into having abortions due to a military policy of automatically discharging pregnant women. That policy ended with Crawford v. Cushman, a 1976 US Appeals Court case ruling that the discharge rule violated due process.

The result of the ban is that active-duty servicewomen and military dependents are faced with a number of equally unappealing options: venture out to local hospitals while overseas, to medical facilities that may have different standards of care, where medical workers may not speak English, or where there is animosity towards the United States; seek a back-alley abortion in a country that prohibits abortion; or undertake an arduous process of obtaining permission from commanding officers to fly home or to a neighboring country, find space on a military transport, or pay for a commercial flight home (a prohibitive cost for lower-ranking servicewomen), and return to their units aware that their superiors know intimate details about their medical records.

Kolbi-Molinas says the ACLU has received reports about commanding officers attempting to interfere with women taking leave to obtain abortions. Even for those who are able to obtain an abortion off-base, says Bethany Niebauer, a military spouse and writer at RH Reality Check, the lack of medical privacy in the military means women often return to social shaming “for making a choice with which her superiors might disagree.”

A General Accounting Office report on the issue in 2002 found that the policy was a humiliation for servicewomen, who must seek travel approval from commanding officers, many of whom “have not been adequately trained about the importance of women’s basic health care.” Furthermore, servicewomen may be uneasy with the appearance of requesting special treatment, or may face commanding officers who disapprove of abortion—a serious concern for women reliant on these officers for career advancement.

Vicki Saporta, President of the National Abortion Federation, says that military women seeking abortions face a no-win situation. “If you’re a woman in the military, you’re going to have to obtain a leave to get the care you need. If you’re honest about why you need that care, you put your military career in jeopardy. If you’re not honest, then you put your military career in jeopardy.”

December 30, 2009

Democracy Now Video Report on the Gaza Freedom March

View the Democracy Now Video Report on the Gaza Freedom March.

The Gaza Freedom March is scheduled to start in a few hours!

Call your local TV stations and encourage them to carry news coverage of this peaceful action for human rights. The delegates will not be turned away by fabricated 'tensions' at the border. The Israeli, Egyptian, US and European governments must act to end the siege of Gaza, but they will continue to ignore the situation as long as the people are distracted. Mass media and awareness is the key.

Freedom March: Activists Reject Egypt's Gaza Offer - "we refuse to whitewash the siege of Gaza"

Published on Wednesday, December 30, 2009 by Al Jazeera
Members of an international group gathered in Cairo to protest against the siege of Gaza have rejected an Egyptian offer to allow 100 of them entry into the Palestinian territory.

Organizers of the Gaza Freedom March (GFM), which is comprised of 1,300 people from 42 different countries, declined the offer on Wednesday, saying
"we refuse to whitewash the siege of Gaza".
Egyptian authorities had initially said the group would not be allowed to cross the border, citing security reasons and a "sensitive situation".

The activists were hoping to march into Gaza on the anniversary of Israel's 22-day offensive on the territory as a sign of solidarity with its people, carrying with them aid and supplies.

Egypt's Rafah border crossing point is the only entrance point into the Gaza Strip not controlled by Israel.

However, both it and the Israeli-controlled border points have largely remained sealed since 2007, when Palestinian faction Hamas took full control of the territory after brutal infighting with rivals Fatah.

Cairo concession

March organizers had called the Egyptian government's concession a "partial victory" but said the offer was not sufficient.

Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada and a participant in the march, posted to his blog, saying that "it's not enough and the pressure and protests should be kept up".

"However, getting 100 or 1,300 into Gaza does not end the siege by itself. This is not about getting some or even all into Gaza, its building global support and pressure to end the siege of Gaza," he said.

Roqayah Chamseddine, a US student attending the march, told Al Jazeera: "Our mission is not to be divided and sending only 100 of over 1,300 would be doing just that.

"For anyone to claim that Egypt was doing us a favor by offering to allow 100 GFM members to go is asinine and baseless.

"Those borders must be opened and as long as Egypt continues to seemingly aid Israel in subjugating the people of Palestine we will also continue to resist an protest."

Gaza Freedom March members have held multiple small protests in Cairo, as well as on Tuesday joining Egyptian activists to demonstrate against a one-day visit by Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister.

Earlier on Tuesday, around 40 US citizens marching to their embassy in the Egyptian capital were met along the way by riot police, who corralled them into groups of 10 before allowing them access, participants said.

On Sunday and Monday, about 80 people held a sit-in outside the French embassy to try to rally international support for the movement.

Others, such as US citizen Hedy Epstein, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, have gone on hunger strike to protest against Egypt's refusal to allow the march to proceed.

Viva Palestina

A separate aid convoy, which had been trying to reach Gaza by way of Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba, has meanwhile agreed to travel via Syria instead.

The Viva Palestina convoy, carrying 210 lorries full of humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza, crossed into Syria on Tuesday after spending five days in Jordan, negotiating with the Egyptian consul there.

It is now expected to set sail from the Syrian port of Latakia to the Egyptian port of El Arish on the Mediterranean, and then cross through Rafah into Gaza from there.

A statement from the Egypt's ministry of information said that George Galloway, the British member of parliament leading the convoy, had been told by November 10 that the group had to travel through El Arish, even though it is not the most direct route.

© 2009 Al Jazeera

-thanks to Common Dreams and Al Jazeera

Iraq Veteran, Rodney Watson, Finds Sanctuary in Canadian Church

War Resister Rodney Watson. (Photo: Peace Alliance Winnipeg)

by: Gerry Condon, t r u t h o u t | Interview

Rodney Watson is one of the bravest and nicest men I have had the pleasure of meeting. He is an African-American from Kansas City, Kansas. He is a very religious young man, 32 years old. His dream was to one day have his own restaurant. In 2004, when an Army recruiter told him he would be trained as a cook, he signed up for a three-year hitch. When Watson was deployed to Iraq in October 2005, his superiors told him he would be supervising the dining facility. Instead, he was given an M16 rifle and told to search for explosives on the perimeter of his base in Mosul.

The Army had not trained Watson to inspect or detonate explosives, so he was unhappy with this assignment. But this was not all that was bothering him. He was appalled at the blatant racism of some of his fellow soldiers in Iraq. He saw US soldiers spitting upon and kicking the Koran and beating Iraqi, even civilians. "I had to sit there and watch it," he told the Vancouver Courier, "and my hands were tied." He did not report the abuses. "I didn't want to be labeled a snitch - not with people walking around with machine guns."

Watson finished his twelve-month tour of duty in October 2006 and returned home, only to be told he would be going right back to Iraq. His three-year contract with the Army would have ended in the spring of 2007, but the Army was unilaterally extending it so that he could complete another tour of Iraq. Rodney Watson was being "stop-lossed."

On a two-week leave, Watson pondered his situation and decided he would not be a slave to the US Army or cannon fodder for the war in Iraq. Instead, he left a goodbye note in his father's Bible and made his way to Vancouver on the west coast of Canada. The Army has since charged him with desertion.

With the aid of the War Resisters Support Campaign in Vancouver, Rodney Watson sought sanctuary in Canada as a political refugee who would be persecuted for his beliefs if he were forced to return to the US. Despite widespread support in Canada for US war resisters, Watson was denied refugee status and the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper ordered him deported.

The Canadian people have been much more welcoming than the Canadian government. So Rodney spoke with Ric Matthews, pastor of the First United Church in downtown Vancouver, a progressive congregation that opens its doors every night to homeless people who would otherwise be sleeping on the streets. Canadian churches have a long tradition of granting sanctuary to refugees who are rejected by the politicized refugee board but who truly do face persecution in their homelands. Two US war resisters who have been deported from Canada, Robin Long and Clifford Cornell, were court-martialed by the US Army, convicted of desertion, and sentenced to 15 months and 12 months in prison, respectively, as well as dishonorable discharges.

Pastor Matthews spoke to his congregation and they agreed to provide Watson with sanctuary, the first time a Canadian church has done so for a US war resister. Since mid-September, Watson has been living in a custodial apartment in the church, where he has received a steady flow of supporters, journalists and even Members of Parliament. So far, the Canadian government has respected his church sanctuary.

Last week, Gerard Kennedy, a Liberal MP from Toronto, flew to Vancouver to meet with Watson. Kennedy has introduced a bill in the House of Commons that would grant sanctuary to US war resisters who would not fight in the illegal US war and occupation of Iraq. If his bill passes, it will be legally binding, unlike two similar parliamentary motions that the Conservative government has chosen to ignore.

Watson's Canadian fiancé and their one-year old son are joining him for the holidays and beyond.

I have had the good fortune of visiting Rodney Watson several times in Vancouver, and I spoke with him recently to see how he is doing. Although many Canadians know his story, very few people in the US are aware of the stand that Rodney Watson is taking on behalf of all war resisters. I asked Rodney if he would elaborate his story for an American audience and he graciously agreed to do so.
Gerry Condon: Rodney, as an African-American man, you certainly recognize racist behavior when you see it. How were you affected by the racism you witnessed in Iraq?
Rodney Watson: The racism I witnessed in Iraq was something that really angered me ... the mistreatment and abuse that some racist soldiers or civilian contractors would afflict upon the Iraqi civilians. The Army is full of good soldiers, but, as we all know, there are some that just don't deserve to wear the uniform because of their racial hatred.

At the same time as I was witnessing these crimes in Iraq, my fellow Americans were still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina - mostly poor black people. As I watched the military spend millions of US dollars in a country that had no weapons of mass destruction, people back home were begging for help after the storm from a government that moved very slowly to aid those in need.
I now wish that President Obama, being African-American, will help the youth that are killing each other every day in the streets of America and concentrate on helping the American people that are in need of jobs, housing, food and health care. Because I think these problems are more important right now than WAR!

I pray that God will direct the steps of the president and change his mind on certain issues and for him to use the Love and popularity he has received to rebuild America instead of "nation building" in the Middle East.
What part of your story are the media not telling?
Watson: The media are not telling the story of the racism that I witnessed directly. There was a soldier in my unit in Iraq who was caught dealing drugs to an undercover military C.I.D. agent and the result was that every black soldier in my unit had to report to a formation to be questioned and fingerprinted by the FBI. Why didn't they just detain him when the deal went down instead of treating all the black men in my unit like potential CRIMINALS!!!!!!!!!
What would you like to say to the American people?
Watson: My message of PEACE to the people of the US is that we can achieve Peace if we truly reach out to our enemies with diplomacy and stop fighting, instead of risking the lives of these Brave Men and Women to fight low-level fighters who attack and then run and hide.

To take the notion that America is ONE NATION UNDER GOD seriously and rebuild the US into a land of equal treatment among all of the different races of America with Love and true unity. In all honesty, the KKK are Terrorists. Those who would kill their fellow man over money or drugs are Terrorists. The people in power who sit in their big fancy houses and just watch black youth kill each other are Terrorists. What I'm saying is that we have a lot of problems in our own country that are of a GREAT EMERGENCY. The people are crying out for HELP!!!
Do you have a message for your fellow soldiers?
Watson: My message to the soldiers is that I pray for your safety, even the ones who might think I'm some kind of coward or traitor. I pray that the Lord of Lords and King of Kings Jesus Christ will keep you all under his protection and your families as well. It has been an honor to serve alongside most of you I have encountered in the Army. And I know the bad apples will have to answer to God one day. Even the ones in high places who led us into battle based on lies will answer to God almighty for their LIES. Last but not least, I pray that the Lamb of God will put an end to wars that you all are involved in, for JESUS is the Prince of Peace and not The Prince of War!!
What kind of support are you receiving and what are your immediate needs?
Watson: I have the basics here living in Sanctuary, but if any creative minds can and want to help me, I would highly appreciate it. I have a son who is one year old. He and his mother are my heart and soul and they are put before any of my needs. It is hard for me to ask for help when I know there are many people in the US who are in greater need than I. But if there are those who wish to give a helping hand, I would be ever so grateful.
What would you like for Christmas?
Watson: All I want for Christmas is to turn on the TV after helping my son open his gifts, to be joined together by his mother on the sofa with maybe some hot cocoa, and see President Obama say that he changed his mind and that he is bringing our men and women HOME!!!!!!
Is there anything else you would like to say?
Watson: I signed up for three years in the Army and served over two and a half years and completed a one-year tour in Iraq. When I returned to Fort Hood, Texas, my unit was informed that we were to redeploy again to Iraq or Afghanistan within four months. I must say that I was upset about risking my life again for a war I did not understand or agree with, especially after seeing the things I saw over in Iraq. I am not a coward, I would not have a problem fighting a war against anyone who is a direct threat to our borders or who could harm my family or fellow Americans. I would be on the front lines for that.

My prayers go out to the soldier who is now imprisoned for a rap song he made that expresses his anger about being stop-lossed, because, just like him, I signed up for three years and I left before the military could stop-loss me. I feel his pain because while at Fort Hood I would see young men and women whose dreams of being civilians again were stolen from them when they were ordered to redeploy. Some took it with stride, while many others talked about suicide because they wanted out that badly.

I have laid down my sword and I have taken up my cross. Now my fight is for Love, Peace and Freedom. I no longer walk by sight but by Faith, and I Know God is the only one who can truly Judge me.

Rodney Watson is one courageous man, indeed. But none of us can make it alone. He and all the war resisters need and deserve our active support. By supporting war resisters, we can also speed the end of the illegal wars and occupations being pursued by the US government and military and their corporate sponsors. And we begin to heal the wounds of war that are affecting our entire society.
Please send Rodney Watson a New Year's card and maybe a gift for his son. His mailing address is:
Rodney Watson, c/o First United Church, 320 East Hastings St., Vancouver, BC V6A 1P4, CANADA.
You can also say hi to Rodney on his Facebook page, War Resister in Sanctuary.

-thanks to truthout and to Gerry Condon, a Veterans For Peace brother who has tirelessly supported our War Resisters on the West Coast.

More from Gaza Freedom Marchers in Cairo-interview with Sam Husseini ; and a letter from Emily Ratner

thanks to Pulse

Freedom Marching in Circles While Winding Our Way to Gaza

by Emily Ratner

CAIRO, Egypt -- Yesterday we joined the people of Gaza, the people of all of Palestine, and allies around the world in remembering the anniversary of the inhuman and illegal Israeli attacks that stole the lives of more than 1,400 mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons last December and January. And, in a manner far too appropriately suited to remembering an unfathomably vicious massacre and the preposterous silence of the American and Egyptian governments, we freedom marched in circles throughout the streets of Cairo.

The Egyptian government has revoked the contracts for the buses that would take us one step closer on our journey to Gaza and has forbidden us from leaving Cairo. Military police have torn down our small hand-written cards tied to the Kasr al Nil Bridge, following the Israelis' lead in trying to disappear the names and numbers of Gaza's martyrs. Candles meant to float along the Nile in remembrance are still in their boxes, their hundreds of distributors never permitted to board the feluccas (river boats) waiting just beyond overwhelming security forces. We regroup, circle again, and find another path to remembering and reminding, another way through the many checkpoints and the impossible border ahead.

The Egyptian government taunts us, encouraging us to enjoy the tourist attractions Cairo offers during our mandatory stay in the city. And some of us do. We even take Gaza with us: Yesterday, Abdullah Anar, a Turkish Muslim, and Max Geller, an American Jew, raced up the face of one of the pyramids to unveil a 12 meter by 6 meter Palestinian flag. For about three minutes one of the most resilient structures on earth proudly called the name of one of the world's most unbreakable people. We smuggle stories like this one through the tunnels connecting our hearts, exposing them in whispered reminders of the beauty and truth in this struggle, and the unending patience and flexibility we are slowly learning from our friends in Gaza.

We are more than 1,300 representing over 40 nations; we are scrappy, and we are undeterred. More than 330 French delegates camp out at their embassy, demanding the buses that never arrived there last night. They face an army of twenty-five military trucks, and a wall of police three bodies deep on all sides. 8 of us are held in Ismailia, a long way from our border destination. 30 more are detained in Al Arish, near the Rafah crossing. 2 keep a lonely vigil at a checkpoint just outside of Al Arish, refusing to turn back. And hundreds of us circle silently in the smoky haze of Cairo, evading the informants that infest our hostels and meeting spaces, planning, failing, and then planning again.

We do not forget that our frustrations here in Cairo are the smallest fraction of what our friends in Gaza suffer every day. We do not forget the passport privilege that has so far kept us from physical harm. We do not forget the shelter awarded by some of our embassies, and our friends and allies who make endless appeals to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry on our behalf. Yesterday was not a day of forgetting. December 27th is a day to remember.

We remember the more than 1,400 that were murdered. We remember the hundreds more who have died as a result of this horrific siege. We remember the tens of thousands who are still homeless, one full year later. And we remember our sisters and brothers on the other side of the Rafah border who have breathed life into this historic march every day for months, who have guided our feet to Cairo, and who light the shadowy path to Gaza. Most of all we remember that they will still be caged in Israel's massive open-air prison long after we've safely returned home.

And so we freedom march in circles, planning, dodging, regrouping, often failing, sometimes succeeding, and then circling again. Joining our friends in Gaza for the Freedom March on December 31st is possibly nothing more than a dream now, but in these long days we take lessons from our Palestinian mentors, who have walked far more treacherous circles than ours. And we march with them in Cairo and in dozens of cities across the globe as we demand that the Israeli, American, and Egyptian governments listen to the people of the world and set Gaza free.

Emily Ratner ( is an organizer and mediamaker based in New Orleans.

-thanks to Common Dreams

Roger Waters in solidarity with the Gaza Freedom March

Roger Waters is an outspoken critic of Israel's apartheid wall

27 December 2009 – My name is Roger Waters. I am an English musician living in the USA. I am writing to express my great admiration for and solidarity with the 1360 men and women from 42 different countries around the World who are gathering in Egypt, preparing for The Gaza Freedom March. We all watched, aghast, the vicious attack made a year ago on the people of Gaza by Israeli armed forces and the ongoing illegal siege. The suffering wrought on the population of Gaza by both the invasion and the siege is unimaginable to us outside the walls. The aim of The Freedom March is to focus world attention on the plight of the Palestinian people in Gaza in the hope that the scales will fall from the eyes of all, ordinary, decent people round the world, that they may see the enormity of the crimes that have been committed, and demand that their governments bring all possible pressure to bear on Israel to lift the siege.

I use the word ‘crimes’ advisedly, as both the siege and the invasion have been declared unlawful by United Nations bodies and leading human rights organizations. If we do not all observe international law, if some governments think themselves above it, it is but a few short, dark, steps to barbarism and anarchy.

The Gaza Freedom March is a beacon to all those of us who believe that under the skin, we are all brothers and sisters, who must stand shoulder to shoulder, if we are to make a future where all have recourse to law and universal human rights. Where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not just the preserve of the few. All the oil in The Middle East is not worth one child’s life. So to those of you who march, I tip my hat. It is a brave and noble thing you do, and when you reach your goal please tell our Palestinian brothers and sisters, that out here, beyond the Walls of their Prison, stand hundreds of thousands of us in solidarity with them. Today, hundreds of thousands, tomorrow, millions, soon, hundreds of millions. We Shall Overcome.

Roger Waters

-thanks to Pulse


"Every one of these dead non-combatants represents an alienated family, a new revenge feud, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased."
- David Kilcullen (Counterinsurgency Expert) Center for New American Security

On January 16th, 2010 from 1pm to 4pm activists will descend upon the home of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia to protest the immoral, illegal, and inhumane use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs--also known as "drones").

Speaking at this event will be:

- Cindy Sheehan (world renowned U.S. anti-war/peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee)
- Cynthia McKinney (former six term member of the U.S. House of Representatives and former Green Party candidate for President of the United States)
- Ann Wright (retired United States Army colonel and retired official of the U.S. State Department, known for her outspoken opposition to the Iraq War. She is most noted for having been one of three State Department officials to publicly resign in direct protest of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.)
- Kathy Kelly (U.S. peace activist, pacifist and author, a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, one of the founding members of Voices in the Wilderness, and currently a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence)
- Debra Sweet (Brooklyn-based director of World Can’t Wait)
- Bruce Gagnon (coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space)
- Joshua Smith (anti-war/peace activist, analyst and coordinator)
- David Rovics (musician)

By some reports the current implementation and planned operational expansion of the strike-capable drone programs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have to date yielded up to 33% civilian (non-combatant) deaths. To any sane and honorable person this statistic alone should prove that the "actionable intelligence" and robotic delivery vehicle do not yield a proper basis and/or method for credible attack. The primary and proven case against drone attacks is that they pose a public danger that can only be deemed as indiscriminate bombing. On the day of the event, activists will demand that the United States and its allies adhere to the protection of civilians (non-combatants) in international armed conflicts in accordance with the multiple existing conventions, protocols and customary international laws. These same activists will, of course, also demand an end to the wars and occupations currently under way and an immediate withdrawal of all troops and contractors.

Drones operate in the theater of war by being fueled and maintained at airbases within their locale but which are remotely piloted via satellite connected ground control stations half-way around the world and from an environment disassociated with any human connection to reality of their actions. The psychological aspect of this endeavor will ultimately create a false sense that war is easier to condone, safer to conduct and more acceptable in U.S. public and political opinion to initiate.

Recently, it has been reported in mainstream media that the United States Central Intelligence Agency has been working in cooperation with Private Military Contractors (PMCs--also known as "mercenaries") in waging secret operations in utilizing drone attacks. Under this veil secrecy it can only be assumed that impunity for war crimes is being actively cultivated within the highest level of Department of Defense operations via proxy by the Central Intelligence Agency (which then sub-contracts out the directives).

The most well known drone is the propeller driven Predator A (MQ-1). This drone began as merely a streaming video reconnaissance tool but was soon armed with Hellfire missiles. The United States Military then upgraded the entire drone arsenal with what has become a an even more ruthless killer--the Predator B "Reaper" (MQ-9). With millions upon millions, of U.S. taxpayer funded dollars the Reaper became higher, faster and strong with increased size and fuel capacity, quicker engagement via a turbo-prop engine and a larger weapons payload/assortment. The Reaper is seemingly a "steroid raged monster" that cowardly stalks it's prey. The next evolution is the Predator C "Avenger" which will employ stealth design/materials, jet engine and highly advanced optics systems.

Within the oration of the activists at this event the most frightening aspect of future drone programs will be explained and spelled out to attendees and to the press. The three most notable facts are (1) that drone programs currently under development will soon yield a series of UAV aircraft that will operate in a fully autonomous mode (meaning that no human will be controlling the craft remotely), (2) that the UAV program is destined to become the primary type of air power for the U.S. military which will also be tasked with the ability to carry out nuclear strikes, and (3) the use of drones will morph into rapid and various domestic roles as well (operating in, around and over cities of the United States).

The exact street address of the action in Langley will be announced soon. Please check back prior to the event date.

December 29, 2009

'Israel is the persecutor,' says Holocaust survivor on hunger strike for Gaza

85-year-old Hedy Epstein insists ‘we have to try everything’ to break siege of territory

Amr Nabil/Associated Press

Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor, center, was among hunger strikers in Cairo on Tuesday showing solidarity with Gazans.

By Richard Hall
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: An 85-year-old Holocaust survivor entered the second day of her hunger strike on Tuesday, in protest over the Egyptian government’s refusal to allow an international Palestinian solidarity march to enter the Gaza Strip. American peace activist Hedy Epstein came to Cairo as part of an international delegation with participants from 43 countries. The delegation had planned to join Palestinians in a non-violent march from Northern Gaza toward the Erez border with Israel, calling for the end of the blockade on Gaza on the anniversary of the Israeli invasion last December. Egyptian authorities have refused to allow any of the 1,300 protesters entry into Gaza, prompting Epstein and many others to go on hunger strike.
“There comes a time in one’s life when one has to step up and risk one’s own body,” she told The Daily Star. “We’re in a desperate situation here, but not as desperate as the people in Gaza.”
Epstein escaped Hitler’s Germany in 1939, when she was 14 years old. Her parents sent her to England on the Kindertransport – a rescue mission that took place nine months prior to the outbreak of World War II to evacuate predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany. Epstein’s parents remained in Germany and she was never to see them again; they perished in the extermination camp at Auschwitz in 1942. Her extraordinary childhood is one of the reasons Epstein found herself inclined to become involved in the Palestinian solidarity movement.
“I’ve been involved with the Israeli-Palestinian problem for many years. It probably goes back to my childhood, because I born in Germany and my parents were anti-Zionists,” she said.

“When Hitler came to power in 1933 I was 8 years old, and my parents very quickly realized that Germany is not a place to raise a family. So they tried to leave to go anywhere in the world, but there was one place they were not willing to go, and that was Palestine.”
After World War II, Epstein worked as a research analyst at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi doctors who performed medical experiments on concentration camp inmates. After she moved to the US, Epstein became an activist for peace and social justice causes. It was a particular event though, that triggered Epstein’s interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“I think for me the wakeup call came in 1982 with the massacres in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon. Up until then I had not paid that much attention to what was happening in that part of the world. Then I heard about that and questioned what is this all about,” she said. “As I learned more and I discovered more, I became increasingly more horrified by the practices of the Israeli government vis-a-vis the Palestinian people. And I began to speak out publicly against those policies,” she added.
Epstein acknowledged that she represents somewhat of an anomaly in the American Jewish community.

“There is an almost thoughtless, blind support of Israel no matter what it does,” she said. “The issue for Israeli Jews and the American Jewish community is the holocaust, and everything is due to the holocaust. Israel is not being persecuted now, Israel is the persecutor.”
Epstein did, however, note a slight change in attitude recently:

“Since the massacre in Gaza at the end of last year, I do see a crack in the way people are looking what Israel is doing, and that crack needs to be broken wide open, so that a change will take place.”

“My hope for change is in some of the young people. I have noticed that some of the young people I speak to are not speaking in the same way as their parents do,”
she said.

“I don’t know if this is going to make a difference. I started the hunger strike yesterday myself, and there are already many people from different countries who have since joined me. We have to try everything at this point”
The Egyptian government has justified its refusal to allow the activists entry for security reasons, citing tensions at the border.

A representative from an NGO involved in organizing the march told The Daily Star that the Egyptian government had agreed to allow 100 members of the delegation to enter Gaza. The decision followed negotiations late on Tuesday between organizers and diplomats at the US Embassy in Cairo. “It is a small victory for us, but it also exposes the security justification as inaccurate. If they can allow 100 to enter, why not 1000?” said Dana Balicki, national campaign manager for CODEPINK.

Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip since Hamas were elected in 2006. The blockade was significantly tightened after Operation Cast Lead – the name given to the Israeli bombardment and invasion of Gaza which killed over 1,300 Palestinians, over two-thirds of them civilians according to Israeli human rights group B’tselem. Thirteen Israelis were also killed, including three civilians.

The blockade which is enforced by Israel and Egypt, allows only the most basic humanitarian supplies into the territory, often causing food shortages and hampering efforts to rebuild infrastructure destroyed during the Israeli bombardment last December.

Separately, organizers of another aid convoy trying to reach the enclave – Viva Palestina led by British MP George Galloway – said it would head to Syria on Monday en route for Egypt after being stranded in Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba for five days.

-thanks to the Daily Star

December 28, 2009

Egypt Chooses to side with Israeli Occupiers over Palestinians; blocks efforts by peaceful, non-violent activists to cross into Gaza.

Gaza marchers on hunger strike in Egypt

Riot police have penned marchers in outside the UN mission in Cairo

Protesters trying to march into Gaza a year after an Israeli offensive are on hunger strike after Egypt blocked them from crossing the border.

Hundreds of people in Cairo have been prevented from getting close to the border with Gaza.

A group who got as far as the Sinai port of El Arish have been detained by the Egyptian police.

A separate convoy of vans delivering medical supplies is stuck in the Jordanian port town of Aqaba.

At least 38 people of various nationalities were picked up by Egyptian security services in El Arish and held in their hotel rooms, AFP news agency reported.

'Whatever it takes'
In Cairo hundreds of activists are camped outside the United Nations mission in Cairo trying to get them to pressure the Egyptians to let them cross the border with the Gaza Strip.

The marchers have gone on hunger strike and want the UN to help them.
"I've never done this before, I don't know how my body will react, but I'll do whatever it takes," 85-year-old Hedy Epstein told AFP.
The American activist is a Holocaust survivor, the agency reported.

Meanwhile a convoy of vans carrying supplies which travelled all the way from London to Jordan has been told by Egyptian officials it must go all the way back to Syria to get into Egypt.
The "Viva Palestina" convoy, led by British MP George Galloway, has been blocked from getting on a ferry from Aqaba to the Egyptian town of Nuweiba where it planned to continue by road to the Rafah border crossing.

But now the convoy faces a potentially budget-draining journey back through Jordan to the Syrian port of Latakia, followed by several ferries to El Arish.

'Sensitive situation'
Earlier in December, Egypt rejected a request to allow activists to march across the border into the Gaza Strip to mark the anniversary of last year's conflict.

The Egyptian foreign ministry said the march could not be allowed because of the "sensitive situation" in Gaza.

Over 1,000 activists from 42 countries had signed up to join "the Gaza freedom march" to mark the anniversary of the Israeli military incursion into Gaza last year.

Palestinians and human rights groups say more than 1,400 Gazans were killed in the 22-day conflict that ended in January, but Israel puts the figure at 1,166.

Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, were killed.

Gaza is under a tight Israeli and Egyptian blockade, tightened since Hamas took over the strip in 2007.

Most medicines are allowed into the territory, but their transfer can be slowed by Israeli and Palestinian bureaucracy, and the entry of medical equipment and other supplies is limited.

The World Health Organization says that at the end of November 2009, 125 of 480 essential drugs were at "zero level", meaning there was less than one month's stock left.

Israel says the military operation was - and the continuing blockade is - targeted at Hamas, not Gaza's civilians.

The Islamist movement has controlled Gaza since June 2007, and has launched thousands of rockets and mortars into Israel in recent years.

December 23, 2009

Somebody's Child, a short film about peace

Please share a few minutes (13) with War Resister, Kim Rivera and you will have new insight into the internal struggles our soldiers and our War Resisters are facing. It sheds some light on how they make the courageous decisions not to return to war and occupation.
The video is from Laura's Blog, We Move To Canada.

part 1

Part 2

December 22, 2009

The Best Way to Stop a War - Get the Soldiers to Refuse to Fight It . . .

. . . and help the kids stay out of the military.

I remember it was just two or three years ago when I couldn't understand why the soldiers didn't "just refuse to go to war". My friends would remind me that I didn't "just refuse to go to war". I would justify it by pointing out that there wasn't much awareness and discussion about war and Vietnam in my life back in '65-'66. There wasn't - and I had no idea what I was doing when joined the Marines with my friend Charley. I learned quickly, but first all that I learned was from the Marine Corps and soon I was in Vietnam. Then I learned the truth. Luckily I had only signed up for two years and never had to face the question of refusing to go back for another tour. The truth about war became so obvious to me since it was burned into my very soul that I forgot that although there is way more discussion about war and occupation, these young men and women haven't really heard it; the haven't seen it yet. And in many ways they're still kids like I was.

Sometimes I sit at my computer searching for the answers, writing things and then deleting them. I get choked up as I think about these kids and how they are about to lose their innocence. I think about what what will be done to them and what they will do to others. Every day, with great difficulty, I think about the innocent victims in Gaza, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and I will always think about the Vietnamese people.

We know we need the recruits and soldiers to see and understand what is happening and to be stronger than we ever were. Victor Agosto made it clear to me earlier this year. I was following his story. He was being stop-lossed and was refusing to return. Although he knew he would be going to prison, he was so clear and strong. He had been over there and saw that it was wrong and there was no way he would return. With the help of his friends at Under the Hood he was able to put it together. He said:
"Yes, I'm fully prepared for this. I have concluded that the wars [in Iraq and Afghanistan] are not going to be ended by politicians or people at the top. They're not responsive to people, they're responsive to corporate America. The only way to make them responsive to the needs of the people is for soldiers to not fight their wars. If soldiers won't fight their wars, the wars won't happen. I hope I'm setting an example for other soldiers."

The following post is from Counterpunch:

by Ron Jacobs
I read today (December 22, 2009) that the last bunch of US Marines in Iraq are scheduled to leave early next year. As everyone knows, this means that more than 120,000 US troops will still be in Iraq after that Marine unit's departure. In addition, there will be tens of thousands of US-paid mercenaries, CIA operatives and other personnel. No one knows when or if these people will leave that country. It's hard to believe that the United States has been waging some kind of war against that nation since 1991. Whether it was the original attack on January 16, 1991 that ended in the slaughter on the Highway of Death, the years of deadly sanctions or the renewal of outright hostilities and occupation that began with the shock and awe attacks in March 2003, the people of Iraq have felt the wrath of US military power. This nineteen-year campaign has destroyed the infrastructure of the Iraqi nation and much of the social fabric of its people. What follows is a reflection on one of the earliest protests against the war in 1990.

December 8, 1990 was a beautiful day in Olympia, WA. Once again, people throughout the world were massing in large numbers to express their opposition to what seemed to be an inevitable war in the Persian Gulf. In Olympia, over five hundred people had gathered in Sylvester Park. This was almost twice the number that had made it to the October 20th demonstration.

As antiwar organizer and Army veteran Greg Bye wrote in his report for the local left-wing monthly Works In Progress: “the rally and march was spirited˜and well received [as] leaflets were taken by most everyone who was offered one.” Many of the speakers were familiar faces by now, yet one of them-a young man I'll call Hugo-gave the most powerful talk of the day. Hugo was one of those guys who still believed that America was a good country. He had joined the Marines because he wanted to and had served proudly. However, he couldn’t deal with a war that was so obviously about markets and profit. This led him to decide that not only would he refuse to go should his reserve unit be activated, he would also oppose the war as loudly as he could. As time went on, it was apparent that he had an innate ability to reach young (and older) folks who were nervous around the more garishly outfitted and culturally extreme protesters and organizers. In other words, he was best at reaching people from middle America who liked being from middle America. The part of his speech that sticks in my mind to this day went like this:

“I’m here today with a troubled heart. This morning one of my best friends from Evergreen (college) left; not because he doesn’t want to be here; not because he is not intelligent enough to be here; not because it’s the holiday season and school’s out so he can go home to his family. He left because he serves in the reserves and George Bush has decided his life is less valuable than words like oil. He must leave the peace of home because George has decided to send our armies overseas to make the world safe for feudal monarchy. Some would claim that my friend must be a warmonger to enlist, so why should the peace movement worry? But those of us who are his friends know this is wrong. He must go because he does not have the money to be in college without the GI Bill. Not having money for an education should not be a death sentence in our society.”

Hugo had hit it right on the head. Many folks in the antiwar movement, whether they were anarchist or some kind of liberal pacifist, assumed a moral superiority over those in the military. This had been a problem during the Vietnam war as well, yet most organizations overcame it. Without the military draft, however, this arrogance had returned. Many folks who held this opinion either did not understand the economic reality of a system that forced working class young people to choose between a dead end job and the military once they left high school, unless they somehow lucked into a substantial scholarship for college. Those folks who had developed a working class consciousness knew that this lack of choice constituted what some on the Left termed an economic draft.

Having lived in a military environment the first eighteen years of my life made it easy for me to sympathize with most service women and men. Hell, my parents had hired GIs to babysit us when I was a youngster on a small USAF station in Peshawar, Pakistan. When I was in high school over in Germany I used to listen to rock concerts and smoke hash with several GIs. After all, we were only two or three years apart in age. This identification with their situation, especially after working with antiwar servicemen and women in Frankfurt am Main as a newsletter distributor for the local chapter of Fuck The Army (FTA) and later as a friend of some of the members of the Laurel, Maryland chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), led me to quickly defend GIs whenever some movement person started to call them baby killers or something similar. The best way to stop a war is to get the soldiers to refuse to fight it.

On the other side of the coin, however, the yellow ribbon campaign to support the troops (which was just in its infancy in December) was difficult to swallow. If one was against the war, then it was ridiculous to suggest that (s)he could support the troops’ presence in the Gulf since they were there to fight a war. As for the government and the media behind the yellow ribbon phenomenon, their call was pure hypocrisy. They cared less about the troops than anyone, otherwise they would not have supported their going to the Middle East in the first place.

Counter recruitment and your local schools

I like this letter. That's why I'm publishing it. Take the time to read it and see what applies to your community. It does an excellent job of showing us some of the things we should be looking at in our local schools as we develop our counter recruitment programs. The military has a huge budget and is devious and ruthless in the way it goes after our youth.

Serge, a street person I knew in Berkeley, explained his concept of his sweep as it related to his avoidance of problems with police while living on the streets. He pointed out that his sweep was small, a few blocks, and he knew it well. The police had to cover the whole city, so they could never know every nook and alley as well as he did.

If we apply this sweep concept to our counter-recruitment work, the problem isn't so big. We have to watch our community, whether it be the whole city, the school district, or just one of the many schools. We can watch what the military is doing and work to keep them from preying on the innocent children in our neighborhoods. -Russell

On Dec 18, 2009, Pat Elder wrote:

I want to respond to your email last month that explained why you're adamantly opposed to Peace Action working on issues pertaining to the militarization of youth and military recruitment. I cannot understand your wholesale rejection of the concept of working on this issue. I know you're a good man and I realize we're brothers in the same struggle, but you're off the mark.

The first point you make is that you get no assistance from SPAN on recruitment issues. If anything, this point argues for a greater commitment from Peace Action, not just SPAN. You say you do a modest amount of work on recruiting issues "when something comes along that looks appropriate" but that not much ever does. I think you have to look harder, Fred.

For instance, your Seattle Public Schools have a policy regarding military testing that contradicts Pentagon policy and demands attention. Rather than selecting Option 8, to protect the privacy of children who take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, (ASVAB), the Seattle Public Schools encourage students who take the ASVAB to select Option 8 on the test. This option is not provided for by USMEPCOM regulations. and may run counter to Washington state law.

Fred, do you know the policy of your school system regarding the military recruiter opt-out form? The link to the form from the Seattle Public Schools website is broken. it would probably only take a single phone call, easier than, say, eliminating the scourge of nuclear weapons from the planet.

Consider that Washington State has one of the most militarized public school systems in the entire country, outside of the old confederacy. Two years ago, 10,187 Washington high school students took a military test during school hours and 271 high schools in your state now encourage children to be tested for military service. 64 high schools in Washington still require all juniors to take the military test. Fred, this is a practice we eliminated in Maryland four years ago. It wasn't hard. It took two of us to write a letter, make a few phone calls, and have one meeting. You live in one of the few states where military testing is still a requirement for graduation in some public high schools. See page 2 of 4:

To illustrate the point, every one of those 215 juniors at Selah High School had their private information, social security numbers, and 4 hours of test data forwarded to military recruiters. Not only does it circumvent two federal laws, (FERPA & ESEA Sec. 9528) but it probably also violates Washington state law. We know it violates Maryland law. See this database:

You made the point that the Seattle AFSC office recently laid off its peace and justice staff person who did a lot of work on recruiting issues, but the folks at AFSC in Philadelphia say that particular staff person did very little c-r work and that the majority of c-r work was done by others in the Seattle community. The widespread cuts affecting the AFSC barely touched the counter-recruitment work it does across the country. To the contrary, the AFSC c-r programs across the country were kept from the chopping block precisely because this work has continued to expand and has brought new energy into the organization. If there's a growing segment in the peace movement it's the counter-recruitment movement. NNOMY, the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth, has expanded from 50 member groups to 200 in the last two years, and that's without a paid staff. NNOMY had a conference in Chicago over the summer that attracted nearly 300 and managed to raise $30,000 to support travel for more than 100 youth. Three dozen new groups have sprung up in ten states in the last few months, each with plans to bring alternative messages regarding military service to children in high schools in their communities and to work to bring administrative and legislative changes to their school boards and state houses

What other segment of the peace movement can make a claim like this?

More importantly, we're able to tick off a string of successes across the country. Just in the last year.. We booted a JROTC Marksmanship Program from the San Diego Schools and JROTC expansion continues to meet resistance in several locations across the country. We passed a law in Maryland mandating that the opt-out form be placed on the emergency information card, assuring that contact information of tens of thousands of children won't wind up in the hands of recruiters. We stopped the expansion of military schools in Georgia. A Peace Action affiliate in North Carolina challenged a school system and won access to students. The state of Hawaii recently took steps to protect the privacy of students who take the ASVAB in public schools in that state, meaning no information will be released to recruiters. Military recruiters were banned outright from a high school in Fort Worth, TX. (Imagine that!) Military testing was banned in Toledo, Ohio's public schools. Teachers at Verdugo HS in LA stopped a military recruitment tractor trailer from making its annual visit. A Cincinnati HS changed its policy to no longer allow military recruiters to roam the halls. Duluth MN is getting set to eliminate its JROTC program. A peaceful group of 250 activists temporarily occupied the 14,000 square foot "Army Experience Center" in a suburban Philadelphia mall and plans are being made to hold more demonstrations, causing the army to have second thoughts about locating them across the country. The access military recruiters have to school children has been seriously curtailed in high schools across the country and we're winning a steady stream of converts every day. This issue resonates with parents of high school students across the country who would otherwise never become active in the programs you advocate.

The revolution is large enough for varied approaches, George. I applaud the work you do.

You state that your approach brings in "far more response from potential volunteers and donors" than would be possible though a counter-recruitment program." You write that it "makes more sense to take a course that increases our recruiting than one that merely decreases military recruiting," but the two can go hand-in-hand. It's not an either/or thing, Fred. You talked about your successful Malalai Joya event and that's great, but it doesn't preclude the establishment of a c-r program. I've answered a lot of emails from distraught mothers whose 17 year-old sons are hell bent on joining the Marines because of recruiters in school. It's sad, but the mom I spoke to last week from Murfreesboro, Tennessee isn't interested in what Malalai Joya has to say. She just doesn't think it's right that that a Marine recruiter has been playing one-on-one basketball with her son every night after school.

You argue that military recruiting is not a significant issue. You write that counter-recruitment folks in your community "are often very committed, and put in lots of hours, but only attract a finite number of people." It seems that you have an extremely narrow view of the c-r movement. I rarely go into schools and talk to students, although I know a lot of people who are very effective in doing so. Instead, I investigated how my school system was doing a poor job telling parents they had the right to request that their children's names not be forwarded to the Pentagon. I asked school officials to create an opt-out form that would allow parents to remove their student's names from the dreaded lists. Reasonable school authorities agreed that the request was legitimate and created a form to be sent home with students. I then asked if the forms could be mailed home and the administrators agreed. They even printed the form in 6 languages. Since that time, we managed to pass a law that requires the "opt-out" form to be included on the emergency information card that must be filled out for each student. Maryland is the only state with a law like this. It wasn't that tough. I'll bet you could do it in Washington State with one of those new recruits.

Several Peace Action folks in Montgomery County, Maryland organized a small demonstration at a high school while an Army recruitment van was parked on school grounds. Students were let out of class to shoot M-16 simulators. The resulting press coverage embarrassed school administrators who changed school policies to ban all military hardware on school grounds. No more helicopters landing on football fields during half time. Do they do that in your community, Fred? I know it may not resonate, like attempting to ban all nuclear weapons or organizing folks to stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it's do-able. It's winnable. And it's quantifiable.

Until several of us became involved in my home town, military officials would market the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) program by sending letters to 8th graders in the county. School authorities finally became convinced the practice was improper and disallowed it. Several dozen emails sent to school authorities by a handful of activists made the case that the JROTC program is ultimately a recruitment tool and that soliciting 12 year-olds is unconscionable. It wasn't tough to do. Fred, does the Army market to 12 year-olds in your neighborhood? How many high schools have recently added firing ranges and marksmanship programs in your area? They're sweeping the country.

One of our most impressive victories we've had in Montgomery County, Maryland involved the superintendent's decision to disallow the military from using the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, (ASVAB) as a recruitment tool. The superintendent ordered the selection of Option 8 for all students taking the test. This meant the military could continue to offer the test for its alleged value as a career placement tool, but could not use it for recruitment purposes without parental permission. We also tightened regulations regarding the access recruiters have to children, by simply reminding administrators of federal law that stipulates military recruiters are to have the same (not greater) access to students as that enjoyed by college recruiters. We hope to become the first state to pass a law disallowing the use of the ASVAB as a recruiting tool. We came pretty close last year, until the Colonels started making calls.

Fred, do you know if Army recruiters are allowed to have lunch with students in the cafeteria at your local school? Federal law says they're to have the same access to students as college recruiters. Do they? Doesn’t it matter to you?


Finally, my colleague, Rick Jahnkow, with the Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (YANO) in San Diego has captured the importance of integrating counter-recruitment work into mainstream peace and justice work. Fred, he must have had you in mind when he wrote "A Strategic Blind Spot for Progressives"

Rick urges the peace movement to broaden its scope and find ways to actively support other social movements, especially those whose constituencies are victimized by the economic and discriminatory aspects of war and militarism. This is a key point. Working on disarmament and ending wars du jour, you don’t come across folks who feel victimized to the extent of that lady in Murfreesboro. It’s not just a politically correct strategy, it’s a necessary one if the peace movement wants to become a more relevant, effective and sustainable force. Secondly, Rick underscores the importance of penetrating educational systems in the arena of social change. It seems the "right" is way ahead of us on this account. How else can you explain a half million applauding Glen Beck in the streets of DC three months ago?

The militarization of schools is accelerating across the country. Suddenly, there are more than 3,000 JROTC programs in high schools with hundreds being added yearly. The JROTC government and history texts teach a particularly reactionary brand of Americana. Several thousand school children in Washington state are being taught from the Army’s textbook that the U.S. invaded Cuba in 1898 to help the Cubans win their freedom from Spain. More recruits for Glen Beck.

The military tests 600,000 in high schools every year. A few districts have gone so far as to begin converting some of their public high schools into actual military academies (Chicago leads the nation with six). At lower grade levels, programs like the Young Marines are teaching thousands of children in elementary schools to march and follow commands. Militaristic grooming is also aided by an expanding network of military/school partnerships, through which groups of children are sometimes taken on field trips to military bases and ships. In your area, Fred, the Young Marines are looking for recruits in elementary schools starting at age 8.

While the process of youth militarization in the U.S. has been detectable for three decades, there has been no serious national debate on the issue. A small number of grass-roots organizations have been working since the 1980s to contest the military’s growing presence in schools, and current U.S. wars have stimulated heightened awareness of aggressive recruiting, but the overall trend of school and youth militarization is getting relatively little national attention. The U.S. peace movement has failed to make it a focus. It because too many people think like you, Fred.

Pat Elder
Peace Action Montgomery

See also: National Network Opposing Militarization of Youth (NNOMY)

See if your school is administering ASVAB and what are its restrictions on the military's access to the results HERE.