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(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

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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.

Charlie Branson
Bill Branson
Jeff Machota
Ellie Shunas
Jen Tayabji

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