Thursday, January 29, 2009

Alice's court statement

On August 10, as a part of the Witness Against War walk, thirteen of us attempted to walk onto the grounds of Fort McCoy, located near Sparta, Wisconsin. We were hoping to speak to the National Guard troops who are trained at Fort McCoy. We were also hoping to give them a letter to let them know that the government's authorization to deploy the National Guard (the war powers resolution of 2002) has expired and was not renewed.
During the walk, I had met many people whose loved ones, members of the Wisconsin National Guard, had been deployed over and over again. This is very hard on the members of the National Guard and on their family, friends, co-workers, and employers. Those encounters spurred me to choose to go onto the grounds of Fort McCoy and speak with the soldiers, as someone who wanted the best for them.

I feel that the National Guard is needed at home. During times of natural disaster, it is the National Guard that we call on to take care of our needs.

When the thirteen of us arrived at the main gate of Fort McCoy, we were met by police, who told us not to pass a barrier that they had established. We did pass the barrier and we were arrested and charged with trespass. Shortly after we were processed, we were issued tickets and were released.

On January 12th, we had our trial before Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker in Madison, Wisconsin. We each had a chance to speak our piece... peace... and were found guilty and fined $75 each.

Below is a copy of my court statement:

Since I returned to Western New York in September after completing the 500-mile Witness Against War walk from Chicago to Saint Paul, Minnesota, I have continued to walk nearly every day. I have walked along the Niagara River and through the City of Buffalo. I walk through two state parks in Grand Island, the town where I live.

I walk for exercise and to find interesting things to photograph for the Grand Island Dispatch. I work as a freelance photographer and reporter for that newspaper.

Sometimes on my walks, I see parents walking or riding on bicycles with their kids. I see people catching fish, or at least trying to. I see people walking dogs. I see people jogging in all kinds of weather, even in snow and wind. During my weekday walks, I see kids returning home from school. I see kids playing on the slides and climbing equipment at the nearby playground.

In other words, I experience normal every day life on my walks.

Last summer, I had similar experiences. I saw bicyclists and joggers and kids going to summer school.

But a few incidents served to remind me that the lives of many of our friends and neighbors are far from normal. One of those incidents occurred in Jefferson, early in the morning, as we were starting our day’s walk. We could see the kids heading off to summer school. We crossed a street near the school. A crossing guard spotted us and our banner. She went to the middle of the street to help us. As I passed her, she turned to me and said, “I support what you do. My son is in Iraq for the fifth time. I just want him to come home.”

In another town, we were at a church for a potluck dinner. A woman there looked at me, wanting to talk. I could see sadness in her eyes and feel heartbreak in her voice as she told me that her son had been killed in Iraq.

I heard about police departments that were short staffed because so many of the officers were also members of the National Guard, who had been deployed overseas.

The normal every day life that I saw as I walked was nowhere near as normal as it appeared.

When I heard the sadness and longing that people had for their absent family members, friends, and co-workers, I had to wonder why the normal every day lives of these communities was being disrupted and destroyed. Why have National Guard troops been deployed over and over again, far away from home and from the families and communities that need them? Why are National Guard troops continuing to be deployed to Iraq, even though the War Powers resolution of 2002, which gave the Bush administration the authority to deploy the National Guard, has expired and was not renewed.

On August 10, 2008, I went with a group to the gates of Fort McCoy to talk to the troops, to tell them that they were needed at home to do the work that the National Guard is meant to do, especially disaster relief. I had a letter to give them that offered details of alternatives to deployment for them. I never spoke to a single soldier. We were arrested before we could speak to the soldiers or to give them our letters.

I felt that my presence that day at Fort McCoy was necessary. I did not feel that I did anything that could be described as illegal. I felt that I was simply exercising my first-amendment right of free speech. On the other hand, I did perceive the government as violating the law, by continuing to deploy National Guard troops after the authorization to deploy them has expired.

It is time for National Guard troops to come home. They are needed here. I hope that my presence at Fort McCoy on August 10th helped to serve as a reminder that our National Guard troops are needed at home, even though I never had a chance to speak to the soldiers.

When the deployments finally end, the National Guard troops and their families and communities will be able to start healing and, eventually, will be able to return to their normal, every day lives.

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