A look inside Northwest Winter Soldier

June 18, 2008

Eight hundred people turned out May 31 in Seattle for the Northwest Regional Winter Soldier hearing, sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).

The event at Seattle's Town Hall featured several hours of testimony by IVAW members, and stories and speeches by military family members and movement allies. The event culminated in a spirited march through downtown Seattle, with the IVAW leading the way, and a speak-out at Westlake Mall.

Mateo Rebecchi, treasurer of the Seattle IVAW, spoke with Kate Johnson, a member of the Northwest Winter Soldier Coalition that helped build the event, about its importance, how it was built and what it will take to end the war.

AFTER THE recent national Winter Soldier event in Washington, D.C., why did you feel it was important to organize a regional Winter Soldier here in the Northwest?

COMING OUT of D.C., we felt that it was such a positive event to see so many veterans together in one spot, sharing their stories. The way it came across was just really powerful. We thought it was important to get the word out here in the Northwest, because not too many people knew about what was going on in D.C. It was a closed-off event. It wasn't really open to the public.

So what we wanted to do with our Winter Soldier was change it so that people from this area could experience what we experienced--not just the organizations and activists that were invited here, but all the veterans and the citizens of the Northwest, too.

HOW DO you think the event came off?

I WAS very pleased by the event. Just to see all the different faces in the crowd, all the different age groups--it was a really powerful event. I was really happy with the response, and the number and the variety of people who showed up. It really shows that there are people out there willing and interested to listen to what veterans have to say.

WHAT DID the planning and building for the event look like?

GOING INTO it, IVAW pretty much wanted to stick to the basics of the design and format of the past Winter Soldier events.

What you can do

View clips of the video from the Northwest Winter Soldier hearings. The Iraq Veterans Against the War Web site has video and other features from the national Winter Soldier event in March.

You can also get news and updates about war resisters and other initiatives by antiwar veterans and active-duty troops at the IVAW site.

The Citizen Soldier Web site is an excellent resource for active-duty soldiers looking for news and advice about their rights. Soldiers can also contact the GI Rights Hotline Web site, or call 877-447-4487 from the U.S., 202-483-2220 from outside the U.S., or 06223-47506 from Germany.

Dahr Jamail's Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq describes his time in Iraq reporting the other side of the story. Also, see In Praise of Barbarians, a collection of essays on U.S. imperialism and society by Mike Davis.

But we also did a number of things to put a "Northwest twist" on it. We started up the [Northwest Winter Soldier] Coalition, and that was a big part of planning the event, because it helped us reach out to so many more people that we wouldn't have been able to reach out to.

Getting the word out as soon as we did--six weeks in advance--through all the flyering and talking to people was crucial. It helped the event come off so smoothly. In the end, the coalition was a major reason for the success of Northwest Winter Soldier.

IS THIS coalition something you intend to continue?

YES, DEFINITELY. We noticed early on that we had something special here with the high number of people we were able to draw into the coalition.

Early on in the meetings, we were trying to see how people would feel about keeping the coalition going after the event, because if we can continue this coalition we can continue to have strong events and big turnouts.

IVAW alone can't end the war. We need coalitions to continue to move forward. And this is something that I definitely think IVAW nationally should try to do more, because a lot of smaller chapters in different parts of the country don't necessarily have the organizational skills or the contacts to reach out to the community like we did.

We're a bit of a larger chapter and a little bit more established, but I think if IVAW chapters nationwide started this model of organizing, it would help get a lot of smaller chapters on their feet and doing more antiwar events.

WHAT ROLE do you see events like Northwest Winter Solider playing in rebuilding the antiwar movement?

WHAT NORTHWEST Winter Soldier did, and what Winter Soldier events everywhere do, is give a face to the war.

A lot of people hear all these stories about the deaths and atrocities that are occurring in Iraq, but they can't put a face to it. And what Winter Soldier does is allow veterans to share their stories with the public and also for the public to receive the veterans themselves. People come back with a different sense of the war than they had before.

People going into Winter Soldier may have had some questions about the war, or were a little unsure about where they stood, but I feel what Winter Soldier does is help them see the realities of what is really happening over there and persuade them to join the antiwar movement.

That's what we need right now to wake the public up--more people joining the movement.

WHAT DO you think is the next step for IVAW locally?

LOCALLY, WE'VE discussed starting a [GI] coffeehouse. I think the biggest thing right now is to continue to build this GI movement, especially the GI resistance aspect. I think that's where we see ourselves having the most impact moving forward in the future.

And continuing to establish ourselves so that we can help veterans not only in ending this war, but also with whatever else they may need when it comes to health care or a safe haven for resisters. We need to be building IVAW and reaching out to our brothers and sisters who've been failed by the military or who just want to see a change.

WHAT WILL it take to see a full-scale revolt inside the U.S. military like we saw during the Vietnam War?

I THINK it's starting already. All the military studies show that the longer the war goes on, the more tours the soldiers are forced to do, the more resisters there are, the more people who go AWOL, the more people will get fed up, and the more the antiwar movement will grow. It takes things to get really bad, and I think we're seeing that right now with the number of AWOLs skyrocketing.

People are coming out in larger numbers and speaking out against the war, standing up for what they believe in. I definitely think that's what it's going to take. We've been there for almost six years already, and people are getting sick of it. I think the times are telling us a lot right now. Soldiers are fed up.

Getting people aware of what is going on is very important, because many people don't even know what IVAW is or how to get involved. Also, opening up more centers like the coffeehouse in close proximity to the base and giving active-duty soldiers an alternative route of thought--letting them know that there are veterans out there that are against this war who are speaking out.

If we can tap into that and be near them on the base, it would be easier for them to switch over to our side. I think that's what it's going to take.

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