Saturday, October 22, 2005

Please support IVAW

Although I haven't found any local coverage yet, there is a 9 minute interview with John, Aaron, and Tim at LA Indy Media, plus some photos from Simi.
Try a lttle taste test: Listen to W's speech about the War on Terror from the library- or any W speech about Iraq- and then listen to three veterans who've been there discuss why they're willing to stand on a corner and waqit for Bush to drive by.

These guys win the message hands down.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Here it is

For those who are curious, my journal of our Crawford journey. We were only in Crawford from Friday at about noon hrough Monday at about 2:00, but felt almost immediately like it was home.

It was so hard to leave the people we met. So difficult to imagine what the veterans have all faced, what they continue to face as they fight on for their country.

It was so amazing to be welcomed by people who'd put their bodies on the line and their lives on hold for weeks, who lived in a ditch and cared for each other and made space for us.

My only regrets? That I wasn't there longer. That I didn't help more. That I couldn't stay to break camp. That I cannot remember everyone's names. That I probably did not convey the deep admiration I have for every person who has contributed to camp order and success. That I didn't say thanks to the police.

Camp Casey II and everyone who stayed there deserves to be remembered. It is believed fervently among the campers that Camp Casey marked the beginning of the end to this horrid war, this horrid incopetance and injustice.

Heard from some of the VFP yesterday that they are on the ground in Covington, LA, cooking and supplying the community. They are apparently the only relief group in town so far. The Veterans for Peace fight on.

The Drive

Tina and I got on the road Thursday morning at 3:30. We reached the Mojave in time for a gorgeous sunrise, and the drive continued to be perfect and beautiful as we moved into Northern AZ and NM. We took turns napping and driving, and had plenty of music, snacks, and cold drinks in the car.

I kept adjusting my goal for the day…. First I wanted to get to Albuquerque before sleeping, then Amarillo, then Wichita Falls. The drive went so quickly and so well… At about midnight, Tina pulled into a rest stop in Clarendon, Texas, and we caught some sleep. I woke up at 3:00, grabbed a coffee from the vending machine, washed my face, and started the car. We had 397 miles to get to Waco, which is where you pull off and head west about 20 miles to Crawford.

A word about Texas

I hadn’t been there in 15 years or so, but my memories of the highway and the scenery did the state justice. Once you cross the border you’re greeted by a sign, reminding you to “Drive Friendly”. This reminder is repeated every few miles, all the way through the state. One may laugh with a certain cynicism, but I’m here to tell you that once you leave the state again, you really appreciate the “Drive Friendly” concept. In Texas, you really do just set the cruise control and hang out in the #2 lane, until you need to pass someone. When you do, you get right back into the #2 lane, and relax. If someone needs to pass you, they will. There’s no speeding and weaving and tailgating and “I can’t get over, dammit!”. It’s very relaxing.

On the other hand, Texas has perhaps the most confusing freeway onramps ever conceived, and the signs at the interchanges are so crazy and hard to decipher that we always made sure to hit junctions with both of us wide awake- took two to navigate, every time.

Another thing about Texas, and Crawford in particular that you might not understand from watching the news: Texans are, by and large, lovely and welcoming. Yes, it’s “Bush Country”, and yes, there were those who wanted Camp Casey and its denizens gone. Some who wouldn’t meet your eye, some who made rude or racist comments if met on the street, and my favorites: the older couple who showed up at the counter demonstration with a sign that read, “Repent Treasonous Bastard Scum”. The sheriffs made them cross out “bastard”, as profanity is grounds for arrest in those parts.

But there were also families who rode their bikes out to look at the Arlington South memorial and chat with folks, there were busloads of people from Austin, Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth, who came to be a part of it all. There were Gold Star parents from the Bush camp who came over to share coffee and stories with veterans and parents at the camp. And I understand that when the memorial was taken down yesterday- with solemn ceremony- everyone from the Bush camp crossed the road to take part.

Camp Casey was a place of healing and dialogue, and the wonderful Texans that I met knew and appreciated that, whichever side they were on.


Back to the narrative: we arrived at the Crawford Peace House around noon on Friday. I had printed directions from the Internet, but they weren’t needed. Crawford is a tiny, tiny town, and when you pull in on rte 6 the Peace House is almost the first thing you encounter. Pass it and you cross a small dirt lot and some railroad tracks, and then you’re at The Yellow Rose, which served as pro-Bush headquarters during this last month.

At Peace House, we were greeted by a woman named Walking Mary, who’d been there volunteering for two weeks, she said. She immediately set us to work; I made a schedule poster for Friday’s Casey II activities. There was peacekeeper training starting at 1:00, dinner (Buffalo chili), and a Cindy interview for Real Time with Bill Maher. I can’t remember what else I put on the schedule, but I hung it by the front door so that new arrivals would have the plan.

A lovely man named Carl was driving a shuttle to Camp II, and we loaded our gear and got on. The shuttles are rented and privately owned vans with “Peace Shuttle” and various slogans painted in tempera on the windows, driven by whoever has volunteered for the day. They continually make the rounds: between Peace House and the camps, or between camps I and II. In addition to shuttles, once you’re settled in camp, you never drive anywhere without a full car. Etiquette dictates that you pull up to the shuttle stop and shout, “Anyone need a ride to Camp II?” or where ever, and there are always takers.

Our drive through Crawford was mercifully air conditioned, and we began making friends immediately with people who’d just arrived and people who’d been there a few days. Aside from the crazy décor at Yellow Rose and a couple of “We Support Our President” signs on a couple of houses, I didn’t notice too much propaganda on the road to camp. I though that it would be much more aggressive, with warring posters everywhere. That’s what it sounded like in the news, anyway. But it was just a drive down bucolic country lanes, after all.

Camp Casey II: The party camp

Camp II sat on an acre of land, lent by Mr. Mattelage. It is at the rear entrance to the president’s “ranch”. On the acre sits the tremendous white catering tent, which was used at the infamous Bush fundraiser at the Broken Spoke Ranch two weeks ago. On the day of the fundraiser, folks far and wide were appalled to hear of the presidential Suburbans whizzing past Camp Casey and Cindy without looking or stopping. Understand: the road is narrow, and he had to drive practically on top of the Arlington South memorial to get to the $2 million fundraiser. It seemed so callous, so rude. It was, however, a great thing in the end. If the fundraiser had not happened, the tent wouldn’t have been in Crawford, and there wouldn’t have been any shelter at Camp Casey II. As it turned out, the fundraiser was a blessing.

Of course, the tent wouldn’t have been needed if Bush had just stopped the motorcade and got out, talked to Cindy and acknowledged the war memorial.

That was the last time he left the “ranch” by car.

At Camp II, you are greeted as elsewhere by a reception table under an awning. There you sign in, and can begin volunteering almost immediately. Beyond the reception table is the Arlington South memorial, white crosses with the names of the fallen, and boots placed among them by Eyes Wide Open, a group within the American Friends Service Committee.

Behind the memorial is a gallery of portraits, and beyond it, fronting the road, are the booths for Iraq Veterans Against the War, Code Pink, Not in Our Name, and Peace House. The Iraq war vets have pitched their pup tents on the site, as well. You can find them sitting at the booth, greeting people, answering questions, planning, hanging out. They are mostly young, all wonderful and open and earnest. To a man (or, in the case of Kelley, a woman) they will tell you that they joined up to serve their country, and that Iraq was disillusionment, a travesty, a catastrophe, an abomination of justice. One by one, when they came home they decided to organize and advocate getting the rest of the soldiers out.

Hanging all around the tent are banners from various supporting groups, including “Repentant Republicans”. Under the tent, 1/2 the space is taken up by round tables, which seat 8-10 people, some set aside for military families, some for press, some for poster making or newspaper cruising.

Beyond is the catering table, running the length of the tent, always loaded with snacks or meals, and cold lemonade and iced tea. Full ice chests, constantly replenished by volunteers, surround huge stacks of bottled water. The makeshift kitchen sits under its own awning, and includes two ranges, several barbecues, workspace, etc.

The other end of the tent covers the stage and seating area, the soundboard, etc. Artists Against the War have painted banners that hang in a corner, and more banners back the stage. At any time of day or evening (until about 10:00 PM) there will be speakers or musicians on stage, or a movie running on the side.

There will always be media blogging away at the tables, and cameras and mics following everyone. At intervals, someone will announce over the PA, “We need 4 volunteers for traffic,” or “Can I get 5 volunteers in the kitchen?” or “The security crew needs water, can 4 volunteers run some out to them?” Often, that someone is Ann Wright, the US diplomat and 29 year Army vet who resigned in March 2003 in protest against the administration’s choice to invade Iraq. Although this amazing woman is famous among those of us who’ve been paying rapt attention to every Iraq development since fall 2002, most people don’t recognize Ann, so she’s free to move about and run things and talk to people without a barrage of cameras and boom mics following her. Not so for Cindy, who emerges to throngs of press and supporters. She’s like Mother Theresa, everyone wanting to touch her, to hug her, to catch a smile from her. I confess, I was one of them a couple of times.

In short, the tent at Camp II is busy, and seems somewhat like a working cocktail party, only everyone’s drinking from water bottles.

Have I mentioned yet how humbling it is to be in the presence of so much bravery, dedication, and love?

We shall camp in the ditch

Camp Casey II is also completely full, as far as camping goes. There isn’t much space outside of the tent, and a single row of tents along the backside belong to a few volunteers and media who have become like staff. On one side is the kitchen, and the other Cindy’s trailer and VIP hangout tents. That’s about it, so we took Carl’s shuttle back to Camp I to find a spot in the drainage ditch.

We had a good deal of help getting our things down the road to the ditch. Carl, knowing that we’d been in the car for about 30 hours, wanted to help us get settled quickly. He grabbed a couple of vets and asked them to help us find a spot. We all carried our stuff down the road, passing tent after tent, until we found an open spot with room for the tent and my car. They asked us if we needed anything else, and then Tina and I let them all go and we set to work.

It was hot. Really horribly, unbearably hot. And humid. You sweat everywhere, and the sun hurts. We managed to get the very large tent set up, and realized we were both faint and turning red. We grabbed some water, some trail mix, and some emergenC, sat in a bit of shade that some tall sticky grass was casting, and tried to cool off a bit.

We had brought this gigantic tent, because Tina’s boss asked us to donate it. Fitting it in the drainage ditch, between the barbed-wire fence and the road, with no part hanging into the narrow road that farmers had to drive their trucks on, was rather a chore and a miracle. Still, the inside sloped way up toward the fence, and then swooped down into the ditch. Finding a good sleeping position was tricky. We very quickly became famous as the girls with the mansion.

Food Not Bombs

We made our way down the road, sweaty and rather miserable, but still awed at being there. Keith and Lee of Food Not Bombs provided our first look at the generosity of the camp. They offered water and dinner and fruit as soon as they saw us, and talked to us about where they were from, and what they do. Throughout our stay, they were part of home. Lee made the best coffee in the morning in her little tent in the ditch- better than the kitchens at Casey II or the Peace House. All meals were vegan and delicious. There was always a big bowl of apples on the table.

Tina is considering starting a Food Not Bombs group here in the Conejo Valley. I think the closest chapter is in Venice- or maybe the SF Valley. Anyway, Keith gave us all of his contact info so that she can kick it off when she’s ready.

Camp Casey I: Where it all started

Camp I is set up along an intersection, and a big grass triangle is in the middle of the intersecting roads. Sort of like a traffic roundabout. Approaching from Crawford, along the backside sit the tents for food, first aid, Louisiana Activist Network, and some of the Vets for Peace. On the left side is the Arlington South memorial, winding far down the road, and including two Vets for Peace dome tents. The road leading off to the left is where most of us are camped. Along the right side of the road, Bush supporters have made their camp, which is all red, white, and blue, and lights up at night with generators. There are one or two tents, but mostly people go home at night. By the end of the weekend they seemed to figure out that pallets of water were a good idea, but other than that they didn’t seem to be provisioned in any way. The center triangle is no man’s land. The sheriffs park and stand there, and none of us venture onto it. It is the DMZ at Camp Casey I.

We walked the Arlington South memorial. We snapped a few pictures. We caught a shuttle in to town so that I could pick up my car. We were exhausted and sweaty, and really wanted to get clean and get dinner.

Showers and our first insane friend

Aboard Carl’s shuttle once again, and the young man behind us said we were clearly new arrivals, we seemed to have too much energy. Clearly, he was talking about Tina, as I was barely speaking at that point. We struck up a conversation, and he turned out to be the MD on duty at the Camp II medical tent. He’s doing his residency in Chicago, and had just returned from Delhi, attending his father’s memorial. When he got home, he just decided at 11:30 one night to load up the car and head for Crawford. So he’d been there a few days, and was happy to take us into the Peace House, introduce us around, and see that we got showers. Saif became a friend that night, and we spent a good deal of our time in Texas laughing with him. He was the first person I talked to when I got home (he was still winding his way back to Chicago, site seeing along the way).

Peace House is no different from camp; in that once you’re there you don’t want for anything. Towels, soap, toothbrushes, coffee, home made bread- it’s all there and if you’re a volunteer you’re welcome to it. Although there’s only one bathroom and a five-minute shower limit, after sweating in the ditch it feels like heaven.

Freshly showered (but still in smelly clothes), we sat in the garden as the sun dipped, and made more friends while we sipped coffee and water and had some snacks. Saif entertained us all with impressions and weird accents and general silliness, and we got to meet people young and old who we’d see every morning at camp. I felt so good- clean and cooler and without the sun beating me up. My energy came back and I felt ready for anything.

The charm of Crawford

Crawford has a rather fabled swimming hole, down the road a bit at Tonkawa Falls Park. We decided a stroll down to the falls was a good idea, so we headed down a little road through woods and small houses with patchy lawns, and people on riding mowers.

The swimming hole did not disappoint. Set at the foot of a small falls, and cut out of rock topped with trees, next to a wide green lawn, it is deep, cool, moving water in a calming and lovely place. We encountered a soon to be friend there, as well. “Packer-Backer Bob”, also from Chicago, was enjoying a swim when we got there, and became a regular appendage through the rest of the weekend. Saif dove in, Tina and I begged off. Freshly showered, we wanted to relish being clean for a while. We resolved to go for a swim on Saturday.

After about 45 minutes at the swimming hole, we sauntered back towards town in silly moods. The walk takes you past the Crawford football stadium, and a high school game was taking place. Saif decided he needed pictures, and much to the dismay of the boosters taking tickets out front, we lingered and enjoyed the scene for a few minutes. The next day, the stadium would be filled with 1500 Bush supporters from around the country, angry and chanting, and nearly beating up two of there own because they didn’t understand their sign and thought they were Cindy supporters.

We walked back and got in my car, drove back to Camp I. There was a party atmosphere at camp, with people fashioning crazy hats out of foil and milling about and laughing. After a vegan dinner of rice and vegetables (thank you, Keith and Lee), I got anxious to get back to Camp II, see what the festivities were for the night. Shuttles weren’t around, and I decided to walk. Saif looked at me like I was crazy, but came along anyway.

The party starts

Of course, Saif is actually crazy. The walk to Camp II is long, it was dark, the roads are tiny and not lit, and one can get lost rather easily. Cars passing belonged to locals with no interest in picking up peacenik hitchhikers. Finally, a small car pulled up and a woman jumped out and said, “Help me get this box into the trunk.” And we got in, and she drove us all the way, past the secret service blocked entrance to the “ranch”, past the white church, and Camp Casey II blazed into full view.

There was pita and organic peanut butter, and coffee and cold drinks. There was music and a movie by a group of artists against the war. Cindy came out and we all gathered into a hushed semi-circle, as she prepared to do Real Time with Bill Maher, live. Cindy sat under the lights, with the huge painting of Casey behind her. We cheered her on while she talked with Bill, and she was funny. She said, “Bill, that’s my peeps.” And then, responding to him, “Well, Pat Robertson isn’t the only one who can be gangsta.”

She went off to bed, and I encountered Ann Wright and told her much I admired her and was thrilled to be there. We headed back to Camp I (funny, I don’t remember how we got there), and back to our tent. My air mattress developed a huge leak and went flat within three minutes, so we tucked in with our blankets as best we could. I fell asleep almost immediately, and didn’t wake until morning.

Saturday: The Big Day

The morning was humid and warm, but still rather pleasant. A whore’s bath and good tooth brushing, and getting dressed just as Buddy Spell commenced the camp meeting a little ways outside the tent.

Buddy is a lawyer from New Orleans, part of the Louisiana Activist Network, and one of Cindy’s lawyers (his wife’s another). He’s a tall, bald charmer with a deep voice and a Big Easy accent, and he’s funny and sharp and warm. His instructions for Saturday: respect the invisible line down the center of the road; do not cross it for anything. “There will be people here who want to hurt you physically. Do not engage.” The sheriffs, he said, were there for our protection, but if they had to arrest one of us we’d be in jail until the judge came back on Monday.

Thus the plan for the day was laid, and we went down to Food Not Bombs for excellent coffee and oatmeal and apples. I had the pleasure of watching the first arrest of the day; a Bushie who I think walked into no-man’s-land, or maybe used profanity or something. They put him in the plastic handcuffs and sat him on a tailgate. Buddy won a $5 bet on whom the first arrest would be.

Back at Camp Casey II

We shuttled to Camp II as the crowd began to build. There were various speakers that morning: Cindy, Ann, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Gold Star Families Speak Out, Joan Baez led us all in Amazing Grace and all of the other songs you’ve always wanted to sing with her.

“The night they drove ole’ Dixie down……”

Buses arrived every 20 minutes or so from Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth; Texas was standing up to end the war. Everywhere were heads bent over laptops, laughing faces, faces full of tears, shouts and hugs and warmth.

A woman from Dallas brought boxes and boxes- hundreds of umbrellas, which had been painted by Texas school children with symbols of peace. Kids aged four to twelve painted them- some were more abstract than others. They provided shelter from the blazing sun while waiting in line for a privy, or working traffic, or sitting amid the crosses. Mine was clearly painted by an older child. It is black and covered with faces and symbols and “peace” and “love”.

New friends were made, among them Sheila and Stephen, a young pair from Boston. Stephen had enlisted after 9/11, but by the time he was turning 18 it was clear he’d be going to Iraq, not Afghanistan.

Messing around in the driveway one day with his best friend, Sheila, he jumped onto the hood of her car. She accidentally pushed the car into gear, and it lurched forward, throwing him off and breaking his leg badly enough that he was allowed to void his contract. “She saved my life”, he said. She’s majoring in, I think, poli/sci with a minor in Arabic, and he’s pursuing another degree which I cannot remember but which should place him on the path to international diplomacy. When I said goodbye to them on Sunday I reminded them that we were counting on them to take over the world. They promised they would, and they’d keep in touch so I’d know where to find them.


I met and thanked several young Iraq Veterans Against the War. They were powerful speakers, and impassioned advocates for sensible policy and the return of our troops from Iraq.

For the most part, they told the same stories: enlisted to fight for our country, for the “Noble Cause”, got to Iraq and saw poverty, saw the effects of 10 years of sanctions and the depleted uranium left by our bombs in the first gulf war, saw Iraqi children with no water or food while the mess tents for US forces fed all they could eat, saw the anger and the desperation of the Iraqi people, realized they had been sent there for a lie, saw the deaths of their friends, suffered exposure to depleted uranium and god knows what else themselves…. They were wounded or mourning, they were angry, they had come to believe that this war was being waged for the benefit of a few, at the expense of the many, and with total disorganization and total lack of concern for order and security.

One of the vets hails from Agoura. He’s lovely and charming, and his dad’s been involved with Eyes Wide Open since he took a trip to Baghdad a couple of years ago. While I did remember to find him and say goodbye, I did not remember to give him my card, so I hope I will run into him again, but have no way to get in touch with him. I want to find him a nice girl.

Have I mentioned, yet, how humbling it is to be in the presence of such bravery and dedication? As much as I wanted to, I couldn't sit for hours and ask these young men for their full stories. I was simply too shy, too inadequate, to demand much of their time and energy. They are beautiful.

What you do in the tent

Texas Barbecue in the afternoon; buffalo, pork, chicken, beef, tamales, pasta and salads. Cold lemonade and iced tea. There were 1500 to 2000 people passing through camp on Saturday, and volunteer duties included icing bottles of water, and then transferring them, chilled, to big coolers near the food tables. Chito- camp hero- drove ice and water in all weekend, but the ice melts quickly, so pre-chilling was necessary. If you dump warm bottles into a cooler, the ice commences to melt, so we’d reserved several coolers for warm bottles, which were then transferred to several reserved only for chilled bottles. In this way, only 1/2 of the coolers needed refilling when Chito would arrive with new ice.

Other volunteer duties included carrying water around in trays, making sure that all guests had a bottle in their hands at all times. One of the Mds also carried powdered Gatorade, checking each table to make sure people were hydrated. Carrying water, umbrellas, etc outside to the traffic volunteers and checking on the people in line in the sun for a privy were duties that everyone pitched in with. I made a few additional signs for the traffic folks- there were lines of cars stretched in every direction all day. Whenever a bus would arrive, a contingent would welcome it curbside with cheers, water, umbrellas. Tina and I spent some time at the ice trays; it took two of us so that one could hold the umbrella. As people walked by, we’d smile and offer cups of ice, and help direct them to whatever else they might need to find. You meet the nicest people doing jobs like that.