Cindy Sheehan's Protest Comes to RochesterThe Bring Them Home Now Tour
DragonFlyEye ~ 2005-09-13
The road trip that started with Cindy Sheehan in Crawford , TX and branched into three different pan-American
tours sent its northern leg through Rochester Tuesday morning at 11am. I got to the Downtown Presbyterian Church at
about 10:30am to get a decent view of what would follow. There were only a handful of people there, but the street would
soon get crowded once the protest began in earnest.
To my surprise, the people from the Bring Them Home Now Tour began with what to my ear sounded like an old
IWW protest song: they took a simple melody that everyone knew (in this case, My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean) and changed
the words to match the purpose of the protest. I of course realize that this is a common practice and was very popular
in the antiwar movement of the seventies, but when the women leading the song are dressed in straw hats and aprons, it’s
hard for me not to break into “Mr. Block.”
Here is a link to some of the video I compiled from the start of the protest.
As I watched, I got the distinct impression of history, both unfolding and repeating itself. That sense
of history made me think of Rochester ’s own history: Elizabeth Kady Stanton’s “Women’s Declaration
of Independence” was read aloud for the first time at a rally for equal rights in a church in Seneca Falls . Her
call for women’s suffrage was the first of its kind, and promptly caused a crisis of conscious for all those in attendance
until one man stood and with a booming voice declared that women needed the right to vote if there was to be any equality
at all. That man was Frederick Douglass, who of course started his North Star paper in none other than Rochester , NY
. Rochester has a uniquely progressive history, especially during the mid 19th Century, and now Rochester was adding
that progressive voice to the chorus of protest against the Iraq War and the illegitimate, larcenous presidency of George
Such a homely beginning to the protest made an appropriate introduction to the honest exchange and genuine
show of support among those of us who have been protesting the war for so long. I don’t know that I realized how
lonely my objecting to the war had been up until I stood among all those people of like minds and suddenly felt included.
About half the speakers for today’s gathering seemed to have some sort of media/public speaking experience, unless they
were naturals. The others just said what they had to say without quite as much polish, but with all the authenticity.
It was a truly humbling and moving experience to hear everyday people talk about the everyday realities of the war that are
not being discussed in the media, some of which shocked me.
Stacy Bannerman was definitely one of the more polished speakers
at this meeting, with a righteousness in her speech that came, like all the speakers, from experience. Her husband served
one of those “extended” tours of duty for the Reserves you’ve been hearing so much about. He served
an additional eight months over his twenty-month commitment, according to the press release the tour people passed me.
She spoke about what it really means to support the troops, a notion that has gotten quite confused for a large swath of the
American population ever since Vietnam . It is unfortunate for all of us that so many people cannot get over the Vietnam
War: it is my firm belief that the boogiemen of Vietnam pushed us into war in Iraq for this, the second time.
Said Bannerman, “I say that silence is not support.”
She talked about what happens after a person comes back from a war, and the fact that any professional help
a Reservist might need coping with the transition to civilian life will cost money they may not have. She demanded that
the troops come home from this failed venture immediately, and she did so with the force of conviction that many of us have
looked in vain for from anyone appearing in the National Media. She had a self-assured, burning anger over the damage
the war has done to our country that she pushed out to the audience in slow, measured tones.
As for the excuses and stall tactics employed by an Administration under the mounting pressure Cindy Sheehan
helped bring to fruition, Bannerman showed no signs of forgiveness or leeway despite their words. To those in the Administration
who want to talk about a slow withdrawl of troops, she had this to say:
“We say no, no. No. That’s not good enough. That is our blood; that is our flesh;
those are our loved ones and you bring them home now.”
It was like a catharsis. Her assured outrage resonated through the audience like a thunder-clap.
In contrast, the man who would follow her, Al Zappala of Philadelphia , PA had a more simple approach.
His was a soft-spoken speech wherein he recounted the life and untimely death of his son, Sherwood Baker. He wondered
aloud how many Iraqi families are suffering the same fate as those that were sharing the stage, since the Administration so
patently refuses to count the Iraqi dead officially. We will hear that number someday when this is all over; I for one
am not altogether sure I want to hear it.
“Having lost a son,” Zappala said, “its very gratifying to me to see so many young people
out here, so let’s give a hand to the young people.”
“Sherwood was thirty years old, he left behind a twenty-seven year-old widow, and a nine year-old son.
Our family is devastated by this.”
He explained that his son began his career in the National Guard in part because he wanted to help protect
his home from disasters such as Katrina in the Gulf Coast , and that many other good men and women from the Coast wanted to
do the same, but were stuck fighting this war when their help was really needed. Mr. Zappala’s was a touchstone
to the pain and the loss that many families are feeling, and when he stands before a group of strangers and asks why ~ like
all of the Bring Them Home people do ~ we know a decent president would answer.
The person whose speech most impressed me was Specialist Cody Camacho, who was trained by the Army as a Network
Engineer until he left in March of 2004 and in his words, “I just couldn’t sit by and watch how they were being
used.” There was something truly electrifying in watching his delivery, because he was so straightforward and
unapologetic in his firm belief that his cause is just. While Mrs. Bannerman’s speech was hot like the coals at
the bottom of a furnace; while Mr. Zappala’s speech was in ways a lament for a better world that could have been were
it not for the Administration’s recklessness; Specialist Camacho plunged the whole situation in an ice-cold bath.
“You having a sign saying ‘God bless George W. Bush,’ doesn’t mean he’s gonna
come out and talk to you. Waving your American flag isn’t gonna get his attention,” Camacho said, “Because
the poor Republicans are still being taken down just like the poor Democrats and the poor Independents.”
Specialist Camacho talked at length ~ in the matter-of-fact way we expect soldiers to recount stories ~ about
the depleted uranium that soldiers in the field touch with their bare hands and the damage already done by that material in
Gulf War I. 11,000 soldiers have died due to exposure to depleted uranium, and 234,000 soldiers are on permanent disability.
Again in the words of Camacho: “They’re poisoning the troops.”
After his presentation, I had a chance to speak with Camacho briefly, although not really interview him.
I actually sensed that what he had just done and what he had just said took a lot out of him, and I didn’t feel the
need to try to extend that effort, if I could have. I just left it at “Thank you.”
In fact, if I could have, I would have thanked everybody that came, speakers and audience alike, for being
there and sending me off riding a cloud. I suppose this article will have to suffice. After the rally, for the
first time in a long time I felt hope for a better world in the demand for accountability that swelled all around me.
I eagerly await the protest on the 26th in Washington , though it appears now as though I will not be able to attend.
I hope that at least in some small way, my being at this rally and my modest donation helped fuel the bus and fuel the speakers,
sending a bit of that Rochester progressive spirit with them.
Watching from just above the waterline. . .
"I flew into St. Louis and was met by a local attorney and his wife who took me straight to a meeting that reminded
me of the workshop we attended in Bend in March. Lot's of questions as to "What can we do to help?" and "Tell us what you
My hosts are charming and we are in an old house like ours in Bay Center. I'll connect with the Tour bus (an RV) tomorrow
and we'll be busy all day.
09/04/05 - St Louis
I spoke with Lietta late last night at the end of her day. She was back
in the home of a local attorney, Bill Quick and his wife Diane in St. Louis.
Her day began with Bill and Diane at a
local Catholic church service during which Lietta was able to speak briefly and announce that the Veterans For Peace bus diverted
to Louisiana to deliver supplies to Covington (La?).
Afterward, they travelled to a vigil being held at a large beautiful
"cathedral-looking" church in St. Louis that was - per Lietta - sparsely attended although a few folks walking by did stop
with questions and opinions (mostly supportive).
One interesting thing at the vigil that she felt was a good idea was
a reading of the names of the 28 Missourians who have died in the war and a formal proposal to the governor of a state-wide
half mast of the flag whenever the state loses another soldier.
Following the vigil, they went to another location
for a forum-type meeting in which the topic was "what can we do?" Lietta says that at first the activity commenced with folks
who stood up and gave "shoring up" and encouragement type speeches. The way she described them caused me to envision almost
a comiseration session in which there were rants, lamenting and encouragement.
Lietta was given a chance to speak
and when she did, she explained that what she had heard so far was (in her sometimes blunt way) non-productive. (Echoes of
what she told the Oraq war anniversary rally in Seattle earlier this year.)
She asked the forum, "What could you do
tomorrow that would change what is going on on the ground?"
After a moment or two of silence (shocked?) hands began
raising. Useful suggestions for more tangible and immediate activities began to come forth - ideas, suggestions and
"let's do it". Based on how pleased she was with the shift in focus, it sounded to me like the forum then turned into a productive
workshop - which is what we hope to see from the tour. Moving off ideals to the tangible which hopefully will result more
than just a flare or flash-in-the-pan ignited merely for support for the rally in D.C. on the 24th.
Lietta also impressed
with fellow MFSO/GoldStar member, Beatrice Salvador who is also on the Central bus and was in Crawford during the time Lietta
was there. Beatrice who is Hispanic and speaks powerfully from her cultural viewpoint, seems to have as her theme her own
equivalent of staying the course and staying on-topic. We need to keep current and contemporary with what is going on in the
country and linking current events, such as Katrina, with the purpose of the Tour.
There is a direct connection that
has been publicized powerfully between Bush/Iraq and the consequences of Katrina and gives greater credence to not only the
idea of bringin National Guard Troops home countrywide, but also the disaster of underfunded emergency preparedness because
of diversion of funding to Iraq.
Beatrice seems to home in on this point in a powerful way.
Lietta by now is
on the RV (a large Winnegago but not the size of, for example, a chartered bus. The travel will be an exercise in crowded
conditions with the current number of 6 travelers expected to increase to 9 or 10. But, she says, it's still better than living
in a ditch in Crawford and well worth the movement toward 9/24/05 when hopefully the voice in D.C. will be massive.
09/05/05 - Terre Haute
and Indianapolis Indiana
The Tour stopped at Terre Haute,
IN enroute to Indianapolis and met a group of 25 people and local press for what turned out to be mostly a press conference.
We answered an assortment of questions. For a while it seemed very routine as if both the crowd and the press were "going
through the motions."
Beatrice Salvador and Lietta -
when their turn came - took the microphone and began to engage members of the audience one by one and trying to speak in a
more individual sense that eventually seemed to generate engaged responses. Per Lietta, that seemed to salvage what started
out as a "going through the motions" mentality.
The Tour got a warm reception in
Indianapolis (including home-cooked FOOD) and Lietta stayed again at another home of volunteer hosts ... "another couple,
Arthur - older than us." The volunteers, although mostly not directly connected to MFSO, belong to different groups sponsoring
the events of the Tour while in Indianapolis. "They're activists and engaged. You can sure sense that!"
During the Indianapolis rally protestors
began to gather across the street and after a while numbered about 50. They began singing God Bless America so we joined them
from across the street and drivers could hear God Bless America in stereo as they passed by. Responding to the protestors
seemed to really spark the Tour members and certainly ignited our audience. You could sense a combination of relief and determination
as we supported each other and openly dealt with protestors in a way that did not provoke ugliness. That crowd was pumped
when we ended.
We held a "bus meeting" tonight
and focused on clearing the air, reaching understandings and resolving misunderstandings. Both Beatrice and I, remembering
what evolved as the days passed at Camp Casey and a kind of "presentation protocol" evolved, feel like we know what we want
in terms of how we're most comfortable in delivering our message and engaging our audiences.
In these intitial days of the
Tour, our group seems to be working out what will become the presentation style and format. There is no formal control or
guidance regarding this. Rather, the personalities of the group members and their individual styles will more fully reveal
the most effective style and presentation. I suppose this means that toward the end of the tour we'll all be more polished
Lietta felt that the "bus meeting"
ended with a better sense of harmony, purpose and who functions best in specific roles, in dealing with specific issues and
Back in host's homes in Indianapolis
tonight (Monday) because there's more to do here tomorrow.
09/06/05 - Indianapolis, Indiana
She's tired folks. Her voice is worn
out but she says it's a "good" tired.
Up early this morning to get to Bloomington,
Indiana (home of the Indiana University Hoosiers) for a press conference around 11:00.
(I'm not sure when but Lietta says
that she gave a brief TV interview as well as a radio interview today in addition to the planned events.)
The Bloomington Press Conference
was a room full of reporters at a book store. The group sat as a panel and all answered questions that Lietta says were very
good questions. The reporters, though friendly and not hostile, were definitely knowing their business.
The Tour then went to a park in Bloomington
where Harat Viges, Tour member from Iraq Veterans Against the War, was the principle speaker sharing his thoughts and experience
in Iraq. He's an impressive speaker with a very effective style that seems to connect with listeners.
At a second park with a "Free Speech
Zone" members of the group spoke individually and answered questions.
Sometime during the day Lietta says
she interviewed with a local DJ named "Amos ???? (she couldn't remember his last name) on a progressive African-American station.
In the evening in Indianapolis there
was a candlelight vigil held, I believe, at something called the Quaker Friendship House. The vigil leaders read off the names
of the 51 Indiana soldiers who have died and followed the reading of the names with a prayer. They then sang God Bless America
and My Country Tis of Thee. The flag was there ... the candles ... the 51 crosses ... it was a tearful time (Lietta.)
A local Methodist Church nearbye
allowed the group to place the crosses on a triangle of their property and the candle-bearers circled the crosses before placing
the candles in and around them.
(Lietta) I cried during the TV interview
that took place at that time involving Hart Viges and me.
We then began to clean up - tired
and emotionally spent. I made an effort to try to personally thank as many of the families who came as possible. One African-American
family in particular tapped into my feelings which were so close to the surface (and for those who know Lietta, I can count
on less than ten fingers the number of times I've seen her cry). The mother was concerned about recruiters and I asked if
they were contacting his son, age 17, who was standing right there. She nodded.
Her son told her "Mom, it's okay."
But it wasn't okay with Mom. I could
see that. I said to that young man, "Please don't go."
It was obvious that the son's conflict
with choosing whether or not to sign up was something the family had been discussing for a while. I told them, "It looks like
you have the makings for a serious family discussion. I wish you well as you work toward your decision."
When I got back to the bus there
were two young girls looking to be 4th or 5th graders - again African American. One asked me, "Were you [the one] on TV? I
hope I wasn't on TV."
"We don't want any more young people
to go [to this war]" I told them my emotions still very close to the surface.
She hugged me, saying, "I hope it
will be okay."
Then the other girl asked if she
could see the inside of the bus. So I led them inside where we sat and talked. They were wide-eyed and fascinated. Hart came
in, saw them and immediately engaged them in talk as only he can. He is so authentic!
Their school had just raised $1000
to sent to hurricane relief on the Gulf Coast.
As they were leaving one of them
turned and said "I feel like my life changed forever."
Not sure what prompted that but I
told Todd, one of our directors, "We need to try to go to a school - and I'm taking Hart with me!"
I think that the highlight of this
day may very well have been the encounter with those two children. Our time in Indianapolis and Bloomington has been good.
Tomorrow we meet with aides to U.S. Senators Bayh and Lugar before leaving town at noon.
Next stop Cincinnati for Wednesday
It's my third day on the northern route of the Bring Them Home Now tour www.bringthemhomenowtour.org, and already
my soul is weary. I memorized the war poem, In Flanders Fields, as a Third grader. It wasn't an assignment, just something
I felt compelled to do when I came across it in a history book. I had no idea then that I'd be citing it so frequently now,
as I've done-and will continue to do-every day of the tour. Whether the words are spoken or silent, it makes no difference.
I will carry the image of the memorials of this war with me forever.
EMPTY BOOTS AND BABY SHOES
am so tired of standing at memorials for soldiers; tired of weeping for the victims of this war.
I am tired of watching parents plant crosses for their dead children, day after day after godforsaken
I am tired of placing flowers in empty boots and baby shoes; of the way my body shakes at the first readings
of the names that were added to the casualty count this week.
What's wearing me out is bearing witness to this war.
This foreverness of death, and the unrelenting loss.
It drains my spirit to meet the widow's eyes; to watch the fathers
falter, falling to their knees. Christ, that makes me weak.
To stand at the lip of the mouth of a grave that will
never get enough
catching mothers tears, a nation driving by the dead, is exhausting to my soul.
I am deathly
Northern route 'swan song'
- from Sherry Glover, MFSO Houston
As I walked in that hot Crawford ditch August 6th, I sensed the cartilege rip in my left
knee. By the time we reached Detroit I couldn't bear my weight on it. I had to leave the tour and return home. I'll
need surgical repair of tear, scheduled for next week. I envisage myself temporarily 'in the stands' for a
short time, and remain anxious to get back 'on the court'!
Secondly, my son in law, currently stationed just south of the Syrian-Iraq border checked in last
week to say it would be afew weeks before he could call home again. Now I understand why. The media reports
some sort of insurgent movment into Iraq along that border. Communication shuts down when a soldier is killed until the
family is officially notified by the DoD so I owe my daughter the support she needs right now, and hopefully it will be
only a matter of time until we hear from him again. Meanwhile, Dakota, my only grandchild doesn't know her father's face.
I addressed a crowd at a short stop in Highland, Indianna at the war Veteran's memorial.
It was here I realized the true importance of this tour.
Anna, a 72 year old woman sat in front of me. Her son was killed in Vietnam 32 years ago. Today,
Anna would join Gold Star Families for Peace. For a brief moment we embraced, and Anna whispered to me as we wept.
"I'm so sorry I've been silent for such a long time."
"No regrets, Anna. We 'arrive' when we 'arrive' ", I told her, and met Anna's eyes through my
tears, then thanked her for the courage I knew took for her, and all of us, to finally speak her truth. I promised
her I would keep speaking out if she would!
For now, I leave with this memorized quote from George Bernard Shaw. It forever echos what remains
in my heart.
"This is the true joy in life- the being used for a purpose recognised by yourself
as a mightly one: The "being" a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining
that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."
"I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I
live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can."
"I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.
I rejoice in life for it's own sake."
"Live is no "brief candle" to me; it is a sort of spendid torch
which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future
Duty calls. Won't you join me and Anna?
In gratitude and service to humanity,
Go, heart, unto the lamp of light,
Go, heart, do
service and honor.
The value of life does not depend upon the place we occupy.
It depends upon the way we occupy
St. Thérèse de Lisieux
She was pumped up tonight.
"We just finished a super great rally
tonight in Cincinnati." More on Cincinnati later.
Before leaving Indianapolis we met
with aides to both Senator Evan Bayh (D) and Richard Lugar (R).
The meeting with Bayh's aide was
productive and we felt that he "got" our message. The aide was responsive, with questions the reflected engagement and interest.
At the end of the interview, Lietta gave him her card and told him, "I'd like the Senator to call me." She said the aide appeared
She also told me that meeting with
these aides in the presence of locals (their constituencies) was very helpful as awareness of the audience was obvious in
She was not impressed with the Lugar
episode. In her opinion Senator Lugar sent what she perceived as "second-stringers" out to meet with them and they were
totally focused on politics as usual.
She felt the aide who spoke the most
was intent on stalling tactics, one of his earliest statements being clearly for the constituent audience as he dramatically
and pointedly stated that the coffee they were being served was not paid for by tax-payer funds.
He also seemed to be deliberately
taking up time, playing against the clock as he listened to each of the group one by one, interrupting to move back to ask
a previous speaker a question repeatedly.
She laughed when she told me that
- being short-tempered because of not having any coffee until that interview, that she let her passion turn to "impassion,
I mean, impatience."
Again when leaving, she handed that
aide a card and told him to "Ask the Senator to call me."
"You? You're not his constituent.
Why would he call you?"
"Because I have something to say
to him." was her reply.
Some of the group members including
Lietta were then taken to a college class studying social movements and asked to make a presentation about the various organizations
involved in the bus tour. That went well and the class teacher had used the Tour group as a kind of "show and tell"
about social activist groups up close.
Then the bus ride to Cincinnati.
They were taken to dinner and a reception
at St. George Catholic Center.
One of her highlights she said occured
while she was in the parking lot preparing for the panel-discussion/reception about to occur. A young man came out in tears
and wanted to speak with her. He had been inside studying the pictures the group had laid out and it had gotten to him. Lietta
says she hugged him and told him "What we are doing is about you, your peers, your generation - people your age. You cannot
inherit this war at your age."
During the panel discussion and Q&A
that followed she made referenence to the incident without naming the young man. He later thanked her.
During the panel discussion she was
asked by a young African-American about whether or not the group considered itself as including the impoverished communities
- "poor people" - in their advocacy. "Are you reaching out to them (us)?"
At that point the audience applauded
Lietta spoke at length about the
Tour as representing all Americans and touched again on the generational point she had made earlier. She also spoke at length
with the questioner after the session.
Finally, "I'm in another host's house
tonight and I'm going to take a shower. And tomorrow I'm going to find a store and by a 4-pack of Starbuck's Frappucino's.
I'm not going to get caught again having to go so long without coffee!"
And then we talked about stuff that's
none of your business before we said goodnight.
9/8/05 - Columbus Ohio:
The day Steven Williams met
the TOUR and joined MFSO
When we arrived, we got off a bus
in Columbus for a press conference that didn't happen, but we did meet with our local sponsors and were joined by 2 local
MFSO families with soldiers serving in Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, based in Columbus. This is the Lima Company
that lost 23 soldiers in Iraq the first week in August.
The two families met with the mayor
who also has a son in Lima Company. The mayor was warm and welcoming to the two families and the Tour group.
The group encountered a young African-American
man (Lietta estimated his age as early 20's), Steven Williams, who's personal experience today was the predominant theme and
perhaps underlines a most powerful effect of the Tour in helping citizens find their own voices.
Steven was passing by and stopped
to ask questions, including, "I have a cousin serving in Iraq. Does that qualify me to join MFSO? The group inducted him into
MFSO immediately and he stayed with them, accompanying them everywhere all day. To his surprise, he found himself very shortly
with the group and the two families meeting the mayor of Columbus.
Next the tour group was to meet with
aides to the two U.S. senators from Ohio, Republicans Mike DeWine and George Voinovich. Lietta not impressed with how the
meetings went with the aides of both senators, but Steven Williams certainly was. He told the tour that he had tried to meet
with these same aides previously without success. He expressed an astonished pleasure at having been able to be part of the
group that met with them today.
Following the meeting was a debriefing
with the press and - you guessed it - Steven Williams got to participate in that debriefing and speak to the press.
At one point during the day, I believe
the group was to meet at something called the Huntington Plaza Building but instead went to the Huntington Bank Building and
13 persons got on the elevator which either stopped or did not move after the doors closed. After brief button pushing without
results, several cell phones came out and calls were made to 911. Eventually building security got the door open and 13 anxious
souls stampeded out of the elevator. Realizing they'd been in the wrong building, they headed to the door only to see 4 fire
trucks and a brigade of fire fighters carrying fire axes for breaking down the elevator door charging up the stairs.
The group attended a huge potluck
dinner at a Mennonite Church after which a panel of speakers made presentations and participated in discussions. On the panel
were the Tour group, one of the Ohio MFSO members, a mother of one of a marine in Lima Company due to return in a month. She
spoke (she said for the first time publicly) and gave a wonderful speaking of her story for 15 minutes. Next?
You guessed it. Steven Williams who
was now astonishing even himself. Celeste Zappala, MFSO/Gold Star Mothers was the concluding speaker and Lietta says
the local supporters were inspired by all the talks.
Then came a powerful candlelight
vigl followed. Lietta was then asked to interview with local Channel 4 and she insisted on including Steven Williams who took
a significant part in the interview. Lietta and Tour Group partner Bill Mitchell (MFSO/Gold Star) more or less shepherded
Steven Williams through the day. At the end of the day Steven Williams told them with awe in his voice,
"This morning I got up to go to the
library, but then met these people, joined MFSO, then saw the mayor, the aides to two U.S. Senators, spoke to an audience
of supporters at a Mennonite Church and then got interviewed by Channel 4 News!"
He was so excited he called his grandmother
to tell her to watch the 11:00 News.
For Lietta it was an amazing day,
especially in being able to see letting others - especially local supporters - have a chance to speak for the whole
group. The Mennonites were great, the vigil powerful and Steven Williams the highlight.
Tomorrow the bus leaves for Cleveland.
(This one is long but no apologies offered for its length.
What she had to say tonight has got me fighting mad and fired up! - Arthur)
Lietta Ruger: "walking the halls of Congress in shorts."
Thursday night, 11:30 PM ...
was an extremely busy day. I got to see a lot of famous buildings I've only seen on TV and in movies ... The Supreme Court
Building, the Library of Congress, the Senate office buildings, the Capitol Building ... just like the tourist I always felt
I'd be when coming finally to Washington D.C. to see first hand the tangible monuments to our national heritage and democracy-in-action.
Only I wasn't a tourist today, but an activist lobbying for our core American values and what we baby boomers were taught
growing up in a country proud of its heritage and unafraid to practice what we we taught.
However, today, as
we pursued our taks with those who we helped place in the positions as our representatives, we were not dressed as government
business-people - formally, in 3-piece power suits, in skirts, blouses or dresses with earrings, eye-shadow and lipstick.
We walked the halls of Congress in the heat of the day in the happy casual dress of tourists. How strange to deal with three-piece-suiters
and power-fashioned women of authority.
Yes, I saw all those photogenic buildings, over and over, back and forth all
day - walking through or by them - on our way to see one after another another person we all hired with our ballots in some
It was thrilling, moving and also embarrassing. How many who read this have ever felt embarrased by
the Senator or Congressperson chosen to be our voice in Washington? I met some today who embarrased their constituencies
and others who honored them. More later, but first the highlight of the day.
This evening Bring Them Home now Tour
members went with Elaine Johnson (MFSO member) to participate in the Black Voices For America town hall meeting at Plymouth
Congregational Church where Elaine was one of the primary speakers.
Also in attendance were many officials and politicians
and activist organizations - all powerful advocates.
The evening was spent in strong discussion and public discourse
on the war in Iraq, rights and support of our troops, consequences of hurrican eKatrina, racial injustice, justice for all,
the roots of war and more. There were two
different panels and the evening was both amazing and powerfully inspirational.
Earlier today representing MFSO,
we (Stacy Bannerman, Judy Linehan, Rose Gentle from MFSO U.K. and I) met with Congressman Adam Smith (D Washington).
After a brief discussion about Congressman Smith's position on an upcoming vote regarding troop withdrawals/reductions we
emphasized to him that withdrawals/reductions based on a future deadline were no longer as important as bringing the troops
home now. Again, we were able to emphasize how recent weeks had demonstrated the invalidity of the administration's oft-changed
reasons for the war, any Bush-defined noble cause and justification for more loss of troops in a Republican mantra of "staying
the course" despite the failure of Bush's foreign policy objectives and strategy.
Smith was respectful, polite and
obviously interested in our discussion, showing no signs of impatience or a desire to keep the discussion limited, brief or
redirected to other venues.
Smith: (paraphrasing) "You're not saying later, you're saying now?"
"Yes we are."
we talked about the relationship between the troops, the commander-in-chief and the citizens responsibility to hold the CIC
accountable to insure that lives are not placed in harm's way for invalid reasons or political agendas, Smith "got it," and
told us "You are right!"
Contrast that with our disappointing visit with Senator Patty Murray ( who, like Congressman
Adam Smith, did not send an aide to meet with us but instead talked to us personally) who gave us only five minutes and declared
that her position on the troops and the ware were "non-negotiable".
Senator Patty Murray, talking like an Bush insider,
flatly declared that we needed to keep our troops in Iraq and stay the course until the mission was completed. I felt that
my Senator - like many prominent Democratic politicians - is too intimidated by the Republican majority to take any
other stand ... possibly thinking that there is still a silent majority in her home state and the country that continues to
drink the kool-aid Republicans have been offering now into a fifth year of political dominance. As this is written, the most
recent USAToday/CNN/Gallup poll indicates that 67% versus 32% of American citizens believe that Bush is not doing a good job.
That is not an insignificant number and evinces a silent majority that might have a thing or two to say to an intimidated
elected Democratic minority.
But the "stinkiest" moment of our day was when Kalisa Stanley and I (Lietta) accompanied
Gold Star co-founder (with Cindy Sheehan) Bill Mitchell as he made another of several attempts to meet with his Congressman,
Bill Thomas (R California) who was elected Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in 2001.
Bill Mitchell is
a single parent who raised his only child, Sherwood Baker, only to lose him in Iraq the same day Cindy Sheehan lost her son,
Casey. Bill has attempted for over a year to have - even if only briefly - a meeting with Rep Thomas with absolutely no success.
They've never once offered Bill an appointment with Rep Thomas.
Lietta and Kalisa Stanley volunteered to go with Bill
in another attempt as a constituent to meet his congressman. They went in handicapped by not having an appointment. An aide
to Thomas was called to the desk by the receptionist. The aide escorted the group out of the office to - as she put it - the
"other meeting room." Bill told us that this is what happens every time and he's been to the "other waiting room" before.
It's not a waiting room, it's a place where we stand next to window to talk through the window.
(Lietta was not aware
at the time that Thomas is Chairman of what the press has for years cliched as "The Powerful Ways and Means Committee")
and asked a question that was even more pointed than she realized:
"Are you saying that Congressman Thomas has no place
where you can sit down and talk to him?"
Aide's response: (again paraphrased) "His office is not equipped for visitors."
"How come Congressman Adam Smith has a meeting area and Rep Thomas doesn't? We've crossed several states to get here, we've
meet with numerous congressional aides in those states and here in D.C. - all of whom met us in a room with tables and
chairs where we could discuss issues with them. But Rep Thomas (the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee) tells
us to go stand by a window sill?"
Lietta's perception of the aide was that of a woman who was cold and showed absolutely
no emotion and was distant when she told Bill,
"I remember you from before. Didn't you talk to our scheduler?"
"Yes I have several times. But she never called me back."
Kalisa and Lietta: "We're here to support Bill Mitchell,
your constituent. He's attempted to get an appointment with his elected representative 6 times in the last 12 months with
no success. Both in California and here in D.C. - with no success. The 'scheduler' has never called him back. He wants to
meet with his representative and for the sake of decency Representative Thomas owes it to this man; owes this grieving father
acknowledgement, owes the loss of his only child an acknowledgement."
Lietta: "That is what we do in Washington and
Oregon and we are treated respectfully by our congress persons. Bill and his son are Rep Thomas's constituents and deserve
at least 15 minutes of his time."
The aide called the scheduler in: "No, the congressman isn't available. He's voting."
"So you'll make an appointment for Bill?"
Aide: "Not at this time. But we'll tell the Congressman about our little
Lietta: "This is not a 'little chat' - it's serious business."
At this point the scheduler seemed to
grow uncomfortable, conciliatory and apologetic.
The aide then said that as staffers, they will make this a "work in
progress," to which Kalisa, Bill and Lietta responded,
"We will follow up and expect to see an appointed meeting between
Bill and his Congressman take place as soon as possible."
Lietta was still fuming, calling the episode the "stinkiest"
part of the day.
"This single parent and grieving father has been so dishonored and disrespected by his congressman
who forces him to resort to a meeting with an aide at a window sill like a ticket buyer to a circus. We're going to help Bill
compose a letter to be sent to the Congressman every week (the same letter) and to local news media in Bill's district until
an appointment is set and a meeting is held. That's our project and we don't intend to drop the ball."
Bill is a veteran,
a quiet man, polite and respectful by nature, not brash and not overly agressive - all attributes we as Americans are supposed
to cherish. And for this he has been politically snubbed and treated with a cold and brutal disregard by one of the stalwarts
of the current Republican administration.
But since this shameful and embarrassing display of ignorant arrogance
took place in the morning, all that followed today - capped by the wonderful meeting at Plymouth Congregational Church tonight
- helped dilute the bad taste in our mouths from someone who has talked the tough fight but for whom the war and loss of life
remains a political abstraction.
End of report.
Editors note: MFSO Pac NW members
have already responded with emails to Senator Murray. Go our Letters & Editorials Page.
Lietta in Pennsylvania:
CAMP NEIL: Speak Out/Pot-Luck Picnic with Musical Perfomances at Flagstaff Hill (Schenely Park, Oakland)
was fun and MFSO founders Nancy Lessing and Charlie Richardson were speakers along with Cindy Sheehan.
7:00 PM Candlelight Vigil and MARCH: From Flagstaff Hill (Schenely Park,
Oakland) to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial
the pot-luck we marched to the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial. My thrill was that I got to carry one end of the IVAW banner.
Again I have praise for IVAW member Hart Viges who has a powerfully expressive style in his presentation.
Our lodging turned
out to be a convent which provided spacious comfort and a wonderful sense of repose and security.
11:45 AM Truth in Recruiting Press Conference/Protest at Oakland Military Recruiting Station (3712 Forbes Ave.,
shut the office and left.
We also went to the office of Senator Arlen Specter and met a Regional Rep/Office Director. Our
usual discussion points and some active interest even though Specter (a Republican) was in D.C. chairing the Senate Judiciary
Committee trying to get answers out of Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee, John Roberts.
Later in the afternoon we
went to a studio for taping a CNBC with CNBC personality, Donnie Deutch in a Town Hall meeting about the Tour and Military
Families speaking out. They put makeup on many of us but the principal speaker was our Beatriz Saldivar, MFSO. However they
also had the pro-Bush Prewitt family from Boise, Idaho whom Bush attempted to use as a c ounterpoint to Cindy.
much more time and emphasis to the Prewitts - who have five military members (the spouse and 4 adult children I believe)
- and who have not suffered a family loss ... yet. We felt extremely slighted by this production, particularly when Beatriz's
presentation was evoking emotional support in the audience and CNBC abruptly cut her off in mid-sentence after only
about 3 minutes and spent most of the rest of the time doting on the Prewitts. I understand that this taping will air this
Wednesday (10:00 pm Eastern) on CNBC if it has not already.
7:30pm PUBLIC GATHERING to discuss Truth in Recruiting
- Friends Meeting House (4836 Ellsworth Ave, Oakland)
This gathering also included a discussion of conscientious objectors.
Regarding recruiting, I had a chance to share my perspective of the Emiliano Santiago and the Seattle trial where he was overruled
by a judge and ordered to fulfill the terms of his contract and return to Iraq.
The Friends Meeting House is of course Quaker - hence a consideration of what it means to be a conscientious
objector. Nancy Lessing was one of the speakers tonight. The ultimate theme of the evening, in my (Lietta) opinion is that
"soldiers are people too."
Tuesday, September 13th
12 noon PRESENTATION and Q&A with members of the Tour United Steelworkers of America headquarters (60 Blvd.of the Allies,
The steelworkers passed a resolution
today demanding that the president bring our troops home now.
Wed, Sep. 14th
We spent the day in Harrisburg
meeting with elected officials ( Pennsylvania state officials and congressional representatives/staffs) discussing the issues
raised by Camp Casey and the tour.
We ended the
day in Harrisburg with a rally on the steps of the capitol building.
11:30 AM Discussion
with the AFL-CIO at AFL-CIO Headquarters - 22 South 22nd Street.
Our contact for this meeting was the president
of the AFSCME District 47. AFSCME is a member of the AFL-CIO and also the parent organization of the Washington (State) Federation
of State Employees of which husband, Arthur Ruger, is a president of Local 970 in Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties. The AFL-CIO
also passed a resolution today demanding that the president bring the troops home now.
of "Camp Gold Star" to recognize all who have fallen - Independence Mall, 5th & Market Streets
Today we accomplished
the induction of "Camp Gold Star" near the Liberty Bell at the Independence Mall, 5th and Market Streets.
some pain in the building of Camp Gold Star because the rules do not allow us to "poke holes in the ground" which for us is
not the same as inserting the crosses so that they stand up. Eventually we decided to be civilly disobedient and planted the
crosses anyway. It's curious that we would have such resistance to honoring our beloved soldiers with crosses at what is famously
known as the Birthplace of Liberty. Well ... the crosses remained.
We also - in reminder of the "Eyes Wide Open"
campaign - placed empty boots with the crosses and in fact placed a cross in the boots. We then placed a set of empty boots
among the others with the idea that the next owner of a set of boots here is yet to be determined. What can we do to help
We who have never been to this city also took time toward the end of the day when the lines were shorter to
see the Liberty Bell and again ponder our own history and heritage in the presence of something real and tangible that evokes
feelings akin to when we see our flag or sing our anthem.
We met another mother who lost a soldier in Iraq a month
ago. As she is tragically eligible to join Gold Star Mothers, we do not know if she will. But her agony is no so great as
to overpower her wisdom. We saw as she spoke with 4 young R.O.T.C. cadets who apparently knew her son, pleading with them
to not take a similar path to risk a similar fate for such a discredited reason.
Later, a security guard, after finishing
his shift, came by. He's a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq in his mid-to-late 30's. If we understood him correctly,
he joined (or rejoined) the military after September 11th because he had a sense that if the military (including him)
could "end it" before his 10-year-old son reached draft age. An extraordinary thing - yet so typical of what a parent instinctively
feels for the children. We see it all the time, sacrificing one's self so the next generation has a chance.
says that the VFP have been wonderful in their participation, support and activities all day.
We we also excited late
in the day to receive notice from Beatriz Saldivar that Daniel Torres' widow, Sophia, gave birth to a valiant soldier's daughter,
a new niece for Beatriz and a living legacy of a heroic man.
They named her Daniela.