Wednesday, September 6, 2006; Page A05
Antiwar Message Travels From Texas to Washington
Military Families Group Expands Agenda
By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Penny Gamble-Williams, a member of the Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts, performs an opening ceremony at "Camp Democracy." (By Michael Robinson Chavez -- The Washington Post)
The antiwar activists who picketed near the president's ranch this summer traded dusty Texas for soggy Washington yesterday, when they set up camp near the White House to continue their vigil.
"Every day, we realize there is a war in Iraq," said Charlie Richardson, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out and whose son is a U.S. Marine recently returned from Iraq. "But the vast majority of Americans don't; they forget. Less than 1 percent of this population has gone to war. And we need to get those troops out -- now."
Richardson and about 100 other military family members, veterans and peace activists kicked off a 17-day demonstration called "Camp Democracy" yesterday. With piles of military boots to represent slain soldiers and banners calling for an end to the war as their backdrop, they rallied in the pouring rain and stayed throughout the day's relentless drizzle.
Camp Democracy, a spinoff from Camp Casey in Crawford, Tex., started by antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, will feature a series of speeches, lectures and discussions under white tents pitched on the Mall at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW.
Sheehan, whose older son, Casey, was killed in Iraq in 2004, started the Crawford protest camp early last month on a five-acre lot she bought in July, after her roadside vigil last year drew about 10,000 supporters from across the country. She wasn't in Washington yesterday, but organizers expect she will be a speaker before they pull up stakes.
The main voices heard yesterday were those of veterans.
Charlie Anderson, 29, spoke loudly through the rainstorm. "I was so optimistic," said the Toledo native, who joined the military when he was 19. Then he "rode into Iraq without body armor," he said. And "I had no idea what the mission was, because it was changing every day."
Dozens of other veterans nodded when Anderson said this. A Vietnam War veteran in a wheelchair clapped. A naval recruiter from the Vietnam era raised her fist in the air. A Gulf War veteran mouthed the word "yes."
They talked about shortfalls in veterans' benefits and medical care. They discussed ways to end the war and tactics to starve the war machine of its essential fuel -- young recruits like them.
"I've been to dozens and dozens of counter-recruitment actions," said Joe Hatcher, who served in Dawr, Iraq, from February 2004 until March 2005 with the 1st Infantry Division. Now, the 25-year-old California native tours the country and sets up camp outside schools, where he gives students his real-life version of the recruiters' pitch about military life. His group also advises families on ways to opt out of military recruiting.
Camp Democracy will have similar themes every day for the next few weeks: Organizing the Progressive Agenda Day, which will feature several members of Congress; Immigrants' Rights Day; Labor Speaks Out Day; Climate Crisis Day; and others.
Camp Democracy has no single message, though its organizers said they wanted the veterans and their families front and center because "they are the ones affected most by this war, except for the Iraqi people," said David Swanson, coordinator of Camp Democracy, which was born when the people protesting in Crawford wondered what they could do next.
The variously themed days and speakers from causes across the spectrum are one way to demonstrate that war affects all parts of American life, organizers said. They want to show that funding to rebuild New Orleans is hamstrung by war costs, and immigration legislation is threatened by the drumbeat of war on foreign soil, Swanson said.
"People keep telling us that this will muddle our message," Swanson said. "But this is not a three-week PR campaign. It's more complicated than that. We're trying to bring people together to make a stronger movement."