Monday, December 14, 2009

New resource from Rethinking Schools

This message came today from the editors of Rethinking Schools, the best quarterly publication out there on the subject of education (IMO). Check out this new resource!

Dear Rethinking Schools friends,

We're pleased to announce our latest "publication," The Zinn Education Project: Teaching a People's History -- -- a new website with free downloadable teaching activities.
The Zinn Education Project: Teaching a People's History is a collaboration between Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change, supported by an anonymous donor (a former student of historian Howard Zinn's) and the Caipirinha Foundation. The new site features over 75 free, downloadable teaching activities for middle- and high- school students to bring a people's history to the classroom. These are the best U.S. history-teaching articles from the Rethinking Schools archives.
The site also lists hundreds of recommended books, films, and websites. The teaching activities and resources are organized by theme, time period, and grade level. This is the only collection of its kind for educators -- print or online -- in the country. Please visit and bookmark the new Zinn Education Project: Teaching a People's History website and spread the word. Take advantage of the free resources and send us your feedback.

Thanks for your support of Rethinking Schools.
Bill Bigelow
Curriculum Editor
Rethinking Schools

Monday, November 16, 2009

Work in local parks in the new Austin Conservation Corps

Here's a new opportunity for working a green job locally while you go to college. Thanks to the Austin American-Statesman for today's story about the new Austin Conservation Corps, which provides outdoor work in area parks for young adults. The Austin Conservation Corps is modeled on the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930's when CCC workers built some of the most enduring buildings and trails in our national and state parks. The Austin program is a joint project between Goodwill, Austin Community College, Austin Energy and the Austin Parks and Recreation Dept. It's designed for students to work in the morning and go to college in the afternoon or evening. To find out how to apply, contact Chris Jacobi at Goodwill at 748-2721.

Here's the Statesman article, published today:

New Conservation Corps to beautify trails, help young adults with jobs and education
By Erin Mulvaney


Monday, November 16, 2009

Xavier Netherland said he has felt more independent since he started working a month ago with a team dedicated to preserving the trails alongLady Bird Lake.

Netherland is one of the nine inaugural members of the Austin Conservation Corps — a 12-week program that pays college-age people to improve city parkswhile gettingan education. The 19-year-old Austinite said he hasn't worked very much in the past and has valued his work experience with the program.

He began taking evening classes at Austin Community College shortly after he started working with the corps; all of the crew members are either ACC students or are enrolled for next semester.

"Any young student, or person, could get a lot of experience in this way," said Netherland, whose crew helps maintain native plants along the trails. "We are making (the trail) look more like Texas. I love it. In a way, it's a better experience than school because it makes us independent."

The Conservation Corps was launched by ACC's Center for Public Policy and Political Studies, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, Austin Energy and Goodwill Industries of Central Texas. The team began working Oct. 1.

The new group's name harks back to the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program that built parks in Texas. The Civilian Conservation Corps put unemployed young men to work on building roads, planting trees and curbing soil erosion, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Austin's Conservation Corps members are paid $7.25 to $10 an hour by Goodwill, and Austin Energy provides money for a supervisor. The Parks and Recreation Department supplies tools and equipment.

Former Gov. Mark White, a member of ACC's public policy center, said the program is an inexpensive way to clean and repair the trails. "It gives young people a positive way to earn money and a great way to advance their education," White said.

The program falls under the federal Workforce Investment Act, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor, and is intended to help young people from low-income families overcome barriers to education or employment by offering job training and help with post-secondary education, said Laura Griebel, the Goodwill youth services program manager.

"The hope, of course, is that they will continue their post-secondary education and get jobs," Griebel said. "I would love to see some of them get jobs at the Austin Parks and Recreation Department or other green jobs."

The program requires the team to work from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday alongside city employees maintaining the trails. The crew builds retaining walls, fills spots with granite or gravel and works on drainage issues, said David Pereira, supervising coordinator for the corps. Goodwill selects people to participate in the corps program.

The corps provides members with opportunities, Pereira said. "It's a fork in the road. They can ask themselves, do they want to go on, have they found something ... that they like, that they want to make a career out of and get an education for?"

Pereira said that working on the crew is also a hands-on interview for city jobs. City employees get to see the young people's potential as well as learn more about them during their crew work than they would in a half-hour interview, he said.

Shilda Calvin, 23, is the only woman on the crew. She said that she enjoys helping on the trail — whether cutting bamboo, laying cement or building benches. Calvin said that after she finishes studying music management at ACC, she would like to work for the city. "Sometimes, it's tough, but I say to myself, 'Keep working hard,'" she said.

drawing by blog editor

Calling all youth poets

An announcement from the good folks at the Texas Youth Word Collective:

EVENT: They Speak Youth Poetry Slam

DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 21st , 2009, 4 pm
ADMISSION: $5 cover,
PLACE: The Independent
501 Studios
501 Brushy Street
Austin, Texas 78702
CONTACTS: Tova Charles (512) 963-8292, Project Coordinator
Dr. Sheila Siobhan (512) 422-6653, Co-Director

It just so happens that the weekend before Turkey Day, we have just the thing: The They Speak Youth Poetry Slam. After listening to the words and works of these teenagers, you will go home with one more really big thing to be thankful for: the plenty of an intelligent, thoughtful conscious generation to come. The performances of these young people will stir your soul, make you think, and make you wonder what the future will be. You are cordially invited to come get yourself a heapin’ helpin’ of nutritious slam poetry to tide you over until turkey and dressing are pulled out of the oven.

The Chinese consider the number 8 to be a lucky number, signifying sudden fortune, prosperity. This being our 8th season, the Texas Youth Word Collective (TYWC) is looking to make this year’s youth slam just that – a sudden fortune of poetry prosperity. This season will bring some new twists, starting with the name of the slam: the They Speak Youth Poetry Slam. Why the change? Because we wanted the name to be a worthy identifier instead of a simple descriptor; a name that exemplifies the character and motivation of youth slam and its participants.

Another twist on the new season: monthly writing workshops. TYWC will be conducting monthly writing workshops so that youth can hone their writing skills and prepare their work for the slam. Through the workshops, we hope to not only encourage youth to write more new work but to produce more challenging, quality writing for performance. This, we hope, will raise the participation and competition in the youth slam. These are just some of the upcoming changes/improvements we are making this season.

So, we invite you to come help us continue to launch this, our 8th season of the city wide youth poetry slam,, the They Speak Youth Poetry Slam See what all the excitement is about and be inspired by the voices and leaders of tomorrow. Those participants between the ages of 13 and 19 will be eligible to compete for a spot on the team we take to Brave New Voices 2010 in the home of the stars, the City of Angels, Los Angeles, California

Please come for a night of stirring, thought-provoking poetry. This project is funded in part by the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division and by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The healing (st)arts

This week in Killeen, TX at the GI coffee house, Under The Hood, veterans held a writing workshop. The workshop had been planned for Veterans Day, prior to the terrible shootings on base. The importance of the arts as vehicles of healing and nonviolent resistance took on added significance in the wake of the shootings.

Here's a great article about veterans in the arts, written by journalist, Dahr Jamail last month as published on his site.

Art as Resistance
by Dahr Jamail

“Throughout history, culture and art have always been the celebration of freedom under oppression.”
- Author unknown

Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have tough truths to tell, and it has been well demonstrated that the establishment media does not want to broadcast these. Given the lack of an outlet for anti-war voices in the corporate media, many contemporary veterans and active-duty soldiers have embraced the arts as a tool for resistance, communication and healing. They have made use of a wide range of visual and performing arts - through theater, poetry, painting, writing, and other creative expression - to affirm their own opposition to the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The first Warrior Writers Project workshop was led by Lovella Calica. To help veterans deal with their experiences in Iraq, she encouraged them to write. Those who were willing to do so were asked to share their writings with the group. An anthology of these compositions was produced as the book “Warrior Writers: Move, Shoot and Communicate.” Calica has since gone on to lead three writing workshops with veterans, and has published a second book, “Warrior Writers: Re-making Sense.”

The goal of the Warrior Writers Project is to provide “tools and space for community building, healing and redefinition … Through writing/artistic workshops that are based on experiences in the military and in Iraq, the veterans unbury their secrets and connect with each other on a personal and artistic level. The writing from the workshops is compiled into books, performances and exhibits that provide a lens into the hearts of people who have a deep and intimate relationship with the Iraq war.”

Warrior Writers has also created exhibits that showcase artwork by members, and photographs taken by them in Iraq. It is a largely self-supporting endeavor wherein the funds generated from the sale of books and artwork help sponsor veterans to travel around the country, reading from and displaying their work, as well as funding other workshops. It has now grown into the Combat Paper Project.

Iraq veteran Drew Cameron and artist Drew Matott co-founded People’s Republic of Paper (PRP), a paper-making studio in Burlington, Vermont. PRP offers artist residencies and also houses the Combat Paper Project. Cameron’s commitment to the unique venture is premised primarily upon the need he experienced “for catharsis and reconciliation,” and on his conviction that people must hear the soldiers’ side of the story. As he wrote in one poem,

If I say nothing, I have failed.
If I do nothing, I am guilty.
If I live by these ideals of democracy I can see that war is failure.
A war of opportunity rather than necessity is unjust.
War is the antithesis of peace, prosperity, democracy and freedom.
Let us hear the stories of these young men and women.
Let us see through the eyes of the Iraqis
and the minds of the soldiers
what has occurred under the auspices of freedom and democracy.
Let us then ask ourselves if conflict has brought peace.
Let us be challenged by the horrific atrocities that no one should
have to bear, and then ask ourselves if they were worth it.
The idea of integrating the Warrior Writers and PRP into Combat Paper evolved from a workshop at Green Door Studio, which combined photography, artwork and readings from the first Warrior Writers book. During an evening reading session, the participants realized there was a lot of potential to extend the intense experience to far more people than any workshop could include. On the second day of that workshop, Cameron assembled a group of veterans and began making paper of the uniform he wore during the occupation by shredding, beating, and pulping it to form sheets of paper, and his friends loved it. That was the genesis of the Combat Paper Project.

In Cameron’s words, “The residual anger from being used as tools for an immoral and illegal occupation finds release when shredded pieces of the uniforms are cooked and macerated in a Hollander beater to produce paper pulp.” Cameron told Truthout, “The fiber of the uniform, replete with the blood, sweat, and tears from months of hardship and brutal violence in Iraq, tells its tale through these sheets, which are then turned into books, broadsides, personal journals, or works of art composed by the veterans. The entire process is aimed at enabling veterans to reclaim and transform their uniform as a piece of art. It is a step toward reconciling veterans with their traumatizing participation in the occupation. This symbolic act gives them the hope to carve a path through which to reenter civilian life, not by distancing themselves from their experience and the accompanying guilt, but by taking responsibility for their actions. In 2007 we put together the second anthology, ‘Re-making Sense.’ The title comes from the goal of remaking sense of our relationship with the war, of our lives, of what we do now, as veterans.”

He says that combat uniforms that just sit in closets or boxes in the attic can remain associated with subordination, warfare and service. The Combat Paper Project redefines them as something collective and beautiful. The slogan for the project is “From uniform to pulp, Battlefield to workshop, Warrior to artist.”

Cameron, who hails from a military background, was raised by his father to value the ideals that the military professes: loyalty, integrity, and honor. His trip to Iraq altered everything, and “it wasn’t until after I came back that the truth hit me. I would keep to myself, and try to block out my experiences in Iraq. In the course of processing my memories I realized we had destroyed … [Iraq's] infrastructure and were not there to help. I realized it was not about freedom and democracy, and recollecting the way we had conducted ourselves, and the way we had brutalized the people turned me against the occupation. We were trained to fight and win battles. I was in the artillery, trained to blow shit up. We were not there to re-build anything or help the Iraqi people.”

Cameron was frustrated and aghast at the whitewashing of the situation in Iraq that the corporate media was engaged in. At the massive US air base Camp Anaconda, just north of Baghdad, he had access to satellite television and he realized that the images and stories coming out were different from what he was seeing on the ground.

“I remember intelligence reports that briefed us on attacks against us and how we were going to be hit were almost never in the news. I remember being hit for seven consecutive days by mortars, but that did not make news. As the violence escalated, we went from being able to go outside the gate to get sodas to not allowing Iraqis within two miles of the base because of fear of mortars and bombs. The American mainstream media coverage was always this spectacular type of reporting, full of the visual splendor of tanks and such, and not much content.”

That discontent with the media influenced Cameron strongly, spurring his desire to bring out the truth about what the US government has done in Iraq. “The fundamentals of civil society and infrastructure have been so changed and altered in Iraq that it is absolutely devastated. To get your mind around that is challenging.”

The art projects have been instrumental in assisting Cameron to come to terms with his experience in Iraq and in helping him heal.

“I can see it in my own writing, how the anger, gore, and frustration flows out graphically before transitioning into a deeper reflection and contemplation about how to approach the cultural relationship between militarism and our society. I have been able to purge all that stuff that made me so anxious, and now I’m more deliberate and patient in trying to understand what is happening in this country. It has helped me understand war-making and how this country works. My dad was in the military. It is so deeply rooted in us, it’s in our subconscious, and we have to root that out and be able to transcend it.”

He believes that the power of the written word and of artwork can achieve what few other channels of communication can. “You can tell people through a didactic political conversation or panel how brutal the whole thing is, but it is not the same. What we are now doing through our art and our writing gives people the full picture.”

The Combat Paper Project is the culmination of collaboration between combat veterans, artists, art collectors, and academic institutions. It is mostly displayed in public places, even on the street, which often attracts other veterans. Cameron is hopeful that with continued touring of exhibits and ongoing outreach, more veterans will join in. “We are trying to reach out beyond that … Last weekend, we had art-hop [where businesses allow artists to showcase their work], and I met four vets. One was a Vietnam vet who remained AWOL for over twenty years before returning home. They all want to be part of the project.”

Cameron intends to continue work with both the Warrior Writers and Combat Paper projects, and hopes that “eventually one of these is started with the veterans on the West Coast. The commonality of experience that connects vets is really eye-opening. We’ve worked with vets from Vietnam, Gulf War, Bosnia … and the paper-making ritual has been transformative for everyone who has participated in it. For some it is an end and a rebirth.”

The co-facilitator of the project, Drew Matott, is not a veteran, but an artist who has been involved in paper-making since 1998. Matott is interested in creating a dialogue with the public about the occupation of Iraq. One method he uses is to juxtapose art pieces that veterans created before a workshop against post-workshop pieces by the same veterans to underscore the transformation that has occurred in them.

“Usually the first pieces are very, very dark, when they first came in. Their latter projects reveal the healing that has taken place,” says Matott, who hopes the project will soon go international. In late 2008, he was in dialogue with the Ottawa School of Art, which was interested in bringing the group up to do a Combat Paper Project with AWOL soldiers in Canada. “Then we’re looking at taking some guys to the United Kingdom, to work with vets from Iraq and Afghanistan there, simultaneously opening the project up to wars other than the ones fought by the United States, involving soldiers from the United Kingdom who have been involved in other conflicts, also bring it near bases for active-duty folks to attend as well … I think it is making a difference.”

The project has had exhibitions around the country, in cities such as Minneapolis, Chicago and San Francisco, with many more to come.

Writing is also a primary means of both catharsis and resistance for soldiers returning from both occupations. Brian Casler spoke with Truthout about the immense relief from PTSD that participating in the Warrior Writers had brought him.

“For the marine, that was the first ‘ah ha!’ moment. We were sitting there, a small group of people at Fort Drum when Calica, who was leading the workshop, read out a letter written by a soldier to his family. She asked the group to guess where the letter was from. Everyone guessed Iraq or Afghanistan, and were stunned to hear that it was in fact from a French soldier in the trenches during World War I. He was an anti-war soldier and he was writing home about all the problems they were facing. It was verbatim the same crap we have going on. And then I read up on the Vietnam letters home, and that was also verbatim the same crap we have going on. Then, I listened to my fellow veterans at the workshop and said to myself, ‘That’s me. That’s me. Those words feel like they’re coming out of me. Your poetry speaks a piece of my heart.’ And every time I push Warrior Writers, I say this is the anti-war veteran’s heart right here on paper. Get it. I got a piece of me in there, but you know what, every piece feels like it’s a piece of me in there.”

Jon Michael Turner, a former US Marine Corps machine-gunner, became an icon of the anti-war movement when at the Winter Soldier hearings in Silver Spring, Maryland, in March 2008, he leaned into his microphone and said in an emotion-choked voice, “There’s a term ‘Once a marine, always a marine.’” Ripping his medals off and flinging them to the ground as the room exploded in applause he added, “But, there’s also the expression ‘Eat the apple, fuck the corps, I don’t work for you no more.’”

Turner was the first veteran after Cameron to become part of the Combat Paper Project. He was still in the military when he moved to Burlington and heard about the effort. “My first night in Burlington I started to make paper out of the stack of uniforms in my trunk.”

It was an accumulation of his experiences over time rather than any single event in Iraq that had turned Turner against the occupation. He remembers:

“Halfway through my second tour, things started to click with me. One of my close friends was killed, and another close friend, I don’t know how the fuck he survived it, but he got destroyed by a mortar. It was also about how much we were pushing people out of their houses. We would kick them out of their houses and they had nowhere to go. Seeing this, and interacting with the people and seeing how our actions affect them did it. Plus, I was scared for my life each time I went anywhere, wondering if that was going to be the day. Finally it hit me. It sucks that it took three years, but I realized things happening there were not right.”

Turner has found a genuine conduit to release the havoc that his time and actions in Iraq have wrought upon him, and to heal himself:

“All the experiences I’ve gone through, and all my built-up frustration and thoughts and anger … instead of taking it out on another person, I can put it into my art, and this allows me to reclaim those experiences. I can take part of my military uniform and cut it up, and turn it into a piece of paper. On that blank piece of paper I put one of my poems for other people to experience it, and for that moment when they read it, they can see it all through my eyes.”

He is not fully relieved of his trauma.

“I still struggle. The problem is [that] there is so much I need to reclaim. The Warrior Writers Project has taught people that they can express themselves through writing, and as traumatic as the experience may be, it’s coming out in a beautiful way.”

He is hopeful that the healing will continue as the project grows, and not for him alone.

In January 2003, Aaron Hughes was studying industrial design at the University of Illinois when he was called up by his National Guard Unit. After being trained in Wisconsin, he was shipped to Kuwait, where he spent fifteen months with a transportation company hauling flatbed tractor-trailers full of supplies to contractors, marines and other units. He regularly took supplies from camps and ports in Kuwait to bases in Iraq, such as Camp Anaconda, Baghdad and Talil Air Base.

After his tour, Hughes returned to college and decided to major in painting. He created more than fifty works of art from the nearly two hundred photos that he’d shot while in Iraq. Rather than attempting to provide a narrative of his experience in the occupation, he wanted his art to depict a deeper reality. Discussing his art with journalist Tatyana Safronova, he expressed the view that “narrative creates absolutes and I don’t have one.” Instead, Hughes sought forms of expression more similar to memory, with the “abstractions and complexities that exist in images or in poetry too.”

Safronova describes one of Hughes’s oil paintings, in which Hughes portrays a kneeling soldier in black and white, in uniform and holding a gun, unaware of two silhouettes of Iraqi boys standing behind his shoulder. The children are ghost-like, faceless, their images blurred into the desert. “It was very huge disconnect between us and them,” Hughes said.

A charcoal and watercolor piece titled “Do Not Stop … ” represents the consequences of the orders given to drivers in convoys not to stop when children were on the road. The painting shows a soldier’s boot next to the body of a dead child. “Safwan is the city that you cross the border into, in Iraq, and I’d say there’s a convoy going through about every ten minutes, or less actually …” Hughes explains to Safronova, “and these convoys have between 20 and 100 trucks in them. So that’s like between a quarter mile to two miles long convoys, and these trucks are huge trucks. And there’s a lot of kids on the road and … it was really hard to control those kids. So there were some things that happened there with kids getting hit by trucks.” In a poem that accompanies the piece, Hughes writes: “Keep the truck moving and don’t stop. Forget the kids! Now, now I can’t forget the kids. Damn kid. I’m not even there. Hundred thousand miles away and it’s still in my fucking head.”

Hughes uses his art in other ways, as well. During fall 2006, he went to a busy street intersection in Champaign, Illinois, and began “Drawing for Peace.” In the performance, he set a sign in the street that read:

I am an Iraq War Veteran.
I am guilty.
I am alone.
I am drawing for peace.

Expanding on his action, on his website, Hughes wrote: “It is an attempt to claim a strategic space in order to challenge the everyday and its constant motion for a moment of thought, meditation, and PEACE.” The video recording of the same action shows how Hughes had effectively shut down a street by drawing on it. Several buses stop for ten minutes. Many people exit the bus and stand on the street to watch him work before strolling away. Cars drive by him, seemingly unaware, but he works on, kneeling to draw, ignoring them, engrossed in his work. A motorcycle policeman appears and demands that Hughes leave the road and then pulls him off by his arm. Hughes returns and continues working on the dove he is drawing, until the cop again pulls him off the road, yelling at him. Hughes, dressed in his desert camouflage jacket, listens to the policeman patiently, then takes his sign and walks away. The camera pans back to show traffic resume, and cars and buses driving over the dove Hughes has left on the street.

The veteran, who has participated in marches, rallies, and the Operation First Casualty program, is seeking to publish his book “Dust Memories,” a visual documentary of his journey through Iraq. His work has been exhibited in the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Urbana, Illinois, as well as in galleries in Chicago, Champaign and New York.

Truthout asked Hughes why he chose art as his means of protest.

“I see creative expression as one of the closest ways we can touch our humanity. By finding outlets for this, we can break through the structures that have been set up to encourage us to dehumanize each other.” Hughes believes that art can be used to create a culture of a politically educated democracy because “As long as we have a culture that is depoliticized, we can’t deal with the occupation of Iraq effectively.”

When he was deployed to Iraq, Hughes carried with him the culturally constructed ideas of America as the great helper.

“But when I got there, I saw we were oppressing and dehumanizing the Iraqis. Seeing that first-hand, and recognizing the structures that allow this to happen, I had my perspective flipped around on me, and I saw how rooted in hate, greed, and racism this war actually was. People are making billions of dollars while other people are dying, and I don’t know how to respond to that but through revolt and by finding a language to fight against it. And that is where art comes in. I can use this to speak out against what is happening in Iraq. Through my art I have even found ways to work with the population I used to oppress in Iraq. I now work with a group that gets prosthetics to Iraqi kids who need them, and kids who have lost their eyesight because of us. These children are still willing to embrace me as a human being. That degree of forgiveness is something that is difficult to reconcile without being pushed into finding ways to break through the hatred and sustain hope in humanity through love.”

Theatre has been a tool for resistance and social transformation across cultures and ages. American soldiers have used it too, with the objective of exposing the reality of the occupation to the general population, and to exorcise themselves of the dark experience.

Truthout interviewed Jeff Key while he was driving from his home in Salt Lake City to Denver to perform “The Eyes of Babylon,” the one-man play that he has developed from his Iraq war journals. Writing down his experiences in a notebook he carried in the cargo pocket of his uniform kept him sane, says Key. For entertainment, he would read his entries aloud to fellow marines. After returning home, Key was inspired to turn his entries into a play when friends who heard him read encouraged him to do something with his writings. He wrote the play, and a workshop version of it opened at the Tamarind Theatre in Hollywood, California. It ran there for eight months and closed to full houses. Since then, Key has toured “The Eyes of Babylon” nationally and internationally.

Key mentioned that he had two more plays in the works. “We’re going to continue touring this one for a year, and I’ve just been busy with the charity foundation, but the play is my principle form of activism.” The charity is the Mehadi Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Key that serves “as a support network providing assistance to United States Armed Forces veterans” enlisted during the invasion and occupation of Iraq “who seek help dealing with issues of PTSD, drug and alcohol concerns and other issues.” The organization also provides “aid and assistance to Iraqi civilians as they attempt to rebuild in the wake of the conflict, with specific emphasis on the alleviation of hunger and rebuilding homes and schools destroyed by the War.”

The lack of coverage of the occupation of Iraq worsened in December 2008, when major US television networks ceased sending full-time correspondents to Baghdad. In Afghanistan, as the situation has spiraled out of control, independent media coverage there has become more sparse as well. The door is now left open wider for veterans to use alternative methods to get their message out. With countless stories to tell, in increasing numbers, veterans stirred by their conscience are using creative outlets and artistic expression to articulate their opposition to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Art and literature sublimate the human experience. They have the power to transform those who create, as well as those who experience the creation. It is not short of any miracle that despite having been through some of the most life-threatening and morally appalling experiences, so many soldiers and veterans have retained their sanity and emotional intelligence. It is even more commendable that they have found within themselves the energy and resolve to deploy those precious assets to accomplish the two-pronged objective of healing themselves and reclaiming the ideals of democracy by making public their resistance.

Monday, November 9, 2009

In the lunch room at Akins HS

Last Friday, Hart and I had a NOY table at Akins HS in far south Austin. I always enjoy being at Akins, partly because we are set up right in the middle of the cafeteria where students wait in line at the various food counters. The students see us and our banners ("make art, not war" and "peace is green, peace is creative") and are curious. "What's this about?" is usually the first question.

Akins has a large JROTC program and several students who came up to the table identified themselves at JROTC members. Often, JROTC students are wearing dog tags. Hart had his dog tags on, too, and that got conversations going.

During the break between the two lunches, a special ed teacher came up to the table and said, "I'm pro-military." We responded that because we are anti-war, we are pro-enlisted people. That is, we are pro-human being, which especially includes people in the military who we don't want to see killed or injured. She said she'd worked as a civilian on several US military bases abroad and was married to an enlisted person. She also identifited herself as a strong Christian and was worried about the US "becoming socialistic." We had an interesting back-and-forth with her -- very cordial even though we disagreed. She said Jesus was "a warrior." Hart countered that he was a 'warrior' with words, but not with a sword.

A vice-principal who hadn't heard of NOY came up to the table and took a few pieces of literature to read while he was officiating in the cafeteria. He returned them later without comment. We've vetted our literature with several staff at Akins in the past -- with the coordinator who sets up our visits and the previous principal. We also make materials available through the counseling area and the library and have been invited to table at their career fairs in the spring.

Right before the end of the second lunch, a bunch of students decided to start filling in the "I'd rather buy ________ than war!" fliers, some of which are posted here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Get a (Green) Job!

We made a new flier this year with a War is NOT Green! message. Did you know that the US military is the number one institutional polluter in the WHOLE WORLD?? One reason is that the US military is the largest single consumer of oil. In fact, here's a mind-boggling related statistic I just learned: The US is spending approximately one BILLION dollars per 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, and part of the reason the cost is so high is that the military is paying about $400 for every gallon of gasoline used to transport troops around the region because it is so difficult to get the fuel there.

I thought that in addition to containing facts about the un-green military, our flier should have a list of some ideas for getting green jobs. Here is what I have so far, including a few local options and some with a national scope. These are just a few of the many possibilities out there. If you think of others that you'd like to see included, let us know!

Get a (Green) Job! ...Check out these jobs and job training possibilities for creating a greener, more sustainable world -- and earning a living at the same time…

Casa Verde Builders
Casa Verde is an award-winning local Americorps program that teaches hands-on construction skills by building energy-efficient homes from the ground up. As an Americorps program, participants earn a living allowance as well as an education award to use toward college. 512-236-6100

ACC renewable energy technology training
Austin Community College offers classes in new, high-demand job fields such as solar panel installation and design.

Student Conservation Association (SCA)
Founded in 1957, this program offers work for young adults in the national parks, marine sanctuaries, cultural landmarks and community green spaces in all 50 states in the US. Check out the possibilities at or phone the closest field offices to Austin: 214-442-1633 (Dallas) or 713-520-1835 (Houston).

Green Dream Jobs
This website keeps a running, up-to-date listing of all kinds of jobs that have an environmental focus, including organic farming and green building.

National Alternative Fuel Training Consortium (NAFTC)
This network of training centers focuses on automotive technology used to operate and maintain alternative-fuel vehicles. The two training centers in Texas are in Ft. Worth at Tarrant County College (817-515-4614) and in Tyler at Tyler Junior College (903-510-2153).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

School visits in Austin

We're continuing our school visits this fall. This week, Hart and I tabled at Austin HS along with a guest observer from Houston. On Oct. 16th, we were at Lanier, and we have upcoming dates scheduled at Travis, Akins and Garza High Schools. We're getting "It's My Life!" books out to the school libraries as well as using them as prizes for our peace wheel. The books now include a CD produced by the folks at AFSC with a pdf file of all kinds of job, education and travel opportunities focused in Texas. Hopefully, the pdf will be available online soon. I'll link it when it's up.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Today's Nonmilitary Options table at McCallum HS

Today, Hart, Craig and I did our first Nonmilitary Options table of the new school year. We were at McCallum HS in north central Austin. I had invited Allan Campbell, host of the "People United" radio program on KO-OP radio to join us there to interview us and students who came by the table because he is doing a show about us this coming Friday, Oct. 2. But, unfortunately, just as Allan started taping some student reactions, the McCallum Principal came over and said that he couldn't do it without official permission from the district. I'm not sure what that process is, but hopefully we can try this again sometime. Meanwhile, Hart is scheduled to be part of Allan's program this Friday, Oct. 2 from 1 pm to 2 pm at 91.7 FM.

At our table, we had our peace wheel, penny poll and usual materials, including the yellow "It's My Life!" books that now have a new CD included that has a good list of post-high school options in Texas. The books with the new CDs were just shipped free to us by the AFSC office in Chicago.
They have made CD's for about 10 states, including Texas, where military recruiting is highest. I gave a copy of the book and CD to the school librarian, who showed particular interest (she said her daughter is doing an AMERICORPS program in New Orleans). We gave away about 6 more books, as well as buttons, "Arlington West" videos and "Addicted to War" books to students as prizes for the peace wheel.

I changed out the people on the peace wheel slightly, adding Michael Franti (musician who coined "you can bomb the world to pieces, but you can't bomb it into peace") and Wangari Maathai (Kenyan Nobel Prize laureate for tree-planting). No one was familiar with Ms. Maathai, but hopefully, they learned. Hart did the penny poll -- not sure yet of results. I had made a new banner, showing a large peace sign in the shape of a tree, that read "Peace is Green" and "Peace is Creative" -- trying to emphasize the environmental connection. We have a new "WAR IS NOT GREEN" flier, too.

It was "twin day" at McCallum, so some students were dressed alike in pairs.
I especially enjoyed seeing a young man and woman walking together with awesome, matching Mohawks.

We had two teachers and a couple of parents come by and like our stuff.
Student interest was good. Some remembered us from last spring and came by to do the peace wheel and penny poll again. No flak from the police this time about our buttons (showing a gun with its barrel tied in a knot).

There is an Amnesty International student group at McCallum, and their faculty sponsor was one of the teachers who stopped by. He said maybe he could interest them in bringing us in as guest speakers and showing the film, " The Cost of War." I had a DVD with me and gave it to him. It's a really good film with interviews of vets from around the state, including Iraq war veteran and GI resister, Mark Wilkerson.

Upcoming tabling dates:

Monday, Oct. 12 -- Garza HS
Friday, Oct. 16 -- Lanier HS
Monday, Oct. 26 -- Akins HS

Here's the list of peacemakers on our peace wheel this fall. Study up!

Peace Heroes and Sheroes
defending freedom through creative nonviolence

Gator is an award-winning slam poet and emcee in Austin who was president of his class at Reagan High School. He has been active with the Texas Youth Word Collective and the band, Public Offender, whose latest CD, Drop Jewels, is a call to men to stop violence against women.

Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for leading the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, a tree-planting effort undertaken mostly by women’s groups. Maathai earned a doctorate degree and has written and spoken extensively about conservation and human rights.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968) is perhaps the best known of all US Civil Rights leaders. Following methods used by Gandhi and the freedom movement in India, King’s oratory, writings and personal example directed the movement in using nonviolent strategies such as mass marches, boycotts, sit-ins and direct negotiations in achieving equal rights.

John Lennon (1940 – 1980) was a member of the British rock band, The Beatles, and also had a successful solo career. He and his spouse, Yoko Ono were outspoken peace advocates who expressed their views through music and performance art.

Michael Franti is a musician, composer and poet. He produces an annual POWER TO THE PEACEFUL music festival and tours with his band, Spearhead. He combines different forms of music like hip hop, jazz and reggae and is well-known for his lyric, “you can bomb the world to pieces, but you can’t bomb it into peace.”

Cesar Chavez (1927 – 1993) led worker strikes, boycotts and marches for higher wages and better working conditions for agricultural workers in the US, including South Texas. He and Dolores Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers, led the successful California grape boycott and helped organize other labor organizations in Texas and the Midwest. A statue of Chavez stands on the UT campus.

Julia Butterfly Hill is a poet, speaker and environmental activist who lived for two years on a platform 18 stories high in a 1,000 year-old redwood tree in California as a protest against clear-cutting. Her book about that experience, The Legacy of Luna, was published in 2000.

Flobots is a rock/hip-hop band based in Denver. Their lyrics promote nonviolent social change. Their current release is Fight With Tools.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869 – 1948) was one of the most influential nonviolent activists in history. He helped lead India to independence from British Colonial Rule and his nonviolent methods inspired MLK and others in the US Civil Rights Movement.

Helen Keller (1880 –1968) was the first deafblind person to graduate from college. She learned to speak and became a world traveler and author who was outspoken in her advocacy for peace, women’s voting rights and labor rights.

Barbara Jordan (1936 – 1996) was an attorney who, in 1966, became the first African- American woman voted into the Texas Senate and, in 1972, the first black woman from a southern state voted into the US House of Representatives. She later taught at the LBJ School for Public Affairs in Austin. In April 2009, a statue of Barbara Jordan (the first statue of a woman on campus) was installed at UT.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New website exposing US military violence against women

There's a new website up and running as of this week, produced by a team from California State University at San Marcos, where a proposal for a ROTC program was recently shelved as a result of well-organized opposition on campus.

The website deals with the issue of violence against women within the military.

Here is the team's objective, as posted on their home page:

This blog is part of a collaborative project designed to deepen and broaden understandings of the relationships between U.S. militarism, foreign policy, imperialism, racism, sexism, and violence against girls and women.

See the site here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The dilemma of draft registration for men age 18 - 26

Great article about draft registration, posted today on Common Dreams and originally published in Yes! Magazine:

Registering for Peace
by Tobin Jacobrown

On Wednesday, the 29th of July, I filed a lawsuit against the federal government declaring that, because of my religious beliefs, I should not be required to register for the draft unless it could be officially recognized that I claim to object to all war.

I grew up believing not only in nonviolence, but also that I should never submit myself to a system that is contrary to my beliefs. As traditional principles of Quakerism, these were part of my religious education; but also, by Quaker teaching, a person must come to these conclusions only by checking their own conscience.

There was no time that my beliefs were challenged as deeply as when I first had to decide whether or not to register.

I had just come back from six months working with Burmese refugees in Thailand when I was delivered a letter threatening prosecution if I didn't sign a draft registration card, already inscribed with my name and address. Having just lived on the edge of a war-zone, my beliefs were as clear as ever before.

On the other hand, refusing to register for the draft is a felony and, though no one has been convicted in two decades, it's punishable by up to five years in prison. Refusal also makes you ineligible for federal aid in paying for college, and, because of a recent wave of legislation, it can even keep you from renewing your driver’s license in all but a shrinking handful of states (my home state of Washington among them, lucky for me.) According to the Selective Service System, the organization that runs draft registration, many states with these license laws have seen registration leap to 99 percent.

But a more pressing question for me was: What does a belief in nonviolence really mean? I had to go back to the beginning, to the very root of my beliefs.

To me it came down to this: if I register, I'm saying, “If there's a war and you need someone to fight, call me up.” That's not a statement I can make and still respect my conscience. To me, any lie I put my word behind is reprehensible, and one that also violates my principles of belief is out of the question. If I'm ready to give up my beliefs for a little ease or regularity, what does that make me?

I sent in the first of many letters to the SSS indicating my refusal and asking for relief on religious grounds (and making it clear that I would be happy to register for service, as long as it would be recognized that I was indicating service at a nonmilitary facility such as a hospital or school). Two years later, still denied federal college aid or recognition of my beliefs, I sat with my lawyer, Arthur Spitzer of the ACLU, in a benign waiting room deep in the DC federal court house, watching the friendly clerk as she photocopied the 15 pages of my legal complaint.

I don’t know what the outcome will be, but I’m happy and exhausted, in the capital of this nation that will always be my home, no matter how far I travel. I feel grateful to finally have a way that I can seek relief; still, I think the change that I'm asking for is mostly a change of minds.

I can't tell you how often people have said to me, “I had no idea young men still have to register for the draft.”

Many of those young men are unaware, too. Over and over I talk to men my own age who say, “I never registered.” I ask them if they're in college and, if so, if they're receiving any financial aid. If the answer is yes, then I tell them, “Well, then you did register.”

I nearly registered myself on accident when I was filling out my application for student aid. There's a tiny line in the middle of the application for federal aid: the innocuous phrase, “Register student for Selective Service?” Below that is the fine print saying that if you answer “no” you won't be eligible for any financial aid. It's such a no-brainer that so many people answer yes, not realizing that a signature at the end of the form counts as an official signature registering you for the draft.

Now, like anyone involved in the legal process, I have to be patient. The defendants have 60 days before they have to respond, and it could be several years before this matter is settled. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to a country where service means more than war—and no other people, religious or secular, have to violate their beliefs in order to enjoy their rights.

Toby Jacobrown wrote this article as part of YES! Magazine's ongoing coverage of breakthrough opportunities for peace. Toby is pursuing a lawsuit against the Selective Service System that would make it possible for those committed to nonviolence to register as Conscientious Objectors to war, as was possible before 1980. He writes about registration and nonviolence on the website

Monday, August 10, 2009

Universal Soldier

A friend recently reminded me of these lyrics from the song, "Universal Soldier," written by Canadian singer/songwriter, Buffy Sainte-Marie and famously covered by British singer, Donovan, in 1965. More than forty years later, the lyrics continue to speak to today's dilemmas.
The last stanza is controversial. Rather than placing the blame for war solely on soldiers who fight them, I see the lyrics as asking all of us, including soldiers, would-be soldiers, non-soldiers and those who pay for war, to examine our roles in war-making and peace-making. I'll dedicate this post to GI resister, Victor Agosto, who took a firm stand for peace and personal responsibility when he was court-martialed last week for refusing to prepare to deploy to Afghanistan.

Universal Soldier
by Buffy Sainte-Marie
He's five feet two and he's six feet four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He's all of 31 and he's only 17
He's been a soldier for a thousand years

He's a Catholic, a Hindu, an atheist, a Jain,
a Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew
and he knows he shouldn't kill
and he knows he always will
kill you for me my friend and me for you

And he's fighting for Canada,
he's fighting for France,
he's fighting for the USA,
and he's fighting for the Russians
and he's fighting for Japan,
and he thinks we'll put an end to war this way

And he's fighting for Democracy
and fighting for the Reds
He says it's for the peace of all
He's the one who must decide
who's to live and who's to die
and he never sees the writing on the walls

But without him how would Hitler have
condemned him at Dachau
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He's the one who gives his body
as a weapon to a war
and without him all this killing can't go on

He's the universal soldier and he
really is to blame
His orders come from far away no more
They come from him, and you, and me
and brothers can't you see
this is not the way we put an end to war.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It's Our World - Change It!

I returned last week from a trip North that included attending the National Counter-Recruitment and Demilitarization Conference: IT'S OUR WORLD - CHANGE IT!

Held in Chicago, hosted by the American Friends Service Committee and organized by the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth, this was an excellent gathering of people who represent some 188 counter-recruitment groups in cities and towns across the country. The conference was attended by a large contingent of young people, and several of the workshops were led by youth.

The excitement was contagious. The Oakland-based group, BAYPEACE arrived on a Green Tortoise bus, having made their trip across the country, visiting national parks and doing some workshops in Denver along the way, part of the whole learning experience. The BAYPEACE group has been particularly active, and shared a video that described their Youth Manifesto campaign: "This is what I believe!" Check out the video on Youtube.

Similar to BAYPEACE, but from the opposite coast, came a group of young people from New York city: the YA-YA Network (Youth Activists - Youth Allies) They led a workshop about counter-recruitment basics that was great.

Between Oakland and New York, there are many counter-recruitment and peace education efforts in small and large school districts, and it was inspiring to hear stories from attendees who reflected a broad age range and variety of background.

Another highlight of the weekend was going out on Saturday night with a large group from the conference to the Brave New Voices youth poetry slam finals, which happened to be taking place just a few blocks from where we were meeting. What a night! The poetry was deep, deep, deep. When it comes to making art, not war, these kids showed how it's done.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"This is Where We Take Our Stand": GI resisters speak

The film, "Sir! No Sir!" is an excellent documentary about the significance of the GI resistance movement in ending the Vietnam War.

Here is an announcement just issued about a new web-based film series beginning July 11th about current GI resistance in the US. The series, called "This is Where We Take Our Stand," is co-produced by the director of "Sir! No Sir!" Check out the film trailer here.

Displaced Films (Sir! No Sir!) and Northern Light Productions (Unfinished Symphony), along with the Iraq Veterans Against the War Winter Soldier Project, are launching the web series "This is Where We Take Our Stand." The series tells the story of last year's Winter Soldier Iraq/Afghanistan hearings from the inside -- going beyond the testimony to the people whose lives, experiences, and struggles made that historic event possible. The six-episode series will be posted consecutively, every two weeks, throughout the summer. Each of the episodes presents key testimony and tells a vital and powerful part of this story.

"In March of 2008, two hundred and fifty veterans and active duty soldiers marked the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by gathering in Washington, DC, to testify from their own experience about the nature of the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq," said David Zeiger, Director of Sir! No Sir' (the 2006 film that told the suppressed story of the GI Movement to end the Vietnam War), and this series.

"It was chilling, horrifying, and challenging for all who witnessed it. Against tremendous odds, they brought the voices of the veterans themselves into the debate. That was then. Today, we present to you This is Where We Take Our Stand, the inside story of those three days and the courageous men and women who testified. This story is as relevant now as it was one year ago, and we hope that the series will help revive the debate about these wars that has virtually disappeared since Barack Obama became President," he added.

Perry O'Brien, a former medic in Afghanistan and spokesperson for the Iraq Veterans Against the War Winter Soldier Project said, "Here is our challenge to the audience: watch the series; spread it far and wide; and ask yourself if this is about the past, or the present and future. Then add your voice. If you are a veteran or active duty, present your own testimony. If you are not, but you are still a living, breathing member of the human race, then do whatever you can to join and fan the flames of debate. This series is here for you. As the Occupation of Afghanistan is expanded and little changes in Iraq, the voices and stories of Winter Soldier are needed now more than ever."

The first full episode will be posted on Saturday, July 11th.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Vets for Rethinking Afghanistan

This account by retired US Marine Corporal, Rick Reyes, was published last month in The Nation magazine:

What Was I Fighting For?
by Rick Reyes

I was on liberty in Australia, dancing at a club I can't remember sometime around midnight, when it happened. The music shut off and an announcement came on: "America is under attack. Head back to your ships." This was the worst--the impossible. This was September 11, 2001.

Back at my ship, ambulance sirens blared. Hundreds of Marines stood on deck, anxiously awaiting word. Someone said the Pentagon had been attacked. My platoon sergeant stood up and delivered a fiery speech filled with "No one [expletive] with America!" and "We're going to kick some ass!" Later that night, the same sergeant turned to me asked me if I was ready.
Without giving it a second thought, I replied, "This is what I joined for."

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, as I recalled those words testifying before Senator John Kerry and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I sat where a young Kerry was once seated as he awoke the nation to the grim realities of war in Vietnam.

I explained to the committee that I always desired to serve my country, ensure basic freedoms and fight for justice and the American way. This had been my dream since childhood, a way to honor my Mexican immigrant parents who worked tirelessly to give my family a better life, a way out of an East Los Angeles neighborhood plagued by gang violence. Yet what I witnessed and experienced during a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan followed by another in Iraq has forever shattered this once noble ambition.

As an infantry rifleman in the Marines Corps, I saw so much of these wars through nightly patrols. We were trained to approach a point of interest on foot, coordinating with translators whose sole vested interest in supplying us intelligence was to earn money and aid. We would gather information that often proved faulty, and question locals to the point we felt comfortable conducting a raid. After receiving an order, we would ransack homes, destroying windows and doors, chairs and tables, families and lives--detaining and arresting anyone who seemed suspicious. The problem, of course, was that it was impossible to distinguish militant Taliban members or Al Qaeda from innocent civilians. Everyone became a suspect.

In one instance, my squad leader gave me orders to pursue possible terrorists leaving the scene in which we had established a perimeter. My four-man fire team and I followed these suspects undetected for about 100 yards along an exposed ravine. When we were four feet from them, I drew my M-16 and pointed it directly at their faces, yelling, "Get down on the ground!" We beat them in search of nonexistent weapons, breaking limbs in the process. Later that day, I learned these men were innocent. Another time, my squad and I detained, beat and nearly killed a man, only to realize he was merely trying to deliver milk to his children. These raids compelled me to tell Congress we have been chasing ghosts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Amazingly, these patrols were all the same, whether I was in the desolate desert near Camp Rhino--the US-led coalition's first strategic foothold in Afghanistan--or stationed outside Basra in Iraq. The terrain was different, but what remained the same was the manner in which we carried out missions, the unconscionable acts of violence and collateral damage that followed, and the ever-present paranoia that every Muslim could be a terrorist. These raids even ended the same way. We would compensate the family whose home we had invaded, offering to fix or pay for broken furniture before moving on to the next village, where kids would throw rocks at us and give us the finger. To my knowledge, I never detained or arrested anyone guilty of a crime.

I witnessed firsthand the ineffectiveness of US military strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, I didn't fully grasp the extent of these failed foreign policies or our government's deception until I returned home from war. Realizing there never were weapons of mass destruction, and that we would have difficulty tracking terrorists even if we had committed all the troops in our military, I felt as though my patriotism had been exploited for political gain. A select few were profiting from these wars, while the majority of Americans shouldered the enormous tax burden.

To me, the lesson learned in Afghanistan and Iraq was that the US flexed way too much muscle. We have ships, planes, helicopters, tanks, hovercrafts, trucks, Humvees--everything imaginable. But how effective is such military might against extremists who blend in with innocent civilians and fight guerrilla warfare? Moreover, how effective can it be when we leave civilians little alternative but to support extremists?

That is why the proposed $94.2 billion supplemental war-funding bill will be a complete waste of taxpayer dollars, as we continue to pursue a military solution for a political problem. Similarly, the 21,000 additional more troops will be a "drop in the bucket" in Afghanistan, as my esteemed colleague Andrew Bacevich has said. Bacevich, a retired colonel who served in Vietnam and lost a son in Iraq, sat next to me at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. He urged Congress to question the effectiveness and immense cost of fighting the "Long War" in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Congress must hear more voices like ours before escalating the war in Afghanistan any further. More veterans need to speak out, and as a society we must get beyond the public perception that veterans are a product of war. We are not a product. We took an oath to serve and protect, to make sacrifices for the greater good. It's an oath everyone ought to honor, and not just by thanking us for our service. In my mind, we are not seeing more veterans speak out because there is a sense that if they do, they will be letting go of something they truly believe in; they will be going back on their oath and their sacrifices will have been in vain. That is not the case.

A number of veterans and I are forming a group called Vets for Rethinking Afghanistan. We will voice our dissent in Congress, testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and meet with any Representatives willing to listen. We will raise awareness about how our military occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq have been counterproductive. We will express the dire need for the Obama administration to provide both an exit strategy and a more clearly defined mission and we will explain how dangerous it is for the US to use humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip to advance a flawed military agenda without giving diplomacy a real chance. Please join me in this cause.

Rick Reyes, a retired corporal in the US Marine Corps, served in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003. He is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and is now a businessman in Los Angeles.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Live Green, end war

Summer is here. We had an active year of outreach in Austin's high schools, doing tabling during lunch and career fairs, as well as some classroom presentations. We will be gearing up for the fall '09 semester at the end of the summer.

I will be representing NOY and participating in a panel at the National Counter-Recruitment And Demilitarization Conference, July 17 - 19 in Chicago. It should be a great event, drawing lots of youth activists.

Have a GREEN summer, you all. The greener we live, the more obvious that war must end.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The rights of the child: freedom from recruitment

Very interesting news from Northern California, as residents of Eureka and Arcata strive to uphold in court the protections they've worked toward to keep recruiters from initiating contact with minors:

June 4, 2009



On Tuesday, June 9 at 1pm, in Courtroom 3 at the Oakland Federal Courthouse, Federal Court Judge Saundra Armstrong is scheduled to hear oral arguments regarding the Arcata and Eureka Youth Protection Acts. These ordinances prohibit military recruiters from initiating contact with minors for the purpose of recruiting them into any branch of the military. They were approved as ballot initiative Measures F and J, on November 4, 2008 by margins of 73% in Arcata and 57% in Eureka.

Judge Armstrong is scheduled to hear oral arguments on two motions by the United States Department of Justice.

One motion is the plaintiff's (United States') motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, in which the US is arguing that, as a matter of law, Measures F and J are both invalid under the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution. Such a motion can only be granted if the Court believes that all of the Cities’ arguments in defense of the measures lack any substance worthy of a hearing. A ruling in favor of the Federal Government on this motion would effectively invalidate the ordinances without further opportunity to defend them, subject to possible appeal by the Cities.

The second motion is the plaintiff's motion for Dismissal of the Cities' Counterclaims. The Cities' Counterclaims assert that the United States recruiting practices are themselves invalid because they are in conflict with International Treaty obligations that prohibit the military recruiting of minors. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts, as ratified by the United States Senate, has the standing of the Supreme Law of the Land, on equal footing with the US Constitution and any federal laws regulating military recruiting. The U.S. argues that the Cities do not have standing to bring the counterclaims, based on a lack of harm to the Cities themselves.

Ironically, the U.S. argues this in the face of the recent ruling by Judge Armstrong that the proponents of the initiatives passed by the voters do not have the right to intervene in the case. She based her ruling on the assertion that the Cities are able to present a full defense of the measures without the participation of the proponents in the case. If neither the Cities nor the proponents have standing to defend the measures, then how will the people who voted for them be represented in defending their right to protect youth from the excesses of recruiters?

The Cities have argued that, under the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution, people have a right to privacy and to protect their children from uninvited or inappropriate advances by anyone, including military recruiters. Further, under the Tenth Amendment, they have the right to enact and enforce ballot initiative ordinances.

The City of Arcata is represented by Brad Yamauchi of the San Francisco firm of Minami and Tamaki, LLP, and by the Law Offices of Michael Sorgen, and City Attorney, Nancy Diamond. The City of Eureka is represented by their City Attorney, Sheryl Schaffner, and by San Francisco attorney, Dennis Cunningham. All non-city attorneys are offering their services pro-bono.

Whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing, the people of Arcata and Eureka continue to demand that the United States of America “Stop Recruiting Kids!” in their communities.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The roots of PTSD

"The crisis faced by combat veterans returning from war is not simply a profound struggle with trauma and alienation. It is often, for those who can slice through the suffering to self-awareness, an existential crisis. War exposes the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. It rips open the hypocrisy of our religions and secular institutions. Those who return from war have learned something which is often incomprehensible to those who have stayed home. We are not a virtuous nation. God and fate have not blessed us above others. Victory is not assured. War is neither glorious nor noble. And we carry within us the capacity for evil we ascribe to those we fight."

-- Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges was a war correspondent for the New York Times and other publications for nearly 20 years.

Read his full article here

Monday, May 25, 2009

It's not just a job... it's 8 years (or more) of your life.

Buyer Beware. The military contract is usually for 8 years. After an active duty assignment, veterans can be called back from the Inactive Ready Reserves for more active duty. Some soldiers are resisting. See this excellent article by Sarah Lazare from Courage to Resist.

Published on Monday, May 25, 2009 by
Just One More Thing, Soldier

by Sarah Lazare

"I felt like I was being robbed of everything," Matthew Dobbs said over the phone from his home in Houston, Texas. "I had visions of military police banging down my door and dragging me back to war."
Dobbs, a 26 year-old former soldier who served a tour in Afghanistan from 2003-2004, was recounting a story that has become familiar in the ongoing Global War on Terror. It is the story of a soldier who, after serving a tour overseas and being discharged from Active Duty, received involuntary orders to re-deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan years later.Dobbs was not a victim of stop-loss, the policy of involuntarily extending a GI's term of service, sometimes after multiple tours in combat zones. This practice has recently garnered widespread negative attention and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates claims that it will be phased out.Rather, Dobbs was a victim of reactivation orders from the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR), a lesser-publicized form of involuntary service that has been fueling troop supply for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While there has been a strong reaction to stop-loss, IRR recall has slipped under the radar, creating the illusion that the problem of involuntary military service has been solved.The IRR is composed of troops who have finished their active duty service but still have time remaining on their contracts.
The typical military contract mandates four years of active duty and four years in the IRR, but variations exist and an individual's IRR stint might be longer or shorter. IRR members live civilian lives, are unpaid, and are technically required to show up for periodic musters. Many have moved on from military life and are enrolled in college, working civilian jobs, or building a family.The catch is that, at any point, IRR members can be recalled into active duty to serve in a "state of emergency." This policy has translated into the involuntary reactivation of tens of thousands of troops to fight the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since September 11th, 2001, about 28,000 IRR members in the U.S. Army have been mobilized, according to Major Maria Quon, Army Pubic Affairs Officer.
There have been 3,868 Marines involuntarily recalled and mobilized during that time, according to Major O'Connor, Marine Corps Spokesman.Dobbs was issued his reactivation orders in 2008, over four years after he had completed his tour in Afghanistan and been discharged from Active Duty. At the time, he was enrolled in school at Texas State University. The orders were sent to his mother's house, and he says that hearing her read them over the phone was, "one of the scariest moments in my life."Dobbs says that his tour in Afghanistan left him with psychological scars that he struggled for years to overcome upon his return. He was deployed to Afghanistan as a communications specialist and bore witness to "firefights, rockets, and mortars," with two people from his unit killed in combat. When he returned from his deployment, Dobbs learned that his father was gravely ill. He got compassionate reassignment to Ft. Sill so that he could be with his dying father. Meanwhile, the rest of his unit was stop-lossed and forced to serve another tour in Iraq.After his discharge from the military and his father's death, Dobbs struggled with depression and alcoholism. He moved several times, first living with his mother in Texas, then eventually getting a place of his own and enrolling in school. He says he was finally getting his life "to a happy place" when he got the reactivation orders in the mail.The IRR provides a ready supply of troops who already have military experience, many of whom have already seen combat. With U.S. forces stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, this pool of GIs has played a role in boosting military capacity. Even though recent reports suggest that the military is reaching its recruitment targets for the first time in years, likely due to growing unemployment, Army IRR reactivation rates remain "steady state," according to Major Quon.
Critics charge that the IRR forces already over-extended troops to fight yet another deployment, pushing them beyond exhaustion. "If people thought this was a just war, if soldiers believed that fighting these wars was making the world a better place, the army wouldn't have to involuntarily drag them out of civilian life," said Seth Manzel, Executive Director of GI Voice, an advocacy organization for soldiers who are mistreated by the military, and an active member with Iraq Veterans Against the War, an organization comprised of military service people who have served since September 11th, 2001. "The IRR is nothing more than a backdoor draft."But military officials say that recruits know exactly what they are getting into when they sign up for military service. "When you sign your contract, you know you have to serve time in the IRR and that there is a possibility you will get called up," said Major O'Connor. "I would hope they read the contract that they signed."Veteran advocates cast doubt on these claims. "I can say, in my own personal experience, my military recruiter never went through the effort to explain what the IRR is," said Jeff Paterson, former Marine and current Project Director for Courage to Resist, an organization that supports the troops who refuse to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Military recruiters are expert at avoiding inconvenient details of the military agreement. In my case, there was no indication that recall during the inactive term would be a realistic event."Others say that the very premise of the IRR is unfair, regardless of one's awareness at the time of signing their military contract. "No company in the world could make an employment contract like what the military has," said Seth Manzel. "Could you imagine IBM indenturing its workers in the same way? The only reason the contract is upheld is because it is with the government."After returning from Afghanistan, Dobbs began questioning the ongoing wars. His own research led him to conclude that the war he had fought in was unjustified. "After a lot of reading and questioning, I found out this is not an honorable war, and I came to disagree with what I had done," he said. "Afghanistan did not attack us. This had nothing to do with the people of Afghanistan."Dobbs became involved with a local chapter of IVAW, where he met his now fiancĂ©. He became an outspoken critic against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and cites his activism as a key component that helped him get his life back on track.It was in the midst of his burgeoning anti-war activism that Dobbs received his reactivation orders. He was furious. "Doesn't the military realize that if I get deployed again, that could be the end of my life?" he asked, his voice booming. "I have already served in combat. I started living a life of peace when I got out. I didn't ever think they would ask me to go back."Dobbs told his mom to rip up his activation orders, and he hasn't looked back since. The military made several attempts to contact him, but he ignored them every time. On April 19, 2009, Dobbs was discharged from the IRR. He is still waiting to receive his papers.GI counselors at Courage to Resist note that, up to this point, the U.S. military has not attempted to apply the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to IRR members who refuse to report. This means that the military has not had jurisdiction to go after IRR members who refuse recall. IRR members can receive a less than honorable discharge from the IRR, but so far this has not affected active duty discharge and has had no bearing on military benefits. Furthermore, the military does not arrest IRR resisters or force them to show up for activation, though they do resort to pressure via letters, phone calls, and even home visits.However, many troops are not aware of this, and tens of thousands show up for recall. This dilemma was made famous Ryan Conklin of MTV's ‘The Real World,' who, in front of millions of TV viewers, reported back to duty after receiving reactivation orders from the IRR. The recent case of Matthis Chiroux, an IRR resister who pushed for an upgrade in his discharge from the IRR, also garnered widespread media attention.Many troops also join the military reserves, in hopes of avoiding an IRR recall that will land them in a combat zone. "The IRR ultimately is a tool for military retention," says Jeff Paterson. "Many people are strong-armed into joining the reserves under threat of IRR recall."Dobbs said that now that he has been discharged from the military, he is prepared to speak out against IRR recall, a practice that he says is indicative of the military's broader policy of using troops up and destroying their minds and bodies through multiple deployments."My heart goes out to all of those people showing up for recall," said Matthew Dobbs over the phone. "When you are in a combat zone, you live through the hardest stuff you ever thought you would have to. It is not just physically exhausting, it is also mentally exhausting not to know if this tour is going to be the tour where you die. And now, after making it through alive, they tell you have to go back."

Sarah Lazare is Project Coordinator for Courage to Resist, an organization that supports the troops who refuse to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a freelance writer currently living in San Francisco.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Career fair at the CAN Academy

Yesterday, May 18, Hart and I were invited to the Austin CAN Academy, a charter school on Rosewood, to table during their career fair from 10 am to 2 pm. The school offers half-day class schedules to allow for students who work and/or have young children to care for. CAN focuses on students at risk for dropping out of high school. CAN students must have completed the 8th grade and the school accepts students up to age 21. Student enrollment has almost reached its capacity of about 400.
School staff had placed tables in the school's hallways and had purposely put us next to an Air Force recruiter so that students could more easily compare and contrast his materials and ours. That worked out fine for us. Because part of the career fair involved classroom speakers (not us), there were some quiet times when we visited with the recruiter, who was a native Austinite who said he joined the Air Force about 8 years ago when he was laid off from Motorola. We invited him to join us when he is discharged -- but he said he probably will stay in. He did take some of our Americorps literature for his girlfriend...

We had quite a few students come by the table during their lunch times -- although many came by mainly to get our signatures on cards they were required to get filled out to show they had done their career fair duty ...

The school halls were filled with large, really nicely done paintings by students. The subjects were well-known figures like Gandhi and Che. A painting of President Obama hung just inside the school entrance. Above our table was a painting of Stevie Ray Vaughn, which, with our "make art, not war" message, was appropriate. The paintings were accompanied by text written by students about the paintings' subjects. I took a photo of the info sheet, "Violent VS. Nonviolent Resistance" posted next to the painting of Gandhi that compared him with Che. The second paragraph begins: "Is a violent leader necessary to cause social change? The answer is NO." (If you double click on the photo above, you'll get a larger, more readable version.)

I think the Gandhi painting in the hall led more students to be able to say something about Gandhi on our peace wheel, even though, in general, the CAN students seemed less interested in the wheel than students have been in other schools. Not sure why. They liked the "I think for myself" buttons a lot, and several took Addicted to War books and Arlington West dvds.

Our table was right across from the teachers' lounge, so several teachers and staff came by the table and spoke with us, especially ESL teacher, Marcus Denton, who is shown talking with Hart in one of the above photos. Marcus was familiar with our group and had seen this blog, and he was curious about our views on the peace movement and organizing in general. It was great to be able to talk with him.

The school catered a wonderful lunch for all the career fair tablers. We felt very welcomed. Thanks, CAN Academy!

Above are some photos from the school hallways and our table.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Doing lunch at LBJ/LASA High School

On Monday, May 4, Hart, Lynn and I had a Nonmilitary Options literature table during the lunch hours at LBJ/LASA High school. This is a "two in one" school, with LBJ and the Liberal Arts and Science Academy sharing space in the same buildings.

We had a good day there, with students stopping at our table mostly in small groups, taking a lot of interest in the Peace Wheel (newly colorful...), letting us know what they'd rather buy than war, picking up literature and buttons. Hart had brought a stack of "Arlington West" dvds that we provided as Peace Wheel prizes along with the buttons, fortune cookies and Addicted to War books.

One young woman noticed my Pentax k-1000 camera and took a close look at it, saying she was studying photography and liked old cameras. Yep, film cameras seem like antiques these days...
There were some panoramic photos in the hall of former senior classes, and Lynn found the photo that included her daughter, who graduated with top honors in the first science academy class.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hundreds protest Philadelphia "Army Experience Center" that markets war to minors

A very inspiring action this weekend, reported by Student Peace Action Network in Philadelphia:

Seven Arrested at Philadelphia Mall Over Military Recruiting Practices
300 Veterans, military families, religious leaders and voters rallied, marched and closed the "Army Experience Center" to decry the Army pilot program that entices teens with violent video games

PHILADELPHIA - May 2 - Several hundred demonstrators from a coalition of 30 national and regional veteran, youth and peace groups, including the Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, BuxMont Coalition for Peace Action, Student Peace Action Network, protested what they claimed were unethical military recruitment of teenagers at Franklin Mills Mall in northeast Philadelphia.
The protesters rallied at a church, then marched one mile to the Franklin Mills mall where dozens of police blocked them from entering the "Army Experience Center" (AEC). After nearly an hour of chants of "War is no game, shut down the Army Experience Center" and speeches, Bob Smith of the Brandywine Peace Community (a member of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of 1,300 national and local organizations) delivered a criminal complaint (4) to a Captain at the AEC and to a representative of the mall's parent company, The Simon Property Group, Inc. After two police warnings, hundreds of protesters continued to chant and listen to speeches by Col. Wright and others, until the police arrested seven conducting civil disobedience by refusing to leave. Forced out of the mall, people continued to vigil and listen to songs by the Granny Peace Brigade outside the "red" entrance to the mall.
"The Army Experience Center is an abomination. It epitomizes the turn for the worse that the military was forced to take over the last eight years. It is misleading. It targets impressionable minors, and it propagates the glorification of war. I am utterly disgusted that the Army which I loved and in which I served so long has resorted to such a deceiving recruiting strategy," said Sergeant Jesse Hamilton, who served nine years in the Army including tours in Iraq. After receiving and honorable discharge, he joined Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
Elaine Brower, 53, who sits on the board of Peace Action of Staten Island, was one of those taken to jail. She has been organizing against the AEC because she is the mother of a Marine who just returned from his third tour of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Col. Anne Wright, former State Department official of 16 years shouted, "We demand that our policy isn't militarism but diplomacy."
Critics of the AEC point out that it is not acceptable for alcohol, cigarette, pornography, gun manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies to market to thirteen year olds. They claim those decisions are for adults and dying for something you believe in is also an adult decision.
One of the religious leaders present, Rev. Bob Moore, the director of the Coalition for Peace Action, preached, "War is not fun and exciting; War is hell on earth. If you're not old enough to drink you are not old enough to kill. No recruiting of our children!" He organized one hundred people to attend the protest.
With American's saying they want troops home from Iraq and becoming more concerned about our troops in Afghanistan, the military is finding it more difficult to recruit youth who disagree with U.S. foreign policy. "In its desperate approach to meet recruiting numbers, the military is teaching the wrong values to teenagers. Sugarcoating combat experience with virtual war is a dishonor to those with real war experience. That's why the Student Peace Action Network (SPAN) works with young veterans, and high school and college students across the country for truth and honor in recruiting," stated Jonathan Williams, Span's coordinator.
Police estimated over 200 participants while organizers claimed nearly 300 attended the rally at St. Luke's United Church of Christ, then marched with one lead 12' by 3' banner that said, "War is No Game, Close-down Army Experience Center" along Knights Road to the AEC where an enlarged version of the criminal complaint was handed over and stated, in part, "THAT: the Army Experience Center is therefore involved in the "Criminal Solicitation of Minors" - soliciting underage persons to act in a violent manner and thereby promoting and supporting criminal and corrupt behavior..."
The Pentagon is committed to establishing "Experience Centers" in malls across the country. The $13 Million, 14,500 square foot facility at Franklin Mills Mall boasts dozens of video game computers and X-Box video game consoles with various interactive, military-style shooting games as well as Apache helicopter and Humvee simulators that allow teens to simulate the killing of Arabs and Afghans. Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Rob Watson compares the Army Experience Center to "a heavy dose of candy cigarettes." (3) 200 packs of candy cigarettes were handed out with Watson's column at the protest.
After leaving the indoor skateboard park across from the AEC, one teenager wearing a helmet and kneepads, with skateboard in tow, quipped "skateboards are the solution," after grabbing a "War Isn't Working," Peace Action, bumper sticker.
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