April 9, 2006
Veterans-Survivors March…Mobile To New Orleans
Beauty Defined In Epic Action
by Ward Reilly
Dave Cline of VVAW and VFP called me, and a few others, back in December, and asked what I/we thought about organizing a march along the (Katrina-affected) Gulf Coast, to commemorate the third anniversary of the war in Iraq, in the mold, no pun intended, of the civil rights marches of the 60`s.
We had been tossing around different ideas about what action to take for the third anniversary of the Iraq disaster, ever since we had marched together in Washington back in September of 2005, and it was time to make a decision, so we did. The “Veterans-Survivors March….Mobile to New Orleans” was born. We were “Walkin` To New Orleans!”
Stan Goff took the bull by the horns, and started putting together a team to organize this huge undertaking, and in January we got down to business. Goff, a retired Special Forces Master Sergeant, and member of VVAW, VFP, and MFSO, put together a budget and supply list, and we got to work organizing this incredible adventure. We set up a website, and started a series of conference calls, formed committees and a task force. The team involved is too large to list, but they know who they are, and what we accomplished together. In the end, EVERY participant was what made it work.
Veterans For Peace of Mobile, Alabama, led by veteran Paul Robinson, put out the “official” call to march, and the work began. We knew that we were already late in organizing an adventure of this scope, but we were determined that it was a great idea, that being to try and tie the war in Iraq, and its staggering cost, to the virtual abandonment of the Gulf Coast and the city of New Orleans.
If the Bush administration had trillions of dollars to destroy and “re-build” Iraq, why wasn’t that same administration doing anything-and-everything possible to help the (destroyed) cities in our own country? As we had put on the event t-shirts, “Every bomb dropped on Iraq, explodes along the Gulf Coast”. This was a play on Dr. Martin Luther Kings words during the Viet Nam War, when he said that “every bomb dropped on Hanoi, explodes in Harlem”.
We kicked around a few different names for the march, and a few different logos, and in the end, we decided on the “Veterans-Survivors March”, with the theme of “Walkin` To New Orleans”, a Fats Dominos song of the same title. “Fats” lost everything to Hurricane Katrina, and he lived in the infamous “Lower 9th Ward” of New Orleans.
We decided to start the 130 mile march on Tuesday, March 14th, and to end the march in New Orleans on March 19th, the third anniversary of our nations invasion of Iraq, a country that did absolutely NOTHING to the USA. And we marched…and we bussed…and we marched some more.
Our message was simple enough…”Let’s stop the war, and rebuild our own nation, NOW.” We chose for a march logo a picture done by Perry O`Brien of IVAW, that of a combat soldier and a civilian woman, walking side-by-side into the sunset.
We also decided that it was imperative for “Iraq Veterans Against the War” to lead and speak as representatives for this action, and LEAD AND SPEAK they did! Press coverage locally was outstanding, with front-page photos and articles in EVERY city we marched through, from Mobiles’ “Press Register”, to “The Mississippi Press” and finally in the “Times Picayune” of New Orleans.
We were on local TV, and on many live radio shows around the country, such as in Colorado, where KVNF Public Radio did live broadcasts. If there was one disappointment, it was in our (failed) national press in covering the march, but the good news was that we got killer international press, with “Aljazeera” covering us for the last three days, and BBC, CNN, and a Japanese press agent were with us, also. In other words, the people of Iraq and the rest of the world got to see U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghan Wars, speaking the TRUTH about those wars, a major coupe for us. There were also at least 5 documentary film crews with us.
IVAW took the lead each and every day, proudly carrying theirs`, and the marches`, banners. They led with grace, and they led with the TRUTH. They also did a fabulous job of sharing their experiences, with their own brand of intense poetry and music. That so many of their members came from around the country is tribute to their commitment, and their beauty on stage, and in being interviewed, was ” icing on the cake.” At least 25 IVAW members made the trip.
The Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans did a superb job of speaking, and an even better job of performing. One after another, they went on stage and shined during the “Veterans Art Collective”, which took place on Saturday night, the 18th, at the Vietnamese village in New Orleans East, where we camped the last night. The Art Collective was organized by IVAWs own Michael Cuzzort, a Louisiana native who lives near New Orleans. It would be a disservice to say that any act was better than any other, because they were truly ALL inspired.
It is still hard for me to understand how they can rap out multi-paragraphed lyrics, with deep emotion, without even a lyrics sheet, or how they can articulate so much meaning and their heart-felt words, straight from memory.
Some of the participants in the “Veterans Art Collective” were Josh Dawson, who emceed and performed. Joe Hatcher and Garrett Reppenhagen did several (Iraq War based) poems, Dave Cline jammed with Ward Reilly, Josh Dawson, and Ethan Crowell. Billy Mitchell, a Nam-era vet, and co-founder of “Gold Star Families For Peace”, read a poem about his son, who was KIA the same day as Casey Sheehan, whose mother Cindy also joined us for a portion of the march. Charlie Anderson played a fine song. Fernando Braga did a poem about Katrina, and Stephen Potts did his (now infamous) speech, comparing holding-farts-in to not speaking out.(How’s that for COMPLETE coverage?)
Dave Cline then took the stage once more for an incredible song about “touching The Wall”…I must add that there were late-night drum sessions that went into the wee hours of the morning, each and every night, and that it was incredibly gratifying to see all those young vets having fun and realizing that there IS some semblance left of the nation they were supposed to be fighting for. They were “home” for the first time since they went away to impose Bush`s war-crime-policies on the Iraqi and Afghani people.
The other good news about the march is that we made contact, REAL contact, with the black and Vietnamese communities that Bush and Cheney’s “class warfare” have most affected. Truthfully, the issues down here along the gulf-coast are issues of gentrification and the stealing of the land of the poorest of our citizens, and NEVER BEFORE have so many white Americans gone into the homes and communities of the black citizens in the deep south.
On Saturday, a team of 10 vets gathered in New Orleans, at the house of a veteran that had lost everything to Katrina, and we worked with the “Arabi Wrecking Krewe” of New Orleans, gutting out his house, and cleaning his yard, truly helping another veteran/citizen/Katrina survivor, which was also part of our mission.
We shared their music, their churches, and their food, as they fed us, laughed with us, cried with us, and loaned us their land to rest our weary heads (and feet). Day after day we took care of each other and loved one another, and we started something that will spread like wildfire. The locals had the chance to mingle with people that LOVED and RESPECTED them as true equals, and the marchers and locals alike came together in the realization that we must stand together against a common enemy, an enemy not of color, but of class.
Yes, we did it…and the hardest part of the trip was saying goodbye to all of those that formed this incredible family, our TRIBE of peace-makers, on this fabulous journey, from Mobile to New Orleans.
Until we meet again, March On, and PEACE OUT.
Sponsors of march were:
Veterans For Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families For Peace, S.O.S. (Savin’ Our Selves), MIRA(Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance), Bayou Liberty Relief, CAWI of Baton Rouge, C3 of New Orleans, Common Ground Collective, Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund