Archive for August, 2009|Monthly archive page

Meeting Up with Veterans for Peace

VFP national Board member Sharon Kufeldt at VFP 99 meeting in Asheville
VFP national Board member Sharon Kufeldt at VFP 99 meeting in Asheville

Our local Veterans for Peace, Chapter 99 is one of the more active groups in Asheville working collaboratively to bring about an end to war.

At a recent meeting, WRL Asheville joined with them in welcoming Sharon Kufeldt, VFP national Board member on her way to the VFP National Convention.
Sharon has moved to nearby Georgia, and we look forward to more opportunities to work together.
Kim Carlyle, (seated on right next to Sharon) is the Chapter 99 president, and also edits the War Crimes Times.  Its a great newspaper calling for accountabilty for the crimes of the Bush years and is calling for submissions.
Seated second from the left is James Lattimore, who works with his wife Kasha Baxter and Vet Ron Harayda to produce the weekly radio show, Veterans Voices, on WPVM an Asheville low-power volunteer run radio station.
You can listen to Veterans Voices  over the Internet.  The Veterans for Peace and allies stand every Tuesday, 5 to 6 p.m.  in the center of Asheville’s vibrant downtown.
Over the years standing with Veterans for Peace, we’ve connected with hundreds of folks, engaged in important convesations, and have offered support to Iraq Veterans in forming the local IVAW chapter. Holding the ground together is an important part of our work

UNC Asheville SDS joins with VFP at weekly vigil
UNC Asheville SDS joins with VFP at weekly vigil

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Photos: Clare Hanrahan
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Quaker House: On the Front Line in Fayettestan

Coleman at Quaker House Catching up

Coleman at Quaker House Catching up

There was nothing particularly exciting about the approach to Ft. Bragg. The highway goes through commercial strip developments and economically- depressed neighborhoods, with the pawnshops, strip joints and liquor stores typical in most military towns. Telltale US Government Property signs are posted along miles of roadside fence-line. As we passed, we caught glimpses off in the distance of an airfield, drab gray buildings, and armored vehicles painted in desert camouflage. At one pitstop we visited with Tiffany, a clerk at the Family Fare. She said she lived near the post where live ordinance explosions are set off daily.  “They rattle our windows and shake the foundations of our homes every day,” she said.

We travelled to Fayetteville to meet with human rights activist and Truth in Recruiting advocate Chuck Fager. He and his partner Wendy Michener, an architect, Quaker, and leader in the Fayetteville Peace with Justice group, offered the hospitality of Quaker House for dinner, conversation and an overnight resting place. Wendy was among seven anti-287(g) protestors charged with disorderly conduct and failure to disperse and  found guilty by an Alamance County District Court judge May 15.

Fort Bragg and Fayetteville are “bastions of contrary sentiment,” according to Chuck who has spent most of his adult life working for social and economic justice and peace. He is an author, an historian and a tireless advocate for GI Rights. Kansas born, Chuck was raised in an Air Force family, the oldest of 11 children. He was a non-religious conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, and later worked with Quakers whose peace witness took hold in his life and informed his work, as did his close involvement with the civil rights movement in the South.

In 1965 Chuck was present at the meeting where Dr. Martin Luther King, and others, decided to oppose the Vietnam War—a courageous decision that would fracture the movement and turn many Americans against King and eventually lead to his assassination. While in Selma, Alabama, as a junior member of the SCLC staff, Chuck worked on the voting rights campaign. This led to an overnight in a jail cell he shared with Dr. King.

Chuck was out on some “mission,” when we arrived so as a first assignment in our introduction to Fayetteville he steered us to the Airborne & Special  Operations Museum, Dedicated to the glory and memory of all Airborne and Special Operations soldiers from 1940 to the present, and into the future.

Vintage poster from the museum in Fayetteville

Vintage poster from the museum in Fayetteville

As far as museums go, it was professionally done. Displays were presented along a walking path and time-line continuum. There were full-scale photos, vintage and modern weapons, uniforms, vehicles, tanks, artillery, and a WW II D-Day glider. Life-size paratroopers jumped from a troop carrier suspended from the ceiling. Our senses were assaulted with the constant noise of gunfire, the sound of orders yelled, men screaming, and ordinance exploding. After surviving a series of war zones we discovered a new annex under construction for display of artifacts from wars yet to be fought.

At the gift shop a military wife, with children in tow, mingled with tourists.  Maybe they were looking for a model, a patch, a book, a decal—anything to keep alive and fresh the memory of a husband, a parent, or maybe a child away at war. A 4 year-old boy looked quite the willing recruit wearing a plastic helmet and armed with a toy gun.

As we left the museum, Coleman filled out a comment card to get a free souvenir poster. He asked the docent, an older woman, “When did the mission of fighting for freedom and justice for all change to defending corporate profits for the few?” The somewhat startled volunteer replied, “I’m mentally unprepared to answer that question.” But she offered the prize poster anyway, and we headed for the exit, passing a small group of soldiers in maroon berets. They eyeballed us with what seemed to be the same curiosity we had for them.

Quaker House is almost within spitting distance of the museum in a neighborhood of retired and active military families. Through his work and proximity, Chuck has come to understand the kind of pressures these families endure in the military life they have chosen.

Coleman in the Quaker House kitchen with Chuck & Wendy

Coleman in the Quaker House kitchen with Chuck & Wendy

In our long, wide-ranging conversations with chuck and Wendy, sitting on the front porch sipping tea, or around the kitchen table preparing and sharing a meal, we realized we were in the company of a man whose lifetime commitment to justice and willingness to serve on the front-line in such a lonely outpost as Fayetteville, can offer rare insights into the history of the peace movement and how to sustain a life of nonviolent action for the long haul.

Fayetteville is not all strip mall and military post, some of the neighborhoods have the charm of many southern towns—sweet smelling magnolias, full grown oak, maple, pecan and poplar trees shading wide avenues and quiet side streets. Beautiful and spacious homes from an older period when families shared them for generations are lined up one after the other. Graced with wide front porches, one can only imagine the conversations and quiet Sunday meetings that were common in these old family homes. Quaker House is situated in such a neighborhood. It has been a peace presence in Fayetteville since 1969, and under Chuck’s leadership since 2002.

It was hot, muggy, and humid when we arrived; and certainly no place for a soldier to have to run around all day with heavy boots and loaded pack training for war. Chuck told us that when he first moved into Quaker House he noticed that the motorcycle parked in front of the neighbor’s house never moved. He later learned that the neighbor’s son had enlisted in the Army and then dropped dead in the heat during a training exercise.  One day, Chuck related, he noticed the motorcycle was gone. And soon after he heard that the father had committed suicide. This macabre tale reiterates how the victims of war are all too often not the intended targets.

Fort Bragg, a training center for death and destruction, is home to  “a strategic crisis response force, manned and trained to deploy rapidly by air, sea and land anywhere in the world, prepared to fight upon arrival and win.”   Ironically, a near neighbor to Fort Bragg is Smithfield Packing Company in Tar Heel –the largest pork processing plant in the world. Three million pigs a year are killed, gutted, prepped, and shipped.  On  July 1, after a fifteen year campaign, the nearly 5,000 employees at the Smithfield plant ratified the contract agreed to by their union, United Food and Commercial Workers International.

Craggy Mountain balds

Craggy Mountain balds

Back in Asheville,  as we resumed writing our travel blog, we hiked up to Craggy Mountain bald just off the Blue Ridge Parkway for a change of scene. The trail led to a hundred- year old, hand-hewn wooden pavilion where we wrote between conversations with other hikers passing through. The most memorable was eight-year old Catherine. She was hiking with her little sister, older brother, and their mom. Their father was in Iraq driving armored vehicles.

“He had 17 years in the National Guard,” Catherine’s mom told us. “The only way he could get his full pension was to re-up for three more years and deploy to Iraq.” When we mentioned we were writing about our visit to Fayetteville and the Airborne Museum, she said the family had visited the museum while the father trained at Fort Bragg before his deployment.

“What did you think?” Coleman asked.

“I’m not much for the army. I’m not much for the whole thing,” she answered. “But with our family medical history, we couldn’t risk losing the benefits. It wasn’t so much a decision to support the war, but we need the money, and the military is job security.” While she tried to keep an optimistic tone, her eyes and body language revealed her doubt and insecurity. As the family set back down the mountain trail, little Catherine gave voice to the family’s burden. She turned back to say,  “I have dreams about my daddy—bad dreams.”  We wished we could have reassured her that her daddy would return safely, but we knew that even if he returned in body, he might no longer be the daddy that she remembers. This chance encounter with Catherine’s family provided yet another example of the unintended victims of war.

Inside Quaker House, one wall is dedicated to more tragic victims—the military women, wives and girlfriends killed by returning soldiers just back from the war. This domestic violence, which can be linked to post-traumatic stress is a growing problem within families of returning soldiers. Violence between soldiers on and off the bases is also on the rise, and its causes include PTSD , extended and back to back deployments, and possible rage reactions to required inoculations.  It takes special calling to live so proximate to the pain of the war that continues to do violence off the battlefield.

Bulletin Board at Quaker House

Bulletin Board at Quaker House

In a recent newspaper interview about his work, Chuck said, “There’s a real and increasing gap between the military in America and the rest of America…I’ve watched it deepen over the years, and it’s a very dangerous tendency.”

Over the years, Quaker House has been a focal point for local anti-war organizing, always with a strong emphasis on supporting the troops.  Chuck has been “in the orbit” of War Resisters League  since 1970, and an early staff member of the WRL magazine WIN in its earlier incarnation. He encourages peace activists who are accustomed to taking stands in “safe haven, liberal strongholds” to travel to Fayetteville and experience firsthand the challenges of organizing in a military and militarized town.As we continue our search for tactics and strategies for organizing in the Southeast we count on input from the Chuck Fagers we’ve met.

In our next post we’ll review some of the ideas that we’ve collected so far and begin to frame them into ways to organize possible training events and regional gatherings.