I first met John Liss here in Buffalo in 1967.We became friends quickly in the months before he left the States and went to Canada. When I went underground and fled to Montreal, John was instrumental in helping me get to Stockholm. Last night was the first time I'd seen since the mid seventies. What a thrill to introduce him to my daughter Elizabeth and wife Mary.
In a large, three story brick building, nestled into a shaded residential neighborhood two blocks from Toronto’s Spadina Avenue bustling Chinese community, sixty people gathered to show their support for the War Resisters Support Campaign (WRSC) on Wednesday evening, June 29. Housed on the third floor of this Canadian Steelworkers Union Hall are an array of peace, justice, and human rights organizations including the Campaign office. The Canadian Steelworkers Union has been a long time supporter of the call for humanitarian asylum for American soldiers seeking refuge from American interventionist war. (FYI: The American Steelworkers Union recently gave Iraq Veterans Against the War a $10,000 grant to help fund their Wounded Warriors Project).
This Canadian union doesn’t give lip service to Iraq war resisters. They are actively involved in financially supporting the WRSC efforts to win asylum for Americans who for reasons of conscience have refused to continue to participate in the war and occupation of Iraq. By helping to underwrite rent, telephone expenses and printing costs, the Steelworkers have stood squarely behind the efforts of the Campaign as have so many other progressive Canadians.
On this gorgeous June evening, as the bustle of Toronto streets began to subside, my wife Mary, out daughter Elizabeth and I joined with Vietnam era draft resisters and deserters, Iraq war resisters, Quakers, Bradley Manning supporters, and stalwart members of the Campaign to share a simple and delicious meal. The purpose of the evening was to raise much needed funds for the Campaign’s ongoing efforts, but it turned out to be an evening of far greater importance.
There were no “hard rock speeches”, just a simple sharing of support and information. The event began with the introduction of recently reelected Parkdale New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament, Peggy Nash. Ms. Nash represents the ridin (electoral district) with the largest concentration of Iraq war resisters in all of Canada. She spoke of the NDP’s solidarity and support of Iraq war resisters and took the time to thoughtfully answer questions. We were entertained by the lush songs of longtime Campaign supporter Sarah Marlowe and the beautiful vocals of Kimberley and Alyssa Manning. (Alyssa is the amazing attorney who so ferociously represents Iraq war resisters.)
As a Vietnam era draft resister, I am drawn to support Iraq war resisters simply as an act of solidarity. In each of the resisters I have come to know over the past seven years, I see a bit of myself, my parents, and so many other Vietnam era resisters. I know what my refusal cost me and my family. I know only too well what it is costing these young, courageous resisters to the Iraq war as they struggle to survive in a political and legal limbo with such far reaching international repercussions.
Imagine living your life under the threat of being deported and jailed. How do you maintain a balance between living and fear? How do you survive the pressure of supporting yourself or your young family and maintaining a positive outlook? If you are like Jeremy Hinzman, you have been doing this for the last seven years, every day, every week, every month. At any moment, each of these resisters may be ejected from Canada and thrown into some US military gulag to be harassed and punished for refusing to kill people.
To sit in a Canadian union hall, with a roomful of Canadians who have come together to raise funds to support a group of young American war resisters is absolutely without parallel. These Canadians have wrapped their arms around our sons and daughters! On every level - emotionally, spiritually, and financially - they have given their love and support to these courageous young military veterans who have chosen to lay down their weapons. They have asked nothing from their American counterparts.
The War Resisters Support Network, a Task Force of the Western New York Peace Center is proud to stand with our Canadian friends. We are proud of our geographic location in history. We are honored by our members who resisted the Korean war. We are proud of out assistance to young men and women who fled the US because of their opposition to the illegal, immoral, and unjust war in Vietnam. We are proud of our members who ransacked draft board offices in the sixties and destroyed Selective Service files. We stand beside our members who risk imprisonment for their opposition to drone warfare and targeted political assassinations.
We cannot let the Canadian people carry the support of our resisters alone. Iraq war resisters are in Canada, jailed, or living underground for us. We must be here for them!
PS: As I wrote this, I received an email from the Campaign saying they raised $2,390.00 last night.