VFP convention

Top: Iraq War resisters Camilo Mejia, Agustin Aguayo, Stephen Funk, Eugene Cherry, and Suzanne Swift. Bottom: Vets march to Arch

Jeff Paterson, Courage to Resist. August 21, 2007

Courage to Resist joined over 400 members of Veterans for Peace (VFP) and Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) in St. Louis, Missouri last week August 15-19 for the 22nd annual national VFP convention.

Highlights for us included: The Courage to Resist and IVAW workshop entitled, “Supporting GI Resistance;” Army Spc. Agustin Aguayo’s presentation at the Centenary Methodist Church; IVAW’s “War is Not a Game” counter-recruiting action at the Missouri Black Expo job fair; The election of Iraq War resister Camilo Mejia to the chair of the IVAW board of directors; A information picket at the St. Louis military induction center about sexual abuse in the services; And a spirited march through downtown St. Louis ending at the arch.

Over sixty people jammed into a small, sweltering conference room for our “Supporting GI Resistance” workshop featuring Iraq War veterans turned resisters Agustin Aguayo and Mark Wilkerson. Agustin and Mark each gave compelling personal accounts of resisting redeployment to Iraq, and serving over six months each in military brigs for their resistance. Tom Mortillo of IVAW and myself on behalf of Courage to Resist presented overviews of current resisters and coming efforts to launch nationwide campaigns to better “support GI resistance.”

Agustin Aguayo joined Dennis Kucinich, Elaine Johnson, Phyllis Bennis, Tina Richards, Sara Rich, Fernando De Solar Suarez, and Dr. Dahlia Wasfi as notable speakers at St. Louis’ historic Centenary Methodist Church for a public speak out to end the war now. Visibly taken aback by the overwhelming show of support by hundreds of veterans and supporters, Agustin finished his presentation amidst chants of “Their our brothers, their our sisters—we support war resisters!”

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During a lunchtime break, nearly 90 members of IVAW lined up in formation inside the Missouri Black Expo job fair in front of a large military simulation game. The job fair was taking place down the street from the VFP convention. While military recruiters frantically made calls and huddled with expo security, IVAW members chanted “War is not a game!” three times before dispersing. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the brief action sparked heated debate among onlookers.

IVAW formally voted this weekend to launch a campaign this Fall in support of the GI resistance, in effect, encouraging troops to refuse to fight. To underscore the point, IVAW elected Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia chair of its board of directors. In the winter of 2003, Camilo was the first soldier to refuse to return to fight in Iraq after an initial tour in the war zone. "There’s a sort of revolution taking place in the streets. It’s not being reported by the mainstream media, but we in the antiwar movement know what’s going on. There is a rebellion going on in the ranks of the military that is not being reported," Camilo noted to reporter Aaron Glantz.

Ret. Army Colonel Ann Wright emceed a noontime picket line and speak out at the St. Louis military induction center and federal building. Three dozen conventioneers marched with signs that read, “Stop rape in the military!”, “Males are raped too”, and “Mothers beware: Rapists go free in the military.” Speak out participants included Suzanne Swift’s mother Sara Rich and Dr. John Johnson whose daughter PFC LaVena Johnson died under mysterious, non-combat circumstances in Iraq.

To close out the convention, about 500 veterans and supporters—with CodePink being well represented—marched from the convention site to the St. Louis arch on the banks of the Mississippi River. The “Yellow Rose of Texas” bus led the way proclaiming “Don’t Attack Iran!” in large print. Leading the march were IVAW members, war resisters, Gold Star and other military family members, and veterans of every major war the U.S. has played a part in since the Spanish Civil War.

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Photos by Jeff Paterson for Courage to Resist