Saturday, September 03, 2005

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?


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