Sunday, November 19, 2006

Shut it down.

Five years ago this weekend, I took part in the annual protest against the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia. It was a moving experience in many ways -- a reunion of sorts, and strengthening to be in the company of peacemakers in the war atmosphere after the September 11 attacks. Almost nine thousand people participated, more than the organizers had hoped for under the circumstances.

The local authorities, seizing on the national mood to identify anything dissident with terror and bottle it up, decreed that the usual Saturday speeches and music in the park would have to take place instead inside a baseball stadium miles from the base, where we were guarded by hundreds of police, who checked bags of everyone entering. Many of the cops had done SOA demo duty before, but usually at the perimeter of the park, beyond the range of the speakers. This time they were listening along with everyone who came, all the more so because the wholly peaceful and friendly crowd gave them nothing else to do. By the end it didn't seem like such a smooth move on the part of the Columbus city government: officers were applauding the farmworkers, visibly moved by the testimonies of torture victims, and humming along to 'Guantanamera'.

While we were on our way back to the motel, the U.S. military swept into Kabul, Afghanistan, and the television was filled with nonstop propaganda. The most surreal bit was Laura Bush's pre-filmed segment decrying the oppression of Afghan women.

The Columbus city government had also tried to ban Sunday's funeral procession and protest outside the gates of Ft. Benning, again on "anti-terror" grounds. At the last minute, a federal judge ruled that the years of SOA Watch's persistent and persistently peaceful demonstrations had made the area outside the base a free speech zone, so that the city couldn't even require a permit. In the atmosphere of that moment, it felt like a huge victory for this country's constitutional freedoms and the rule of law. Looking back, it seems even more so.

That judge is the same one who annually gives six-month sentences to those who cross the line onto the base grounds. Those who return to the demonstrations after serving are honored as Prisoners of Conscience, and wear insignia to identify them as such. I was privileged to have traveled to the event that year with a 75-year-old man who'd been to federal prison two years before for crossing the line. It was his first time back at the demonstration. Prison had been hard, and had done nothing to slow the aging process. My companion was beginning to have lapses into dementia, but when he saw Father Roy Bourgeois and several of the friends who'd been arrested with him, he was fully present, and his anxiety seemed to melt away. I'll always treasure the memory of our trip home: we swapped stories of Central American solidarity organizing, had friendly arguments about politics, and, in response to my questions, he shared experiences from his childhood, from his service on a battleship in the second world war, and from his long life of activism.

The November protest is an integral part of an ongoing, year-round campaign to close down the school (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation a few years ago; as the SOA Watchers say: "new name, same shame"). This year Congress came within 15 votes of doing so, and many of those voting to keep it open were not re-elected. Stopping terrorism starts at home; we will shut it down before too many years have passed.


Friday, November 17, 2006

End the war on Iraq

The election results should have sent a clear signal that voters want U.S. troops to leave Iraq. For a day or so, the media got that across. Now, the message is already being muddied as pundits and reporters immerse themselves in more comfortable themes like Congressional infighting. Members of Congress, the administration, and the media need to hear that call clearly, loudly, and repeatedly until the demand is met.

Help make January 27 the largest stop-the-war demonstration ever. Start today to publicize it through your own networks and in your community. Write letters to the editor to publicize the demo and encourage pressure now on your Senators and Congressperson.

The dithering and wishful thinking must end. Bring 'em home.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006


It can be painful to hear, and it too often results in pain for those who tell it. But lately I've had my fill of smoothing things over. At least two people in Iraq are facing up to reality and asking the rest of us to do the same:

An Iraqi citizen:
One angry Shiite man yelled at police officials investigating the scene [of the mass kidnaping at the Education Ministry in Baghdad 14 November]: "Now you will say the militias did this. You will never be brave enough to say policemen did this."
A U.S. soldier:
[W]e are doing no good here. There is nothing we can do at this point to end the fighting. It has become systematic throughout the country. ... now all I want is for us to get out as soon as possible. I do not speak in isolation. Nearly every military and civilian I work with feels the same aimless drift here. ... We all know that this is a fight not worth fighting and with no possible chance for “victory”. ...[T]he best thing for us to do is to pull back. We have no good options and that is the least bad for us. ... [J]ust being here, without much of a goal and knowing that this is near the end is devastating to morale.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Lavender 'Grosso' - Monday garden blogging 3

Seen here against a backdrop of happy Rockbridge County, Lexington, and Buena Vista Democrats celebrating outside our HQ, a sweep of lavender 'Grosso' (Lavandula x intermedia 'Grosso'). This is the variety that's grown by the acre for perfume in Provence, a particularly fragrant form whose deep purple flowers are held on long stalks above the plant in June. The foliage is almost as heavily scented as the blooms. It maintains its good looks all winter; the only work required is a good shearing-back in late March to set the stage for bushy new growth and abundant blooms. We'd have walked through brambles to take this picture; it was just an added pleasure to make our way through this planting, which gave off a heady scent to heighten the giddy mood.

Plant 'Grosso' in neutral, well-drained soil in full sun, and allow it space to breathe. It gets to nearly three feet around at maturity. Site it by a path so that you can enjoy brushing against it every day. I've always loved that fragrance; now it will also remind me of the balmy day we gathered to celebrate the blue wave.

[Faces obscured because I'm posting without asking permission of my fellow Dems. Trust me: we're all grinning ear to ear.]

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Party animals



Sunday, November 05, 2006

La flor mas linda de mi querer

It's election day! Not here -- in Nicaragua. And the Bush regime, filled with operatives from the illegal, terrorist war waged during the 1980s by our government to undermine the twice-elected Sandinista administration, is taking a little time away from efforts to stave off electoral disaster here to do the same thing there. Their idea of disaster is the re-election of Daniel Ortega.

Now, I'm a Jarquin supporter myself (hey, if some norteamericanos get to side publicly with a candidate in another country's elections, we all do). Since being voted out in 1990, Ortega's shown himself to be much more of a politician in the worst sense than any kind of progressive leader. His recent co-governing deal with the right wing proved every bit as corrupt as the (U.S.-blessed) administration it replaced.

But the menacing gestures by our government -- "visits" by Rumsfeld and Ollie North, open threats by the U.S. ambassador of sanctions and blockades like those that hobbled Nicaragua twenty years ago -- are just shameless bullying. And the Bush regime's favored candidate? Ortega's partner in the scummy co-governing pact.

Festivals of democracy.