I went to the war protest in Fayetteville yesterday. That was an adventure. There were 3,000 of us protesting the war. There was also a counter demonstration of about 100 people protesting us.
The counter demonstrators were a slavering rabid crowd, periodically entering the parade to shove people and flip them off and scream in our faces. One woman reminded me of the woman you see in the famous picture of the integration of Little Rock High School in 1957. The one where Elizabeth Eckford, an African American, is trying to enter the school, her books clutched to her chest, surrounded by national guardsmen who are escorting her through the angry mob. Over her shoulder you a see a white woman, her eyes bulging, veins protruding at neck and temples, screaming with spittle spraying. That's what this woman yesterday looked like, except she was blond instead of brunette. She was there with her two pre-teen daughters. As she worked her way, pushing and shoving (illegally I might add) through our parade, one of the daughters caught my eye. Her beautiful blue eyes were squinted with hostility. I looked right into those eyes and smiled at her. Confusion washed over her features and she dropped her eyes. She looked ashamed. Almost immediately she worked her way out of the parade and returned to the sidelines where she stood silently even as her mother heckled the parade, shouting, "Communists" and "Anti-Semites" and "Swim back to Cuba!" She and others shouted, “We gave Peace a chance. We got 9-11!” (How can you argue with someone who doesn't even get it that Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11?)
Counter demonstrators carried signs that read, “Osama is Yo Mama” and “Hatriots on Parade”. They kept shouting, “Four More Years! Four More Years!” Four more years? That doesn’t even make sense. These people were simply seething pools of barely controlled rage. I remember thinking, “Wow, when this day is over, I go back to my quiet world and experience peace again surrounded by good, kind, loving people but these folks … these folks have to live with their hate and anger 24 hours a day.”
What can you say to people like that? Sometimes you can only smile.
Mostly, though, the gathering was very powerful. It felt good to connect with the military folk who are so directly affected by this war for oil. Some people have argued that we should not have gone to Fayetteville, home to a military base, for this protest but the reality is that this protest was organized by military people. They invited us. And we showed up to support them.
Fayetteville is a community that is directly affected by this illegal war and there is a large peace movement there, has been dating back to the 60's. The heavy involvement of veterans and military families made the Fayetteville march and rally unique among the more than 300 demonstrations that took place around the country yesterday. This event was sponsored by Iraq Veteran's Against the War, Bring Them Home Now!, Military Families Speak Out, and Veterans for Peace. Other sponsors included the North Carolina Council of Churches, the North Carolina Peace & Justice Coalition, Gold Star Families for Peace and Quaker House. So, frankly, I went to support our military. As one military wife put it, "I can't just slap a yellow ribbon on my car and call it 'Supporting the Troops'."
During the parade before the Rally, I got interviewed for NPR's American Voices series. They asked about my sign, which read, "Military Brat for Peace". They asked me what my connection to the military was and I told them about my father and my brother. Then they asked why I was protesting and I told them it was because this war is unjust and illegal. They followed up with the standard, "But don't you want to support your brother?" question to which I responded, "Of course, I support my brother. I want him home safe with his family. I want the people of Iraq to have their sons and fathers home safely too. This administration is misusing our military. A military force is supposed to protect the homeland and be peacekeepers, not warriors. Our government is using our military to their own ends and honorable military men and women are being forced to do dishonorable and terrible things in the name of their government ... and then live with them for the rest of their lives. Add to that the fact that the government is NOT keeping up their end of the deal. They've initiated a stop gap policy that doesn't allow people to leave when their contract is up (Brian, who was supposed to retire this month after 20 years of service, just had 2 more years added to his sentence). They do not provide proper care or treatment to physically and psychologically wounded veterans either -- especially if they are reservists." What I wish I'd said was the famous quote by Mark Twain, "I support my country all the time. And I support my government when they're right." I remember wrapping up with something like the sentiment, "Do you think I like being out here, being harassed by these people (who were all around us yelling and slavering during the interview), feeling afraid? No. I hate it. But sometimes patriotism means doing the hard thing, being brave and speaking out when others have been cowed into silence. The way I see it is, my brother is serving his country in and out of Iraq ... and I am serving my country here."
There were some great signs. One guy had taken that image of the soldiers trying to raise the flag at Iwo Jima and edited it so that they were trying to raise on oil rig. A female sergeant's sign read, “1 in 3 women in the military is raped.” (Coincidentally, a headline in yesterday's paper also read, "One woman in seven suffers sexual assault in military academies". It's the same misogynistic mindset I guess.) Another little girl carried a sign that she had written herself that read, "Support my Dad - Not the War!"
To enter the grounds for the rally, we had to be searched first by local police officers and then by the ATF. My sign, "Military Brat for Peace" was two pieces of poster board taped together on the top and sides and then slid over a T made of PVC pipe and connectors and taped to the back of one of the boards. The ATF guy told me the stick had to go. (This was AFTER the parade, now. The parade was where there was a potential for violence.) I asked him why and he said because it was dangerous. I was at a loss to see how it could be. It was very, very light and only about 15 inches long but of course I complied – only I was having trouble pulling the pipe out of the middle because it was taped to the back of the board so the ATF Officer took it out of my hand and jerked the PVC pipe, which caused it to disconnect from it's connecter so that he forcibly shoved the lpiece of PVC right into the abdomen of the ATF officer to his left. The poor guy went, "Ooof!" and doubled-over. My hands flew to my cheeks and I stared wide eyed at the red faced officer with the PVC still dangling in his hand and exclaimed, "Wow! I guess that really was dangerous!?!" The surrounding ATF guys and sheriffs were laughing their asses off but I just waited politely to get my sign back. I gotta say though, it was pretty funny.
I must interject here that I believe all those police officers were there to keep us safe and I am grateful for their service. I told many of them this too. I did not feel safe around those rabid counter-protesters … and we weren't safe … but whenever they would infiltrate the parade and start hassling people, the police were right there to step in. Yes, we had to be searched. Yes, there were swat teams on the roofs around us. But peace protestors are not the ones who initiate violence. The people who protest peace are the people likely to initiate violence. (The peace protesters were, for the most part, very peaceful. I only saw one person flip the bird at a screaming counter protester. Wish I could say the same for the counter protesters.)
There were a lot of interesting speakers and sad stories. I met a couple, Kevin and Joyce Lucey, whose son, Jeffrey, committed suicide after his return from Iraq. The military was preparing to send his unit back (in fact, his unit has since been sent back) and he was struggling with that and with post-traumatic stress. He'd been having terrible night terrors and couldn't eat and wouldn't leave the family's basement. They tried to get him help but, because he was a Marine Reservist and not fully enlisted, he was relegated to the back burner. For three months they tried to get him psychological assistance -- even as the day of his forced return loomed closer and closer. Then one day, the father returned home to find that Jeffrey had hung himself with a garden hose in the basement. The dog tags of two Iraqi prisoners he said he been forced to shoot even though they were unarmed lay on his bed.
There were many conscientious objectors there, people who'd done one tour of duty and refused to return. And one Marine, Jimmy Massey from Waynesville, NC, who had twelve year of active duty under his belt before being discharged due to post-traumatic stress syndrome described the invasion force as "a bunch of pit bulls being turned loose on a cage of rabbits". He said that what turned the Iraqi people against US occupiers was the killing of civilians and he told a story where he and his men were given orders to open fire on a non-violent demonstration of Iraqis with M-15s and 50 caliber machine guns. It was horrifying.
There were lots of horrifying stories, actually. It made me think a lot of John Kerry, who came home and started speaking out about such horrors in Vietnam -- horrors that courts of law have since proved to be true (see Mai Lai Massacre here for just one instance) -- only to be called a Traitor for speaking the Truth. How can anyone think it is more honorable and patriotic to be silent and let atrocities continue? Where are people's priorities?
The stories from soldiers who'd actually been to Iraq were the most compelling stories to me. How can anyone deny these poor men and women their experiences? It's so arrogant.
There were many grieving parents and widows – some carrying pictures of the loved one they’d lost. There were pictures of the atrocities that shook me to my core, some displayed BY THE VET who took them in Iraq. Now if that doesn't make you think, I don't know what will. There were piles of dead people and pictures of children blown to pieces. They made me cry. (The World Health Organization guesstimates that over 100,000 Iraqis have been killed in this war -- even as General Tommy Franks says, "Body counts? We don't do body counts.") Finally, there were sick and misshapen vets, some of them suffering from Gulf War Syndrome from the earlier war in 1991. The all talked bitterly about the lack of care they've received for their injuries, especially the reservists.
It enrages me that people suggest we should not protest these atrocities, that people suggest we should be silent about these terrible, terrible things. What the hell is wrong with people? The only thing I can figure is that these are the same people who walk away (or even stand and watch) when a bully is beating up some kid in the school yard. Some people stand on the sidelines and some people stand up to the bully. I stand up to the bully.
So, I went. I'm glad I went. I'll go again if I have to.
News reporting about the event, what little there has been, has been extremely biased. The 100 or so crazies got equal time in most media and more than equal time on Fox, WB-50 (which is also owned by Fox) and NC-14. It's infuriating. I read two accounts today that were totally fabricated. They talked about men in drag (didn't happen. Totally made up) and an arrest where they say a peace protester jumped a fence and was headed toward the counter protesters. I was there when this happened and that story is bullshit. The guy stepped over a piece of low hanging chain and entered the park without going through security. He was headed into the park not out of it. In fact, I'd seen many people make this mistake. It was not marked very well. Anyway, a police officer yelled at him to stop but I don't think the guy heard. There were crazies with bullhorns all around. So the policeman ran after him, threw him to the ground and arrested him for resisting arrest. I had a digital camera and I have the whole thing on film. The story in the news is totally bogus.
Our media is bought and paid for by the people making money off this war.