Veterans For Peace sponsored a veterans’ convoy though the southeastern United States that terminated in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. This is the story of the convoy.
Veterans, including those who served in the Vietnam and Iraq wars, traveled to Fayetteville NC, home of the Army’s Ft. Bragg, on March 17, 2007 to attend the local anti-war parade and rally as the first event of the veterans’ convoy. The parade and rally were a fitting beginning of two weeks of effort to support the troops, end the war and to work for peace and justice.
The day after the parade and rally, members of the convoy, hosted and supported by local peace activists, fanned out at lunch time throughout the parking lots of fast food restaurants to engage active duty military members about the war. The active duty service people were given copies of two videos, Sir! No Sir! and The Ground Truth, GI Rights pocket card and a copy of the Appeal For Redress.
Sir! No Sir!, a film by David Zeiger, details the forgotten and suppressed history about the soldiers on the front line of the Vietnam antiwar resistance who helped end the war. The Ground Truth, a film by Patricia Foulkrod, consists of the real life stories of Iraq War veterans who tell why they joined the military, what they learned in Iraq and what it was like when they returned home.
The GI Rights pocket card explains rights that active duty members of the armed forces enjoy including their rights to say what they think about the military and to participate in peaceful demonstrations when off-duty, out of uniform, off base and in the USA.
The Appeal For Redress is a way for active duty service members to appeal to their Congressional and Senatorial representatives to urge an end to the war. It is sponsored by active duty service members, and by a committee of veterans and military family members. The Appeal For Redress reads:
As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders to support the prompt withdrawal of all America military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.
An Iraq War veteran, in a related action, stationed himself and one volunteer on the sidewalk near the entrance to the front gate of Ft. Bragg. The veteran held a sign saying, Iraq Veterans Against the War and the volunteer, standing about 20 yards behind, held a sign with the organization’s WEB site. As soldiers drove by, a small minority of them ignored the action, gave a thumb down sign or flashed the finger. Three stopped and angrily yelled pro-war slogans. However, the response of passing troops was overwhelmingly supportive. They smiled, waved and/or gave a thumbs up or the peace sign.
After engaging the troops in Fayetteville, the participants went by bus convoy to engage the troops stationed in five other military bases, to wit: Fort Jackson, SC; Mayport/Jacksonville Naval Stations, FL; Ft. Benning, GA, and Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base, Alabama. Again, the convoy members were received overwhelmingly in a warm and appreciative manner as documented in media reports. For example, one soldier, when he was driving by the convoy action, upon realizing what was going on, got so excited that he flew open his driver’s door and started out of his car to greet us before he stopped his car and parked it. He excitedly exclaimed that he was against the war. Most soldiers approached were very respectful and accepted the materials convoy members handed them. A small minority waved convoy members away. There was no hostility expressed by anybody, not convoy members or service personnel. Police officers at one stop thanked the veterans for coming to support the troops. A soldier said he believed Veterans For Peace convoy members were supporting the troops in good faith and thanked them for coming.
Convoy participants hope that a debate about the war among the troops may have been sparked or, if the debate was already occurring, that it was aided with additional information including ways for the soldiers to lawfully resist the war. At least one military family engaged in debate. The Appeal For Redress was offered through a car window and accepted by the female driver. A man sitting next to her in an army uniform took it from her and threw it out the window. The woman got out of the car, retrieved the Appeal For Redress, re -entered the car and began a dialog with the soldier, possibly her husband. Convoy members engaged many people at shopping centers who were related to soldiers, including spouses. Every one of these people, not most, but all, were very appreciative of convoy members’ efforts, even excited. There were spikes in the numbers of signers of the Appeal For Redress and membership applications by active duty members of the armed forces to Iraq Veterans Against the War from the areas the convoy visited.
Local activists at each convoy stop held events welcoming the convoy and provided housing and food. The convoy would not have been possible without this support.
On Sunday, March 24, 2007 the veterans’ convoy arrived at the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. The Ninth Ward is adjacent to the canal at the spot that the levy failed. The Ninth Ward community consisted overwhelmingly of African-Americans. The community had the largest number of African-American homeowners in the US – over 80% owned and lived in their homes, most handed down from one generation to another.
This area, when first settled after the Civil War, was not coveted and was inexpensive. The Black community that developed there was a substantial factor responsible for the culture of New Orleans including fine food with a unique flavor, jazz music and a special atmosphere that brings in visitors from all over the world. A majority of these residents were employed in jobs that paid below living wages that denied them many of the necessities of life but enabled many of their employers to become rich. They also suffered disproportionately, as minorities and the poor do throughout the US, in regard to health-care, education, public services, etc. The police were harsh on the community. A current bill board solicits applicants for the police department with a military type invitation: Join the Front Line.
For some time now, the city and corporate America have coveted the land of the Ninth Ward to develop it commercially. The canal would be enhanced to accommodate cruise ships that could discharge tourists to hotels and casinos that would replace the vibrant African-American community of homeowners. Certainly, such a planned commercial endeavor that would costs millions of investment dollars and would include renovation of the levy to world class standards instead of the gross neglect it received.
Many elected officials saw Hurricane Katrina and the flood as God’s way to initiate their planned gentrification effort. Most structures were destroyed when the ill-maintained levy gave way. The now homeless, who were unable to evacuate or stayed to ride out the storm, were forced at gun point onto buses and jets by order of the government. These people were taken to destinations throughout the US without being informed where they were being taken. These people, as well as those who evacuated voluntarily before the flood, lost all their worldly possessions and have no individual means to return to New Orleans to procure temporary housing and to rebuild their homes.
Local city government is proceeding to confiscate their land for use by corporate America instead of helping the rightful owners to return. For example, the city is posting the land that has been cleared of damaged homes with notices to the owners that if they do not cut the grass and weeds within 30 days that the procedure to confiscate the land will be initiated. This is cynical because city owned land in the Ninth Ward, e.g., former playgrounds, are not being maintained and no effort is being made to notify the involuntarily absent homeowners directly by mail or otherwise.
A local grassroots organization, Common Ground Relief, is maintaining the yards that are being posted in an effort to save it for the homeowners. Common Ground is also involved in re-building structures that were not completely destroyed or demolished. This rebuilding is a political statement to the city from the community that they will fight for this land and not give it up willingly. This effort is an epic battle to save the land for the rightful owners and to restore this African-American community. It is not unlike previous battles fought by the oppressed indigenous populations to save their lands that began 500 years ago when Europeans invaded all the continents of the world stealing land from the rightful inhabitants. It is not unlike the battle of American Indians or the current battles of indigenous groups like the Zapatistas in Mexico, of the Iraqi and Palestinian resistance to save their rights to land from rich and powerful forces who covet it.
Volunteers rotate through New Orleans contributing to the battle. Some came planning to work for a week and stayed months, some never left. The people involved in this battle have created a new community that is a model for what America could be. This local, grass roots community, faith based, is a model in opposition to the dog eat dog society in which the poor suffer throughout the world. People of all different backgrounds are pulling together not for money and power but in solidarity to re-build and to fight official oppression. They are real American heroes.
Common Ground leaders believe it is only because of concern of out-of-sate volunteers, many affluent college students, who are always present that the city doesn't move in immediately and take the land. Nevertheless a dirty war is being fought against Common Ground’s efforts. For example, refrigerated trucks storing food to feed the volunteers have been sabotaged. Expensive repairs were required and thus around the clock guards are required. Police and National Guard patrols harass the community. Signs informing citizens where to file complaints about police corruption are being confiscated by the patrols.
It is for these reasons and the knowledge that every bomb dropped in Iraq explodes in neglected and distressed areas of America, like portions of the Gulf Coast, that the veterans’ convoy volunteered to work in solidarity with Common Ground. Convoy members worked on one house that Common Ground wants ready by October, on the date of the owner’s 100th birthday, so she can move back in. Members also helped out at the NAACP with litigation to restore public housing that was destroyed and for which destruction the City rejoiced. We also were involved in assisting a religious group whose church was supposedly demolished by “mistake”. Members of Common Ground who are veterans are establishing a chapter of Veterans For Peace.
This was not the first involvement of Veterans For Peace in the Ninth Ward. VFP delivered supplies, volunteers and money to this community before the Red Cross, before the Salvation Army, before FEMA and before other such government and mainline organizations appeared on the scene after Katrina and the flood. VFP raised and donated $500,000. Common Ground went into action quickly with this seed money, building medical clinics, providing legal aid and delivering food, water and necessary supplies to the people. Because Common Ground acted so quickly and effectively, even police and National Guard members sought and received free medical aid at its clinic, the only one available at the time. 85% of money raised by Common Ground goes directly to the community and 15% to raise more money.
Veterans For Peace members learned a great deal from the veterans’ convoy. Many of us believe that the Appeal For Redress, which was initiated by active duty military personnel, and the reception we received in the military towns show that military members are ready for anti-war activism. The convoy effort and like actions may be the way to fuel this activism.
Some members of the convoy are seeking donations and funding to finance a full time presence by members of Veteran For Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War at as many bases as possible. Engagement of the troops full time is an effective way to let those in the military who are against the war know they are not alone and to embolden them to lawfully challenge the illegal and immoral war that they are so wrongly being used to fight. This engagement may spark debate and critical thinking among some members who have been socialized by the military to obey and not question what they are being ordered to do.
As Hurricane Katrina and the city’s effort to steal the peoples’ land have created a movement for justice in the Ninth Ward, the Iraq War and the effort of Veterans For Peace may create a movement of military and civilian activists united against the war. These two movements may grow into an all encompassing national peace and justice movement as important as that of the 1960-70s. Time is of the essence. Join us. Now! Please!
Announcements of future actions will be sent to you. In the meantime, send donations identified for veterans’ convoy purposes to VFP, 216 Meramec Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63105. Join Veterans For Peace on line at www.veteransforpeace.org. Join Iraq Veterans Against the War on-line at www.ivaw.net If a you are active duty, review and consider signing the Appeal For Redress on-line at appealforredress.org.
Appeal for Redress
PO Box 53052
Washington, DC 20009-3052
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