Monthly Archives: August 2011

Portland: Veteran Organizing and Economic Justice

This past week, WRL organizers Kimber Heinz and Ali Issa attended the Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace 2011 conventions. In addition to attending workshops on the GI resistance movement now, as well as building relationships with veterans who were present at a leadership and power/privilege trainings,  both Ali and Kimber took part in workshops that are part of WRL’s ongoing collaboration with members of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

IVAW Board Member and Videographer Joyce Wagner and Field Organizer Ali Issa

Ali Issa co-led a workshop with IVAW board member and videographer Joyce Wagner entitled ‘Reparations from the Grassroots: Supporting the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Movement and Alternative Reconciliation Projects.’ At this workshop, the participants discussed what ‘reparations and reconciliation’ mean to them. We then moved to snapshots of already existing projects such as Joyce’s drawing and story-telling work with an Iraqi refugee in Pittsburgh, Ali’s original reports on the Iraqi nonviolent protest movement, as well as the video interview of shoe thrower’s brother and organizer Uday al-Zaidi, created jointly by Ali and Joyce. In addition, students with the Iraqi Student Project–an initiative to provide Iraqi refugees with college educations in the US–spoke about some of their experiences and how they understood reconciliation. Finally, the almost all-veteran participants discussed next steps for future projects and how they might strengthen IVAW’s reparations committee.

National Committee member Clare Bayard and Organizing Coordinator Kimber Heinz

Kimber presented at a well-attended workshop with the organizers of the current GI coffeehouses. Before coming to the IVAW convention, one of the veteran organizers at Coffee Strong, based walking distance from the gates of Ft. Lewis, WA, had planned to leave for grad school in the Fall. After the IVAW leadership training and strategic planning discussions between the GI coffeehouses (the other GI coffeehouse being Under the Hood Cafe outside Ft. Hood, TX), that organizer decided to stay at Coffee Strong to build up the momentum of Operation Recovery and the resilience of the GI coffeehouse movement in the U.S. Kimber joined with the folks at Coffee Strong to talk about the rebirth of GI Voice, a veteran and servicemember-led media project that will amplify the voices of people in the military on issues including war, trauma, and GI-led organizing against war and occupation. GI Voice will allow for soldiers across the country to hear from each other about their experiences In the military and ask questions about things like finding good healthcare advice or legal representation, their right to disseminate lefty literature on base, or what to do if they’ve gone AWOL. The GI Voice website will be relaunched in October, and we need volunteers around the country to help us work on it! If you have basic web skills and are interested in working with veterans and servicemembers to build our collective power both in and outside the military to end war and occupation, contact kimber@warresisters.org.

Members of WRL Portland as well as WRL affiliates Recruiter Watch and Washington Truth in Recruiting also participated in the conventions by tabling and volunteering throughout the weekend.

Ali also met up with organizers with the Rural Organizing Project to discuss their use of WRL and the South Asia Solidarity Initiative’s War Economy curriculum this coming September 7th through October 7th, also known as ‘Decade of War Awareness Month.’ This curriculum aims to foreground the experiences and leadership of those most effected by budget cuts in the related struggle against militarism. It also hopes to add strength and capacity to campaigns that are already going on, by showing for instance, how Chase Bank, or a local politician, is involved in profiting off of war, which may help in efforts to further delegitimize them [see this link, and this link.]  Stay tuned to this blog for the curriculum’s launch and for reports on economic justice and community organizations that have used it to link issues and build new strategies to take down all forms of war.

Digging into the Operation Recovery Campaign

Check out this post from Operation Recovery organizers who have been working hard down at Ft. Hood in Texas. To get plugged in to working with the current GI Coffeehouses, including Under the Hood Cafe near Ft. Hood, contact WRL Organizing Coordinator, Kimber Heinz at kimber@warresisters.org.

By Nicole Baltruses, Civilian Soldier Alliance. 

Killeen, TX- It’s hot. The days are long and filled to the brim. The gears are turning. The people are moving. We are building. The strategy is evolving. We are all learning. We are all growing. We are changing each other as we transform ourselves.

I came to this base town to support service members’ right to heal. I wanted to meet service members where they’re at, and Fort Hood is one of the best places to do it.

Digging into the Operation Recovery Campaign

By Nicole Baltrushes, Civilian Soldier Alliance. July 28, 2011

Killeen, TX- It’s hot. The days are long and filled to the brim. The gears are turning. The people are moving. We are building. The strategy is evolving. We are all learning. We are all growing. We are changing each other as we transform ourselves.

I came to this base town to support service members’ right to heal. I wanted to meet service members where they’re at, and Ft. Hood is one of the best places to do it. Ft. Hood in Killeen is the largest US military installation in the country, with over 75,000 active duty service members; half of which are deployed at any given time. I arrived in the middle of July, the 1st Cavalry, 1st Brigade had started deploying to Iraq and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was beginning to return from a year-long deployment.

I joined up with the Operation Recovery Deployment Team- a group of Veteran and civilian organizers within the Operation Recovery Campaign. This campaign aims to stop the deployment of traumatized troops and support service members right to heal from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

Between 20% to 50% of all service members deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan have suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This means between 350,000 to 900,000 Iraq and Afghanistan service members have suffered or are suffering from PTSD.1

In 2007, the VA reported Military Sexual Trauma (MST) rates of 22% among female veterans registered with the VA.2

Suicide rates among active-duty troops, are twice as high as that of the civilian population, and veterans with PTSD are 6 times more likely to attempt suicide.3

There is clearly an epidemic of mental health issues within the military and still the Department of Defense is not following its own regulations about these issues. Someone has to force them to implement these changes.

“If soldiers don’t feel empowered to hold their commands accountable to regulations regarding these issues, no one will,” said Malachi Muncy, an Operation Recovery Organizer and Veteran of the Texas Army National Guard. Malachi deployed to Iraq twice and has been working with other IVAW resident organizers to build power in the ranks of active duty soldiers at Fort Hood to stand up for their right to heal.

As a member of Civilian Soldier Alliance (CivSol), an ally organization to Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and a partner in their veteran-led Operation Recovery Campaign, I came to Fort Hood to be part of this movement and to support the work that was already underway. I came to learn more about transformational organizing and to better understand my role in this struggle.

Five days a week, I worked with the Operation Recovery Deployment Team doing outreach to active duty soldiers. We would pile into a car and go out to places where active duty soldiers gather and ask them what issues they are facing. We pass out flyers about the Operation Recovery Campaign and Under the Hood Cafe and we ask questions. We want to listen more than to talk. We ask about their experiences with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Military Sexual Trauma, and Traumatic Brain injury. We ask about access to health care.  We ask about their concerns, their questions. We ask what they think needs to change.

We, as civilians, are lucky to get the chance to have these conversations with active duty soldiers. As Lori Hurlebaus, CivSol resident organizer explained ; “We get to talk to the people in the best position to imagine solutions because they have the most intimate experience with the problems.”

Here in Killeen, we are working in conjunction with the Under the Hood Café. Since 2008 Under the Hood Café has been a place for soldiers to gather, relax, and speak freely about the wars and military. During the Vietnam War, GI Coffee Houses were havens for free speech, GI rights counseling, and places nurturing change and resistance. Killeen was home to one of those GI Coffeehouses, the Oleo Strut, which opened it’s doors on July 4, 1968 just a few blocks away from where Under the Hood Café is located. Now we are working with a new generation of military veteran organizers to build this coffee house into a space where active duty GIs and veterans can share their stories with each other. We are creating safe spaces to vent, to rage, and to turn those experiences into action.

In the evenings, we bring this safe space to peoples homes.  We do follow up visits with people that are interested in sharing more of their stories. I spoke to one service member who has been dealing with PTSD for several years, trying to carve out time to seek the help he needed while being stigmatized at work for his struggle.  These are the stories of struggle we need to give voice to by listening, documenting them, and sharing them with our own communities outside of Killeen.

As civilians, one of the most important functions we can serve is being an open ear. We are here to listen and support. Paulo Friere writes in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people which engages him in their struggle than by a thousand actions in their favor without trust.” We are here to build that trust by connecting with active duty soldiers. Our individual work across the country is strengthened by our collective efforts here.

By participating in this outreach work we, as civilians, gain skills we can bring back home. We gain familiarity and confidence communicating with active duty soldiers. We gain experience with the practicalities of outreach to active duty service members. We develop deeper trust and respect for and with the community we are working with. And, most importantly, we are inspired by the potential for personal and collective transformation that is built into our work and in the spaces we hold together.

The weekly GI Rights training and free Barbeque that is hosted at Under the Hood Cafe on Thursdays is another opportunity to transform the space and ourselves. This past week the event brought us all together as a community of organizers as we prepared the food, cleaned, made signs and final outreach blitz to get people out. The evening transformed from screen-printing workshop to conversations about the rights and options of AWOL soldiers, to a musical performance by myself, to a porch jam session, and then back to screen printing.
I watched as one of the active duty soldiers who has become interested in Under the Hood Cafe went from a conversation with one of our veterans about GI rights, to reading Winter Soldier, to eating ribs, to playing guitar, to helping with the screen printing. His ease and comfort here was clear. Something is starting to grow here. We’ve just got to keep giving it the support it needs. I am eager to see what kind of fruit it bears.

We came here for our own mix of personal and political reasons, but we all came with the hope to grow. We came to Killeen to learn more about the day-to-day work that lay ahead, ourselves, and our stake in it. As L.t., Civilian Soldier Alliance member from Portland , put it,  “I want to keep growing and becoming more useful. Being in Killeen provides a transformative space that will form that growth.”

After all, what better way to figure these things out than to dive right in and start building a sanctuary of rebellion in the belly of the beast?

Nicole Baltrushes is a Civilian Soldier Alliance member from Chicago who has been working in her own community to break down the disconnect between our wars and everyday life. She is active in the military family community helping to build support for everyone affected by war. Nicole visited Under the Hood Café as a guest organizer in July, 2011.

Photos by Laura “LT” Taylor

1. Seal, K. H., Bertenthal, D., Maguen, S., Gima, K., Chu, A., & Marmar, C. R. (2008). “Getting beyond “Don’t ask; don’t tell”: An evaluation of US Veterans Administration post-deployment mental health screening of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.” American Journal of Public Health, 98, 714–720. See also “Comparisons of PTSD rates” Journal of Traumatic Stress-Volume 23, Issue 1, Feb, 2010 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jts.20486/pdf

2.  Kimerling R, Gima K, Smith MW, Street A, & Frayne S. (2007). The Veterans Health Administration and military sexual trauma. American Journal of Public Health, 97(12), 2160-2166.

3. “Suicide and PTSD”, Department of Veterans Affairs, http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/ptsd-suicide.asp, Armen Keteyian “Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans”, CBS News, November 13 2007, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/11/13/cbsnews_investigates/main3496471.shtml and Mark Thompson “Invisible Wounds: Mental Health and the Military” CNN, August 22 2010, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2008886,00.html

“The Flavor of Freedom” . . . and War: Day of Honey by Annia Ciezadlo

[The WRL blog is excited to feature a book review by Jeanne Strole, co-director of the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, with which the War Resisters League shares a long history, as well as the building at 339 Lafayette St. in Manhattan.]

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War by Annia Ciezadlo (2011)

Review by Jeanne Strole

Annia Ciezadlo is a self-described “Polish-Greek-Scotch-Irish mutt from working-class Chicago…..who curses like a sailor.” She says she will “eat anything, from tongue to tripe to grilled lamb testicles…a delicacy in Lebanon.”

Mohamad is a Shiite Muslim born in Beirut then sent to live with family in Jackson Heights, Queens, when he was 10, to escape the civil war in Lebanon. He’s not a talker but she says “he’ll listen quietly, then eviscerating with one perfect sentence.” The list of foods Mohamed will not eat is lengthy, and his picky eating habits are notorious, so much so that it is his family’s favorite running joke.

Two transplanted New Yorkers with not much in common, but both reporters on the New York City beat.

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War, Ms. Ciezadlo’s first book, is the story of their friendship, their unlikely romance and eventual marriage. It wends its way through the first five years of their lives together.

The book opens in a moment shortly after 9-11 and a ride to Queens with a cabbie she describes as “an endangered species, among the few white, native-born cab drivers left in New York. Meaty, middle-aged, face like a potato.” He complains to Ms. Ciezadlo that all his Arab and Muslim fellow New Yorkers have suddenly become al-Qaeda. She listens and then replies adamantly that her boyfriend is Arab, as are many of her friends, and that none of them are al-Qaeda. This silences the cab driver — never an easy feat. He thinks about it for a moment then gently retreats to a neutral topic: food. “You know that place Sahadi’s?” he says “Y’ever been there? They got great food in there, yeah. Hummus, falafel, you know. Boy, that stuff is pretty good. You ever try it?”

Thus she introduces the complicated themes woven through her memoir: love, food, family, friends, clashes of culture, prejudice and war’s profound effects on the everyday lives of civilians.

Ms. Ciezadlo is enthralled by all aspects of food….preparing it, eating it, sharing it, and researching its provenance. She writes at length about the history of food in the Middle East, home to the oldest known permanent human settlements and the oldest archaeological evidence of cooking. She includes well-researched back stories on, and recipes for, the dishes she comes to cherish most.

When Mohamed is made Mid-East bureau chief at his job for the local daily paper, Newsday, his first assignment is covering the war in Iraq. They decide to marry and, after some time spent in Beirut with Mohamed’s family, they embark to Baghdad on a working honeymoon as war correspondents.

Ms. Ciezadlo’s first eating experiences in Iraq consist of disastrous, ill-prepared hotel food, which only make her determined to uncover the real food story of Iraq. She begins by asking people she meets to recommend dishes. Everyone tells her the same thing: she needs to try masquf, a kind of carp called a barbel that is fished from the Tigris River then slow roasted for one hour over a wood fire.

The Iraqis she meets equate the dish with a time when people would gather in cafes and restaurants along the Tigris in the evenings, before Saddam Hussein and before the U.S. Occupation. “There is a phrase Iraqis were always using: the flavor of freedom. For a lot of Baghdadis, that flavor was masquf. It was more than just a fish, or a way of preparing it; the ritual of masquf embodied a vanished place and time and way of life.” The fate of this dish and its place in the Iraqi memory served as a primer for understanding what decades of repression and war had cost the Iraqi people.

Her time in Iraq and Lebanon is spent collecting people, stories and foods. Her perspective is focused on how people cope with the erosion of freedom and safety and strive to keep living their lives. One of her first stories is not about car bombs or troop movements but about an Iraqi family driving around war torn Baghdad in search of a birthday cake for their young daughter. She never editorializes, but her anger and frustration when describing the fates suffered by her friends in the war zones is palpable.

During the height of the Israeli bombing of South Lebanon, she describes the government going into its “crisis plan”, in other words, shutting down, and leaving thousands of internally displaced civilians without help. The role of attending to people fleeing the South and destroyed parts of Beirut is taken up by an ad hoc assortment of individuals and civic groups. Medical students offer free basic health care to refugees crowded into Beirut’s few open spaces. Local cafe owners keep their doors open day and night to shelter and feed their neighbors.

When the Israeli bombing gives way to sectarian militia violence in the streets of Beirut, some merchants brave the worst of it to remain open, serving their neighborhoods. One merchant she knows, a local ghanouj, cheese maker, stayed open selling cheese during particularly heavy fighting. She asks him why people would pick that moment, during a firefight, to decide they must have cheese. The merchant smiles and answers “Because they think they will never be able to taste it again.”

The book is shocking and sad in places yet riotously funny in others. Ms. Ciezadlo’s description of the transformation she undergoes when wearing a hijab is second only to the vaudeville-worthy exchanges with her mother-in-law, Umm Hassane, as she learns how to cook Lebanese food. An early lesson involves making Batata wa Bayd, a dish of onions, potatoes and eggs where timing and the order of ingredients is everything. Yet when she asks Umm Hassane how long the potatoes should cook with the onions before adding the eggs, her mother-in-law answers, visibly annoyed, “Until they are ready!”

In the end, Annia Ciezadlo has brought to the reader a funny, intelligent book about food as a guide to navigating the complexities of relationships and culture in good times and in bad. She has also written something very unique, a detailed account of the lives of everyday people coping in war zones.

Jeanne Strole is an artist and social justice activist living in New York City. She is currently a co-director of the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute.