The War Resisters Support Campaign had a great event in Toronto last night - good food shared with good friends, moving and enlightening talks, and a much-needed infusion of funds to continue our work.
Here's a report on the evening, but please see below for another important way you can help the Campaign.
War resister Robin Long chatted with us from San Francisco via Skype. Robin, you may recall, was the first war resister deported by the Harper Government. He reminded us how the specific actions of the Canadian government led to more aggravating charges being laid against him, and harsher sentencing. Robin served 15 months in a US military prison; a sentence of more than a year means he cannot return to Canada for 10 years, and he has a Canadian-born son. Robin's time in prison has left him with anxiety and agoraphobia, among other issues.
But Robin hasn't given up and walked away. Working with other Iraq War veterans and resisters, he formed Veteran Artists - a veteran-directed "VA" that will use art to help veterans heal. They're launching their first project at this year's Burning Man, going back to the desert, a landscape where they were once sent to kill and destroy, this time to create and to heal.
Next, war resister Phil McDowell talked about joining the US Army shortly after September 11, 2001, feeling it was an important and patriotic thing to do. He expected to fight in Afghanistan, but was deployed to Iraq. While in Iraq, from his own experiences and what he read in books and online, Phil had a growing fear - then a realization - then a certainty - that the entire war had been based on lies.
It was difficult for Phil to believe that his government would have lied about something of such import, where people's lives were at stake. At first the truth was difficult to believe - then it became impossible to escape. In Iraq, Phil saw horrible human rights abuses on a regular basis, and he knew his work as a communications expert was enabling those crimes.
Back in the US, Phil made no secret of why he wanted to separate from the Army, telling his fellow soldiers what they would - and wouldn't - find in Iraq. His commanding officers wanted to shut him up, but Phil refused to lie for their war.
When the term of Phil's contract was completely finished, he left the service for good. Or so he thought.
A few months later, Phil McDowell was ordered to re-deploy to Iraq. He was stop-lossed. He tried every legal means to get out of this involuntary service, only to learn that there is no legal way out. That's when Phil came to Canada.
Shortly after arriving in Toronto, he got a job installing solar energy systems, and has done that work since then. All he wants is to stay in Canada, do environmental work and activism, hike and explore Canada's awesome beauty. To live in peace and contribute to his new country.
Next Vietnam veteran and peace activist Ron Kovic addressed us briefly by video. You can see Ron's five-minute talk here. Tomorrow, March 21, Ron will participate in another event for US war resisters in Canada.
And finally, Alyssa Manning, the lawyer who represents most of the US war resisters, updated us on her legal research and strategy. I won't go into it here - too bad, CIC, you'll have to find out for yourselves! - but it was exciting and very hopeful. Alyssa's work could create a big breakthrough for military resisters, and for peace.
But these cases shouldn't be fought one at a time in court. We shouldn't be forced to raise thousands of dollars for legal defense, and people shouldn't be forced to live in limbo as they wait and wait for their cases to be decided. We need a political solution, and one is within reach: Bill C-440.
Another way you can help US war resisters in Canada
We spend a lot of time begging for money: money for Humanitarian and Compassionate Applications, money for work permits, for spousal sponsorships, for legal fees, phone bills, internet access. Most of our daily campaign costs like printing and transportation come out of our own pockets.
One way we can spend less time fundraising and more time lobbying and doing outreach is through pre-authorized monthly donations: supporters who commit to a monthly donation that is drawn directly from their chequing accounts. Right now our automatic monthly donations total about $750 per month, and we're trying to increase that by about $2,000 more.
I find the monthly automatic deduction is an easy and painless way to contribute. Depending on your income level, it may be impossible for you to donate $300, but $25 per month is do-able, especially when it's deducted automatically. You can set up a monthly donation of as little as $5 or $10; the Campaign has several automatic donors at that level. It's all valuable. It all adds up.
If this is something you would consider, you can download the form from this page (pdf form here).