Building a GI and Veterans Movement
By IVAW Field Organizing Team [Chantelle Batemen (East Coast), Jason Hurd (Southeast), Aaron Hughes (Central and Team Leader), Joseph Callen (West)]
We would like to thank VVAW for your contribution. With your support we began a field organizing program that will provide leadership development tools for direct action and movement building based upon focal point campaigns. We will work tirelessly to further IVAW's goals; end the occupation of Iraq, care for returning vets and win reparations for the Iraqi people.
Aaron Hughes at VVAW Memorial Day event in Chicago, 2009
Our in-depth analysis of issues facing 124 IVAW chapters found 4 main challenges; lack of strong leadership experience, communication, unemployment and family issues, and PTSD (delayed stress, drug and alcohol abuse, burn-out).
We found that chapters were working on: GI Rights - At several military bases across the country (especially GI coffee houses) members are letting GIs know their rights around Stop-Loss, Conscientious Objection, AWOL status, Don't Ask Don't Tell, PTSD and mental health care inside and outside the VA. Support for 50 AWOL soldiers being held without charges some for a year or more at Ft. Bennings' brig, was discussed. All GI Rights work is a means for building relationships with individual soldiers and Marines and bringing them into the movement. Truth-In-Recruiting - talking with high school students about military experience (counter recruitment, military service and the constitution, realities of military service). The Chicago chapter is working on a campaign to demilitarize the public school system - the most militarized district in the US. We plan to train youth to do T-I-R and counter recruitment in their schools. Mental health care - Many are working to get better care from the VA. A primary concern is the long waiting period to process claims. Some chapters have set up alternative health care networks outside of the VA. Afghanistan - The LA chapter has begun an effort to further discussion around Afghanistan using the Rethink Afghanistan film. This is an opportunity to highlight the experiences of the many members who served in Afghanistan.
Training sessions were held at the IVAW convention. The Regional Strategy and Leadership Training the Wednesday before the convention was a major success. Over thirty chapter leaders were present. The training had specific goals: introduce and build support for IVAW's organizing model, develop an understanding of strategic leadership and campaign development, including how to take a local issue to the next level, and to assess chapter projects. Energized members stayed three extra hours to continue sharing and working.
In September, we brought on the first four field organizers kicking off week long training sessions in Philadelphia and Baltimore. With Training for Change, United Workers of Baltimore and others, the group focused on establishing a clear understanding of the basics (one on one, new member orientation, facilitation, leadership development, campaign development) and setting strategic priorities for the FOT with clear goals and a time line.
East Coast Meta-Regional Organizer Chantelle Bateman from Washington, DC was in the Marine Corp for six years, has worked with IVAW for over a year and has been DC Chapter President.
She writes regarding her values as an organizer: "I look to history to lay out a map to the answers. This time it was the Black Panther Party's 10-Point 'What We Want-What We Believe' platform. #10 - We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace. But even my favorite freedom fighters left me feeling like something was missing. I think it is the words 'for all.' Not just for all Black people as demanded by the BPP or even just for all American's as alluded to in our country's founding documents. Both tragedy and joy have shown me the sameness in people and I have come to value the equality of all life and the kind of fierce defense of life borne out of love and not fear. No matter what experience brought us to this organization that each of us came to this work because we wanted to love a little better and we want to use that love to protect life. I have only been an activist for a short while and I am grateful to have received the best advice I could possibly receive very early. We are short term beings up against long term problems. I value the patience it takes to hold on and keep pushing until 'for all' comes even if that means I won't get to see it."
Southeast Regional Organizer Jason Hurd is from Savannah, GA and has acted as a regional coordinator for the southwest region for the past year. Jason is 100 percent disabled (PTSD) but volunteers his time to the Field Organizing Program.
Jason Hurd writes regarding his values as an organizer: "As a mature, thinking and somewhat rebellious individual, I like thinking that I own ultimate responsibility for the person I become - a moral premise not unlike the presidential clichˇ, 'the buck stops here.' This premise motivates my life in fundamental ways: it encourages me to implement strong ethical principles in my life and inspires me to organize military service members and veterans. The premise is bold and almost arrogant - it says, 'I can defy anything to become the person I want to be. I can help others become who they want be, no matter what. Bring it on.' Yet despite asserting my own self-governance, two major experiences have fundamentally shaped my values independently of my own will and I cannot escape their combined influence even if I want to: my Appalachian upbringing and my military service in Iraq. "
"I take many values from my life in the hills of East Tennessee; among them are simplicity, candor, compassion, resilience, solidarity and a healthy dose of skepticism for the ruling elite. While these values underpin much of Appalachian culture, they also underpin American culture more largely. Problematically, my combat experience shows me what happens when our decision makers act against these values."
"While serving as an Army medic in Iraq in 2005, I saw the destruction caused by an ever-expanding occupation, confusion caused by bad intelligence from 'higher up,' unquestioned racism against the Iraqi people and an unwillingness to question the ever-changing whims of our political elite. Now after nearly a decade of US occupation in the Middle East, we see what our foreign policy aspirations have done: over a million lives lost, innocent families and homes are destroyed and the non-Western world sees the US as the chief architect of suffering throughout the world. As Americans, we must assume responsibility when our representatives act against our most fundamentally held values. I assume that responsibility by organizing GI's and veterans - they implement our country's foreign policy around the world and should therefore have a powerful voice regarding the direction of our country."
The Southwest Meta-Regional Organizer Joe Callan is a Native brother from Albuquerque, New Mexico who served twelve years in the Marine Corps. He has leadership experience in the military and in grassroots organizing. In his short time out of the military he has managed a field crew for the AFL-CIO Working America and assisted the director of the Native American Community Academy. He writes: "I've never tried to pin down my values all at once before. I've had them told to me for the vast majority of my adult life, and they've been able to fit on an index card I could carry in my left breast pocket. For me a good place to start would be the IVAW Values statement."
Leadership: Great leaders develop new leaders. We strive to inspire a sense of initiative, hope and direction. Leaders have the discipline to do what is best for the cause and the interest of the organization. We will lead by example.
Honesty: We will ensure the transparency of the organizing team by openly communicating all of our intentions and goals to the membership while respecting the privacy of individual members and protecting our organization legally. Our statements will reflect the truth to the greatest possible degree.
Courage: We face our challenges with selfless devotion to our convictions. We will demonstrate the commitment to face adversity and oppose corruption, fraudulence and oppression despite personal consequence.
Respect: We will exemplify behavior that is professional, compassionate and ethical. We will practice the tolerance and understanding necessary to build community.
Integrity: We will deliver what we say and say what we deliver.
The Central Meta-Regional Organizer and Organizing Team Leader is Aaron Hughes. He joined IVAW in 2006 and has been a Chapter President, a Regional Coordinator, Board Member and Organizer. He helped found the Winter Soldier Project, the Warrior Writers Project, Operation First Casualty and the Chicago Chapter. He is tasked with building a national Field Organizing Program.
Aaron writes: "I was raised on stories of American values of freedom and democracy that crumbled in the reality of our dehumanization and oppression of the Iraqis. I wanted to destroy all the talking points and five-second sound bites and slow things down. Demand that people think about what we do and continue to do everyday to others. Expose the destruction of our own humanity through our involvement in the destruction and oppression of others. My own experience had no power to make social changes. I began to work with other veterans to bring our experiences to the American people. We took to the streets demonstrating what it meant to occupy another country. We testified to the realities of the war. We raised awareness of the destruction. The systems that perpetuate the war carried on without being affected. Throughout history, it is only when peoples have organized themselves to remove their participation and move to the offensive that systems have toppled. It is time that Veterans and GIs unite and organize to make the changes that we need to prevent future generations falling into the myths of militarism."
The Field Organizing Program is starting with only three full time organizers for 63 chapters and will hopefully expand over the next two-three years to as many as 20 organizers. This can only happen with your continued support. Learn more about how to sponsor a Field Organizer at: www.ivaw.org