by Joshua Shurley
Recently in eastern Washington, hundreds of veterans, their families, and supporters gathered–not to glorify their status or promote military service–but to organize in order to resist the war machine’s destructive legacy. From August 15-18 (which happens to coincide with the dates of the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Woodstock music festival!) they leveraged their voices en masse and the result was a powerful experience for those who took part.
Veterans For Peace is a global organization committed to exposing the true costs of war, seeking justice for veteran and victims of war, and abolishing war as an instrument of national policy. With over 140 chapters across America and around the world, VFP is dedicated to countering the dominant cultural narrative that uses veterans as props for militarism. One of those chapters is right here in the Central Valley. Three local members (Eduardo Castro, Josh Shurley and Jackson Shepherd) just attended VFP’s 34th annual gathering in Spokane, Washington under the theme Sacred Land, Sacred Lives: Peace Knows No Borders. The fast-paced schedule of plenaries, workshops, meetings, discussions, tabling, poetry readings, film screenings, musical performances, peace demonstrations, and spaces for reflections invigorated and energized members, who will go back and add value to their home chapters.
We took part in so much: learning effective organizing strategies, working to publicize the plight of Palestinians, raising awareness of the injustices facing our deported veterans and their families, and working to save our VA healthcare system from the Trump administration’s privatization efforts. We connected with VFP’s Okinawa chapter fighting against the construction of another US military base on the island and the ecological destruction already underway there. The featured speaker known as Loke roused the crowd with an exhortation to listen to and honor indigenous people, such as with solidarity efforts with current protests on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. We heard from recent VFP delegations to Venezuela and Nicaragua (and even my own in Cuba) and honored our two members being held in Ireland.
We reflected on the past with an art exhibit called “Waging Peace in Vietnam: US Soldiers and Veterans Who Opposed the War” and sought to reckon with that grotesque war through the Vietnam: Full Disclosure campaign. We collectively mourned the tragedy of war dead with an exhibition known as Arlington Northwest in a nearby park, featuring rows and rows of grave markers for those fallen since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. These efforts were a powerful statement about the human cost of war.
The membership grappled with serious issues related to patriarchy, white supremacy, and maintaining an organizational culture where members are heard and respected. VFP was entertained by hip hop lyricist (and Marine veteran) Megaciph, inspired by speakers Danny Sjursen and Britney DeBarros (both army officers turned war resisters). On one afternoon, about three dozen took part in a Gaza land flotilla along the Spokane River. Probably the best aspect of these gatherings is the networking with other chapters and seeing the amazing and diverse work of our membership across America and around the world.
Much work lies ahead. Far too many families and communities are in turmoil, as ICE acts as a modern-day Gestapo. The most vulnerable among us are being ravaged by an unjust political and economic system, as the symptoms of late-stage capitalism give rise to more disturbing reality TV theatrics intended to distract us from systemic racial, gender and financial inequality. While VFP leads the way in resisting war and militarism, we support other social justice causes as steadfast allies, and stand with our sisters and brothers from across the spectrum of struggle.
VFP members have served in all eras, from World War Two through Vietnam, to the recent wars in the Middle East, and everything in between. Next year we’ll gather Aug 6-9, 2020 in Albuquerque, New Mexico around the 75th anniversary of the horrific atomic bombings of Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If you are a veteran, or are someone who cares about exposing the true costs of war, reach out and join us to build peace at home, and peace abroad.
Dr. Joshua Shurley teaches political science at Clovis Community College, is a board member of the Fresno Center For Nonviolence, and an organizer with Chapter 180 of Veterans For Peace. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org