(This commentary piece also appears in THE VETERAN, Fall 2012 (Volume 42, Number 2).)
Get Out and Vote: Demonstrate Our People Power
By Bill Branson
From the National Office
When we were younger, it was all or nothing for Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). We had to end the Vietnam War and bring our brothers home. In the context of a national anti-war movement, which was inspired by, and sometimes part of, the civil rights struggle, we learned that there was, in fact, a worldwide anti-war movement fighting against imperialism. In our early work for social justice, we learned to embrace those whom our "masters" called our "enemies" — first the Vietnamese, then African Americans, Soviets, Cubans, Nicaraguans, et al. We also embraced many of the lessons from their struggles.
Dewey Canyon III, 1971.
Leaders like Ho Chi Minh knew that their struggle would not end with the war. The beast of imperialism does not go away so easily. And our need to organize for our brothers and sisters did not end when the war did. But the times ARE different — it's not just some cheesy saying. There was a movement then. Hundreds of thousands of people were organizing, in every way possible. VVAW members studied and learned from the pioneers of the Civil Rights and Union struggles. We learned how to organize chapters, conduct outreach, recruit new members and come up with strategies and tactics for both advertising our goals and taking on the enemy.
We recognized that people power was nothing without organization. We also learned that demonstrations were our tactics and strategies to reach our goals (and not the goals themselves). We collaboratively worked as part of the United Front, as we learned from our comrades in Vietnam. They did not win just on the battleground with military strategy. We had B-52s and they had bamboo sticks. They won because they had the political tactics and organizations needed to pull together. The times ARE different. As we saw with the Occupy movement, people power dissipated quickly without organization. A handful of fractured events and efforts that make good sound bytes, but do not have the support of the people, are not a movement.
We also have learned from our life experiences the unity between organizing and protesting. The Chicago chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) uniting with the Nurses Union to help influence the VA officials and fight for better conditions IS organizing. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), representing the third largest school system in the US, going on strike AND winning a new contract (after many attempts at negotiating a fair contract) IS organizing. The power to populate the picket lines, confront VA officials, demand an end to wars, fight for warriors right to heal, comes from organizing and working for concrete goals.
On the other hand, taking over Obama's campaign offices to protest for Bradley Manning's release displacing primarily people of color working to re-elect the first African American president, is not organizing. Burning voter registration cards at Obama's campaign office, when people of color struggled and continue to struggle for their right to vote, is not organizing. These protests at Obama's campaign offices will not get Bradley Manning freed (and yes, we most certainly agree he deserves his freedom) and they send the wrong message. This message says that we don't care about voting, the outcome of the elections, or the fate of millions of people who depend on programs like Medicare and Social Security as financial lifelines. We don't care about uniting with everyone possible in the fight for an end to the Rich Man's Wars, Decent Benefits for Vets, medical care, and jobs for Veterans.
Take Action and VOTE
The right to vote is arguably the 21st century's civil rights issue. As states like Pennsylvania seek to limit voter turnout through voter ID laws, other states are seeking to limit early voting by reducing the time period in which someone could vote early. The Rich "job creators" were frightened of the high early voting turnout in 2008 and 2010. These restrictions target seniors who could not produce some of the necessary IDs in Pennsylvania, the working class who tend to vote early because it is hard to make it to the polls the day of, and people of color, particularly African Americans, who turned out for early voting on Sundays in "Souls to the Polls."
VVAW is calling on our national membership to get out and vote in the general elections on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. We recognize that you may feel disenfranchised, like your vote doesn't matter. We feel the same way at times. We may be turned off by the ever-increasing negative ads flying around on TV. We may have some less-than-ideal candidates running against some even greater evils. But when the outcome of the elections means protecting and preserving (or defunding and dismantling) programs — like VA benefits, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — that concretely improve millions of people lives, then we choose to exercise our right to vote in this less-than-ideal situation.
We don't live in a world where we have the luxury to vote only for perfect candidates. The corruption in this system may make us cynics, but we are also realists. Organizing and voting to win some partial, though incomplete, progress takes maturity and life experience. We need to bring our hard-learned lessons home. We are not in our twenties anymore. The average age of a Vietnam vet is 65. We are the ones applying for Social Security and Medicare benefits, the very benefits some candidates running for office want to take away from us, and from our children and grandchildren.
Getting out and voting is not just important for the US presidential race. The election of Congressional Senators and Representatives is key as well. On September 20, the Veterans Job Core Act of 2012 received more than half the votes of the Senate, but due to it being a procedural vote, it failed to move forward by TWO votes. This Act would have increased hiring and job training for veterans over the next five years, addressing the extremely high unemployment rate amongst veterans.
After November's election, we have four more years to organize to change policies, to fight against wrongs, and to strengthen and improve on the programs that are working. But what we are struggling against those four years depends on the outcome of the elections.
So get out, vote and fight for the right of others to vote on November 6, 2012. Your vote DOES make a difference.
Bill Branson is a VVAW national coordinator.
Thanks to Jeff Danziger and Billy Curmano for their cartoons. Thanks to Ellen Rachel Davidson, Susan Schnall, Marty Webster, Mark Fooks, Bill Branson, Kurt Hilgendorf, Sukie Wachtendonk, Steve Sinsley, Francis Boyle, Jim Willingham, Laura Davis and others for contributing photos.
Commentary on VVAW.org:
- Afghanistan: Another Rich Man's War Ends by Bill Branson and Joe Miller
- We Have To Be Winter Soldiers by Bill Branson
- Fascism is Not an Option by Vietnam Veterans Against the War National Office
- Is This Who We Are? by W. D. Ehrhart
- Why We Struggle by Bill Branson
- We Must Continue the Fight for a Better World! by Bill Branson
- Into Another Rich Man's War (VVAW Statement on Potential War with Iran) by VVAW
- Forever Wars Demand Forever Opposition by Bill Branson
- From the National Office by Joe Miller
- The River Keeps Flowing by VVAW
- The Struggle Continues by Joe Miller
- VVAW Still Teaching the American War in Vietnam: On Burns/Novick "The Vietnam War" by Joe Miller
- 50 Years of VVAW by Joe Miller
- For Peace, Justice, and Veterans Rights by Bill Branson
- The Importance of Vietnam and VVAW: Then and Now by Bill Branson
- Veterans Fight Back by Bill Branson
- From the National Office by Bill Branson
- No New War in the Middle East by Bill Branson
- From the National Office by Bill Branson
- Our War, Our Legacy by Bill Branson
- From the National Office by Bill Branson
- Get Out and Vote: Demonstrate Our People Power by Bill Branson
- What We Know and When We Know It by Meg Miner
- From The National Office by Bill Branson
- Blood on the Tracks - A Review by Horace Coleman (reviewer)
- From The National Office by Joe Miller
- Ken and Bill's Excellent Adventure by W. D. Ehrhart
- From the National Office by Barry Romo
- From the National Office by Barry Romo
- Soldier Jailed For Rap Lyrics Is Discharged by Dahr Jamail, truthout.org Reporter
- US Military Plans To Extradite Stop-Lossed Iraq War Vet to Iraq For Court Martial Over Protest Rap Song by Iraq Veterans Against The War
- A Letter to America: No Medal Jacket by Marc Levy
- The Worst Question You Can Ask a Combat Vet: Talking Dirty to the Kids by Marc Levy
- From Vietnam to Afghanistan: The Bling They Curse and Carry by Marc Levy
- The "Obama Drama" by Horace Coleman
- Matthew Hoh Resignation Letter by Matthew Hoh
- Just Like Hanoi Jane by Marc Levy
- Winter Soldier Iraq and Afghanistan (the book) by Horace Coleman
- How What Happened in the Bush Administration Shaped What Happened in Iraq by Horace Coleman
- A Father traumatized by a son's wounds goes into action by Horace Coleman
- All Bets Are Off For Today's Vets by Horace Coleman
- Election Night Musing by Horace Coleman
- War Jokes Wanted: No Laughing Matter by Marc Levy and Susan Erony
- The Leftie Nation Throws a Rightie by Jerry Lembcke
- Thuy's Dream of Peace: Winter in America by Marc Levy
- Retraction of Article in the Veteran, Volume 38, Number 1, Spring 2008 by VVAW National Office
- Support PFC James Burmeister by Carol Rawert Trainer
- Support IVAW's Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan
- Fake Vets Chasing Fame by Marc Levy
- William Hugh Davis: 1948 - 2007 - Anti-war, union activist by Patricia Trebe
- President of Vietnam Vets Against the War - Year-long tour convinced him it was wrong by Larry Finley
- You Tube videos of Bill Davis
- Iraq Dead Ahead: A Brief Military History and Civilian Guide to Arlington National Cemetery Iraq Dead Ahead by Marc Levy
- The Horror of War Can be Catnip for Young Men by Jerry Lembcke
- Iraq War Resister Kyle Snyder Arrested in Canada, then Released: U.S. Army Requested the Illegal Apprehension by Gerry Condon
- Vietnam Veterans Against The War Endorses HR 508:Bring the Troops Home and Iraq Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2007 by VVAW National Office
- VVAW Supports All the Troops
- A Primer on the Whys and Wherefores of PTSD: Whatever You Did in War Will Always Be With You by Marc Levy
- What the Fuss Is All About by W. D. Ehrhart
- Winter Soldier DVD Now Available at VVAW Store
- From Vietnam to Iraq: Ignoring the Veteran Healthcare Crisis by VVAW & IVAW
- Vietnam Veterans and Iraq Veterans Release Memorial Day Report on Veterans' Healthcare Crisis by VVAW National Office
- VVAW Statement to the People of Vietnam by VVAW National Office
- Vietnam Veterans Against the War Denounce Bush Proposal to Cut Vets' Benefits by VVAW National Office
- The Struggle Continues by VVAW
- Stolen Honor - A Dishonor: Vietnam Veterans oppose Sinclair Broadcast smear even in reduced format by VVAW National Office
- A Troubling Tribute by Jan Barry
- Defending VVAW Against Swift Boat Vets Lies by Keith Nolan
- 40th Anniversary of Gulf of Tonkin shows history repeating itself with Iraqi War by VVAW National Office
- Anybody But Bush by VVAW National Staff and Coordinators
- Vietnam Veterans Say Torture Policy Not an Aberration - Dates Back To Vietnam War by VVAW National Office
- Chicago Vietnam Veterans Against the War and supporters honor fallen servicemen on Memorial Day by Chicago VVAW
- Vietnam Veterans Against the War Statement on John Kerry
- John Kerry and War Crimes in Vietnam by Jan Barry
- Living with Lies by Dave Curry, Joe Miller and Barry Romo
- On the Oil-Slicked Road to Empire: Are We Really Safer Now? by Barry Romo, Dave Curry & Joe Miller
- No War with Iraq No Blood for Oil or Ego by Barry Romo, Dave Curry & Joe Miller
- Vietnam Veterans Against the War Statement on the "War Against Terrorism" by VVAW National Office
- Vietnam Veterans Against the War Statement on September 11 Attacks by VVAW
- VETERANOS DE VIETNAM CONTRA LA GUERRA DECLARACION SOBRE LOS ATAQUES DEL 11 DE SEPTIEMBRE
- VVAW Statement on Robert Kerrey by Clarence Fitch Chapter of VVAW
- Remembering the Tonkin Gulf and After by Joe Miller
- Indian Wars & the Vietnam Experience by Ben Chitty
- Recollections:Brainwashing Busts Out at Cecil Field by Mike Woloshin
- "Peace with Honor" by Ben Chitty