Organized by The Military Project, with the assistance of GI Special (militaryproject.org) and Traveling Soldier (travelingsoldier.com), the Conference “Bridging the Gap, Making it Happen,” held on Saturday, April 5th in Middle Collegiate Church, New York City, was, to say the least, spectacular!
At last there was an organizers’ conference to bring together people who are sick and fed up with endless war, and endless protests, to exchange ideas, learn techniques and speak to others who are actually doing face to face outreach with active duty military, National Guard and Reserves. Bringing together union members and veterans who oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to do direct, face-to-face outreach to troops will prove to be a combustible combination that can help troops turning against the wars build a movement that stops them.
Speakers included Selena D. Coppa, an active duty Army Sergeant stationed at Darmstadt, Germany and a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW); Jeff Englehart, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW); Mike Hastie, Vietnam Veteran and photographer; Garett Reppenhagen, IVAW; Dennis Serdel, Vietnam Veteran and poet; Richard Boyle, author and Vietnam war reporter; Sanford Kelson, Veterans for Peace (VFP); and Clarence Thomas, National Co-Chair of the Million Worker March and Executive Board member of Local 10, International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union based in San Francisco.
GI resistance was the instrument that ended the Vietnam War. Those who spoke on the panels, such as “First Hand Reports on Sentiment Against the Wars in the Armed Forces;” “Resistance Through Evocation: Photographs, Poems;” “Troops Resist War; Vietnam and Iraq, Eyewitnesses;” “Outreach to the Troops: Organizing Tactics in the Real World;” and, a presentation from Daniel Joseph Black, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Clarence Thomas, Local 10, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, totally roused the audience of veterans and civilians interested in talking face to face with active duty military, guard and reserves.
Richard Boyle, Vietnam War Reporter, and author of “Flower of the Dragon: The Breakdown of the US Army in Viet Nam”, spoke about how he personally risked his life to drop into Firebase Pace during a time when soldiers there numbered about 400 and the VC enemy forces were upwards of 4,000. He gave a chilling account of how the soldiers were told to perform a recon mission and scout the perimeter, while they all knew they were completely outnumbered and did not want to die in a useless bloodbath of a war.
They decided to refuse orders, and mutiny. Boyle documented the resistance with photographs and on his small cassette tape recorder. He was able to smuggle the documentation of this mutiny out of the country, where he then tried to get Congress to listen and learn about how, even though the Pentagon and military officials kept insisting there were no troops in that firebase, that they were there and had refused to fight. (for more about Richard Boyle see http://movies.nytimes.com/person/82692/Richard-Boyle)
II. IVAW: Spread and nurture resistance!
Selena Coppa, active duty military Army Sgt. and a member of IVAW, as well as a mother, is an example of organizing against the war while still “on the inside” of the military. She speaks to believing in the oath she swore to, and feels it is her duty to lead by example. She joined IVAW believing it is the only moral thing to do in the current situation. Sgt. Coppa is currently stationed in Darmstadt, Germany and spends time talking to other soldiers about the war. She organized active duty military while at Ft. Hood and also at Ft. Meade. She states, “I just start by asking someone ‘what do you think about this war?’ and get into a conversation.” “At first, the officers weren’t too happy about what I was doing, but now it is much easier.”
Daniel Joseph Black, United States Marine Corps, 2000 to 2005 (served in Fallujah, Iraq, as well as Kuwait) and a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, spoke brilliantly about how he discovered after his tours in Iraq, that the war was illegal and immoral. Black states, “We never swore to obey, we swore to defend and if defending requires our disobedience of an autocratic war criminal, then we are so bound by our oath to defend the Constitution.” (read more at www.ivaw.org/member/daniel-joseph-black).