Sparks of Change Fly at Peace Protests
|Vietnam war protest on August 26, 1972 at Travis Air Force Base in California|
I've often told the story about being stationed at Travis AFB in California from 1971-1973 during the Vietnam war. The base had 15,000 permanently stationed personnel with thousands more coming and going because Travis was a key airlift base for the Vietnam war. GI's would come from all over the country and fly to Vietnam and when the planes returned they carried the body bags of dead soldiers, wounded soldiers, and those seemingly returning in one pieace but sentenced to a life of moral injury.
Upon my arrival at the base, when I checked into the barracks 'orderly room', they repeatedly apologized to me saying, "I'm sorry man, we've only got one room left. We'll get you out of there as soon as possible." I had no idea what they were talking about.
At this point it is important to remember that I grew up in an Air Force family, had been Vice-chair of the Okaloosa County (Florida) Young Republican Club in 1968 where I volunteered to work on the Nixon campaign for president, and I joined the Air Force under my own free will. I wanted to be a career man like my old man. In fact I flunked my induction physical (because of an old high school football injury) and had to get a waiver to get into the military at a time when most guys my age were trying to avoid the draft.
As it turned out my first roommate was one of the leading organizers in the GI resistance movement in the barracks. They published a newsletter called 'Travisty' and held meetings in our room as I sat in the corner thinking I was surrounded by commies. One night white guys would come in with chairs, sit in a circle, and talk about the war in Vietnam. Another night black guys would enter the room with their chairs and talk about racism in the military and across the country. This is where I got my political education.
But it was the small and frequent protests outside the gate that created the biggest sparks that made the GI's debate the war in the chow hall, in the barracks, and on the job with the 'lifers' who generally supported the war - especially if they hoped to get promoted and make a career out of the military.
After all these years of thinking about these base protesters I finally met someone who was outside the gates at Travis AFB while I was on the inside. Last Saturday after we finished the Aegis destroyer 'christening' protest at Bath Iron Works (BIW) we invited folks to come over to the Addams-Melman House for lunch. One of the women, Meredith from Belfast, and I got talking and it came out that she was one of those protesters that helped change my life while I was stationed at Travis.
Protests at military bases and weapons production facilities create large amounts of ferment with those on the inside. You can't numerically quantify or qualify the direct results but I have faith, based on my own experience, that change is put into motion because of these seemingly unimportant small protests. The sparks fly as a result of these events and from those sparks of discussion and reflection lives are changed.
Early last evening MB and I walked out of the house to go for a walk. A neighbor who works at BIW stopped us and said, "If I was an elected official I'd have come out of the shipyard during the 'christening' ceremony and taken the letter you all tried to deliver." I was surprised by this and asked him how he knew about the letter hand-off story. "Oh, I read about it somewhere," he replied.
The sparks from our protest last Saturday did indeed fly around Bath and beyond. May we have the good sense to keep these small fires burning.