‘A Felon for Peace’


She’s just off the plane from Tulsa, Oklahoma, the cheapest route back from a reunion in the little Arkansas town where she grew up in the 1950s. For thirty years, she and her childhood friends have climbed to the top of Penitentiary Mountain, where the local persimmon trees grow, for a persimmon-spitting contest. (“All in the great spirit of just having fun and being crazy.”) She holds out her hands and says, “I probably still have persimmon goop on me!”

 

We seat ourselves at a table in my dining room, two small tape recorders between us. She’s dressed all in black with a bright green over-shirt, a middle-aged blond woman wearing gold earrings and a thin gold necklace. As she settles in, her sleeves pull back, revealing the jewelry she’d rather talk about. On her right wrist is a pink, plastic band. “This one was to be a volunteer in the Astrodome for Hurricane Katrina. I did two days work there, then three days in Covington, Louisiana, the first week after.” On her left wrist, next to a watch from another age, are two blue plastic bands: “And this one,” she says with growing animation, fingering the nearest of them, “was my very first arrest of my whole life on September 26th in front of the White House with 400 of my closest friends. This is the bus number I was on and this is the arrest number they gave me and then, later on, I had to date it because now I have two.” She fingers the second band. “Last week 26 of us were arrested after a die-in right in front of the White House in commemoration of the two thousandth American and maybe one hundred thousandth Iraqi who died in this war. So now,” she announces, chuckling heartily, “I’m a felon for peace.”

 

When she speaks — and in the final g’s she drops from words (“It’s freezin’ in Mongolia!”) — you can catch just a hint of the drawl of that long-gone child from Bentonville, Arkansas. In her blunt, straightforward manner, you can catch something of her 29 years in the Army; and in her ease perhaps, the 16 years she spent as a State Department diplomat. Animated, amused by her foibles (and those of her interviewer), articulate and thoughtful, she’s just the sort of person you would want to defend — and then represent — your country, a task she continues to perform, after her own fashion, as one of the more out-of-the-ordinary antiwar activists of our moment.

 

Last August, she had a large hand in running Camp Casey for Cindy Sheehan at the President’s doorstep in Crawford, Texas; then again, that wasn’t such a feat, given that in 1997 she had oversaw the evacuation of 2,500 foreigners from the war zone that was then Sierra Leone, a harrowing experience for which she was given the State Department’s Award for Heroism. “That’s why I joined the foreign service,” she comments, her voice still filled with some residual excitement from those years. “I wanted to go to place

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