From Chicago to St. Paul - Witnesses Against War Head Towards the RNC

Story by patspen/photos by mikasi

“War is an ugly thing,” said Mike Miles of Luck, Wisconsin, “and many people get displaced as a result. We've displaced ourselves to be part of this effort.”

Miles, a nonviolence activist, was speaking of Witness Against War, a protest that involves a march from Chicago, Illinois to St. Paul, Minnesota. Marchers left Chicago on July 12 and expect to reach St. Paul, Minnesota - the site of the Republican National Convention - on August 30. They will remain for the duration of the convention in hopes of raising awareness of sentiment against the Iraq War and an effort to keep the Wisconsin National Guard group, the Red Arrow, home rather than being deployed to Iraq again in 2009.

The marchers were an eclectic group involving teachers, writers, ministers, activists, musicians, students, an Iraq War veteran and a pediatric physical therapist. Ages range from the early 20's to mid 50's. The group is making the trek largely on foot wherever possible, staying overnight in volunteer's homes along the way and camping out where necessary. Some members, like Heléne Hedberg of Sweden, won't be able to complete the entire march (Hedberg must return to school in Sweden before the march ends). Others will be part of march from beginning to end.

According to marcher Kathy Kelly, “One of the ways to stop a 'next' war is to continue telling the truth about this war.” Kelly has spent years doing just that. Author, organizer and activist, she has spent time in Iraq, during the early days of the war and three times subsequent to that. She and her organization have provided medical and humanitarian relief in Iraq as well as in Amman, Jordan; Beirut; and southern Lebanon. Co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness, Kelly is also co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, the group in charge of Witness Against War.

When the march reached Racine, Wisconsin, it's members hosted a rally at the Siena Center on July 18, where Kelly was a featured speaker. Urging the audience as well as the marchers to “keep going, stay strong!”, Kelly related several stories, including one about an Iraqi mother who managed to get almost all of her family out of Amman, but who was unable to get her teenage son out as well. Teenagers are highly suspected of being terrorists and her son had to be left behind with relatives. Nearly a year later, Kelly reported, his mother had a call from him, begging her to get him out as well, insisting, “but I am your son! I am your son!”

She said that the boy's relatives had pointed out that he could make $300 a month, a good sum by local standards, by signing up with the US military, but the boy had refused. This, said Kelly, left him open to being rounded up at random as a terrorist. However, the news wouldn't be all bad. At least in jail, he could be assured of getting three square meals a day. “There have been 828 youngsters rounded up as security risks,” Kelly told the group of 80, assembled to hear her speak. “But conditions are better inside jail, with school and soccer.” She told them of a commander at the jail who said that his aim was to make everyone happier to pick up a book, rather than a gun. “That would be a nice goal,” she added with a smile, “for every ROTC in Wisconsin.”

Miles brought the group's efforts closer to home in his presentation. “We've thrown ourselves at this war in all sorts of ways,” he told the crowd. “You can go to Baghdad, but meeting your community over the water cooler, that's most likely what's going to turn this thing around.”

He also pointed out, in his talk, that “There was no Gulf War One and Gulf War Two. It was all one war. We haven't just had a five year anniversary, but a 17-year anniversary. The economic sanctions that went on after the first war were just a form of the oldest kind of warfare, siege warfare.”

Miles, whose family has its own recording studio, entertained the group by playing them a few songs. “Cryin's over, cryin's done,” he sang. “Cryin's over and we're all one.” His second song was equally well-received, “I Oughtta Know More Than I know”.

Miles also told the crowd about the bus that follows the group throughout the march, in case of emergency. “Angels hover around it all the time,” he said. “We parked in Chicago (at the beginning of the march) and the walkers took off, and then the transmission went out. We looked around and we found a heavy duty truck bone yard that hadn't existed six months beforehand. It was run by a guy who was out of work doing home construction, but we called him and he said 'bring it in'. And two days later, it was OK.!”

He also mentioned meeting the cousin of Hans and Sophie Schell, two members of the White Rose, an German anti-Hitler group from WWII. “I asked her how she would compare these two governments, Hitler's and ours, then and now. She said, it's the same.”

Paul Melling, an Iraq War veteran who joined Iraq Veterans Against the war while he was still serving in Iraq, also spoke, asking the crowd, “Who's telling you that if we leave it will all fall into chaos? It's the same people who told you we would be greeted with flowers!” He also posed another question: “What do you think would happen if some other country came into the US and had armed convoys running through our streets? We'd get our own arms and roadside bombs, wouldn't we?”

In an interview, Melling said he'd joined the army originally to “help the human situation, to help the community and protect the system that advertises on TV. But when I was deployed, I learned that the war has nothing to do with serving people.” He found and signed up with Iraq Veterans Against the War while still serving in Iraq. After leaving Iraq, Melling earned an associates degree in network administration.

“My family is fairly happy about what I do now,” he said. “They were not happy when I went into the army. They didn't encourage it, but they didn't object.” He is encouraged by “the people I've met here. So many good people, awesome, all kinds of the same kinds of common experiences, going together.”

Another student, Hedberg, comes from a far different background. A Human Rights major at her college in Sweden, Hedberg works at an internship in a southern ghetto of Stockholm called Vårberg. She was charged with started an after-school child care program. “I didn't know there were that many Iraq refugees in our area, but it was highly populated. My main group is Iraqi youth. We see up to 50 every week.”

Her group basically started as an after-school program, but expanded to include weekends as well. “We offer sports, games and just hanging out among friends.” She met Kelly at a Human Rights symposium. “We e-mailed afterward about what I did in Stockholm and I asked if I could come to Chicago and observe, so she invited me.” Once in the Chicago area, in addition to being the “animator of a blogging community”, she joined the march.

“I was most impressed with the grassroots organization,” she said, “seeing how local folks join us in the mission of creating awareness.” She mentioned being impressed with one woman she met, “Patty,”, who she calls “quite amazing.”

“She just pitched right in, asking, can I help tomorrow, and then showing up with the most awesome lunch the next day. She's a teacher who brings peace and justice learning to her class. But she stopped everything and did an evening meal for us, and then breakfast and she camped with us. I was very impressed by that.”

When she returns home, Hedberg said that one of the lessons she wants to take with her for her friends will be “the enthusiasms; the hope and fire in that hope, and connecting with other people in that way.”

“I feel that I'm doing this very much for the kids I'm working with (in Sweden),” she said. “Their feeling of displacement, the ongoing violence, this can't be resolved in Iraq. The war needs to end so children can stop carrying the stain of violence and hate.”

During her speech, Kelly made reference to an Irish trial which took place before 2003 involving a group of activists that had deliberately inflicted over $2,000 in damage to a warplane. Their defense centered on the fact that they believed that the greatest pacifist was Jesus. The defense, a Mr. Nix, read the jury the Sermon on the Mount and then talked about walking one day and seeing children chasing ducks and ducks chasing children and realizing that, while this was going on, children were being bombed at a canal in Lebanon. A group of local Lebanese children were swimming at a canal when it was bombed. Kelly told the group, “Parents were screaming, 'There are only children here!' He (Nix) asked the jury then, 'Would you not try, if you could, to stop a missile from hitting a child?' And in doing this, Mr. Nix put us all on trial.”

“I remember Nix asking, what will rise us?” she said, and then answered the question herself.

“I think it is love. And in our rising, we can say we believe in the law of love, and in those who taught us in our youngest days.”

From Chicago to St. Paul - Witnesses Against War Head Towards the RNC From Chicago to St. Paul - Witnesses Against War Head Towards the RNC From Chicago to St. Paul - Witnesses Against War Head Towards the RNC From Chicago to St. Paul - Witnesses Against War Head Towards the RNC From Chicago to St. Paul - Witnesses Against War Head Towards the RNC From Chicago to St. Paul - Witnesses Against War Head Towards the RNC

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Wisconsin trio accused of necrophilia because corpse did not give permission

Should anyone ask me why I want to move back to Wisconsin I now have a newsclip that captures it all... 

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin law bans sex with dead bodies, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in reinstating charges against three men accused of digging up a corpse so one of them could have sex with it.

The court waded into the grisly case after lower court judges ruled nothing in state law banned necrophilia. Those decisions prompted public outrage and a push by a state lawmaker to make sex with a corpse a crime.

After reading the story, it seems plain the justices had decided on their ruling prior to hearing the facts - the logic here is just too tortured to be actual logic (see below). That said, I have to admit to agreeing to the ruling if not to the reasoning.

If you don't have time to read this story here are all the additional facts you ought know -

  • the accused targeted this particular grave because the the deceased's obit picture in prior week's paper. apparently one of the brothers thought she was hot
    the trio stopped as a nearby WalMart on the way to the grave, not to buy shovels but to purchase condoms
    the lads were able to dig down to the girl's vault, but they couldn't get it open. This means they were not just perverts, but they were inept perverts
    the Wisconsin judges ruled that the three could be prosecuted not under necrophilia laws (there are no such laws in the state) but rather under sexual assault laws. How? According to Justice Patience Roggensack, state law bans sex with anyone who does not give consent "whether a victim is dead or alive at the time."
    while it is not mentioned in this story, I can't help but mention that the twins are the sons of a Methodist minister.

Those interested in the life of the deceased victim should go here.

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Anbar suicide bombing fatalities - 30 civilians, three Marines, and the truth one photographer showed

[note: The word "fired" in this article is used very informally in service to the employment analogy later in the piece. It refers to the fact that the Marines chose to rescind Zoriah's access and unembed him due to a blog entry and some photographs he posted.

Please know that Zoriah was never actually hired by or paid for by the Marines. As with many other journalists he was simply given access to certain areas. My apologies to Zoriah, his staff and any confused readers. I will be more careful and less stupid in the future.]

The truth is always one of the casualties of war - whether you support a war or are against it this is true. In this case, showing more “truth” than was deemed prudent led Zoriah - a noted war and disaster photographer embedded with Marines in Anbar – to being effectively “fired.”

A few hours after posting my story on the suicide bombing in Anbar Province, I was woken up by a young marine who took me to receive a phone call.  A high ranking Public Affairs Officer told me that they were requesting that I remove my blog post immediately.  I asked on what grounds, as media rules state that wounded and killed soldiers may be portrayed in images as long as their name tags and identifiable features are not shown.  I made very sure my images followed those guidelines, and questioned a large number of soldiers on base to see if they could find anything at all that would identify the dead.  I did this primarily out of respect for the families.

After the post was online, I was told that the Marine Corps would not allow even the pants or shoes of a injured or killed Marine to be depicted in images. This was a rule I had never been told or even heard of.  I refused to remove the blog post.  It seemed insane to me that the Marines would embed a war photographer and then be upset when photographs were taken of war.

A few minutes later my embed was terminated...

One of my biggest complaints about war coverage in the U.S. the war is that we pedal it in a very PG, essentially kid-friendly fashion - the pictures we get, the stories we hear are sanitized and made sterile so as not to alarm the meek or the frighten the children. In short, war is to be regarded as a video game - everyone plays hard, nobody really gets hurt and if you do get whacked, hey just reload the last save point and get back to the killing.

I truly labored with the decision to post these images and I still do.  But in my heart of hearts I know that people need to see and feel the reality of this horrible situation.  How can things change if all that comes out of Iraq are sanitized, white-washed images of war designed for mainstream media outlets who focus on making money, not on the quality and truth in what they report?

The danger with letting people see and hear what is really going is that we are put in danger of having popular support go soft or of turning people against turn against the war. Hearing there was a suicide bombing that killed three soldiers, two interpreters and 30 civilians is just plain sad, but having to drink in the sight of bloodied uniforms, the limp corpses of old men and little kids and blown off body parts is quite another thing all together.

Managing the truth - "spin" that is - then is a very important job for those managing the war. Managing the message, after all manages the opinion.

I have done everything I can to post images of Marines that are not in any way identifiable.  I photographed to the best of my ability -- hoping to capture images that speak the truth yet capture the horror and senselessness of these kinds of attacks in a dignified, emotional, and artistic way. I have made sure there are ample warnings that the post is very graphic and very disturbing.  I put it on a separate page that contains even more warnings and buffer text and images before the graphic content is displayed to avoid anyone stumbling on it by accident.

Good managers make sure "employees" tow the company line, maintain morale and keep a tight lip about what is actually going on. Questions are referred, are always referred, to the public information people, those who know what not to say, what to say and how to say it so that the proper picture is painted. It is a simple fact that those with loose lips must be fired.

Please know that my intent is to show the true nature of the abominations of war in hopes that this will deter others from committing or accepting senseless acts of violence.

Sanitizing images is a great disservice, not just to the victims of the violence but to the men and women who are sent into the thick of the violence. By censoring the imagery we insult the soldiers by making the war they are fighting seem clean and easy. The full impact of the burdens they bare - from lost limbs to PTSD to simple guilt is lost on us.

Similarly we miss the scope of the victories they achieve in battles raged, thousands of miles from we arm-chair generals and pundits who idly debate cost and benefit and collateral damage.

To the families of the Marines, the interpreters, the Iraqi police, and the civilians killed in the attack: you have my deepest condolences.  These men were attending a city council meeting and working together to better their community.  Something terrible happened to them when they were in the midst of doing a good thing.

[emphasis mine - Mikasi]

In short, keeping the truth from us keeps us from making fully informed decisions and opinions. But sanitizing the truth also short-changes our veterans by veiling their daily reality. We, the uninvolved, never get to see why we should laud them nor why we should help them once they return from tour.

Click here to see the blog post that got Zoriah “fired.”

Click here to hear a phone interview concerning this issue with Zoriah by Ernesto Arce for Pacifica Public Radio.

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