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Antiwar veterans look ahead

August 24, 2007 | Page 11

IVAW member MARTIN SMITH reports from the VFP/IVAW convention held in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS--More than 400 veterans and antiwar activists, including at least 90 members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), took part in this year's joint Veterans For Peace/IVAW National Convention from August 15-19.

The event brought together the largest gathering of IVAW members to date for its second national convention. In addition to electing its national board, IVAW organized its own workshops at this year's convention.

Discussions centered on implementing a national strategy based on chapter building, counter-recruitment activity, more bus tours to active-duty bases and organizing a send-off for IVAW members at Fort Drum in upstate New York who were recently activated for deployment.

Tod Ensign of Citizen Soldier and several active-duty members from Fort Drum addressed GI resistance and its connection to the newly emerging GI coffeehouse movement. The participants noted that the success of IVAW in organizing around Fort Drum was due in large part to the efforts of activists from the Different Drummer Café, a GI coffeehouse in Watertown, N.Y., a few miles from the base.

Other speakers included David Cortright, author of Soldiers in Revolt; Camilo Mejía, the first active duty soldier to refuse deployment to Iraq; and members of Military Families Speak Out.

What you can do

For news and updates about war resisters and other initiatives by antiwar veterans and active-duty troops, go to the Iraq Veterans Against the War Web site.

The Citizen Soldier Web site is an excellent resource for active-duty soldiers looking for news and advice about resistance.

For an excellent history of the GI rebellion during the U.S. war on Vietnam, read David Cortright's Soldiers in Revolt, republished by Haymarket Books. Camilo Mejía's book, Road from Ar Ramadi, provides an eyewitness account of the brutality inflicted by the U.S. in Iraq--and how Mejía made the decision to take a stand against it.

 

As IVAW executive director Kelly Dougherty said, "The convention went extremely well, with a lot of new members participating, including some who even joined during the conference. We built more bonds between ourselves and are expanding nationally in more parts of the country, with over 22 chapters currently."

Workshops also reflected a sense of the need to take up larger political issues related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dr. Dalia Wasfi, for example, spoke on the apartheid character of Israel's occupation of Palestine. Other workshops took up the nature of imperialism and strategies for counter-recruitment.

When the IVAW discovered that military recruiters were attending an African American job fair at the St. Louis Convention Center a few blocks away, members organized an impromptu counter-recruitment event.

Inside the auditorium, to counter the Army's new recruitment ploy--a multiplayer 3-D video game dubbed "America's Army"--IVAW members fell in formation and chanted, "Iraq veterans, what did we learn? War is not a game!" The action brought cheers from fair attendees, and one veteran asked how to get involved.

The culmination of the national meeting was a march to the St. Louis Gateway Arch where hundreds gathered to demand "Troops out now!" Phil Aliff, a member of the active-duty Army and president of the IVAW Fort Drum chapter, captured the dynamism of the new GI movement when he addressed the crowd.

"We're IVAW, and we're speaking for all the prisoners of conscious who are being held by the military in an illegal occupation of Iraq," Aliff said. "For them, and for the Iraq people, we say, 'Bring us home now.'"

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