By Joshua Shurley
Recently, in eastern Washington, hundreds of veterans, their families and supporters gathered—not to glorify their status or promote military service, but rather to organize to resist the war machine’s destructive legacy. Aug. 15–18 (which happened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Woodstock), they leveraged their voices en masse and the result was a powerful experience for those who took part.
Veterans for Peace (VFP) is a global organization committed to exposing the true costs of war, seeking justice for veterans and victims of war, and abolishing war as an instrument of national policy. With more than 140 chapters around the world, the VFP is dedicated to countering the dominant cultural narrative that uses veterans as props for militarism.
One VFP chapter is in the Central Valley. Three local members—Eduardo Castro, Josh Shurley and Jackson Shepherd—just attended the VFP’s 34th annual gathering in Spokane, Wash., under the theme Sacred Land, Sacred Lives: Peace Knows No Borders.
The fast-paced schedule of plenaries, workshops, meetings, discussions, tabling, poetry readings, film screenings, musical performances, peace demonstrations and spaces for reflections invigorated and energized members, who will go back and add value to their home chapters.
Attendees learned effective organizing strategies, worked to publicize the plight of Palestinians, raised awareness of the injustices facing deported veterans and their families, and worked to save the VA healthcare system from the Trump administration’s privatization efforts. They connected with the VFP’s Okinawa chapter to fight against the construction of another U.S. military base on the island and the ecological destruction already under way there.
The featured speaker, known as Loke, roused the crowd with an exhortation to listen to and honor indigenous people, such as with solidarity efforts with the current protests on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. Recent VFP delegations to Venezuela and Nicaragua (and even the author’s own in Cuba) presented, and two members being held in Ireland were honored.
Participants reflected on the past with an art exhibit called “Waging Peace in Vietnam: U.S. Soldiers and Veterans Who Opposed the War” and sought to reckon
with that grotesque war through the Vietnam: Full Disclosure campaign.
The war dead were collectively mourned with an exhibition known as Arlington Northwest in a nearby park, featuring rows and rows of grave markers for those fallen since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. These efforts were a powerful statement about the human cost of war.
The membership grappled with serious issues related to patriarchy, White supremacy and maintaining an organizational culture where members are heard and respected. The VFP was entertained by hip-hop lyricist (and Marine veteran) Megaciph and inspired by speakers Danny Sjursen and Britney DeBarros (both army officers turned war resisters). On one afternoon, about three dozen people took part in a Gaza land flotilla along the Spokane River.
Probably the best aspect of these gatherings is the networking with other chapters and seeing the amazing and diverse work of the VFP membership around the world.
Much work lies ahead. Far too many families and communities are in turmoil, as ICE acts as a modern-day Gestapo. The most vulnerable among us are being
ravaged by an unjust political and economic system, as the symptoms of late-stage capitalism give rise to more disturbing reality TV theatrics intended to distract us from systemic racial, gender and financial inequality.
While the VFP leads the way in resisting war and militarism, we support other social justice causes as steadfast allies, and stand with our sisters and brothers from across the spectrum of struggle.
VFP members have served in all eras, from World War II through Vietnam, to the recent wars in the Middle East, and everything in between. Next year, the VFP will gather Aug. 6–9 in Albuquerque, N.M., around the 75th anniversary of the horrific atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
For veterans and those who care about exposing the true costs of war, reach out and join the VFP to build peace at home and peace abroad.
Dr. Joshua Shurley teaches political science at Clovis Community College, is a board member of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence and an organizer with Chapter 180 of Veterans for Peace. Contact him at email@example.com.