Reports from Palestine
Earth Day in Israel: Apartheid Showing through the Greenwash
Occupied Washington, DC
AIPAC: Telling a Whopper
Questioning Our Special Relationship with Israel
My Memories of Fort Hood
Italy's Fallen Soldiers
Yes We Camp
Absurdity is the Norm in the Gaza Strip
U.S. Military Base in Vicenza, Italy Gets Final Approval
Mat and Yvonne Say: No Dal Molin
Anti War March in DC
March for Palestine
Letters from Camp Casey
Don't Iraq Iran
Italian National Assembly of the Anti-War Movement
International Peace Conference in London
Note: Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of USC4P&J
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Letters from Camp Casey
Cindy with flags from Italy
The following are email messages sent by Stephanie Westbrook who traveled to Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas, Aug-Sept 2006.
I wanted to send an update from Camp Casey. I arrived on Thursday morning. That day there was the dedication ceremony for the CodePink garden in memory of the women and children killed in Iraq. In less than 24 hours, these amazing women put together a beautiful garden of pink flowers, with children's shoes in one corner representing the lives lost.
We are still working on getting all 2607 crosses made for the fallen US soldiers. The original crosses from Camp Casey August 2005 are white. They are now surrounded by a sea of yellow crosses representing the soldiers who have died since, creating a strong visual.
Also in less than 24 hours we planned an action at Fort Hood in Killeen Texas, the largest armed base in the US and site of the Abu Ghraib trial. On Friday we set up across from one of the gates at evening rush hour with sign about the GI Rights Hotline, including the web site and toll free number and messages such as "You don't have to go."
The response was amazing. We had soldiers in uniform not only drive by and flash us the peace sign (OK, a few flipped us off) but actually stop and ask for more info. This all right in front of the MPs at the gate. Also many relatives stopped to ask for info. We had several Iraq war veterans and military family reps with us to talk to those who stopped. On the way out of town, we hit all the fast food joints and mini markets and put up stickers with the GI Rights Hotline number in the restrooms. It was an incredible experience. We are going back Monday for morning rush hour!
Yesterday (Saturday) we traveled to Austin for an action planned by CodePink. Karl Rove was in town for a Republican fundraiser in a hotel. The hotel has a large atrium and the rooms all look out on this, perfect for a banner drop! CodePink booked a couple of rooms in the hotel. We met outside, led by Ann Wright (former colonel and diplomat who resigned in protest over the Iraq war). Hotel security tried to get us to leave with the private property line. But a couple of people offered to get rooms and at they point we were customers.
About 30-40 of us actually got in the hotel with signs. Some of us went to the restaurant and ordered so the couldn't kick us out. We had our signs all set up around us; others were going up and down in the glass elevators with signs. The fundraiser invitees started showing up and milling around the atrium. Knowing they had paid around $1000 for the dinner, I borrowed a hat and walked around asking for donations for Camp Casey or the Crawford Peace House. Not a dime! Then I was told of the hotel's panhandling policy and asked to stop.
Then the banner dropped, a 4 story pink slip, and we all start chanting "Tis the season. Try Rove for Treason." Hotel security got there quickly and the banner was pulled up. We continued chanting. And then suddenly 4 women (including Ann Wright) came charging in dressed in pink police uniforms for a citizen's arrest. Cindy was there and we continued chanting and tried to get in the hall where the dinner was being held. We also tried to encourage the police (there were nine cars) to make a citizen's arrest and Cindy read off the charges. While security was busy with us and the Pink Police, the activists on the upper floors managed to get the banner out again and this time it stayed up for quite a while. Things got a little rough on the front lines as they kicked us out and one person from CodePink was arrested.
We met outside again and continued the rally for a bit. All in all we were there for about 3.5 hours. The hotel staff was definitely on our side, with one exception, as were many of the hotel guests with whom I spoke. And I overheard one of the young guys working valet parking say to his colleagues, "Did you guys see that banner? Man, that was awesome. It takes guts to do something like that!"
It was another amazing experience. We only had about 80-100 people, but a very high concentration of exceptional activists with a lot of experience. And that made the difference.
I'll send another update next week.
The following is a quick update on my second week at Crawford.
On Sunday morning there was a ceremony by the amazing Rev. Yearwood of the Hip Hop caucus to dedicate the crosses representing the fallen soldiers. He was wearing his anti-Bush button. In the afternoon we had a workshop with Scarlet, aka Freeway Blogger. He talked about the cheapest ways to make signs and the best places to put them along freeways in order to keep them up as long as possible. He described freeway blogging as a way of "eliminating the illusion of normalcy." Sunday night we had Mimi Kennedy (chair of Progressive Democrats of America and "hippie mom" on Dharma and Greg TV program) as speaker and emcee. And a concert with members of Instruments for Peace and the Camp Casey Band and headliner Carolyn Wonderland.
Monday we had a workshop, Organizing for Power, with Lisa Fithian, member of the UFPJ steering committee. At lunch we went back to Killeen and Ft Hood to give out information on the GI Rights Hotline. This time we were there as the military personnel returned to base after lunch so few stopped to talk to us. But we ignored the rule stating we couldn't approach cars with flyers and handed out many to the cars at the traffic signals. Ann Wright drove up in her car with two men. I walked over to say hello to one who was working on my side of the street. We chatted for a while. Then he introduced himself as Ray McGovern! In my defense for not recognizing him, he was wearing jeans, a CodePink t-shirt and a hat.
That afternoon we had a workshop with Larry Everest (journalist and writer) and Ray McGovern. And the evening included a talk with Larry, Ray and Ann Wright on the Bush Crimes Commission, at which all had testified. Cindy spoke as well about her experience in Jordan meeting with Iraqis.
On Tuesday a number of us went to the hospital where Cindy was scheduled to have surgery (I'm guessing you've read or heard about this - she is fine). In the afternoon we went back to Killeen, but this time to a recruiting station for all 4 branches of the military. We had flyers from several web sites and a number of vets to talk to the recruits. We set up combat boots from the Eyes Wide Open exhibition. Ray McGovern was with us and went to pick wild flowers, which he put in the boots. The Iraq war vets were instrumental in talking a few people out of entering the building.
At one point, an older car pulled up with two toothless parents who seemed stoned out of their minds. A lovely young woman of at most 18 years got out of the back and was ordered to "get in there and sign yourself up." Those who talked to the parents got the feeling they were after a sign-up bonus. We weren't allowed to enter the building but this case was too much for Ray, who went in right after the young woman. Unfortunately he wasn't able to talk her out of signing up. On the way back to camp we were forced to realize that there may be some things worse than joining the military. The police chased us off after about 2 hours, using the "private property" line. But we did talk a few out of going in and were on the local news.
That night we had an open mic and I took advantage of it to talk a bit about our group, but mostly about some of the campaigns in Italy against the U.S. military bases. As we are always trying to inform the Italians about what is going on in the U.S., I thought it was time to reciprocate.
On Wednesday, we went to the courthouse in Waco where one of the "prairie dogs" arrested last Thanksgiving was on trial. The prairie dogs are those who challenged the new Crawford ordinance against camping along the road after the first Camp Casey. A number were arrested and this was the first court case. Some of us stood outside the courthouse with signs and banners while the others went inside to show support. And we got more press coverage from the Waco newspaper and the local news.
I left around lunchtime (before the verdict) to take Mimi Kennedy to the airport. Everyone else went to the recruiting station in Waco for more counter recruiting.
I am now at my parents and will return to Camp Casey on Wednesday morning and stay through the end on Sept 2. As a native of Texas, I can't tell you all how heartening it has been hearing people talk about peace with a Texas accent!
This is my final update from Crawford.
I returned to Camp Casey on Wed, Aug 30. Rumors had been flying that Bush was in town. The secret service checkpoint was up near the ranch. But no one was ever really sure. During the daily morning meeting helicopters flew overhead so we all piled in our cars and dashed over to the ranch. We had Burma Shave style signs (remember those?) that we all held along the road to the ranch.
The war is a lie
Work in August
We got there in time to see the secret service and press convoys go by and got many thumbs ups, smiles and waves. But no sign of Bush.
In the afternoon we went back to Ft Hood in Killeen to hand out more info on the GI Rights Hotline as well as two screenings of Sir No Sir! organized by Camp Casey and to be held at a nearby hotel. The reaction from the soldiers was again positive and they expressed thanks. The same actions were held on Thurs and Friday, with screenings of Sir No Sir.
Throughout the day there was talk of getting a projector for Ava's presentation. Only that night when I saw the 15 year old get up and walk toward the stage did I realize it was Ava Lowery of Peace Takes Courage, a young flash video artist from Alabama. I had met her online and she has been getting quite a lot of press (and hate mail) lately. We saw 4 of her incredible videos.
On Thursday morning a press conference was held by Mark Wilkerson, a Specialist in the Army who went AWOL in January 2005 after being denied Conscientious Objector status and just before he was due to return to Iraq for a second tour. After 18 months of absence, Mark decided to face the consequences and turn himself in to the military base at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.
Mark chose not to quietly return to base and instead held a press conference at Camp Casey to call attention to the growing number of war resisters. He called on the estimated 8000 soldiers currently AWOL to go public and speak out against the war. "This message is for those of you who are AWOL right now: you are not alone. Don't let anyone judge you for what you believe in." Mark was joined by conscientious objector Chas Davis, Ret. Col. Ann Wright, Geoff Millard of Iraq Veterans Against War and Cindy Sheehan. He later went to the base and turned himself in. He might have to face court martial but has received national news coverage and much support.
On Friday we had a teach-in on US foreign policy with a retired official of the State Department, 89 year old Dr. Held. He had resigned in protest decades ago and had lived in Lebanon for 10 years. He had much to say on occupation of Palestine and the war on Lebanon. He referred to all of us as "in-Cindy-aries."
That night we had another fabulous concert with local artist Carolyn Wonderland. She was on tour and only had two free days for the entire month of August, both of which she spent playing at Camp Casey. We also heard from more members of Iraq Veterans Against War and Military Families Speak Out.
Rep. Lon Burnam, leader of the Dallas Peace House and the only member of the Texas State Legislature to speak out against the war, gave a teach-in on Saturday on electoral/political activism.
We went out to the ranch again right after lunch and who do we find there but Billionaires for Bush. They were there trying to drum up support for Bill 666 giving them more tax breaks. We protested. They tried to buy us off. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were there as were Laura and Barbara Bush.
Back at Camp Casey we started the final rally with music from the Aton reggae band for the "Give Peace a Dance." Afterwards we heard from Juan Torres, an Argentinean who lives in the United States and lost his only son in the war in Afghanistan. Juan has never been satisfied with any of the numerous "official" versions provided by the U.S. military regarding the circumstances of his son's death. In May of this year he traveled to Afghanistan seeking answers to his questions and spoke to us about his trip.
The weeks at Camp Casey 2006 were filled with workshops, local actions, round table discussions, protests, vigils and rallies. And all of this costs money, so as one of the final events, an auction was held to raise funds. Items on auction included the hat from his first tour of duty donated by an Iraq war veteran, a George Bush wanted poster signed by Cindy Sheehan, a Veterans for Peace t-shirt signed by all the vets present as well as various Camp Casey memorabilia. I was asked if they could auction off one of the peace flags from Italy and of course said yes. The one donated by Traduttori per la pace with a translation of Article 11 of the Italian constitution was chosen. It fetched a whopping $150! The buyer was a member of the reggae band who had played earlier and was thrilled with his purchase.
Camp Casey was for me an incredible experience. I learned much and met many activists from across the US. And where else can you go to the Dairy Queen with Ray McGovern and wash dishes with Ann Wright!
See you all soon back in Rome.
PS - Cindy will be in Italy again soon, 4th time this year! On Sept 10 Dario Fo's play "Peace Mom" will premier at the arena in Verona.
Groups of Camp Casey
Gold Star Families for Peace
Iraq Veterans Against War
Military Families Speak Out
Veterans For Peace
Crawford Peace House
People of Camp Casey
Genevieve Van Cleve
Rev. Lennox Yearwood
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Copyright © 2006 Stephanie Westbrook All rights reserved.
U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice - Rome, Italy