The Asheville Convention
By John Heuer
For the first time in our 29 year history, Veterans For Peace held its National Convention in North Carolina. From July 23 through the 27th, some 350 VFP members and friends gathered at the University of North Carolina Asheville. Host Chapter 099 offered free homestays and convenient campgrounds for out of towners who couldn’t afford motels or UNCA dorm rooms.
We made a concerted effort to encourage post 9/11 vets to attend, waiving registration fees and raising $10,000 to assist in their travel expenses. Over 50 young vets attended the convention, from all across the US and the UK. Nineteen members of the Eisenhower Chapter in the NC Triangle participated as volunteers, presenters, attendees, and hosts. A lot of North Carolina pride went into this convention. Humility, too.
After all, the convention was being held on historic Cherokee Nation lands. The legacy of US militarism, is not lost on 1st Nations’ survivors, whose families were herded onto reservations comprising the least desirable lands. “Least desirable” that is, until gold or oil or other “precious’ minerals were discovered on the reservations. Hundreds of abandoned uranium mines on or near indigenous lands continue to poison their air, land, and children. Navajo musician/artist/activist Klee Benally provided riveting testimony to these travesties in word and song.
But Eastern Band Cherokee Nation Elder Freeman Owle provided a gracious welcome to the convention. Freeman is an educator, historian, story teller, and stone carver. His words of both welcome and forgiveness set the tone for the entire convention, as did the extraordinary spoken words and song of April “Little Red Feather” Adams, a US Army veteran from 1990 to 2000, a member of the Cherokee Nation Western Band, and our newest VFP National Board member.
What did we accomplish?
Veterans For Peace rededicated ourselves to the abolition of war and preparation for war. We are working to end current wars, prevent future wars, and dismantle the machinery of war. When citizens are educated about the costs of war, $2 trillion annually spent for war and preparation for war, when one tenth of that cost could cure hunger on earth, they recognize that our so-called civilization needs a course correction.
Our convention theme, Peace or Perish—Abolish War on Planet and Poor, was highlighted by a plenary including Black Workers for Justice leader Angaza Laughinghouse, Asheville’s Beloved Community Center leader Rev. Amy Cantrell and US Army veteran, history professor at Essex County College in Newark, NJ, Margaret Stevens. The plenary “Peace at Home, Peace Abroad” focused on the idea that we can never enjoy peace at home while making war abroad, nor can we help build peace abroad while we make war on our communities here at home.
The murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO by a militarized police force trained not to protect citizens, but to treat them as targets, brings that point home with excruciating clarity.
On August 6th 2014, the 69th anniversary of the advent of nuclear warfare, the Raleigh Committee to Reverse the Arms Race held its “First Wednesday Vigil” at the Fayetteville Street Post Office, as it has every month since 1982.
If we survive the era of nuclear weapons, it will be at least a small miracle, and a miracle, in good measure, of our own making. The US government is on record for proposing a $1 trillion investment in our nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years.
Why would we squander such vast treasure on an arsenal that, if ever deployed, would mean our own destruction? It is a colossal waste of resources, and the poster child for “A Bridge to Nowhere.” What do we the people do when our governments (not just our own) are hell bent on amassing destructive power while neglecting the needs of their citizens at home?
September 21st 2014
The UN declared an International Day of Peace, which was first celebrated in 1982. (Sometimes events have to catch up with holidays for which they are named.) The tradition became a world-wide observance of International Day of Peace on September 21st of each year, an opportunity for combatants to lay their weapons down, and for all of us to imagine a world without war.
Veterans For Peace will participate in a massive Peoples March for Climate in New York City, planned for September 21st, prior to the UN Climate Summit starting that week. Communities across North Carolina and the world will participate in a convergence of peace and environmental activists calling for an end to the wars, on planet and poor. Included are official pronouncements, ringing of bells (it is Sunday, after all) and public assemblies. Preachers are encouraged to exhort their parishioners to take a moment of silence to forgive themselves, and then make a call to an estranged community or family member, and to express gratitude and respect for this fragile, garden planet earth.
Because peace begins with thee and me.