Monday, July 10, 2006

Fighting for Peace

Sometimes when I am interviewed for a story, I feel like there is a nice connection with the writer, especially when they write from the understanding of a subtle point. I just missed an opportunity to meet Mike Ferner, a member of Veterans For Peace, by a few days last September, but I still think about the compelling words he wrote last summer about Crawford, TX.

I just saw another article that Mike wrote at the end of June. I looked forward to seeing what he was up to; how could you not, when the title of the article is Has This Country Gone Completely Insane?. From the beginning, this article did not bode well. I'll let Mike take it from here.

This afternoon, drinking a cup of coffee while sitting in the Jesse Brown V.A. Medical Center on Chicago’s south side, a Veterans Administration cop walked up to me and said, "OK, you’ve had your 15 minutes, it’s time to go."

"Huh?", I asked intelligently, not quite sure what he was talking about. "You can’t be in here protesting," officer Adkins said, pointing to my Veterans For Peace shirt.

"Well, I’m not protesting, I’m having a cup of coffee," I returned, thinking that logic would convince Adkins to go back to his earlier duties of guarding against serious terrorists.

Flipping his badge open, he said, "No, not with that shirt. You’re protesting and you have to go."

Beginning to get his drift, I said firmly, "Not before I finish my coffee."

He insisted that I leave, but still not quite believing my ears, I tried one more approach to reason. "Hey, listen. I’m a veteran. This is a V.A. facility. I’m sitting here not talking to anybody, having a cup of coffee. I’m not protesting and you can’t kick me out."

"You’ll either go or we’ll arrest you," Adkins threatened.

"Well, you’ll just have to arrest me," I said, wondering what strange land I was now living in.

You know the rest. Handcuffed, led away to the facility’s security office past people with surprised looks on their faces, read my rights, searched, and written up.

The officer who did the formalities, Eric Ousley, was professional in his duties. When I asked him if he was a vet, it turned out he had been a hospital corpsman in the Navy. We exchanged a couple sea stories. He uncuffed me early. And he allowed as to how he would only charge me with disorderly conduct, letting me go on charges of criminal trespass and weapons possession — a pocket knife — which he said would have to be destroyed (something I rather doubt since it was a nifty Swiss Army knife with not only a bottle opener, but a tweezers AND a toothpick).

After informing me I could either pay the $275 fine on the citation or appear in court, Ousley escorted me off the premises, warning me if I returned with "that shirt" on, I’d be arrested and booked into jail.

I’m sure I could go back to officers Adkins’ and Ousleys’ fiefdom
with a shirt that said, "Nuke all the hajis," or "Show us your tits," or any number of truly obscene things and no one would care. Just so it’s not "that shirt" again.

And just for the record? I’m not paying the fine. I’ll see Adkins and Ousley and Dubya’s Director of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, if he wants to show up, in United States District Court on the appointed date. And if there’s a Chicago area attorney who’d like to take the case, I’d really like to sue them — from Dubya on down. I have to believe that this whole country has not yet gone insane, just the government. This kind of behavior can’t be tolerated. It must be challenged.

The members of Veterans for Peace that I have met on my journey since my son, Lt Ken Ballard was killed have all been lovely people. Our local chapter 101 in the SF Bay area have been supportive beyond words. I love the VFP men and women in Santa Barbara who spend every Sunday on the beach at Stearns Wharf, Arlington West, setting up crosses to represent the US casualties in Iraq. Yes, every single Sunday, for nearly 3 years now. If I have any sense of difficulty at a peace event, I know that I will be safe if one of the VFP guys stands by my side. I know that many of these veterans who served their country well have told us Gold Star Mothers that we could have been their mom's and they hoped if they hadn't come home that their moms would have spoken out. I cannot imagine speaking without my friends at Veterans for Peace.

Back to Mike....The Veterans for Peace shirt is not provocative, it has a dove on the front with the words "VETERANS FOR PEACE" and is available in different colors; I'm partial to the tie dye version myself. I'm sure the VFP logo on Mike's shirt looked something like this.

Since when did wearing an innocuous shirt like that result in an arrest for protesting? If you aren't fighting for peace, what ARE you fighting for but most of all, when did Peace become a bad word?

And Mike, the answer is yes, the country has gone completely insane; totally barking mad!

1 comment:

pogblog said...

I've been carrying my Teach Peace, now Dream Peace sign around downtown in Mountain View CA for 1376 days in a row now. Occasionally as I wait to cross at a light someone often but not always in a Hummer or an SUV or a gigantic pickup will scream, "F*** peace" as they hurtle by. I wonder what in the world could they possibly mean by that?

When accosted by the police, I have learned, like Mike, that the first thing you must do is stay in place. So they arrest you. If they get you to move at all, freedom of speech loses. I was at a street fair and they said "Just come over here to talk to the lieutenant." That was before I realized that I had to stand my ground. If you move, they'll keep you tied up for an hour around the corner.

I've learned to say, "Arrest me if you must, but I am not moving from this spot." I also have memorized key lines from the Pruneyard free speech decision.

The ACLU will help with a case like this.