December 30, 2016

It will be a movement that restores our democracy

GUESTS: Voices from Standing Rock. The beginning of the veterans' participation, the events of the week, and some of the many groups supporting environmental and indigenous rights over the billionaires and their fossil fuel pipelines.

Voting the "lesser of two" evils" over a long period of time eventually and inexorably brings a nation to a Donald Trump. Having both political parties owned by the very rich produces such resentment and anger that almost anything can happen. In some countries a revolution comes out of the resentment. In others, the elite are able to deflect anger toward minorities, bringing great suffering to already marginalized people. In America we have such a racial and ethnic mix that blatant racism has always been the method of choice for our corrupt politicians. 

Alliances of the non-elites are the best way to fight a system dominated by the billionaire class. And challenging racism is often the spark that leads to a broader, class based change. So it is at Standing Rock, where veterans are standing up against this country's long term environmental and cultural assault on native American populations. 

In coming together, something else happens. There emerges a general consensus that the present system is illegitimate and that many groups can work together to bring it down. When thousands march, local authorities get anxious. When hundreds of thousands march, the whole kleptocracy begins to grow alarmed. The Occupy Movement was only stopped by state violence orchestrated from the White House. The entire corporate controlled media had to avoid any coverage of Bernie Sanders to end his revolutionary candidacy. 

The Standing Rock movement presents another challenge to the system. Here are veterans and Native Americans coming together, along with Black Lives Matter, immigrant groups, labor unions,  LGBTQ activists, etc. We survived a blizzard in our tented community. Perhaps we will bring new hope in the spring after our Valley Forge experience. For it will be a movement such as this that gets rid of the corporate controlled parties and restores our democracy. 

December 23, 2016

How long until we too can rise up?

December 22

GUEST: George Lakey, co-founder of Earth Quaker Action Group, visiting Professor at Swarthmore College, and leader of over 1,500 workshops on five continents, talks about his latest book, Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right and How We Can, Too.

I was looking forward to this interview. George's book is somewhat of a revelation to Americans brought up on the supposed superiority of our brand of capitalism. 

But here are societies that don't really have poverty. Where all children get enough to eat, and go to college for virtually nothing. Where parents get months of leave when they have a child (yes, both parents). Where daycare and medical care are free for all citizens. Yet, the Viking economies are also more productive and more innovative than our own. 

Try to wrap your head around that. Billionaires run our country, and spend their time trying to such the last dollar out of every working family in America. Billionaires were once the problem in the Nordic countries too. How did they overthrow their kleptocracy, and how do they protect their governments from the US version of savage capitalism?

Read the book. It is at once hopeful, and profoundly disturbing. What suffering and privation the very wealthy have caused us. What endless wars they have waged for economic exploitation. How long until we too can rise up and reclaim our democracy?

December 17, 2016

Free speech a constant battle

GUESTS: Nic Abramson, Helaine Meisler, and Sharon Johnston, three activists from Woodstock Free Speech, talk about their efforts to get a First Amendment resolution, protecting a citizen's right to boycott, passed by the Woodstock Town Board.

People really do rise to the occasion when free speech is threatened by our government. Nic, Helaine, and Sharon explain why. The Woodstock Town Board also understood the issue right away and acted to protect its citizens from government restrictions and blacklists. 

In the age of Trump, free speech will be a constant battle. Trump's authoritarian beliefs will lead to many assaults on our First Amendment rights. But we have fought back before and we will fight back again. This time it is the right to boycott apartheid Israel. It's good place to draw a line in the sand against totalitarianism.

How did we stray so far?

Fred talks about his trip to Standing Rock with Veterans For Peace. The program includes some Lakota songs and drumming recorded over the last week.

When you are with all those veterans, it reminds you of what it was like being in the Army. No one really knows what is happening, so you end up exhausting yourself hurrying and waiting.

2,100 veterans signed up to come to Standing Rock. We think that close to 4,000 arrived. Where to put them all, and what to feed them? Amazingly, the tents went up (great big Army Surplus tents form Korea), and the eight or more kitchens that existed around camp took care of us all. Some 20,000 were being sheltered and fed everyday before we arrived. 

In that way, Standing Rock was like one giant community that worked for everyone. No money changed hands; everything was free. Everyone did their part, from chopping wood to clearing the ground for new tents. Occupy posed a similar threat to the powers that be. Here was a society that thrived apart from the dominant neoliberal system. 

The indigenous peoples had a remarkable influence on the rest of us. When one of our tents blew down in an early morning blizzard, there was another tent waiting to shelter us. Fifty of us made our way hopefully through the snow and the winds, and were welcomed by another full tent, ready to share everything they had with us. In a couple of days, we had become part of a revolutionary community. 

Later, a Lakota woman told me why the second tent had not blown down, despite the walls slanting dangerously inward. We were on the land of Sitting Bull she said. Strong medicine had kept the walls from completely collapsing. 

The religious beliefs that we encountered in living and eating with Native Americans seemed at times childishly naive. At other times, these beliefs appeared to be a voice in the wilderness, telling us to love and respect our environment before is is too late. For all our supposed sophistication, we have missed this most important piece of basic wisdom. All life is sacred. How did we stray so far?

The right time for hugs and tears

GUESTS: Stephen Apkon, director of "Disturbing the Peace," a documentary about former enemy combatants, Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters, who are working together to end the occupation. He is joined by Sulaiman Khatib and Assaf Yacobovitz.

"Disturbing the Peace" plays an interesting role in promoting understanding between Palestinians and Israelis. On a personal level it must work as these previous enemies sit down and listen to each other's stories. 

If the stories are too personal, however, apartheid Israel gets a big break. We don't end up talking about the illegal settlements, the racist laws, and the 60 year history of ethnic cleansing of Palestine. When does personal understanding simply normalize the Israel's war crimes?

I asked this question of Stephen and he gave a spirited response. He stated that one has to start somewhere or the killing will continue forever. I would prefer a start that included America, the enabler of Israel's apartheid state. Americans need to know their role in the suffering in order to resist what our own government is doing. When it is all over, there will be time for hugs and tears.  

Suffering and resistance a common theme

GUEST: Roger Silverman, teacher, author and political activist, talks about his new book, "Defiance: Greece and Europe," that explains SYRIZA's continuing resistance to neoliberal capitalism.

Our discussion about Greece can be linked to my curiosity about how other cultures are organized. 

As an American, I was brought up to revere only one system of government, that of capitalism. And since that religion came to me at an early age, I have never really looked at what that system entails. 

How have other countries structured themselves, and what role has the US played in influencing their decisions? How has American capitalism affected the hidden aspect of our religion: our all encompassing empire?

George helped our listeners understand the horrendous American occupation of Greece at the end of WW II. We know that millions died in Korea, but we don't know our secret killing fields in Greece. The Colonel's Coup came letter, more blood letting instigated by the CIA. Understanding these wars for freedom is the missing backdrop to the current Greek crisis, the key to understanding much of what is going on.

Greece's suffering and resistance is a common theme in our age of imperialism.

November 18, 2016

Does hyper capitalism fosters racism?

GUEST: Jordan Taylor, recent graduate of SUNY New Paltz and member of Hudson Valley Black Lives Matter, talks about the beginnings of his activism, and the prospects for racial justice in the coming year.tivism, and the prospects for racial justice in the coming year.

Jordan came to the studio to do the interview, a nice treat for us since we do mostly phone interviews. But Jordan lives here in the Hudson Valley and could meet us in person.

The interview itself did not cover many of the African Americans who have been killed by police or prison guard violence. We did discuss Samuel Harrell since his murder took place locally and is still being investigated. 

We talked more about how racism persists in our society. Politicians in the past have used it to whip up the electorate and win elections. As long as political leaders in the past have approved the ethnic cleansing of Blacks, why then the towns and villages along the Hudson River could follow this example. Most smaller towns in the valley are without African Americans, a process we have talked about before on Activist Radio. Most were sundown towns at some point in their history.

Is it the hyper capitalism of our country that fosters racism? Did unrestrained capitalism perpetuate slavery? Or the genocide of so many native American peoples? Can a country that has never come to terms with its own crimes actually change its attitudes and its policies? 

I picked the above picture since it shows some communication between the races. Black and white, we have to talk through our common history in order to banish racial fear and hate. As a white, I believe that white, privileged people have the most to learn. Blacks have known about the effects of a hyper racist society for hundreds of years.

November 10, 2016

The kleptocracy that our country has become

GUEST: Chuck Collins, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-founder of Wealth for Common Good, talks about his latest book: Born on Third Base: a One Percenter Makes the Case For Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good.

This interview is very relevant to the Trump presidency that we now face. Hillary is funded by the 1%, and is an ideologue when it comes to expanding the empire's reach. Trump is part of the same 1% class, only he is a blatant racist and with far right, authoritarian friends. Either way, the very richest of America win, and the rest of the world loses.

Chuck Collins' book helps us understand the world view of the very rich, and explores the type of alliances that can be made with them. He also takes a good look at privilege in America, and how the middle class always forgets the help they have been given.

Understanding oppression and our part in accepting economic injustice is a first step to throwing off the vicious kleptocracy that our country has become. 

November 3, 2016

A non-thinking working class based on skin color

GUEST: George Joseph, an editorial fellow at CityLab who covers schools, policing, and surveillance, talks about the 9 billionaires trying to destroy New York’s Public Schools.

What really bothered me about George Joseph's view of the billionaires trying to destroy public education, is their sense of white privilege. The picture of a group of  rich, white people at the Harvard Club in NYC discussing what would be best for Black children is straight out of Jonathan Swift. No Black parents or students need have an opinion. 

There is something vile about what the very rich will do, all the while congratulating themselves for their generous gifts to the non-profit corporations set up that do their will. They act like mini gods, oblivious to the suffering around them, as they make their modest proposals. 
A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick
Training Black youth to memorize the right and wrong answer to standardized tests will someday be seen as the ultimate in racism, the creating of a non-thinking working class based on skin color. 

October 31, 2016

Public schools need proper funding

Ten years ago, a group of parents from New York City sued the state claiming that children were not being provided an adequate public education. This lawsuit became known as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. In 2006, the New York State Court of Appeals found that New York state was violating students constitutional rights to a “sound and basic education” by leaving schools without necessary funding.  In response to this landmark court ruling, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, in conjunction with the New York State Legislature, enacted a statewide resolution. Together they created a statewide school aid formula based on student poverty concentration and district wealth. Over $5 billion was supposed to be provided in operating aid over four years.

However, in 2009, after only two years of equitable funding, school aid was frozen. Citing the financial crisis, the state enacted the Gap Elimination Adjustment (“GEA”), which helped balance its annual budget, but only by cutting $2.1 billion in education aid. Following the implementation of the GEA, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity filed another case specifically on behalf of students in Newburgh, Port Jervis, Kingston, Jamestown, Mount Vernon, Niagara Falls, Poughkeepsie and Utica. These districts all have low property wealth, higher than average local property taxes, significant family poverty and high student needs, including students with disabilities and English-language learners.

During the testimony, district officials described how budget cuts caused the severe reduction or complete elimination of staff, services and programs essential to provide students with the opportunity to succeed academically. As a consequence, student achievement in all eight districts is well below level. Tragically, in September, Ulster and Albany County Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O’Connor rejected the suit, saying that “student performance was undeniably inadequate but the plaintiffs did not prove the state has not met its (financial) obligation to them.”

The advocacy group “Alliance for Quality Education” plans to appeal the decision. In support, earlier this month a group of parents, advocates, community members, and educators marched from New York City to Albany to demand fair and equitable funding for all public schools. On their way, marchers stopped at Poughkeepsie High School and held a press conference where teachers shared personal stories of the challenges urban schools face due to the funding cuts.

The cuts in state aid is forcing teachers, guidance counselors and administrators to do more with less. This puts a constant strain on the already overburdened staff at high-needs schools such as Poughkeepsie High School. For example, PHS has had to lay off many teachers and staff. PHS has only one school social worker and one psychologist for over 1,200 students.  Funding cuts have also forced the district to offer fewer classes and curb extracurricular activities. I deal with this firsthand as an advisor for the school newspaper. We used to have money to run the club, but now we have to do fundraisers to keep the school newspaper going.

Today, the gap in spending between the wealthiest schools and the poorest is almost $10,000 per pupil.  If New York continues to spend less on educating our low-income students and students of color, it will leave them hopeless and oppressed. When a society neglects and ignores the most basic needs of its citizens, it will leave them impoverished, uneducated, and unemployed. This leads to feelings of bitterness and more crime. The way I see this situation is that we can either educate or incarcerate. We have sufficient amount of resources to incarcerate more people than any other country in the world, but apparently, we can’t afford to give all students a sound education. If we continue down the path we are on now, we will doom generations of students to a life of crime, imprisonment or unemployment.

However, It is my hope that we can work together to build a society of hope and compassion. A society that puts a priority on jobs and education instead of jails and incarceration. In the words of Langston Hughes, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or does it explode?” I hope we never have to find out.

Paul Donnelly has been a teacher for 12 years in the Poughkeepsie City School District. He also has taught at Vassar College for the past two years. 

October 21, 2016

Keeping Blacks from learning to read

GUEST: Paul Donnelly, political activist and teacher at Poughkeepsie High School, talks about charter schools, public school funding and the underlying racism of our educational system.

We had a wide ranging discussion about the funding of public education, and the role of districts in the school to prison pipeline. Paul has taught in Poughkeepsie for 12 years.

Some of his information was hopeful. He didn't think the Poughkeepsie HS could be blamed for Black students going into the prison industrial complex. According to Paul, the high school tries very hard to keep the police from disciplinary decisions. He wasn't so positive about the new 200 million dollar jail in the county. Why would anyone spend that much money when the schools are crying for more funds? Perhaps its indicative of the general racism that sends blacks to jail while funding white schools. 

We talked about the vast differences in stop and frisk between Blacks and whites. All the towns and small cities in the area stop Blacks from 3 to 4 times more often. And although drug addiction is about the same for both races, arrests and convictions are much more prevalent for people of color.

One of the links I put on for the interview compares spending on schools in Poughkeepsie and the surrounding almost all white, suburban schools. There is a difference, but not the dramatic one I had expected. 

We had just gotten into the damage 9 billionaires are doing to public education in this country: 9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York’s Public Schools. Philosophically, these billionaires want to send their kids to $50,000 boarding schools while they dismantle poor people's right to a free education. They don't believe in learning, but in rote memory for the poor. High stakes testing is, according to Noam Chomsky, the way "to destroy any meaningful education process." The very rich want to limit thinking to their privileged class, much like the slaveholders in the south wanted to keep Blacks from learning to read. 

October 14, 2016

Rethinking everything

GUEST: Jeff Golden, political activist and co-founder of the Common Fire Foundation, talks about justice for Samuel Harrell and Beacon Prison Action.

Can leaders like Jeff Golden really change the brutal and racist criminal justice system? Organizations like Beacon Prison Action can embarrass politicians and district attorneys. The death of Samuel Harrell is a good example. The man was killed by a group of prison guards called the "beat-up squad." Harrell was disoriented after coming out of solitary confinement and said he thought he was going home. The Beat-up Squad then punched him, stomped on him and then threw him down a flight of stairs.

How is our prison system a part of a civilized country? Why aren't murders like this ever punished? Reading about Harrell's murder is shocking:

Original NY Times article about Sam Harrell

It is clear that we have perceptions of the United States that don't bear too much scrutiny. We murder millions in our foreign wars. We support the most brutal of racist regimes like Saudi Arabia, Honduras and Israel. Our own CIA tortures innocent people for decades and then destroy the evidence. We live in two worlds. In our fantasy world, the American Empire is a decent, law abiding country we can be proud of. Look beneath the surface and we find something else, the reality of how empires work. They prosper on a sea of blood.

Our US prisons reflect the tortures at Abu Graib and Guantanamo. The brutality, often senseless, reflect the same mentality, and the values of the elites who order these atrocities are probably not going to change very much.

Here is to people like Jeff Golden who fight the good fight. All of us must resist the racism and murder that is so endemic in a country ruling the world by force. America was built on the genocide of one race and the forced slavery of another. We have to rethink everything before a real change is possible.

October 6, 2016

Not my Judaism, not my country.

GUEST: Marjorie Leopold, local activist, teacher and producer, talks about forming a new human rights organization in the Mid Hudson Valley, a chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.

This interview had a very low volume when we played it today. I fixed it when I created the podcast version. If you couldn't hear it very well live, try clicking on and listening to the enhanced interview. 

Once we got through with the nuts and bolts of how to form a Jewish Voice for Peace, we talked about the fight for Jewish identity within local communities. Of course, the fight is everywhere now: in the media, in the colleges, and in our government. 

JVP is the most progressive group out there, courageously demanding that their Jewish faith not be used to defend Israel's apartheid treatment of the Palestinians. What religion would want to claim that war crimes represented the height of their moral worth? Making Israel into a religion will have a lasting negative effect on the Jewish people. History will remember them as victims of genocide who became perpetrators. 

How will history remember me, a veteran who has lived comfortably all his life while his country ravaged the Third World with death squads, invasions and drone attacks? Since World War II, the United States has established itself as the country without a conscience, all the while praising itself as the beacon of human rights and democracy. What butchery has been done in my name, and what gross hypocrisy propagated by my society.

How am a different from Jews living in Israel? In fact, the two societies are blood relations when it comes to imperialism. The only hope for either country is to be remade into a just and law abiding democracy that rejects militarism and the racism. That's my goal for the United States, and the only way I can live my life in the belly of the beast.  

September 29, 2016


For the last two years members of Veterans For Peace have collected letters written to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (The Wall) in Washington, DC. These letters have been delivered to The Wall on Memorial Day, encouraging visitors to the Wall to read them. The National Parks Service collects and archives these letters for future reference. 

This past July, Veterans For Peace published half of the 300 letters in a collection entitled LETTERS TO THE WALL: MEMORIAL DAY 2015-2016. You may purchase a copy of this book at cost ($8.67) by going to our website If you wish to write a letter of your own for this coming Memorial Day, please send it to Doug Rawlings at

For my fellow Vietnam Veterans, please be forewarned. Some of the words below may make you uneasy. However, I am convinced that these truths are necessary for the American public to read, especially our young students who are "studying" our war. Here are some excerpts from the book.

Doug Rawlings


     "...Here is the ultimate haunting question, I think: Did you die in vain?
     Never mind if it was heroic. Forget if you should have been there or not.
The fact is that you were there -- and you died there. So, did it serve any greater purpose? When they folded up that flag and handed it to your loved one, was there anything they could take comfort in?
     I cannot answer that.
     All I know with certainty is this: Beginning with that war -- maybe even on the day you fell -- I knew there was something terrible about this whole business, no matter what Walter Cronkite or any Senators or the President had to say.
     War should never be glorified, or worse, glamorized.  It cheapens life, I think, to try to convince anyone that killing and being killed is anything but horrific.
     So if you did die for a cause, let it go down in history as this -- a lesson in the sanctity of every life and the horror of every war. For that lesson, I thank you.
     May you now rest in peace."
--- Gail

 "To Terry and Allen,
     On this Memorial Day in 2015, I respectfully pay homage to you, my fallen brothers.... I lost a lot in Vietnam: a year of my life, my transition from student to adulthood, experiencing the birth of my son, my trust in my government and its leaders, and my generally positive outlook on life was transformed into a cynicism previously reserved for someone much older than I was when I returned home. You, my Brothers, lost everything. I'm sorry for that.
     I still wake up thinking about Vietnam -- 45 years after I was there. I keep coming to the same conclusion: that all of the deaths of the Vietnam War were a waste. I hate that thought. But I can't escape it....
     Terry and Allen, you did not die defending the United States.  You did not die defending our freedom, our honor, our republic, our liberty.  I hate it that you died for nothing of value and that your lives were wasted.  I weep for you and the others on The Wall. I weep that you weren't given the chance to live."
--- Don  7th/15th Arty

"Dear America,
     Remember me? 
     I was the girl next door. 
     Remember when I was 13, America, and rode on top of the fire engine in the Memorial Day parade?  I'd won an essay contest on what it meant to be a proud American. 
     And it was always me, America, the cheerleader, the Girl Scout, who marched in front of the high school band . . . carrying our flag . . . the tallest . . . the proudest . . . 
     And remember, America, you gave me the Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizen Award for patriotism, and I was only sixteen. 
     And then you sent me to war, America, along with thousands of other men and women who loved you. 
     It’s Memorial Day, America. Do you hear the flags snapping in the wind? There's a big sale at Macy's, and there's a big parade in Washington for the veterans.
     But it's not the American flag or the sound of drums I hear - I hear a helicopter coming in - I smell the burning of human flesh.  It's Thomas, America, the young Black kid from Atlanta, my patient, burned by an exploding gas tank. I remember how his courage kept him alive that day, America, and I clung to his only finger and whispered over and over again how proud you were of him, America - and he died.  
     And Pham….. He was only eight, America, and you sprayed him with napalm and his skin fell off in my hands and he screamed as I tried to comfort him. 
     And America, what did you do with Robbie, the young kid I sat next to on the plane to Viet Nam?  His friends told me a piece of shrapnel ripped through his young heart - he was only seventeen - it was his first time away from home. What did you tell his mother and father, America? 
     Hold us America . . . Hold all your children America. Allen will never hold any- one again.  He left both his arms and legs back there. He left them for you, America. 
     America, you never told me that I'd have to put so many of your sons, the boys next door, in body bags. You never told me . . ." 
---Peggy (Captain and a nurse in Vietnam)

"Dear comrades with whom I served and the Vietnamese people who suffered at our hands:
     ...I started watching the war more closely, the dead women and children, young girls in a society that values chastity who turned to prostitution to survive.... Fellow soldiers were suddenly not there any more, not only the dead but also those who left us maimed and in one case a vegetable with shrapnel in his brain. It was not the threat of death that ate away at me, even when a bullet creased my ear.... It was seeing us decent but lonely and disoriented young American men finding the worse we can be as human beings, doing things that violated the very core values that our parents, churches and schools instilled in us...things that can never be undone...."
--- Ken

"Dear Joe Brown,
     My promise to you still stands that I will not forget you.... I started measuring my life in multiples of yours and others who were killed in Vietnam.... Measuring my life in multiples of yours keeps me aware of the importance of each day. This is your gift to me for which I can never fully repay you. Thank you Joe Henry Brown. Rest in Peace."
--- John

"Dear Richard, millions of Vietnamese, and all the rest who died in Vietnam,
     ...all I can do is sit, think and stare at your photograph, my mother's cousin, my second cousin totally unknown to me who died at only 20 when I was just 6. I think of the sadness our family, like so many others, felt when they received the tragic news of your death....I want you to know, the world to know, and the truth to be told and shared, that even though you died in vain, and you did, really did, just like all the rest who perished, to know that 50 years later ... that there are a group of Americans all over this nation that still care, that give a damn, that want the truth to continue to be told...."
     In loving kindness,

     "It's not easy to look into a mirror these days. The years and life have left baggage under my eyes, sculpted lines on my face and left grey ashes in my hair. But I can do it.
     The Vietnam War Memorial is an unforgiving mirror that I turn to for self appraisal.  Did I live a good life? Did I do right? Did I make the right decision? Why am I alive and my peers are not? Am I a good man? Am I a coward?
     I chose to oppose the war and avoid the draft.... I still don't know if my decision grew from roots of fear or conscience.... So I return to have those names judge me or help me judge myself and to be reminded of lessons learned....Did I do enough? Not nearly. But I still have the chance to do good. There is meaning to our lives because we can make a difference."

"Hey Mac,
     It's now nearly 52 years since we threw our hats into the air in jubilation at our 1963 USNA graduation.... On the evening of January 4, 1966, I received the call from my parents.  On a January 2nd bombing run over Quang Ngai province your plane had gone down....The following week I submitted my request for reassignment to Vietnam....
     In 1998... I returned to Vietnam to participate in a transformative bike ride from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City -- the 'Vietnam Challenge' was organized bring together disabled and able-bodied athletes to participate in extraordinary athletic events.  My fellow travelers were veterans from both sides of the war, former mortal enemies, most of whom had suffered terrible injury during the war....
     While I have written that your death, Mac, prompted my 'service' in Vietnam, it has been just as responsible for who I have become. At every vigil, every protest, every Congressional visitation, you, along with the 58,000 other Americans and 3 million Vietnamese, are with me."
     In lasting gratitude,
--- Dud

     "We who served in Vietnam and came home stand before our Wall as survivors, and we are drawn inescapably into the world of our comrade spirits.  Entering the aura of the dead, our faces melt in tears.  It is not strange or exceptional to witness two aging men hugging each other, sobbing, shamelessly, inconsolably.  They are still grieving the fate of a fallen brother, reliving the horrors of their war, crushed by the heaviness of the wound of survival they will carry to their graves.  Me too. I have seldom wept as powerfully, as involuntarily, as profoundly intimately, exposing my most deeply buried existential sadness, as when I have stood before the Wall."

"To Whom It May Concern:
     I immigrated to the US under political asylum with my mother and brother shortly after the fall of Saigon.  After the war, my father, who was a Captain in the Army of Republic of Viet Nam, ... had to report to a Vietcong reeducation camp where he was a prisoner for nine years.... My father came to the US with severe PTSD, and I grew up with that.
     I have spent my entire life processing and healing from the American war in Vietnam. In the past few years, I have been writing poems which serve, to me, as a sort of letter to those lives lost in the war and the pain and suffering as a consequence of the war.... Hopefully, these poems reveal the devastation, still felt today, of the war and the necessity for peace."
     Best and warmest wishes,
--- Teresa (hoa binh)

     "I was 15 when you brave young men and women started to be deployed to Vietnam, but I was 25 when some returned, you did not.....I am so sorry for what you suffered, so very sorry.  At 15, I didn't know much but I knew this, we should not go.... Nothing about this war was right, nothing was won or really accomplished, as if winning even matters. Love matters, this is what matters, and I hope before you died I hope you were loved."
--- Deb

     "This letter, posted at The Wall on Memorial Day, framed in remembrance and respect for the two friends I knew best whose names are inscribed on this black granite memorial: Frederick Richard Ohler and Robert Randolph White, both killed in 1968 when all three of us were serving in the US Army in Vietnam.  I was the one who came home.
     I share these thoughts with all the rest of us who survive today -- those who fought in a war that nobody wanted, which few try to justify any more; and those who protested and helped end a tragic policy that took the lives of 58,000 other young Americans, and more than three million Vietnamese.... (P)lease know that we continue our efforts, however feeble and inadequate, to learn and apply the lessons of your sacrifice.  Forgive our failures, but know that we are trying, in so many ways, to mark and honor your untimely departure and to atone for the suffering, to help heal those who lost so much -- Americans, Vietnamese especially, and people of goodwill around the world who labored mightily to stop the madness of that war.
     Rest in peace, my friends. Look over us and our frail efforts, comfort us with the knowledge that your spirits guide us, and help us persevere as we strive to make your ultimate sacrifice a loss that was not in vain."
--- Chuck

     "None of us can quite get it right. We keep trying to figure out what our relationship to you should look like.... It may be impossible.  But we keep trying. For your sake. For ours.... You see, we care about you.  We want to keep you in the conversation.  We want you to know that we still think you can offer us a great deal.
     Personally, I wonder this: did any of you cross paths with me from July of 1969 to August of 1970? Up in II Corps, up in the Central Highlands, down by the Bong Son River.  Do you remember? I went one way, you the other. I survived, you didn't....
     I'll be back, again and again, to walk alongside you for a short while.  I will listen for your voices.  I will touch your names and force myself to swing back through these many years and put myself in the place and time where and when we may have met.  I promise you that I will take this opportunity to meld our spirits together, knowing that I grow stronger, in the doing so.  And I will use that strength to abolish future wars. To stop the killing of innocents. In your name. That's the least I owe you.  And the most. Rest in peace."
--- Your brother, Doug

     "You should know that Nanny, your wife Helen, stands up every Thanksgiving and thanks you for your sacrifice. Sometimes she cries. Everyone is always trying to hold in their tears anyway. Fifty-two years have passed since you died, but you haven’t been forgotten..... I think you would be proud of your family for carrying on your story. I know that they are proud of you. I’m proud of you. 
     Sometimes I find myself wondering what life would’ve been like if you hadn’t died in Cambodia. Would Uncle Bob have spent all that time in prison? Would Uncle Steve be able to keep a job or a wife? Would Uncle Andy still self-medicate? How would Aunt Kathy be different if she had ever had the chance to meet you? How would my mom be different if she wasn’t constantly trying to piece together a father she can’t remember? Would I even be alive today if you had lived? 
     Would you have taught your grandsons to love the outdoors, fishing, and hunting like you did? Would you have come to our football, field hockey, and soccer games? Would you have sat me on your lap and read me stories? Would you look like the picture that’s been on my wall since I can remember? Would you smell like aftershave or soap? What would your voice sound like when you told me that you loved me? 
     I wonder if you thought that it was worth it in the end. Did you whole-heartedly believe in your mission and purpose for being there? Did you regret being there in your last moments? Did you regret anything in your last moments? I wonder what your last thoughts were. Did you think about your mom and dad? Your wife? Your four small children? Your unborn baby? Was there anything that you wanted to say? Was there anyone there to say it to? Could you have spoken, with the bullet in your neck? Did the person who killed you see your face? Did they even think for a second, before they pulled the trigger, about the hole they would be blasting through the lives of the people that you knew and loved? Could they have fathomed that your death would shatter a family for two generations? Did you ever think about that? 
     I know it wasn’t your intention to end up on a wall. I don’t think it was anyone’s intention. My mom always says that there’s a reason for everything. I think there are some things that you can’t find reasons for." 
---Your granddaughter Linsay

What we have done

Photo by Ellen Davidson
GUEST: Doug Rawlings, founding member of Veterans For Peace, poet, and critic of the contemporary effort by our government to whitewash the Vietnam story, talks about his newest project, Letters to the Wall.

Doug and I had a lot in common. We were both drafted during the Vietnam War, and we both went in a little older then most men around us. 

Doug got sent to the war, and I was assigned to a reconnaissance unit near the DMZ in Korea. I have never felt much guilt about my life being saved in this way. I had gone in doubting the war, and determined not to waste my life. I had no epiphany; Vietnam was just about what I thought it was at the time. 

That's not to say I can't be moved by the suffering of all those vets who came back broken limbed and broken hearted. Sometimes it makes me angry that the people who ordered all this carnage never had to pay a price. They should have been jailed for life.

Seeing the waste of war again is difficult for all vets, and the invasion of Iraq was particularly troubling. Were the deceptions even more blatant this time? Were the young men, and young women more vulnerable to the lies of empire than 45 years ago? Had we the people not learned to distrust our government yet, after all these years of betrayal?

But there is more, the profound sadness that human beings are capable of murder. I never killed anyone, so I don't feel this in my being. Those who have fought in wars go beyond just knowing intellectually that they are capable of killing. They carry that burden in their hearts for the rest of their lives. 

I am going to use this blog to publish some letters to the wall. Let yourself be moved by them. Let us cry together for what our country has become, and for what we have done.

September 25, 2016

Netanyahu lookalikes

GUEST: Medea Benjamin, long time activist, provocateur, author and co-founder of Code Pink, talks about her latest book, Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.–Saudi Connection.

I learned a great deal from Medea's book, and we had a very animated discussion about what the US media leaves out when it comes to Saudi Arabia. In the past I have spent so much time criticizing the media for its biased reporting of Israel, that I simply had not looked further down the list of Pentagon supported repressive regimes. 

Saudi Arabia certainly fits the Israeli mold. Our country supports the monarchy with billions of dollars, protects it from international censure, and flies its royal family home the day after 9/11. Obama may incur his first veto override for further protecting Saudi Arabia from public scrutiny. He is trying to stop a bill that would allow 9/11 survivors to sue the monarchy for damages. 

With friends like Israel and Saudi Arabia, who needs enemies? Or is the truth somewhat more troubling? Perhaps Israel and Saudi Arabia share similar values with the imperial nation that formed both colonies, the United States.

I included the picture above with rows of Netanyahu lookalikes holding up their bloody hands. Code Pink can find hilarity in the most despicable of public figures. The mockery gives us all hope that one day, we will throw these evil leaders from power. 

September 24, 2016

Changing American minds

Guest: Salam Qumsiyeh, a young woman living in Palestine, whose visit to the US is being sponsored by the Reformed Church of Woodstock, talks about her life as a Christian Palestinian living in the occupied West Bank.

Salam talked about a time in Palestine when Jews, Christians and Muslims lived side by side and got along. "Jewish Palestinians?" I asked.

Salam stated that Palestinians had lived there for 2,000 years, just changing religions as various invasions befell the land. Could that be true, I wondered. Then it was the British and American colony building that tore it all apart?

A war between the Shia and the Sunni was prompted by a similar imperial invasion. And the US dominance of Saudi Arabia led to the rise of Wahhabism, the Taliban, and the collapse of our World Trade Center. Using religious and ethnic conflicts to subdue an occupied country has been around for a long time. Why don't we see it as the root cause of the Israel/Palestinian conflict?

Salam was joyous to be in the US. She told me that changing American minds is the only way that Israelis will change theirs and grant equal rights to all. That's what keeps me going, and maybe keeps you going too. Someday, Palestine will be free.

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September 7, 2016

Risking your life to get an education

GUEST: Libby Frank, member of Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and long-time activist with the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom, talks about counter recruiting in the nation's public schools.

Libby, Eli and I had a good discussion of counter recruiting in the public schools since all three of us have had experience in it. Eli and I went into the schools with a local group called Dutchess Peace We worked the cafeterias, came to parents' nights and talked in classrooms. Our best activity was handing out flyers as high school students were leaving at the end of their day. Almost every student took them, and often thanked us. Sometimes we had a number of veterans with us, and that always made for interesting discussions.

We only did it at inner city schools like Kingston, Poughkeepsie and Beacon. Those were the only schools that have sidewalks right outside that students used. The suburban schools have parking lots and almost everyone goes home on a bus or in a car. We had a right to be on a public sidewalk, but not the right to be in a school parking lot.

The recruiting problems, however, are almost all in the inner cities. White, more privileged students rarely pick the military since they can afford other options. Hence, the recruiters spend most of their time trying to recruit people of color. That is what we found anyway. And the recruiters were restricted from roaming the halls and cafeterias in the suburban schools as well. Inner city schools seemed to believe that Blacks and Latinos were lucky to have the military as an possibility. At Poughkeepsie HS, an Army helicopter would land on the football field, a spectacle that more privileged parents would never have put up with.

So counter recruiting is mostly about race. If you are poor and Black, then the military will make a man out of you teaching you how to kill for the empire in some foreign land. If you are a more affluent white, then you don't have to risk your life to get an education, healthcare or a paying job.

Our nation's schools are as unfair as our prisons. Both presidential candidates are warmongers, eager to build up the military and show American's might to the world. Neither would ever question the fairness of having a military made up of the nation's poor, Black students.

August 28, 2016

Greensboro and Poughkeepsie

GUEST: Gary Kenton, political activist and former co-host of Activist Radio, returns to the Vassar College airways to talk about progressive movements in his new state, North Carolina.

What a pleasure to have Gary back on Activist Radio. It was a one time event since he lives in North Carolina these days.

Gary, Eli, and I talked about race relations in Greensboro, comparing them to Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County. The fact that we in the north live in such segregated areas really diminishes white people's chances of having meaningful talks with Blacks about race and privilege. Not so, Gary tells us, in Greensboro where races are more mixed and the city has a long history of promoting these types of discussions. 

So is the current debate about Dutchess County's new jail just a way to avoid actually talking to Blacks about what really matters? Of course, the jail is a criminal waste of money, especially since it is being built after so many social services have been slashed or done away with. Progressive whites can all agree on this. But does this logical analysis take the place of genuine conversations with Blacks on race in America? 

Racism is America's disease, so embedded in our history and culture as to almost be invisible. The cure will only come when white American can accept our individual responsibility for perpetuating this system of oppression. 

August 20, 2016

To the Editor:

Sadly, Israel has become a rogue nation and a pariah state to much of the international community. Human rights abuses, military occupation, illegal settlements, home demolitions, brutal invasions (resulting in the deaths of over 500 children), and a cruel blockade that causes food and water shortages for more than a million Palestinians all contribute to Israel’s isolation in the world. 

Of course, Israel needs to be criticized and Israel needs to change. Any government (whether it be China, Saudi Arabia, Hondouras, or the US) needs to be criticized when repeatedly violating human rights and inflicting humiliation and suffering on innocent peoples. The state of Israel could not commit any of these abuses without the $3.5 Billion of US taxpayers dollars that go to Israel every year. 

Clearly, it is not anti-semitic to criticize the policies of the government of Israel. The sad truth is that Israel’s policies and actions have generated a worldwide backlash of antagonism and hatred towards Israel. And tragically, Israel’s policies and actions incite and provoke those who are genuinely anti-semitic. 

I would encourage Americans who truly care about the future of Israel to advocate for changes in Israeli policy that would promote real peace and justice for all. The future is indeed bleak for an Israel bent on maintaining an apartheid, colonial, settler state. The future Israel may not look like a Zionist dream, but hopefully, it will be a peaceful and just nation inhabited by both Jews and Arabs.