Soldier-dissent in real time

The Wall of Vets in Portland. They were active nationwide as Election Defenders too.

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I started this week staring at the #WallofVets. The video above bears re-watching: for its diversity of ages, for the military branches represented, for the solidarity among the protesters, the “walls” of mothers, dads and veterans converged to face federal agents sent to suppress their node of the George Floyd uprising.

The wall was created after Navy vet Chris David was beaten and tear-gassed for trying to ask federal agents clubbing protesters: What about your oath to defend the Constitution?  Veterans for Peace types note that Vietnam vet Mike Hastie was in that position  before David, under a similar principle: veterans should be protecting protesters.

Progressive vets across the country had been showing up soon after George Floyd died,  especially  after  June 1—when peaceful protesters in D.C. were chased out of Lafayette Park by the Park Police, backed up by a grudging National Guard contingent.

This week Major Adam De Marco of the latter testified before Congress about that day, quoting the late John Lewis: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”

Speaking under the protection of Military Whistleblower Act, De Marco described a largely peaceful protest aggressively disrupted by the Secret Service, the D.C. Park Police, and “under law enforcement agencies I was unable to identify.” Since that day, of course, we’ve learned about the vicious braid of federal law agencies tapped by Trump to “restore order” by stomping out protest.

A few days after that moment in Lafayette Park, veterans from all over the country converged at the Lincoln Memorial, under the hashtag #Vets4BLM and #ContinuetoServe. Former Navy corpsman David Smith writes about that day: ” Veterans from upstate New York drove to DC to be a part of this protest. Veterans from across the country have been messaging me this week, asking about organization, who to contact, how to find people in their communities, what I am doing to organize a group here, how to donate, on and on and on.”

Smith, who served 2007-2019 and thus through multiple administrations, started  ContinuetoServe.vet that week. He adds that these veterans feel sworn to  “support and defend the Constitution and the citizens of this country. All citizens. Not just privileged citizens. Not just white citizens. Not just rich citizens. ALL CITIZENS.” His D.C.-based group is just once component of what’s being done in support of Black Lives Matter.

I’m working on an op-ed piece that puts this into historical context, but for right now I hope you’ll look at that video again.  Note the mix of older vets and 20-somethings like the young woman above. Or like Clint Hall, who   told the New York Times that the scene reminded him of Iraq:

After suffering through the tear gas that was shot into the crowd, Mr. Hall said that the tear gas was so strong that it was leaving burns on his skin. He said it felt worse than the tear gas he recalled from his time in the Army.

“This response from the feds is over the top,” he said.

I first noticed Hall in coverage of the Wall because of his sign: Disabled Vets For Black LivesMatter. That nod to what all this is about was common to these vets–to David Smith in D.C., to Christopher David, who kept telling journalists “I’d like to try to shift the tdiscussion back to Black Lives Matter.” These vets remind me that the historical parallels in my op-ed need to be soldiers and vets who spoke out for Black Lives. There’s no shortage of those. Stay tuned.

Published by chrislombardi

Journalist, novelist, educator.

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