[The following text is an excerpt fropamphlet Dear President Bush, published by Open Media ISBN: ISBN 1-884519-32-6, is to be released: Friday, September 23, 2005 in Washington, D.C.]
Fifteen years ago in Westfield, New Jersey, my friend Stuart Sahulka and I decided we needed to do something to try to prevent our country from going to war against Iraq. Operation Desert Shield’s deployment of U.S. troops to the region was well under way, but an all-out war still seemed preventable. In 1990 neither the Internet nor cell phones were available to the average person. But with an Apple computer and a photocopier you could really do something. And we did. David Barsamian sent us a transcript of an incredibly powerful, well- argued speech that Noam Chomsky had recently delivered in opposition to our country’s build-up to war. We typed the speech into our trusty Mac, designed it so that we-and others-could easily photocopy it, and ran off a few hundred copies in a way that we could fold and staple into a pamphlet. With our backpacks full and good friends to help, we went to Astor Place in NYC to hand out the skinny anti-war pamphlets to anyone who walked by, and to drop off bundles of copies with antiwar friends like Allen Ginsberg and Eve Ensler who lived in the neighborhood. A few days later the U.S. began bombing Iraq. We then took the pamphlet to independent bookshops like St. Marks Books, Revolution Books, and Shakespeare & Co. in NYC, and shipped copies to others like Black Oak Books, Cody’s Books, City Lights, Boulder Bookstore, Left Bank, Prairie Lights, Hungry Mind Books, Elliot Bay, Modern Times, Harvard Books, and the Wooden Shoe. The independent bookstores acted like a network, each one telling us about another we should call. We called. By April 1991 Noam Chomsky’s On U.S. Gulf Policy was hitting local and national bestseller lists. The Open Pamphlet Series was born and quickly grew as a Westfield-based movement-oriented operation opposed to war and the social injustices that breed it.
All that happened fifteen years ago. Five days ago, on September 12, 2005, I had the honor of spending the day with Cindy Sheehan, Iraq veteran Jeff Key, and Alicia Sexton and traveling with them from La Guardia International Airport to Westfield, New Jersey, where they had been invited by Congressman Frank Pallone to speak at an outdoor press conference. On the way there, I interviewed Cindy about her personal journey, Martin Luther King, Jr., social change, and how the senseless killing of her son Casey triggered a prairie fire within her that spread to Crawford, Texas, and from there to the rest of the nation. Peace advocate, movement leader, passionate speaker, nonviolent resister, inspired writer-Cindy Sheehan is all of these things. But after spending last Monday with her I realize that above and beyond all else, Cindy is a Mother. Not just a Mother, but Mom Laureate, Subcomandante Momus, Nobel Peace Mom, Dr. Mom, Jr., Mahatma Momdi, National Mom, World Mom, Milky Way Mom. Which is to say, Casey’s Mom. Cindy summons and delivers a message from the unbearable and inextinguishable anguish a parent suffers when their child dies before their time. Cindy is on a very clear and focused mission; she is not going to stop until she hears the “Roar of our Nation Waking Up”-the roar of voices-yours and mine-rising together to end war. Until she hears the shouts of joy when the last U.S. solider returns home from occupied soil, she is not going to stop. The pamphlet in your hands is her voice. If you listen you can hear the Roar. If you listen, you can hear your name being called out to get involved. This pamphlet is dangerous. It’s a spark that can start prairie fires. Please use it.
Greg Ruggiero: Your most recent article on Common Dreams’ web site refers to a speech that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City. In the speech Dr. King spoke passionately against the military-industrial-complex and the machinery of war. Do you think that the U.S. war machine has changed much since Dr. King gave his prophetic speech?
Cindy Sheehan: The only thing that has changed is that it has gotten much worse. What our children are dying for is to make their government’s war machine rich. The U.S. government wastes billions of dollars each year paying for past, current, and future wars while U.S. corporations lead the world in selling weapons of death to other countries. We’ve seen the stated enemies of our country shift from the Cold War to the War on Terror, from the communists to the terrorists, but the results are the same. War profiteers are getting rich off of killing our children-feeding on our young. The war profiteers are our true enemies. The war machine always kills our children, and we, as moms and parents, should refuse to give our children up to them.
Greg Ruggiero: At Riverside Church Dr. King also spoke about the young people who have become angry, desperate, rejected-who are so fed up with the system, want change so deeply, that they consider moving beyond civil disobedience. They asked King, “If our country can use violence to make its demands with Vietnam, why can’t we?” King goes on to say, “Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.” But he goes on to restate his conviction that meaningful social change can only come from nonviolent resistance. What is your thought on the tactics and goals in doing movement work to change brutal government policies?
Cindy Sheehan: I am with Dr. King. We must rise above using violence as a means of change. If we want our country to be peaceful we must be peaceful ourselves. If we use violence, then we promote violence. If we use violence, we lower ourselves to the level of our current government. Using violent methods, any movement we organize toward peace will only be temporary. Look at Vietnam; we ended that war but we started new ones, and now we’ve started another in Iraq. I don’t know much about strategies, but I do know this: We need to embody the goals that we’re struggling for. The only way to build peace is through peaceful means, and we need to do everything we can to oppose this war through nonviolent resistance.
Dr. King repeatedly asserts his commitment to resistance through nonviolent means, but he also makes a call for a “positive revolution of values.” What do you think that means for us today?
Values…. George Bush is always saying that he is a Christian man. I believe a Christian person does not murder people. Jesus was a prince of peace. But when you look at the damage that the religious right has done to this country… Those of us who are Christian need to go back to our core gospel values and teach George: Thou Shalt Not Kill.
We need to change the whole value system we’re operating under. People have been drawn to George Bush because they thought he was making them more secure-George Bush is making our world less secure. You don’t promote peace by killing people; you don’t make people free by killing them. We need to start putting problem-solving and diplomacy before everything else. War is barbaric, and it takes patience, love, wisdom, and brains to avert war, but it can almost always be done.
We need to replace neglect and apathy toward our people-and militarism toward the world-with love, with community, with respect, with equality, with education, with cooperation, with diplomacy. We need to explore new paradigms of peace and democracy that are based on justice, truth, cooperation, and community.
Greg Ruggiero: At Riverside Church Dr. King also declared his belief that the Vietnam war was a symptom of deeper underlying “social maladies.” Do you feel that’s true today regarding the wars the U.S. is waging in Iraq and around the world?
Cindy Sheehan: That’s a hard question to answer. I admire Martin Luther King, Jr., and I would like to emulate his ways. War is very, very unjust to the poor. Many people are drawn to the military because they see it as a possible way out of poverty. And so the poor get sent into these wars in unjust proportions. That was not true for Casey, but it is true for many people who enlist. In the Astrodome in New Orleans there were recruiters going through the crowd trying to recruit the victims of Hurricane Katrina, people who had just lost everything, to get them into this war. They were clearly trying to take advantage of people’s vulnerability to use them for the war machine. In fact, I believe our deeper underlying social problem is that we think we can solve all of our problems through violence, that people think this war will make us more secure when it will not. It is making us less secure.
Adding to our misperception of how this war affects our security is the failure of our commercial media to report truthfully on the war. It fails to fulfill its responsibility to report what is really happening and often distorts or just ignores reality; rather than investigating and reporting truth, between commercials, dominant media often repeats official views rather than challenging them. If we didn’t have alternative and independent media we wouldn’t know the truth about what is going on in the world. Unfortunately, however, alternative media might be preaching to the choir. The people who usually listen to it or read it are already on board with their message. Most people get their news from CNN or Fox News which have a totally biased way of reporting. What frightens me is the thought that they could cut us off from the Internet if they ever declared martial law. And I believe that New Orleans is just a practice for martial law, if they ever declare it on a wider scale-which is very frightening. If people just took fifteen extra minutes a day to educate themselves they would know what’s truly going on in this country, what’s truly going on in the world. I would really challenge people to turn off their news and read.
Greg Ruggiero: This special edition of Dear President Bush was prepared for the September 2426, 2005, mobilization in Washington, DC. Many of the people who are reading these words right now weren’t able to go. What is your message to them?
Cindy Sheehan: First, we all need to speak to our employee, the President of the United States. As his employers, he needs to speak with us as often as possible with as many of us as he can. The will of the people is greater than the presidency. And when the people speak out, it’s the President’s responsibility to listen. He is there to serve us, not the other way around. He tries to insulate himself from dissention or opposing viewpoints, and that’s one of his major problems.
This isn’t about politics. It’s about what is good for America and what’s best for our security and how far this president has taken us away from both.
Second, everybody needs to work for peace. There are a lot of us working our butts off for it, but we need more. If everybody did a little something every day, it wouldn’t take much time, you know, something very easy. Just send a letter to your Congressman to say bring the troops home, and that we’ll support you if you support peace, and if you don’t support peace we’ll withdraw our support of you. Third, talk to young people who are thinking of going into the military. Get them to see another point of view, give them options aside from going into the military. Show them the facts and the possibilities. Research. Communicate. Resist. Inform yourself about what’s going on in the world and talk with others. Stand with us.
I also want to say this: Thank you, America, for the love and support that you sent to all of us at Camp Casey and that we’re still receiving. And thank you, America, for giving me back my hope-my hope for our country and my hope for my life.
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