By Brian Moore, Gainesville Veterans for Peace Member
Veterans for Peace (VFP) held its 27th national convention this year in Miami. The focus was on U.S. military involvement in Latin America with the theme “Liberating the Americas: Lessons from Latin America and the Caribbean.” Speakers included author Alice Walker, Father Roy Bourgeois and TV host Phil Donahue.
Also speaking at the workshops were familiar names like Col. Ann Wright, David Swanson, Medea Benjamin, Iraq War resisters Camilo Mejia and Victor Agosto, Carlos and Melida Arredondo, Marlene Bastien and DeAnne Graham. They participated in presentations on Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, a panel on G.I. resistance, a Hiroshima/Nagasaki commemoration and much more. You can see video of the workshops at vfpnationalconvention.org.
We met with many other members to discuss current issues including drone warfare, depleted uranium, Agent Orange, the military industrial complex, the war on drugs and U.S. foreign policy in South America.
Many of the members present in Miami worked together in the ‘80s. In Central America, VFP visited Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras. VFP was invited back to help monitor the elections of 1990. While older members of the organization were excited to reunite and have some laughs, newer members and guests were eager to meet some of these legendary characters who have devoted their lives to working for peace over the past decades.
Among them was Gainesville’s Chapter 14 President Scott Camil, who was frequently approached to commemorate his dedication to educating the public and to recall his past experiences. He was also interviewed for a film documentary on longtime VFP member and friend S. Brian Wilson who sat on train tracks in 1987 to stop the transportation of explosives to Central America.
Wilson was run over by the train only to survive and bring public attention to what later became known as the Iran/Contra scandal.
The convention was filled with stories similar to Wilson’s, like Col. Ann Wright refusing to participate in an unjust war, Father Roy being imprisoned, or the countless fasts and marches that so many members have participated in.
But there was concern for the lack of new members from our most recent wars. Leah Bolger, VFP’s first woman president, suggested that younger veterans are in a much needed recovery period while some Vietnam veterans think it’s a different environment today with less public outrage over the wars or at least less media coverage.
Along with an effort to attract the newer generation of veterans, many topics were discussed in the lively debates towards the end of the convention. With an opportunity for members to weigh in on the topics, the discussions were very thorough and passionate as they debated future international chapters, voting procedures, by-laws and resolutions.
We were happy to be visited by Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for U.S. President. Stein visited with us for two days speaking with all of us who had questions. It was refreshing to hear a presidential candidate that actually cares about and supports our issues like ending these wars, ending the drone murders, ending the attacks against whistleblowers, no new war in Iran and many other important issues.
During the final dinner, two WWII veterans were commemorated with standing ovations for their lifelong commitment to peace. Many other members were praised for their work in and out of the organization. Author Alice Walker read a beautiful poem. Father Roy spoke about his commitment to equal rights for women in the church and getting countries to pull their troops out of conflicts around the world.
Although member participation might have been down this year at the convention, there was no lack of optimism moving forward. Leah Bolger and her staff seem confident that membership will begin to grow at a faster pace especially because of the volatile times we are living in. Veterans are firsthand witnesses of many of problems we face and can set examples for educating the public. This year’s convention in Miami solidifies VFP’s commitment to that struggle.
Veterans and supporters can learn more by going to the VFP website at www.veteransforpeace.org and contacting local chapters. For more information on the Gainesville chapter, visit www.vfpgainesville.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.