Organizing Stories from a Fading Empire
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On Saturday Mary Beth and I drove north to Deer Isle, Maine to spend the weekend with Jean Hendrick - wife of fellow Veterans For Peace member Dud Hendrick. The reason for the trip was that I was invited to speak at the Reversing Falls Sanctuary on Sunday by the artist Robert Shetterly who lives there and created the series of paintings called Americans Who Tell the Truth.
The Reversing Falls Sanctuary has been holding a Lenten series of talks by various people that Shetterly has painted over the years.
Dud was down in Florida, along the Gulf Coast in Apalachicola, getting some sun and a respite from the long winter. But Jean took great care of us while we were at their place. Early on Sunday morning Jean took us on a three mile walk along the ocean. Deer Isle is a quite beautiful place - anytime of year.
I was asked to tell stories to those who came to my talk so I began with a few about how I joined the Air Force in 1971 having been a Young Republican for Nixon in 1968. After failing my induction physical, because of a high school football injury, I had to get a waiver in order to join the military when most young men my age were trying to avoid the draft.
I shared stories about my first roommate at Travis AFB in California who was one of the organizers of the GI Resistance Movement in the barracks - those meetings that were held in my room, with me sitting in the corner at first, helped to turn me into a peacenik.
I talked about the Rev. Fred Eyster from the National Farmworker Ministry who knocked on my apartment door one evening while I was at the University of Florida and invited me to get involved with other students supporting the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) lettuce boycott on our campus. I began skipping classes and eventually quit college when they offered me a job organizing fruit pickers in Florida. I've been an organizer ever since.
I shared stories from 1983 when I was leading protests at the Pershing II nuclear missile factory in Orlando. The missile was deployed by Ronald Reagan that year in Mutlangen, Germany. A year or two later I went to a peace conference in Mutlangen and met my first Russian peace activist (a nice man without horns on his head) and joined the Germans as they ran outside during the conference to block the narrow village street when a US Army convoy of mobile Pershing launchers left the base to do maneuvers in the countryside.
Many years later, after the end of the Cold War and the closing of the US base in Mutlangen, I went back to visit folks there and they showed me with great pride how the former nuclear weapons storage bunkers had been 'converted' by the community to a storage facility for sand to put on the roads during winter storms. Much more practical than storing nukes!
I told the story of my trip to Odessa, Ukraine last May 2 on the 'anniversary' of the US sponsored coup d'etat that unleashed the chaos in that country that only appears to be worsening these days. I talked about trips to Jeju Island, South Korea and Okinawa.
I spoke about our on-going campaign here in Bath, Maine to call for the conversion of Bath Iron Works and invited their community to step forward and send a team of non-violent resisters to a future 'christening' of a Navy destroyer that will be sent to bases in other lands where local people's lives have been disrupted in order to build bases for this seemingly endless string of US warships now clogging up the sea lanes on our Mother Earth.
As I was leaving an 86 year old woman came up to me and said that if she could get out of bed at 6:00 am on April 1 she intended to make the drive to Bath for our protest - but she warned me that getting out of bed that early for her these days was never easy. People that know her well told me that I should not be surprised that she will likely show up.
This Saturday we will once again commit a non-violent act of civil resistance during the 'christening' ceremony of another $1.5 billion Navy Aegis destroyer. Another story will be created to add to my many years of similar tales about this wonderful life I've led as a peace, justice and ecological activist.