Linesville PA: On March 26, in a drab magistrate’s courtroom overlooking the desolate streets of this once bustling town, an unlikely drama unfolded - drama that was at once a farce and at the same time a telling parable of the two Americas that have grown out of George Bush and Dick Cheney’s seven year adventure of lies, torture, abuse and aggressive war.
Although Crawford County PA is still a bastion of Republican support, there are nonetheless plenty of citizens who have grown tired of quietly letting the occupation of Iraq play out day after day without a murmur of protest. A small group of Women in Black have been holding vigils for peace and in memory of fallen Pennsylvania service members every Saturday for more than a year.
Enter our noble heroes, the effusive and vitriolic Swartout family, proud members of the loose-knit group A Gathering of Eagles, a pro-war organization that has not even evolved as far as to hold the mistaken understanding that Bush/Cheney are killing Iraqis so that we can speak freely here at home. No, these eagles are usually seen screaming obscenities from the side of the street wherever they can find a peace march underway. True to form, the Swartouts have made it their mission to track down the Women in Black each Saturday, harass and intimidate them, and generally show them that REAL Americans don’t indulge in such sissy thoughts as promoting peace or honoring the fallen. Their favored method is to get face to face with the women - up close and personal enough for both their seething emotions and their stray spittle to make an impression on the despised peaceniks. Perhaps the star of this all-American Brawn act is 33 year old Jason, who, in addition to being a prison guard has also spent one year in Iraq with the military and is about to go again.
The Women in Black have taken to changing their location each week, in hopes of avoiding the unwanted advances of patriotism, Eagles style. On one particular Saturday, after missing half of the vigil while they tried to find the location, the Eagles landed only to discover that the Women in Black had reinforcements: Fred DeWalt, an 82 year old World War II veteran (and recipient of three Bronze Stars for his service landing tanks and troops during island invasions in the Pacific) and his 82 year old wife Ann were both standing in solidarity with the women that day. Young buck Jason swaggered out of his van proudly announcing, “The cavalry have arrived” and then turned his attention to Mr. DeWalt. Leaning in close to his ear, Swartout cussed out the veteran with a string of obscenities. Remarkably (and I can say this because Fred DeWalt is my father, and he has never been one to back down to a bully) DeWalt did not take the bait, so Swartout, satisfied that he had properly put my father in his place, he turned his attention to the silent women on vigil. He did not reckon on the Little Big Horn in the form of my mother who had been observing this behavior – Mrs. DeWalt. Now a word of explanation is in order here. I work publicly as an activist. And while I may have inherited my proclivities to speak out in dissent, they certainly did not come from my mother. She is always lamenting that I use up too much energy fighting battles that cannot be won, and the admonition I hear most often from her is “ Now Danny, sugar will always get you further than vinegar.” But on this particular day, witnessing the disrespect, crassness and downright un-American behavior of tough-boy Jason, she apparently had an epiphany; that boy needed a kick in the ass. So then, in what can only be described as a historic moment for her and, in retrospect, for Crawford County, she followed through on her instincts and managed to make contact with her foot to Jason’s aforementioned derriere. Historic for her, as she can barely stand half the time and has one bad leg that often gives way under her; historic for the area, because Mr. Eagle was so flummoxed that he called 911, asking the police to save him from this geriatric criminal element that he had discovered in downtown Conneaut Lake, and proceeded to press charges of assault against my poor old mother.
The local daily newspaper, The Meadville Tribune, failing to see the irony of an army-tough 33-year-old man getting beat-on by an octogenarian woman, dutifully reported on the incident. And not only did the Tribune parrot the complaints of Jason’s mommy that Mrs. DeWalt was assaulting a veteran, as it ignored the disrespect and verbal assault that Jason had inflicted on another veteran, who old enough to be his grandfather, but it also posted a video that the Swartouts had made vilifying my mother front and center in the Tribune’s own online version of the “news” story.
Yet this was not enough! Breathless blog entries were tagged onto the Tribune article, each one more virulently patriotic than the last, wondering what the world had come to that such a vicious old “crone” could be let out into the streets to wreak havoc on those lovely brown-shirts trying to protect the nation from peace lovers. One print columnist went so far as to muse about whether, indeed, it was possible for my mother to be a Christian, in light of her audacious act. Apparently we should be leaving all of the smiting to Bush/Cheney, because, after all, they get their instructions straight from God (or at least they think they do).
Suffering the slings and arrows of outraged small thinkers was not something that my mother had prepared herself for, so it was with great relief that she finally stepped into the courtroom to meet her fate. As her lawyer pointed out, this hearing may have been the first time that these eagles actually listened to someone without trying to shut them up. My mother admitted that her foot had made contact with the butt of J and thus the judge found her guilty. But recognizing the frivolousness of the charge, the judge demurred from issuing a sentence of 90 days in jail with a $300 fine, and fined Mrs. DeWalt $25 and sent her on her way.
In spite of all the absurdities in this tale, it is also a telling result of the trickle down effect of the new American paradigm: Bush/Cheney have turned us into a rogue nation, where no lie is too big to tell, no law too important to break, and no torture method too heinous to rule out. It is little wonder then, that bird-brained individuals with fascist tendencies can flourish, gather and intimidate at will. We can take courage in the fact that even in an area like western Pennsylvania, where militias flourish and an astoundingly dim bulb Republican manages to hold onto his U.S. House seat, at least there are at least some vestiges of common sense still to be found in the halls of justice.
Beware of the Wispy Sr. Citizen
By Lisa Houserman
Disclaimer: The following does not reflect the views of anyone other than most of the people with whom I've schmoozed as of late. Read with caution:
This week held something new and exciting for me as I attended a major courtroom event in order to watch a vicious criminal being brought to justice! The felon in question was none other than that big brute of a woman, 82 year-old Ann DeWalt of Shermansville PA.