A Call to Action

September 19th, 2012

By Jan Barry

alice_walkerVeterans For Peace held its 27th national convention last month in Miami, Florida. Among the highlights were a tribute to the organization by former TV talk-show host Phil Donahue and a call by novelist and poet Alice Walker for a new wave of outreach to enlist veterans on the verge of suicide to join social change campaigns.

“I admire Veterans For Peace for one central reason above everything else,” Donahue told the August gathering of community-to-international activists. “Veterans For Peace walks the walk.”

Donahue was there to show and discuss his film, Body of War, the story of a severely wounded Iraq war veteran, Tomas Young, who flung himself into peace movement activism, interacting with many of the veterans attending the convention.

“Hundreds of veterans with knowledge of war and dedicated to the abolition of war were gathered for the opening night … [of] their first international convention as VFP has opened a chapter in the U.K. from which members are attending. VFP also has a chapter in Vietnam,” the St. Louis-based group noted in a news release.

Walker, the Pulitizer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple and numerous other books, was the keynote speaker at the convention’s concluding evening banquet.

In a soft, firmly focused and melodious voice, Alice Walker presented an extended poem/riff on the deaths of war veterans who killed themselves and her persistent, well-put plea that the best way to address this tragedy is to issue a call to veterans in despair to join the fight for human rights at home and abroad.

“The madness of war is given mute testimony by our young men and some young women who take their lives,” she said, “rather than continue to murder others or to self-murder in slow motion while feeling half-alive…

“We need them beside us with all that they have learned, with all of their valor and expertise, the lack of fear of dying—the lack of fear of dying—which can be a very good thing. Stay with us, I say to them, stay with us—we desperately need you…”

She cited the example of Howard Zinn, the historian and vet for peace who was horrified by his role in bombing European cities and villages during World War II. Walker recalled how Zinn, one of her professors at Spellman College in Atlanta, persistently got arrested in civil rights demonstrations in the early 1960s and the long arc of his life of social activism.

A video of Alice Walker’s speech is here:


“Not included in the video is what happened right after Walker finished,” Vietnam vet Paul Appell of Illinois wrote in an email.  “Carlos Arredondo, who you know lost his first son Alex to war by way of a bullet in Iraq on August 25, 2004 and then lost his remaining son Brian to war by way of suicide on December 19, 2011, spoke.  Carlos asked everyone who had lost a family member to suicide to stand.  Almost every table in the banquet hall had someone stand up.”

(This article was also posted at EarthAirWater.)

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