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THE ANATOMY OF REVOLUTION: PART I: THOMAS PAINE

 A Report from the Left Forum (6-1-14) with: Chris Hedges, Dr. Cornel West, and Richard Wolff.

Moderated by: Laura Flanders.

 By Jill Dalton, NYC June 5, 2014

 This seminar was part of the Left Forum’s three day symposium, Reform and/or Revolution: Imagining a World with Transformative Justice, held at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City (May 30 – June 1). The turn out at this conference was their largest to date, which I consider a very good sign.

Chris Hedges, Dr. Cornel West and Richard Wolff began a ten-part series starting with, according to Chris Hedges, America’s only real revolutionist, Thomas Paine. In Paine’s three great works, Common Sense, The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, he laid down the foundations by which rebellion is morally and legally permissible. With the rise of the corporate state, they ask whether the conditions set by Paine have been met, and if Paine’s call to overthrow British tyranny should be our own.

 I’d been warned via email the event would be crowded, so I arrived forty-five minutes early to procure a good seat, and after a few minutes of inquiring who was saving or sitting in which empty seat, managed to procure myself a seat in the front row. As predicted, the lecture hall filled to overflowing, and the overflow was directed to another room where the proceedings were live streamed.

Moderator: Laura Flanders

Moderator: Laura Flanders

In Laura Flanders’ opening remarks she runs down a list: 7 million in prison, the war on terror, 46 million hungry and in poverty, and the 0.1% with 20 million or more have doubled their wealth since the 60’s. Then she quotes Thomas Paine,

These are the times that try men’s souls.

These are indeed the times that try men’s souls, but the question Paine asks is,

What is to be done?

Flanders asked the crowd two questions. First, do we want change and second, are these revolutionary times? Richard Wolff pointed out the crowd gave a strong cheer regarding change but wobbled when asked about revolution. This is understandable,” he continued, “as revolution is scary.” Many of us, myself included, believe the American population is asleep and apathetic but Wolff reminds us, “Revolution is not limited to the U.S. Revolution is global.”

Power and Language

Hedges explained the importance of Paine. “Paine understood the monarchy. He understood British power and could explain the structures of power. He understood what power was, and how it functioned, and was able to write in such a way that, according to Cornel West, “the common folk could understand it.”   Hedges continued, “Hubris blinded the British monarchy just as our system of government is blinded now.”

 West went on to say Paine was able to create a vocabulary and write ‘as plain as the alphabet.’ Paine, a Quaker, was opposed to power, and the rights of kings and belonged to no political party. Born in the UK, Paine arrived in the United States in 1774 and in 1776 wrote Common Sense, which was read far and wide including by George Washington to his troops, and this work inspired people in the Thirteen Colonies to stand up and fight for their independence from Great Britain.   Paine gave them the language to understand what was actually going on, and why they needed to fight for their freedom from British rule.

Later West gave us some language to explain what’s truly going on today. “Poverty is the new slavery,” he tells us. “Prison is the new Jim Crow. Economic inequality is slavery. The plutocrats, oligarchs, banks, Wall Street, and corporations are the monarchy.”

Richard Wolff pointed out, “We now face more than enough evidence, outrage, injustices, attacks on our freedoms, and rights on our security.” Our system is unequal, unjust, and intolerable. “Reform?” he asks. “Been there/done that/doesn’t work. They undo our reforms. They spent forty years undoing the New Deal.” Thomas Paine concluded, “We’ve got to change the system. Revolution means tell the King of England to go home. You’re out of here.”

Wolff maintains it’s the same for us. He mentions the economist Thomas Piketty, who in his 700-page book, Capitalism in the 21st Century, concludes capitalism always produces growing inequality of wealth and income. Wolff continues, “We’ve got to have the courage to make systematic change.”

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.

Samuel Adams

 West challenged us, “We must be willing to die. We must act humanely, think critically, and that means sacrificing popularity.” He pointed out how many intellectuals today have been seduced by power, prestige and money. Not willing to take a risk but rather hide behind a veneer of being cynical and despairing.

Hedges again emphasized how important language is. Paine reclaimed words like democracy that, at the time, was considered a very negative term. Today the elites have crafted a specialized vocabulary we can’t penetrate. Paine gave them the vocabulary. We too must search for language and call things by their real name.

 West reiterated the need for “righteous anger and indignation. Speech that is unafraid.” This is what Malcolm X did and he suffered the consequences.   Truth tellers are pushed to the margins, vilified, assassinated or all three. This is what happened to Thomas Paine when he peeled off the cover and gave a scathing critique of George Washington. He called America a bastion of capitalism and white supremacy. Paine also said indigenous people were wiser than white people. West reminds us that today, “We’re isolated from each other. We’re separated from our red, black, yellow, and white brothers and sisters.”

 Wolff pointed out, “All the people who stood against Paine are now forgotten but Thomas Paine survived.” Thomas Paine addresses, “What is to be done?” and gives us insight into what we face now. Wolff reiterates, “Democracy was a very negative term but now is the holy of holies.” “Our democracy,” Wolff points out, “is a fake–a complete fantasy. We live in the opposite of a democracy. Our institutions are undemocratic. We pretend we live in a democracy. We need to shock the population. We’re not treated like human beings.” Wolff continued, “Paine teaches us to think about revolution as a way to change a system.” “We permit institutions to be organized in an undemocratic way. We leave decisions to the few people at the top–the corporations. We have to be in charge of them. We must reorganize production.”

(L to R) Dr. Cornel West, Chris Hedges & Richard Wolff

(L to R) Dr. Cornel West, Chris Hedges & Richard Wolff

Vilification and Historical Amnesia

Hedges explained the two weapons used against Thomas Paine were: vilification and historical amnesia. Paine was followed, slandered, libeled, marginalized, arrested, pushed to the margins, narrowly escaped execution, and they finally broke him. He died a pauper in Greenwich Village. “Six people attended his funeral. Two of them were black.” But even as Paine was prosecuted and vilified he preached we must protect our enemies. Hedges went on to illustrate our historical amnesia by asking, “Where are the monuments to him? He was an important founder. He’s been ignored. The establishment works hard to erase our radical tradition.”

In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

George Orwell

 Truth telling is very dangerous business indeed, and certainly not for the faint of heart. West points out, “most of our friends are cowards.”  I’ll add most of us are too cowardly and lazy to get off the couch let along stand up to the system that enslaves us, call it out, and ultimately change it. But according to West, “The truth has to emerge.” We need courageous examples such as Malcolm X, Herbert Harrison Victoria Garvin, David Walker and I’ll add Dr. King, Gandhi, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. West reminds us, “We must be courageous or we’ll go under. The people organized are powerful, but the gangsters who run things are powerful too. We’re up against a lot. Their crimes against humanity include our educational system, prisons and drones” to name a few.”  “Poverty is prison, and, as West points out, “if whites instead of blacks were in prison and poverty in these numbers we’d be hearing a different story. “ “White supremacy, lies and crimes,” West assures us, “the black elites will be behind this as well.”

We thought (the United States) could lead us to freedom, but they led us into feardom, not freedom.

Giannina Braschi

 Wolff contends, “We don’t know where we are in the revolution. Be a critic. Push to see where and how far you can go. Can’t worry about what we’re up against.” He quotes, “For decades nothing may happen, but then in a moment decades happen.”

The basis of a democratic state is liberty.

Aristotle

 “Liberty?” Wolff asks. “There is no liberty.” We live in an NSA corporate surveillance state. He explains, “Our problem is the economic system. Our climate situation is another consequence of capitalism. We have obscene social inequalities. Our economic system is dysfunctional to most of us.”

Surveillance, without regard to the rule of law or our basic human dignity, creates societies that fear free expression and dissent, the very values that make America strong.

Edward Snowden

 I downloaded Paine’s Common Sense to my Kindle a couple of years ago and began reading it, but never finished it. I ordered a paperback of Common Sense along with The Rights of Man, as it’s easier for me to study these works with a hardcopy. I also just ordered and received Democracy, Inc. by Sheldon Wolin. Hedges always mentions this professor emeritus of politics at Princeton University, and his work on “managed democracy and the specter of inverted totalitarianism.” Not exactly light reading but important to understand what’s actually going on, and perhaps gain insight into how to change the system.

 We are the empire.

Chris Hedges

I’ve included a link to this amazing ninety-minute talk with these three enlightened truth tellers. Please check it out for yourself. Then we, like Paine, must ask ourselves, “What is to be done?” And then go a step further. What can I do? How can I get involved? It’s time for a revolution. Our system no longer serves us, and is a threat to humanity and the planet. We must stop these illegal wars of aggression that murder millions in our names.  The U.S. military is the largest terrorist organization on the planet.  Our elected officials no longer listen to us.  We’re merely commodities to the elites, as is the environment, which they are in the process of destroying. As Hedges pointed out in his closing comments,

Whites are now enduring what people of color have already endured. The minimum wage is critical. What they’ve done to college students is criminal. Something is coming– no jobs, mortgage crisis, climate change. There will be blowback.

 According to Thomas Jefferson we need a revolution every twenty years.  I’d say we’re long overdue.

God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.  The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.  It is its natural manure.

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Go Back To Sleep America at Your Own Peril

by Jill Dalton

Go back to sleep America.  The election is over.  The “lesser of two evils” or as Glen Ford so aptly labeled him the “more effective evil” has won and all is well with the world.

You cast your faux fear vote for your faux president who was actually selected and installed by the corporate powers to serve the corporate police state that’s been put into place over the past 30 years, and is now accelerating at an alarming rate.  The irony is many actually believe their vote matters and global warming doesn’t exist and we’re fighting the good wars and fracking will save us from peak oil and taking our rights away will keep us safe and we’re number one.

Sure we’re number 1.  Number 1 in income inequality, #1 in incarceration rates, #1 in building and exporting weapons, #1 in military spending.  In fact, we’re the #1 terrorist organization on the planet.  Our main exports are: murder, torture, death and destruction.  We’ve managed to create terrorists where there were none.  Terrorism is like a cancer and when it’s attacked it metastases and spreads around the globe.  Our child poverty rate is 23.1% second only to Romania.  We rank in the low 20’s in science and math scores so go back to sleep America.

The sociopaths have taken over the asylum and are hollowing or harvesting our country out from the inside.  Our manufacturing sector has plummeted from 70% in the 1960’s to a meager 17% today.  Corporate power, aided and abetted by our bought and paid for legislators, are exploiting us and destroying the environment in the process. 

I believe these white male supremacist hate the feminine and therefore degrade, defeat, demean, abuse, rape and pillage Mother Earth every chance they get, and when she fights back with a Katrina or a Sandy they deny climate change.  These male white supremacists treat us human women with the same distain and disrespect.  They’re dangerous dinosaurs that have not evolved and are running scared.  You only have to look at blowhards like O’Reilly or Limbaugh to see the pattern.  But all bullies are really cowards, hiding their fear behind racism, sexism and vitriol, and when you stand up to a bully they invariable back down as you’ve exposed them for the ugly pathetic little tyrants they are.  Their only power lies in our silence, and obedience. 

We know the truth, and we have the power.  Our Constitution still reads “we the people” not “we the corporations.”  It’s up to us to rise up and stand up for our rights, and our planet.  For our mother earth, women’s rights, economic equality, a peaceful world, a peaceful homeland, good food, good schools, good jobs and healthcare for all not just the rich.  These are basic human rights.

But we’ve given our power away.  We’re no longer citizens we’re consumers.   We’re passive.  We vote and think we’ve done our civic duty, and then go back to sleep till the next bogus election comes around complete with its negative attack ads, non-issues and corporately sponsored participants. 

Issues are never discussed because that would be too dangerous to the corporate state, and the American people might wake up and ask, “Yeah, why don’t I have a good job and healthcare, why can’t my kids get a decent education?  Why are we bailing out the bankers and Wall Street and foreclosing on homeowners?  Why are we spending trillions on illegal wars?  Why are our police forces militarized?  Why is my income the same as it was in 1968 while productivity is up, and CEO’s are making millions?”  Why?  Because the corporate state is about profit and control, and we’re merely pawns in their game of greed where, to borrow from Chris Hedges, “the only word they know is, MORE!” 

They ignore our cries.  50% of all Americans are either in or near poverty.  Our children go to sleep hungry and homeless but we’re too busy propping up a dead system that serves the 1%.  It’s actually much less than the 1% but no need to split hairs here.  Sure the economy works for them.  Their kids go to private schools; they have healthcare, a few nice homes and eat non-GMO food so it works for them.

I received an email from an old friend recently and inside was a rant from a woman proclaiming how all these poor people are freeloading off Obama’s welfare state because they receive food stamps while she, on the other hand, has to work very hard at her job, and why should they get a free ride?

I wrote back, “Seriously, you’re concerned about a poor family of four receiving $70 a week in food stamps?  What about Wall Street and the too big to fail banks who’ve been given $16 trillion of our taxpayer dollars, or 1 trillion a year being spent on illegal wars.  What about the tax cuts for the rich, and them not paying their fair share?”  Seems she’s been indoctrinated, as many have, in the Ayn Rand philosophy.  It’s the let’s blame the victim mentality.  Let’s point the finger at those who have no power, no voice, and can’t fight back. 

Her rage is understandable but completely misdirected.  But that’s how the corporate propaganda machine works.  And with many Americans no longer able to think, and instead spouting sound bites and platitudes with no real thought process behind them, we see how dangerously misguided this (it’s every man/woman for themselves) group think has become.

Our school systems are being privatized or corporatized, as they issue standardized tests, so students can parrot back the group think because people who’re able to think are dangerous to the corporate state.  It’s much harder to manipulate and control us when we’re able to process their crimes, and connect the dots. No matter corporatizing our school system will destroy the creativity, and ingenuity that Americans are known for.

“We the people” have the power yet we stand silent to these corporate forces, and merely obey as our rights are stripped away; our jobs sent overseas, our homes foreclosed upon.  We turn a blind eye to Obama’s drone attacks, illegal wars, collateral damage, “Kill List,” assassinations of American citizens, the signing of the NDAA and H.R. 347.  And like the Germans in the 1930’s we remain mute to these atrocities.

“First they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984

Go back to sleep America. 

And don’t forget to numb out by watching “Dancing With the Stars,” or some other mindless reality TV show, and fake corporate news that doesn’t deal with any real issues just like the campaign, and the faux debates because remember, “You can’t handle the truth.”  And if all else fails we can always entertain ourselves by shopping for cheap stuff made in China at Wal-Mart we don’t need as long as we’re distracted and preoccupied the powers that be have us right where they want us, and will continue to loot, murder, plunder, and steal.

And now it’s time to get austerity passed.  It’s time for Obama’s grand bargain with the Republicans, which he can’t wait to install and we all see how well that’s working in Europe with their massive demonstrations.  I believe Obama was put into office to do what no Republican could ever get away with.  He’s here to tell us they’re cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. 

No one would dare mention all our fiscal problems could be rectified by allowing the Bush/Obama tax cuts for the rich to expire, reducing the military budget, ending these illegal wars, bringing our troops home. Do we really need them in Germany and England almost 70 years after WWII?

Go back to sleep America.

And with the advent of Citizens United both parties have been co-opted by big money, and are beholding to their corporate puppet masters.

The Republicans make no bones about it.  They tell us they hate everyone who isn’t white, male and rich.  Okay, I don’t like it but at least they tell you to your face, “We hate you, we’re stealing your stuff: Social Security, killing Medicare and Medicaid because we hope you get sick and die, and we’re giving all your money to our fat, rich billionaire friends, we’re killing all entitlements except corporate entitlements, we’re looting the treasury, and we don’t care what you say.  We’re “the deciders.” They claim to purport free trade, which is anything but, and the Ayn Rand philosophy of “I got mine so who cares about you” individualist, and while we’re at it we’re going to drown government in the bathtub, as we collect our fat government pensions, free healthcare, FEMA help, and whatever else the government wants to dole out all the while proclaiming how horrible “entitlements” are.

But honestly, I guess I prefer that to the lily-livered Democrats who feel the same way about us, but lie about it to our faces in their Bill Clinton, “I feel your pain” and “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” bull crap kind of way.  I’d rather know where I stand than listen to their sniveling excuses and lies.

So now Obama and the Democrats will pretend they’ve got our backs, and the Republicans will refuse to do anything but cry fowl and demand more tax cuts for the rich or “job creators,” as they’ve falsely renamed them.  If that were true we’d be rolling in new jobs.  Then Obama will make his usual pathetic excuses, “Gee sorry, kids I tried but the Republicans are just so mean, and I have no backbone, and no negotiating skills, and no character, and it’s the best I could do, and can’t we all just get along?” 

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong, which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” 

Frederick Douglass

This is why all change is and always has always been brought about by social movements.  It’s truly up to “we the people” to change things.  It’s up to us to raise holy hell, and demand our constitutional rights, demand a green sustainable economy, demand single payer for all, demand Social Security be protected, demand an end to these illegal wars of aggression, demand an end to the bank bailouts, demand the too big to fail banks be broken up, demand economic equality, demand decent paying jobs, demand an end to torture and prosecuting whistleblowers, demand accountability for the bankers and Wall Street crooks, as well as the Bush/Cheney/Obama criminality.  These men are traitors to the U.S. Constitution and should be held accountable, but until “we the people” demand justice nothing will change. 

I was grateful to see Elizabeth Warren won her Senate seat along with other progressive candidates such as Alan Grayson, Sherrod Brown, Harkeem Jeffries and Tammy Baldwin.  According to Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) progressives took 30 seats in all defeating several right wing extremists but we cannot rely on them either.  It’s up to us.

As for Obama my prayer is Americans will wake up, and smell the corruption.  Our consciousness will be raised, and we’ll demand our civil liberties back, demand a stop to drone attacks, illegal wars, assassinations of American citizens, refuse to be spied on, or illegally searched at airports but alas Americans seem to love giving their rights away.  The American dream has become a nightmare.

In Nader’s new book:  “17 Solutions,” he assures us, “It’d only take 1% of the population to take up their civic duty as a hobby to turn this ship around.  It’s easier than you think,” he espouses.  “We must organize, attend rallies, occupy local congressional offices with specific demands, occupy courtrooms” and demand our rights.  It’s up to us to do it.  Stop capitulating at every turn. 

We must hold this president accountable.  We’ve put no pressure on this guy, and he’s run slipshod over the Constitution and us, and very few seem to notice or care.  By voting for “the lesser evil,” (I voted for Jill Stein) the so called liberals are accessories to his crimes, and are now officially irrelevant.  And just because you voted for him doesn’t mean he’s got your best interest at heart.  It doesn’t matter what he says.  It’s what he does that counts.

The Unions, what’s left of them and, in fact, the entire liberal class has sold out.  So forget about them.  They’re a waste of time.  Focus on solutions not problems.  Whatever we put our attention on multiplies.  Solutions.  Action.  “We the people” have the power, but like Sleeping Beauty we’ve fallen asleep.  Obama’s no Prince Charming.  There will be no revivifying kiss.  His power lies in us staying asleep.

Come on.  We’re Americans.  Get it together. It’s up to us.  We allowed this insanity to happen by ignoring the truth, and now it’s time to act before it’s too late.  No more excuses.  No more fighting over wedge issues.  The whole point is to keep “we the people” distracted and divided, fighting over nonsense, so the corporate powers can continue to rape, pillage, and steal from us. It’s the oldest trick in the book.

“United we stand, divided we fall.”

Patrick Henry

If we’re to survive as a species and a country we must come together and take back our rights, our dignity and our Constitution.  We only need to remember the truth and act.

Go back to sleep America at your own peril. 


Bearing Witness to 11 Years of an Illegal War of Aggression

by Jill Dalton

The moment I emerge above ground from the South Ferry Station in lower Manhattan I must appear lost.  I’m not lost just disoriented, which happens from time to time when I arise from the subterranean bowels of the New York City subway system.  The man standing at the corner asks, “Need a cab?   “No.” I reply.  “I need 55 Water Street. “ The cabbie points, “Two blocks down—on the right.”  And off I go.  I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never been to the Vietnam War Memorial in New York or Washington, D.C. for that matter. 

I’ve never much felt like paying homage to these lost souls as it brings up too much pain from my own life with a Colonel father who served in three wars.  His Swan Song was Vietnam.  Our entire family had to deal with the ramifications of the aftermath of that war and we never fully recovered.  My father returned from his tour of Vietnam a different man and the country he’d given his total love and undying devotion to and his family had changed.  Our living room became the new battleground. 

I no longer saw my father as the mighty war hero from WWII or the savior of the Nazi horror but as a cog in the military war machine of death and destruction being perpetrated on innocent people in some land far, far away that we had no business being in.  Back then it was called the communist threat.  The Domino Theory was how they justified it.  “It we don’t stop the communist they will take over the world one country at a time.”

My father and I were mostly estranged from the time I was eighteen until right before his death, which was twenty-three years later.  We reconciled and made our peace shortly before he died, and all these years later I’ve come to know and understand him, and now realize we were both fighting for the same thing just from a different perspective.

So visiting these war memorials has never held any fascination or deep burning desire for me, but after many years of healing I realize it’d be an honor to stand side-by-side with other like-minded peace activists and Vets as well as active duty military who believe, as I do, these wars of aggression are wrong and must end now.

These illegal wars are destroying our country and the men and women who serve it.  Tens of thousands of untold innocent people in the Middle East have been murdered and for what?  War profiteers who make billions on death and destruction run these illegal wars of aggression.  This is why these wars are not discussed.  They are in fact taboo.  Whenever I mention “the wars” to even close friends I am, for the most part, met with silence.  Like I’ve brought up a very impolite and distasteful subject that shouldn’t be discussed in polite company.  Other times I’m met with out and out hostility, and the argument becomes about, well, we’re not the only bad guys or I’m called angry and unpatriotic for not supporting our troops.  Like I’m supposed to wave the flag, wear a yellow ribbon, and shout rah, rah like the so-called patriots who follow blindly without knowledge or understanding of what’s really going on–as if being willfully ignorant were a virtue. 

What these people and many others like them do not understand is the people who are the most critical of their government and this country are the one’s who care and love this country the most. 

At the entrance to the memorial I’m greeted by a cheerful woman handing out or I should say trying to hand out pamphlets to passersby, which no one takes except me, as she asks, “Are you aware today’s the eleventh anniversary of the war in Afghanistan?”  To which I reply, “Yes, I am and that’s where I’m going.” 

The headline on the flier reads, “Awakening from the nightmare of war.  Afghanistan:  11 years too long, Veterans say bring ‘em home, Keep ‘em home!”

And the quote at the bottom of the page reads,

To begin the process of change, to stop the war, to establish justice, it may be necessary to break the law, to commit acts of civil disobedience, as Southern blacks did, as antiwar protestors did.   Howard Zinn, historian/political activist

Civil disobedience?  Justice?  Not exactly subjects most Americans are interested in. It seems most would rather discuss what over the hill, has been or wanna be star will be humiliating themselves on “Dancing With the Stars” this season. 

Vietnam Memorial

Once inside, the memorial is rather underwhelming.  Certainly nothing like the one in Washington.  There are about fifty or so people milling about so I scope out the situation, and find a bench that isn’t too wet to sit on, as it’s been raining on and off all day.

I’m excited as Chris Hedges, Margaret Flowers, Glen Ford, Kevin Zeese, as well as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghan veterans are scheduled to speak. 

I strike up a conversation with a woman who sits on the bench next to me.  Turns out she’s a Vet, but luckily got out in the 90’s, and now travels around the world teaching organic farming.  She just finished walking the Appalachian Trail and is headed to Florida the next day, as the cold is not to her liking.  Can’t say as I blame her, but Florida? 

 I no longer celebrate the Fourth of July or Columbus Day.  I do not wave the flag of hatred, racism or aggression our flag has come to symbolize, but I’m not the only one.

Combat veteran and poet Jenny Pacanowski steps to the microphone and waves her arms in the air.  “I’m a female combat veteran.  Take a good look cause you’ve probably never seen one.”  Jenny explains she rehabilitated herself through art.  She then reads her powerful poem about veterans suicides, “Parade.”  Here’s a section from the poem.

The funeral procession from Syracuse airport to Ithaca NY was over 50 miles long.

Dragging his dead body through town after town of people, families and children waving flags.

The fallen HERO had finally come home.

I wonder how many children who saw this, will someday want to be dead HEROS too.

I did not wave a flag that day or any day since my return.

I live in a dream called my life. Where the good things don’t seem real or sustainable.

I live in the nightmares of the past called Iraq and PTSD that never run out of fuel.

Is it better to be dead hero?

Or a living fucked up, addicted, crazy veteran?”

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges, a hero of mine, a rare man of integrity, intellect, empathy and honor reads from his piece, “The Maimed.”  And irony of irony when Hedges speaks, as if on cue, a large fireworks display begins in the distance.  It sounds like bombs bursting in air, and because he’s been in so many conflicts, he doesn’t even flinch, he just calmly reads.

It is only the maimed that finally know war. And we are the maimed. We are the broken and the lame. We ask for forgiveness. We seek redemption. We carry on our backs this awful cross of death, for the essence of war is death, and the weight of it digs into our shoulders and eats away at our souls. We drag it through life, up hills and down hills, along the roads, into the most intimate recesses of our lives. It never leaves us. Those who know us best know that there is something unspeakable and evil many of us harbor within us. This evil is intimate. It is personal. We do not speak its name. It is the evil of things done and things left undone. It is the evil of war.

Bishop George Packard

Retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard served in Vietnam, and was arrested with Occupy Wall Street, calls these wars a “lethal and toxic absurdly from corporate America” and continues “America has lost it’s conscience.  An entire generation has gone to waste in this insanity.”  

Reverend Eric Johnson, a son of a Veteran talks about the pain and stress of war, and how wars don’t end at 10 p.m.  “We want justice. We are witnesses.  They close the memorial at 10 p.m., but war does not end at 10 p.m. “ He asks, “What do we want?”  And the crowd shouts back, “Justice!”  “What do we stand for today?”  Again we reply, “Justice!”

Sgt. Mika Turner

Then, a handsome young soldier I’d noticed earlier and taken a few photos of speaks and my heart breaks. 

My name is Micah Turner.  I’m 24 years old and I’ve served four combat tours. More soldiers have committed suicide then have been killed in these wars.  One month ago today I deserted my unit and tonight I will turn myself into the military police.  Thank you for letting me speak.

Kevin Zeese from Occupy D.C. emphasizes,  

The empire economy is not working for us or others.  We steal resources and workers in other countries.  These wars are for transnational corporations.  We must 1.  Take the profits out of war and 2.  Live by the rule of law.  Both parties are guilty.  These presidents should be in prison.  We have the right to peaceful assembly.

Dr. Margaret Flowers, a pediatrician who, like many of her colleagues, left the medical profession because it was impossible to deliver high quality health care in this environment, turned activist and proponent of single payer healthcare for all, has been arrested more than once for this worthy cause.  She calls these wars a health crisis and assures us, “This is not the ruling class but the looting class.”  Here’s her powerful open letter to President Obama regarding Single-Payer healthcare. 

You can also watch Dr. Flowers in action as she confronts Wall Street investors trying to profit from health care. 

Another young soldier, Javier Ocasio, tells the story of how he awoke and became involved in anti war activism.  He was suffering from horrible PTSD and was unable to communicate with his young daughter.  His wife would implore him to please spend time with her but he just couldn’t.  And then the unthinkable happened, his daughter died suddenly, and he asked if he could carry her body to the morgue.  He recounts how heavy her lifeless body was, and that’s when he made the connection.  He thought of all the parents in the Middle East who have to carry their dead children’s bodies and miracle of miracles he woke up.

How many more years will we continue these illegal wars of aggression?  How many more innocents have to die in our name?  How many more soldiers have to commit suicide?  How many more souls need to be laid waste?  How many more citizens have to lose their homes, their jobs, go without healthcare?  How many more children have to go hungry?  How many more have to be incarcerated? How many more of our rights have to be taken away?  How many more Gulf oil spills covered up with corexit or Fukushima’s? Where is the outrage as our rights are systematically stripped away as our country is hollowed out from the inside? 

Evil triumphs when good people do nothing.  Americans have allowed, and are colluding with their own demise.  We remain silent just like the German.  We are obedient and compliant.  We merely obey.  We stand mute and docile as they radiate us at airports or pass the NDAA in the dead of night with never so much as a whimper from the brainwashed, non thinking, non questioning consumers who genuflect to the lies and misdeeds of this nation, and instead worship at the cult of illusion.

What will it take for Americans to awaken from their slumber?