Posts Tagged elaine brower
Monday July 12, I spent a day in DC Superior Court supporting six anti-war activists on charges that arose from March 20 arrests at the White House while protesting the 7th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Elaine Brower and Matthis Chiroux were found guilty in a bench trial of “failure to obey a police order.” LeFlora Cunningham-Walsh was found guilty of “crossing a police line.” John Gold, Cindy Sheehan, and Jim Veeder were found not guilty of crossing the police line.
There are legal questions involved in the convictions which will likely be appealed. In the course of a permitted, peaceful march, at which symbolic cardboard coffins were left in front of buildings of the Veterans Affairs Offices and Halliburton, marchers dropped about a dozen of the coffins in front of the White House, in the designated “picture postcard” zone where tourists are always allowed, but political protest is not.
The prosecution produced a US Park Police video of the S.W.A.T. team leader Lieutenant Beck announcing, on a barely-audible bullhorn that the protest permit was revoked, and that everyone inside of an arbitrary police line of yellow tape and bike racks had to move. Police already had a continuous line of these bike racks and cops directly in front of the White House fence with plenty of safe space for them to “protect persons and property”, that no one was attempting to challenge.
Where was the emergency or dangerous situation that the prosecution referred to which allegedly gave the park police the right to declare the “permit revoked?” Where was the threat to the area? Elaine Brower, who testified in her own defense, talked of years of opposition to the wars in which her son was deployed. She explained that she lay down on the sidewalk next to the symbolic coffins demanding an end to these illegitimate wars that have so adversely affected those military family members who stood beside her that day crying over the death of their sons. She argued that if tourists can be there at one moment taking photos unimpeded, why can’t a permitted political protest be there at another?
Cindy Sheehan choked up on the stand, recounting her efforts after her son Casey was killed to stop the wars — many miles of marching, thousands of speeches and interviews, her radio show, and even a run for Congress — only to have a new, Democratic Congress and president expand the war in Afghanistan.
These activists all did the right thing in making visible non-violent protest, stepping beyond the bounds of what the government arbitrarily permits, and also refusing to accept any offer of a “plea bargain” in the process leading up to and on the day of the trial. All six defendants stood together in solidarity to demand their right to be heard and that all bogus charges are dismissed. Unfortunately, the end result was that three were ultimately convicted, and three were able to walk away with an acquittal.
That Saturday afternoon in March, Elaine and Matthis were calling on many more of the protesters standing there to join their impromptu action of lying on the sidewalk in front of the White House. If hundreds would have joined in, there likely would have been no arrests and no situation where the six arrested for basically a “traffic violation” were roughed up and held on cement floors in torturous conditions for 50+ hours. Given the max penalty for the infractions were fines, and no jail time, the government clearly was delivering a message that such protest will be riskier and more dangerous. None of them should have been convicted!
Dissent, truth-telling, and daring to speak about why these wars continue, through the Bush regime, escalating into the “change” we should be resisting, has to be our mission. While the Peace of the Action events attracted very few people last week, I applaud Cindy and those who came to protest. I also applaud those that were convicted who could have accepted the plea bargain from the government which ultimately allowed three others to have their charges dismissed.
We need more of this!
We had a lively conference call this past week (apologies to everyone who couldn’t get on or got bumped off due to the number of calls coming in) with people from around the country listening to a conversation between Elaine Brower, leader of WCW, and Josh Steiber, conscientious objector who has been speaking out about being a part of the unit that carried out the now notorious massacre captured in the Wikileaks “Collateral Murder” video. Josh refused to go on that mission and later, as Janis Joplin sang, felt he had “nothing left to lose” after so many atrocities, fighting to get out of the military because he “was so internally torn up that I was at a point that I was willing to do whatever I needed to in order to stop doing these things.”
Now, he is righteously calling out this whole immoral war and using the video to make the point that
such acts were “not isolated incidents” and were “common” during his tour of duty. “After watching the video, I would definitely say that that is, nine times out of ten, the way things ended up,” Steiber was quoted as saying in an earlier press release on the video, “Killing was following military protocol. It was going along with the rules as they are.”
Steiber was not with his unit, who were the soldiers on the ground in the video. He was back at his base with the incident occurred. While not absolving of responsibility those who carried out the killing, Steiber blames the “larger system” of the US military, specifically how soldiers are trained to dehumanize Iraqis and the ROE.
“We have to address the larger system that trains people to respond in this way, or the same thing will probably happen again,” Steiber told Truthout.
Josh Steiber has been speaking out in other places too. Listen to or read his interview with Glenn Greenwald. Elaine asked Josh about how he became a conscientious objector, and how we can get more troops to take that step and resist the military. Josh talked about the responsibility that this society as a whole has for what the US military does and how it does it. Educating people is the key, he said. He talked about the military cadences that troops learn in basic training: songs about killing children and blood flowing. Target practice not on bull’s-eyes, but on the silhouettes of Middle Eastern stereotypes.
For him, it took 2 years before he even found out that conscientious objecting was an option at all.
“There’s a lot of feeling of betrayal, that we can tap into,”
with the troops, he said. To understand the psychology drummed into troops he recommended this video on YouTube, “Die Terrorist Die.” He also recommended that we use the Wikileaks video to show potential recruits what exactly they will be expected to do in the military.
Callers expressed anguish over the situation and the depths of the moral dilemma facing this society. One woman talked about her fears that people are just filtering out the video and that it isn’t necessarily affecting people. Another talked about counter protesting the Tea Party earlier in the day and having conversations with them:
“I don’t fall into this category and probably those of you on the call don’t, but there’s this mentality out there that brutal violence is just a part of humanity and we just have to make sure that it’s OUR brutal violence and no one does it to us.”
She also emphasized how important it is that some troops are speaking out; changing their views, resisting, and leaking these videos.
A Vietnam era veteran on the call said,
“Moments come along that break through the media blackout, like with the photo of the little Vietnamese girl who got napalmed, that give people a taste of the crimes that are being carried out in their names. We have to challenge the troops not to be torturers and murders. Josh talked a lot about betrayal. It’s not the people who betrayed the soldiers it’s the military and the government that betrayed them. The more we can interact with them on that level the more we can break through with them.”
Emma Kaplan underscored this point, responding to the question, “How did the soldiers react after the mission in the video:”
“Josh talks about this in his DN interview – afterwards there’s a process where it sinks in, and they go through a justification in their minds. The point about challenging the troops that Joe made is very important. Troops are thinking people who can change their minds and resist. We have a tremendous responsibility to tell the truth.”
We talked more about the need to go into the morality of the war and the participation in it with soldiers:
“Male bonding forges this brainwashing family structure. It is really difficult. The family structure just constantly reinforces the idea that if you step out of line here that you are betraying your brothers. We have to frame the question in moral terms so that they can truly follow their consciences. The really important thing that WCW is doing is going into high schools and colleges and creating a movement among the youth. Denying the military a section of these kids. Youth can have a tremendous impact among their peers.”
A student from UCSB talked about the speakout they held on their campus earlier that day, and their plans to project the video onto a wall outside on Monday. They also plan to bring the We Are Not Your Soldiers tour to speak before the end of the semester.
The call ended with some more discussion of our plans going forward: the Crimes Are Crimes statement, visible protest such as when General Petraeus comes to NYC later this week, and other ideas people have, for creating video responses to the Wikileaks video, to talking to soldiers.
The We Are Not Your Soldiers tour came up again and again, as a crucial way to impact this situation. One person said,
“It’s not just a point of going to the troops themselves, but making it a question in society at large. Dragging it out into the light of day. This is not just bad apples but what the troops are doing in our name. This is the nature of this war. The more we make this a question in society, that will give the troops who are conflicted air to breathe and room to act.”
Thank you to Josh Steiber and everyone who participated in this call.
By Elaine Brower on OpEdNews
For the last year or so I have been watching the construction of a new “Army Career Center” located a block from my office in downtown Manhattan. Once a week I would pass it and it was always closed and covered with brown paper on the big plate glass windows. It is located in an ideal spot, of course, because the military hires consultants to make sure they get prime real estate to suck up the youth.
Today the Army Career Center had its grand opening, a gala event that packed the center. I was able to make it there, but not until the end of the ceremony, when everyone had pretty much left, except for the Sgt. in charge, Castillo, and the brass. They were sitting around enjoying their food and smiling when I walked into the center. I asked for Sgt. Castillo, and was taken to the back room where he was sitting, along with his commanding officer, and another young soldier. I shook hands all around and introduced myself and told them my son just returned from his third tour of duty.
I recounted his story of joining the Marine Corps and being deployed to Afghanistan, and then to Iraq twice as a reservist. They were very impressed and asked me when did he return, and was he still in the Marines. Yes, I said, he was in the IRR at present, but is a New York City Police Officer as his full time job, which he has been doing for 5 years.
He was deployed twice while he was on the NYPD, and I told them that it was very hard for him to get his life started. They agreed and looked interested in the story.
I asked them about the local schools that they were so strategically placed next to, like the High School down the street, and Borough of Manhattan Community College. I said, “this is a good location for recruiting. You are so close to the schools and students pass your doors all day long. Do you plan on gaining entrance to the schools to do recruiting in the classes?” Sgt. Castillo said that they had asked permission and were awaiting approval, which he didn’t think would be a problem. I thought to myself nor do I, of course. The war machine is more than welcome in our schools, at every level. But I continued. “I work right down the street.” Sgt. Castillo asked where and who I worked for and I told him. He smiled and said “Wow, that’s great.”
I was sitting there in the back office, and then stated “I would like you to know that I am a member of a national organization called ‘Military Families Speak Out’ and it has about 4,000 members who all have loved ones who are serving or served in Iraq and Afghanistan. We oppose the wars vehemently and are doing everything in our power to stop them.”
I thought they would choke on their food at that point. Then I proceeded to say, “Since I work right here, I, along with hundreds of my activist friends, will be your worst nightmare!”
As you could hear a pin drop and confusion spread all over their faces, I continued. “I am so against what you are doing. You strategically placed this recruiting center so that kids who are either coming out of high school with nowhere to go, or those who graduate college in lots of debt and no jobs because of the economy are enticed to join the military.” “You are taking full advantage of the bad economy and sending more of our youth off to die and kill for illegal, immoral and illegitimate wars. You should be ashamed of yourselves and I don’t know how you sleep at night.”
I stood up, took a button off my handbag that I received while protesting at West Point. I said, “This button is for you.” I slammed it on the desk. “I got it when I was protesting at West Point when Obama was giving his “escalation speech.” It demands all troops home now, you can keep it as a reminder.”
At that point I thought they would stand up and escort me out. But they were in such shock, after spending the morning celebrating their existence, to hear that now they would be up against an angry mom, and counter-recruiters, put their small pea brains on overload.
In the new age of Obama, recruiting is a cushy job. This place had its doors open for a few days and already they are touting 11 new recruits. Those who would not fight and die for Bush, will do so under Obama which makes it extremely difficult to convince this generation of youth that joining this imperial military is not only bad for them, it’s bad for humanity.
And so it goes, I know where to have lunch every day now. Getting in the way of the war machine is what I like to do best, and they couldn’t have put this place in a better location, for me anyway!