The road to revolution via…Julia Davis?

standing_rock_3The TV cameras are gone now. So are most of the veterans I was tracking and wrote about for Guernica, upon the request of the Standing Rock elders. Everyone knows that last week’s decision was only a battle won, and that the struggle continues: the drilling below Sioux land isn’t even completely stopped, the company having decided that it’s easier to pay fines to the Army Corps of Engineers even at $50,000 a day. But there seems to be a pause in the satyagraha at that location, as everyone regroups.

Me?  I’m still in Philadelphia, musing about the big picture. I told my wife as she left for work, “I’m going to show that the Oceti Sakowin protests all began in Philadelphia.” By Philadelphia I mostly meant Chester native Bayard Rustin, who said long ago:  ““Our power is in our ability to make things unworkable. The only weapon we have is our bodies, and we need to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn.” And I meant Quakers, who’ve been making trouble since before Philly was founded in 1682.

The thread I’m noticing now traces at least back to Thoreau, who told peers he was “more of a Quaker than anything else, and anti-slavery iconWilliam Lloyd Garrison, a non-Quaker but a fellow traveler like me (I call myself an “aspiring Quaker.”) Garrison, who got his start editing a Quaker anti-slavery newspaper, urged and practiced “nonresistance,” a kind of proactive pacifism based in part on Thoreau’s “On Civil Disobedience.”

I knew “nonresistance” from how it was used by World War I conscientious objectors like Evan Thomas, but if I’d been an actual historian I’d have known how ubiquitous a term it was among progressive types in the 19th century. It was even global, a favorite word of War of 1812 veteran Leo Tolstoy, who  wrote a letter to America, praising Thoreau and Garrison as pioneering visionaries:

I’d like to ask the American people why they do not “>pay more attention to these voices (hardly to be replaced by those of financial and industrial millionaires, or successful generals and admirals), and continue the good work in which they made such hopeful progress.

 

Tolstoy went on to become a leading exponent of radical Christianity, and a pen pal of a young South African named Mohandas Gandhi.

From Gandhi we can go back to talking about Bayard Rustin, Quaker thanks to his eminent and charismatic grandmother, Julia Davis Rustin.  Julia mentored Rustin as he went to work for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which had been practicing the Quaker “peace witness” since 1915 and sent Rustin, the FOR’s “youth secretary,” across the country as a “Peace Ambassador.” She visited Rustin in prison when he went there instead of serving in World  War II, and cheered him on when he went in 1948 to India, newly freed by Gandhi’s movement.

 

Rustin arrived in India right after Gandhi died, but he met with many of those who’d helped him perfect the technique they had named satyagraha. The Indian activists admired Rustin’s own nonresistance, including the very first Journey of Reconciliation in 1947. And he came back bursting with ideas about using satyagraha on behalf of African-Americans. Soon, he was crossing the country to talk about how to use nonviolence to fight both militarism and racism.

His workshops were electric, one of its participants said years later. They had “actually talked about the history of nonviolence, the history of Gandhi…Thd whole philosophy of the use of nonviolent direct action to accomplish your goals and your purposes: That really appealed to me.” Once trained, many put it to use trying to integrate lunch counters, restaurants, pools.  From that phase of the civil rights movement to now is too much for one essay, and includes both Philip Berrigan and ACT-UP, which was founded in 1987, a few years before Rustin died. 

I haven’t included anything here about Native American practice of nonresistance, or wondered if any contemporary Native activists have any use for Rustin or the Quakers.  However,  I suspect that this peace might be incomplete without it.

(Photo: Joe Brusky, Flickr.)

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Now at the Philly Inquirer, sine the jujitsu

220px-GeoLoganAfter posting that #47traitors piece, it occurred to me that the Philadelphia media might be interested in knowing why national media kept mentioning kin to one of its most notable Quakers. So I elaborated for the Inquirer:

It’s been more than a week since 47 Senate Republicans sent that letter to Tehran, and commentators can’t get enough of asking: What about the Logan Act?

The law, passed by Congress and signed by President John Adams in 1799, prohibits unauthorized people from negotiating with foreign governments. Violating the act is a felony, and anyone convicted under the statute faces a three-year prison sentence.

Since news of the letter broke, more than 200,000 people have signed a petition urging that the 47 senators be prosecuted under the act. The law applies, some believe, because by sending an open letter to Iran’s leaders, the signers directly disparaged the nuclear agreement being negotiated by the State Department.

Legal experts are often quick to explain that, since the passage of the act in the 18th century, no one has been prosecuted under it. But here’s something they don’t often mention: The bill’s namesake was from Philadelphia.

The name Logan rings a bell with most Philadelphians, even if it’s just from the name’s ubiquity in town. “Logan? Like Logan Square?” But the act itself also has very Philadelphian origins: George Logan, a grandson of William Penn’s secretary and later the U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, was a Quaker from one of Philadelphia’s oldest families.

The Founding Fathers knew him well. Dr. Benjamin Rush described Logan as “the early, the upright, and the uniform friend of his country.” Thomas Jefferson commended his “irreproachable conduct, and true civism,” and John Dickinson spoke of his “love of country, candor of spirit, and boundless benevolence.”

During what was known as the Quasi-War between the United States and France in the late 1790s, Logan spent weeks in Paris undertaking that most Quaker of pursuits: listening to French officials and trying to stop naval Kabuki from bursting into all-out war.

I first came across Logan’s story while researching my book-in-progress I Ain’t Marching Anymore: Soldiers Who Dissent, from Bunker Hill to Bowe Bergdahl. Logan’s activism felt of a piece with the seething energy of the early republic, whose citizens sought to flex their muscles at every opportunity. It also felt emblematic of Philadelphia then, when someone like Logan could go beyond a life of pioneering new agricultural methods. Meddling in national diplomacy felt like good citizenship, especially when one considers his lifelong opposition to war.

Logan, who grew up at his family’s ample Stenton estate, had spent the years of the American Revolution at medical school in Europe – returning to hobnob with Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, join the local militia as a medic, and begin serving in the Pennsylvania legislature. Fluent in French and something of early enthusiast of the French Revolution, he became uneasy when the first of America’s wars for unclear purposes – the Quasi-War – came along.

Logan watched closely as Adams responded to naval maneuvers by the French, who had been made uneasy by unresolved treaty obligations and a new U.S.-Britain pact. Soon, the president was securing increased funds for a U.S. Navy and recalling George Washington in preparation for a ground war.

Disturbed by raging anti-French sentiment in Congress, Logan decided to travel to France, hoping to test the waters for peace with the Directory (the post-Revolutionary council). Once there, he proceeded to do what Quakers do best: He listened. When he came home, he talked about what he had heard – and this perhaps is why historian Edward Channing said Logan did “materially” shift the tide of American public opinion from war to peace.

But while he was gone, Congress had passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which, among other things, made it a crime to criticize the president. And because so many members of Congress regarded Logan’s freelance diplomacy as traitorous, the Logan Amendment was attached to the law.

Logan didn’t return home empty-handed. He had secured the release of some captured U.S. sailors and carried a list of possible terms for peace negotiators. However, when he arrived in November 1798, he was immediately, if briefly, arrested. He was never prosecuted – not then and not even a few years later, when he tried to keep the peace with England before the War of 1812.

Today, citing the Logan Act against the 47 GOP senators seems appropriate: Legislation meant to stop an enthusiastic Quaker from preventing a war could be used to block a move that could interfere with a peace treaty on Iran’s nuclear program. I think Logan would approve.

 


Chris Lombardi is a Philadelphia writer. cmlblue@gmail.com

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The editor wisely cut my reference to political jujitsu, but he left in my overall tilt (including the naval kabuki). Not bad for a fighting dove, writing about one of the first.

Ellsberg on Manning

Image:  ReutersListening now to the audio (available here): the voice of a young techie like so many I know, more comfortable describing the software he used as an intelligence analyst than his thoughts and emotions around the war crimes he wanted to expose.

But when he describes the Collateral Murder video, the anger comes out scorn for “what sounded like bloodlust.” Riveting.

Before talk about it any more, here’s the best authority on what Manning has done: Daniel Ellsberg, whose similarly groundbreaking leak occurred in what now feels was a gentler time. (And yes, I know we’re talking about the Nixon era.) Many thanks to Democracy Now for a terrific interview..

A day for angelic troublemakers

2027777It’s kind of stereotypical, but every year I watch this film as part of the observance of Martin Luther King Day. It feels the least I can do, given what Bayard Rustin did for all of us.

This year, of course, I thought also of Rustin during President Obama’s Second Inaugural address, when the President said “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.” I can’t think that Obama didn’t know that 60+ years before his election, the country was being rocked by a different hyper-articulate young African American trained in community organizing.

He’s also in Ain’t Marching: I count him as a dissenting soldier because as student at the historically black Wilberforce University, he  trained in the school’s mandatory ROTC program for close to two years. (Same with Phil Ochs and his stint in the military academy). Of course, he didn’t last long: repulsed deeply enough by hundreds of hours of drill and command, rifle marksmanship and “combat principles,”  he stopped attending drill and lost his scholarship. Later he was also a fervent organizer for the rights of black soldiers, submitting constant testimony at the Committee Against Jim Crow in the Armed Forces and turning to an Air Force veteran named Norman Hill to help run the 1963 March on Washington. All of it a sidebar to the major, world-changing difference he made, but enough connections to enough of “my” characters that his presence is almost required.

That’s not why you should see the movie below, though. That you do for the joy of it, to pretend you have his essential presence with you this holiday weekend. Share it with someone who’s never heard of him — multiple someones, if you work with groups.

Besides, if anyone insisted that the revolution include dancing, it was this guy.

these might be giants: report from Fort Meade

I went back to Fort Meade this week, more than two years after  Manning was first brought to court. Now in dispute during these last pre-trial motions before the court martial, now scheduled for June 3: those two-plus years.

If there’s not another delay, that means that Bradley Manning’s court-martial will begin almost exactly three years after he was first detained in Kuwait, on May 26, 2010. Please excuse the bold/italics: that’s  three years which already have felt plenty long in actual life — without imagining I’d spent them in military detention, much of it in a single cell without all my clothes.

All of this despite the fact that the Uniform Code of Military Justice includes a guarantee of “speedy trial” that must begin within 120 days of arrest. And much of last week’s proceedings were about that — whether all the delays were due to inevitable national-security issues, and whether the government is obligated to cooperate with the defense and share what it found in its long investigation. There were also some interesting rulings — including how much the trial will cover Manning’s motivations for his actions, something important when someone is  charged with “aiding the enemy.”

But I won’t write much about the hard news here: I’ve been hired by Boston Review to do that (yay!) so you’ll have to wait. In the meantime, check out summaries from Ed Pilkington at the Guardian, Julie Tate at the Washington Post, and Hari Sreenivasan of PBS’s Newshour  (who delivers his report in that worried middle-of-the-road tone we all know so well).

David-Coombs-attorney-for-0071You should definitely check out Scott Shane’s profile of David Coombs, seen at right exiting the Fort Meade courthouse.

When I decided what to title this post, Lt. Col. Coombs is one of the two people I meant. I never got a chance to see William Kunstler or Clarence Darrow at work, but I now feel I kind of know how that feels.

Shane’s coverage of the case itself is predictably bland. But he manages, if you look at it closely, to convey some of the slyness of the veteran advocate:

Mr. Coombs, 43, is deep into one of the most high-profile American military cases in recent years, leading an aggressive, if unorthodox, defense. In weeks of pretrial hearings, the tall, crew-cut lawyer, flanked by uniformed military lawyers who make up the rest of the defense team, has attacked the government’s case on every conceivable ground, even as he conceded that Private Manning was the WikiLeaks source.

Coombs, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, served 12 years in the Army before leaving active duty and opening a military-oriented defense practice in 2009 in Providence, R.I. He has worked, both in court and in a public speech last month, to frame Private Manning’s disclosure of documents not as a reckless act of national security vandalism but as a deed of conscience, intended to expose government misdeeds and defend the public’s right to know.

It was an honor to watch Coombs deliver his speedy-trial brief, in which he countered the government’s catalog of everything they’d been doing by enumerating the ways in which it could have acted with more alacrity, adding on every single week in which he saw government inaction “while Pfc. Manning remained in pre-trial detention.”

Each individual omission added up like layers of paint on a canvas, until Coombs closed by citing the Rule of Court-Martial 707(d):”The accused’s constitutional right to a speedy trial have been violated. And the sole remedy for such a speedy trial violation is dismissal [of the affected charges] with prejudice.”

The whole presentation led to a super-caffeinated rebuttal by the prosecutor, which told me that it was as brilliant as it had looked.

The other giant I met this week was someone I knew only from her posts at Firedoglake, without realizing who she was: Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, who gives her take on the trial below.

jesselyn_radackWith all my attention around soldiers who dissent, I find I’m sorely ignorant of much of the history of civilian whistleblowing, and had forgotten about Radack in specific. And I’m not sure I ever knew her full story, as one of the few employees in John Ashcroft’s Justice Department who actively questioned its behavior in the aftermath of 9/11.  The photo is from the Brown alumni magazine around that time, when she refused to help interrogators corners in the questioning of John Walker Lindh.

Radack has been offering legal and logistical support to Manning’s defense, adding him to the Government Accountability Project’s Whistleblowers honor roll. I hope I can go to DC to meet with her and the rest of GAP, to explore what whistleblowing really means in the 21st century. (And maybe ask how she’s kept her  multiple sclerosis at bay, since with her it’s still the invisible kind).

One of the most fun, and humbling, things about this project is how often I come into contact with such giants. Though it has me listening to this band, so much that I had to include the video below. Tell me the lyrics to the song don’t get you hoping for a whistleblower of your own.

Men and MST: getting to the core of it


!  airplaneAce-croppedAnother military rape scandal — this one at Lackland Air Force Base.  A very few of you might have guessed my first thought: “Ground Hog Day. When will they learn?”

I say that because it’s nearly 18 years since a similar scandal at Aberdeen Proving Ground changed my  job description and catalyzed the formation of the short-lived Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel (STAAAMP— the link is to its ghost site at archive.org, since STAAAMP stopped existing as a nonprofit org a decade ago.) Back then, scandals at Tailhook, the Air Force Academy (the 1993 one), and a monumental 1995 Veterans Administration study had cracked the ice somewhat, and I was already talking to survivors of what we now call MST every week. Then came December 1996, when those brave young basic-training women came forward. Above, the image I chose to illustrate the peerless Kathy Gilberd‘s article about it all, for a magazine I edited.

A lot has changed since then for the good, of course. Congress mostly gets it, which is why they scheduled hearings on Lackland for January 23. Columbia University’s Helen Benedict wrote an iconic book on the subject.Visionary filmmaker Kirby Dick made the documentary those brave survivors deserved, which has been nominated for an Oscar this year.  And  STAAAMP has largely been replaced by the super-competent Service Women’s Action Network and the grassroots VetWOW and Protect Our Defenders.

And still, per the LA Times:

Hearings began this week for Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jaime Rodriguez, a Houston recruiter facing life on charges of rape and pursuing illicit relationships with 18 women, according to Air Force Times.

Last week, Staff Sgt. Christopher Jackson, 29, became the sixth basic training instructor convicted of sexual misconduct since April. Jackson received 100 days in jail, 30 days’ hard labor and was demoted to airman first class,  but was allowed to remain in the Air Force.

Ten others are headed to court, including Master Sgt. Jamey Crawford, who waived an evidentiary hearing this week, and faces up to 22 years in prison is convicted on charges sodomy, adultery and giving a false official statement, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

At least now, when it happens, even the current Defense Secretary (thanks to that film!) knows the problem is both endemic and systemic. And next week’s hearings will feature both SWAN and a multi-generational group of MST survivors, including the impressive Jenny McClendon (seen here when the scandal first broke).  McClendon has”cautious optimism” about the hearings, she  told reporters this week.

But as my dear friend Lily Casura (founder of Healing Combat Trauma.com) points out in San Antonio News-Express, the hearings will lack one important ingredient: representation from male Lackland victims. None have yet come forward. Yet the national numbers imply  that there must be some. Casura reflects on the possible reasons:

It’s hard for men (or women) to talk about it, and apparently even more so for men. Of the same active-duty males of every service surveyed who were assaulted, more than four in every five (85 percent) didn’t report.

Men don’t report for reasons ranging from thinking it wasn’t important enough or not wanting anyone to know, to doubting the report would stay confidential, or being afraid of retaliation, reprisal, being labeled a troublemaker, or concerns about affecting promotion.

But there’s also personal shame involved when a man is assaulted. I recently interviewed a former Marine, one of the few men featured in “The Invisible War” documentary on MST. He was gang-raped on active duty by other Marines he worked with. Did he report? Absolutely not. “I was embarrassed, scared, didn’t know what to do at the time, so I denied everything,” he says. “Big mistake.”

He also went back to work after the assault. “I sucked it up like a man,” he said, adding, “I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I know the culture.”

I know the culture. That sentence summarizes why, I think, the issue has been stinking up the military for so long — despite all the earnest commissions and exposes. There’s deep work to be done on making the system’s jurisprudence and reward system more just, and SWAN and POF are right to fight for it.  But I fear that there’s a far broader conversation about military “masculinity” that few are ready for yet, and without it you might get no more than  cosmetics.

Still, I wish them all – the survivors, the groups,  Congress — godspeed on trying to move this forward. And the reporters covering these hearings should also ask the probable new Secretary of Defense how he plans to confront this, especially as these wars wind down.

Iraq and a hard place

pc-1

All this Manning talk has distracted me from writing about this amazing mural, powered by the singular organization Warrior Writers. They’re poets, essayists, performers and visual artists of all stripes, mostly from what their director calls “veterans who’ve served since September 11.” Together with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program,  they produced this testimonial a half-mile away from where I live, entitled “Communion Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” It was funded in part by veterans’ health agencies who believed sort of what I do: that creating art is a key way to tapping the strength inside the trauma.

I was there for the opening on Veterans Day, when the commissioners and City Council folk celebrated the work of the artists and all the vets who helped them create this mural. You get to decide if dissent is involved, but to the extent that vets turn their own trauma into something that speaks truth, there’s no question it deserves our attention.

At the mural opening, I also had the privilege of meeting a newer member of Iraq Veterans Against War, a talented writer from Western Pennsylvania. And he gave me permission to post the poem he read that day, which you should read aloud to yourself: I think it even without the line breaks it sings.

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