Co-ordinator Trip Report - Boston
22-25 July, 2004
From: Bruce Gagnon
This report covers the period of July 22-25 as I drove to Boston to attend two events that were organized to coincide with the Democratic National Convention (DNC).
On July 22-23 I attended the annual convention of Veterans for Peace, an organization that I proudly belong to. I led a workshop entitled Nuclear Hypocrisy: Preemption & Empire Building along with longtime AFSC staffer Joseph Gerson who works in nearby Cambridge. The convention, with 220 advance registrations, swelled to over 400 attendees as veterans from WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Iraq wars came from all over the nation. I attended a series of great workshops over the course of the two days I was there but one of the most moving was Iraq Vets Sound Off. Six men and women who have recently returned from service in the Iraq war theatre impressed us with their heartfelt stories of personal transformation as a result of being a witness to the insanity of the war.
One of the most moving for me was Jimmy Massey, a Marine Staff Sergeant, who was recently discharged after nearly 12 years of service. He told us the incredible story of being part of a squad that repeatedly killed innocent civilians. According to Massey, "We were pretty much rolling death." He began by describing how he witnessed the planning for the war at least six months before the actual U.S. invasion of Iraq. Marine commanders told him that the Ramallah oil fields were the "prized jewel."
As his Marine unit entered Iraq they came upon empty Iraqi military bases with weapons laying on the road. "We shot it (the empty base) up with everything we had and we were laughing and having a good time. The Iraq's let us in the country, we didn't take it."
Upon entering Baghdad his unit came upon an unarmed pro-Saddam demonstration and his unit killed several of the demonstrators. "I knew that we caused the insurgency to be pissed off because they had witnessed us executing innocent civilians." Massey told us how the U.S. embedded reporter, Ron Harris, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that there was a "ferocious battle" between his unit and the Iraqi military, but it never happened. The reporter was writing what the Marines wanted him to write.
Massey, showing the signs of severe depression for which he now takes much medication, told how his mental state began to decline when an Iraqi man sat on the ground one day and in near perfect English asked him "Why did you kill my brother?" After that Massey tried to put himself in situations where he would be killed because "I didn't want to carry the burden anymore." He soon became belligerent with his military superiors, telling them how he really felt about the war and quickly enough they asked for his resignation for fear that he would infect the unit he was a leader of. "We are committing genocide" Massey told us as he shared how the U.S. military is firing depleted uranium shells into buildings ensuring that the toxic debris would leave a wave of contamination in the country for years to come.
When I arrived in Boston the local papers were covering the story about the city's denial of protest groups request to have a rally outside the Fleet Center when the DNC would meet. Instead the city proposed a "designated free-speech zone" be created nearby. One journalist has described the designated space as follows: The zone is large enough only for 1,000 persons to safely congregate and is bounded by two chain link fences separated by concrete highway barriers. The outermost fence is covered with black mesh that is designed to repel liquids. Much of the area is under an abandoned elevated train line. The zone is covered by another black net which is topped by razor wire. There will be no sanitary facilities in the zone and tables and chairs will not be permitted. There is no way for the demonstrators to pass written materials to the convention delegates.
One of the workers building the "free-speech" area was quoted in the Boston Globe calling it an "internment camp." By the time the word got out around about the controversial space most activists decided to boycott the protest.
The obvious irony is that Boston is popularly known as The Freedom Trial or The Cradle of Liberty. It was Boston and the famous Faneuil Hall where protest meetings were held under the leadership of Sam Adams and others who were in opposition to the British Empire's Sugar Tax of 1764 and Stamp Act of 1765 that ignited the revolution. Anti-slavery advocates held numerous rallies in the 1840-1850s inside Faneuil Hall featuring the likes of William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglas. Preservation of the union and women's suffrage events were also held inside the hall. The grounds around Faneuil Hall are now overflowing with tourists, but the revolutionary spirit has been reduced to just another consumer product.
Not to be outdone, the Veterans for Peace held an evening rally in Faneuil Hall on July 23. The words "Liberty and Union Now and Forever" are permantently emblazoned on the stage under a huge painting of early revolutionary leaders meeting in the hall. Among the speakers this evening were Howard Zinn and Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg, famous for releasing the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times during the Vietnam War, told the packed hall that "We don't expect and demand courage from people in government. We need more of it and we need it now!
On July 24-25 I moved to the Boston Social Forum that was being held at nearby University of Mass-Boston. Several thousand people had come from all over the country to participate in over 500 workshop and panel discussions on almost every progressive issue imaginable. I had been invited to participate in one panel entitled The Dangers of Nuclear War & The Imperative of Abolition. In addition I held two workshops during the forum on space weapons issues. The place was packed with organizations tabling and I can't remember when I saw such a diversity of people and issues all in one place.
While in between my own events I attended one workshop on community organizing being facilitated by an group of low-income women fighting to stop cutbacks in social spending. They spoke about how corporate profiteering destroys networks of people as jobs move out of communities to other parts of the world. Movement building becomes extremely difficult when you have a transitory society where every "man" is on his own -- a dog eat dog culture. The women talked about how creating our own cultures, celebrating our diversity and spirituality, have to be relied upon to ground people so they can then begin to become politically active again.
The women also spoke about the need for our organizing strategies to be multi-dimensional. Many times people ask, "What is the one thing we can do?" In order to ultimately defeat the overwhelming power and control of corporate America we must do many things at once that in the end overwhelm the system causing its breakdown and thus opening the door to fundamental structural change.
It was a great four days of witnessing the coming together of tremendous people from around the country and around the world. One really special moment for me was to run into Dolores Huerta who I first met in 1978 when she, as Vice-President of the United Farmworkers Union, gave me my entrance interview when I applied to join the staff of the UFW. I was to spend time with her on several occasions while with the UFW, including as a note taker in contract negotiations between the union and the Coca Cola corporation as she led the talks over contract extensions for fruit pickers with the Minute Maid company, owned by Coke. She told me she left the UFW four years ago to create a foundation dedicated to local community organizing.
My next trip takes me to Southern California for a speaking tour on July 29-31 to promote our up-coming Keep Space for Peace Week. If you'd like more details about where I'll be talking please call Randy Ziglar in Santa Monica at (310) 452-0362. On August 7-8 I'll be speaking in Minneapolis, MN and for details you can call Leslie Reindl at (651) 633-4410.
In the meantime, keep working hard and remember that we are not alone.