I spent the weekend in the city. I won't say which one. I'm wiped. Today we met my brother and sister-in-law, in town from across the country, for lunch and shopping. It was wonderful to see them and spend some quick quality time together. We won't see them again until Christmas. I'm happy to announce I picked up some delicious chocolate-- a dark milk chocolate with plantain chips bar and a dark milk w/ almonds and caramelized pecans bar. They will be coming right to school with me--a couple grown-up Halloween treats for myself. No shame in that.
Yesterday evening, we attended the Resisting Empire tour sponsored by Haymarket Books--a non-profit, progressive publisher. It was incredible. The major moment of the evening, for me, was meeting Jeremy Scahill. Thanks to the friend who introduced me, if you're reading. Silly me--I forgot to bring along my copy of Blackwater. Jeremy was an extraordinary speaker, not surprisingly. His Blackwater won the Polk award for excellence in journalism, btw.
I also had the pleasure of speaking briefly with Camilo Mejia, the courageous first soldier to refuse to redeploy to Iraq. He spent 9 months in prison. He signed my new copy of Road from ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia: An Iraq War Memoir. I can't wait to read it and will do a thorough post.
Michael Schwartz, author of War Without End: The Iraq War in Context also spoke. I still have to pick up a copy of this title. Schwartz was a powerful yet soft-spoken presence. It was an interesting contrast to Jeremy Scahill's admirable and inspiring intensity. Schwartz discussed the absolute destruction of the infrastructure of the country of Iraq by U.S. contractors--everything from the sewage system to ecosystems, from the electrical grid to the pre-invasion booming date fruit industry (via the careless disposal of routine pesticide-spraying that secured the livelihood of date farmers). The part about the date trees was reminiscent of the razing of orange groves in Palestine by Israeli forces. Not only is this type of annihilation a statement of the occupier's intention to destroy a country's ability to economically sustain themselves. It is a shot straight to the heart of a symbol of great cultural significance. It is a way to say, we are here and we don't care about what you held sacred before we came. The date trees take 15 years to mature to the point where they are an economically viable commodity. It will be at least that long after forces vacate Iraq for farmers to have any hope of returning to the successful date exportation of the pre-occupation.
Among other highlights from the speakers, Laila Al-Arian spoke passionately and with conviction about the devastation this war has brought to Iraqi families and U.S. soldiers alike. She discussed the mental anguish inflicted upon both oppressor and oppressed in the U.S. occupation. Her words reminded me of Paulo Freire's insistence that to resist oppression is to show love for the oppressor, to make the oppressor in fact more human. With 30% (at the conservative end of the estimate) of our soldiers coming back from Iraq with PTSD, the tasks they are ordered to perform while on tours of duty certainly does not a human make. And then the VA pays them the ultimate honor for their service and turns them away, classifying their PTSD as borderline personality disorder, claiming it is a preexisting condition. And let's not forget about the over 30% of Iraqi children manifesting symptoms of PTSD as well. Shouldn't it just be called TSD in that case?
I also purchased Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan, Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations. It is a compilation of oral testimony gathered from 50 veterans and it is edited jointly by Aaron Glantz and the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW). Again, after reading I will be sure to post.
The Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) were present, too. At the Hofstra debates, 15 IVAW vets were arrested for peaceful civil disobedience. They had hoped to submit a question about Veteran's healthcare to be read at the debates--one that was, btw, asked at the Third Part Debate. One of their members was trampled by a police horse and his eye cavity was shattered. He is in the hospital as we speak where doctors are attempting to save his eye from sinking further into his skull. Three inches north and this brave vet would be no more. His bills will not be covered under our nation's sorry excuse for a VA. This is not a partisan issue, folks. When Americans are denied their rights to free speech and freedom of assembly, there is no red-state blue-state issue at hand. This gentleman was refused treatment by the police after the horse trampled him, and was thrown in the police van with other arrested protesters. Another woman, an NYC kindergarten teacher, was also injured by a police horse.
Here are a couple links to the reports:
Huffington Post report
Be The Media report (including videos)
Digital Journal report
On a final note, the Abolitionists were present. They have just succeeded in commuting a death sentence of a man in Georgia to life in prison. They also just secured a second stay of execution for Troy Anthony Davis, also on death row in Georgia, whose story is a perfect example of why the death penalty should be abolished. A few quick facts on Davis' case: he--a black man--was convicted of killing a white police officer but no physical evidence ever linked him to the crime. Seven of nine witnesses have come forward and signed affidavits saying they lied on the stand, some said they were pressured to do so by police. Troy was without any public defender/attorney from 1991-1996.
Needless to say, it was an invigorating weekend that left me with much more to think about than I had two days ago. I hope, after reading, you can say the same!