You are herecontent / Tomorrow's History Today: Camp Casey Up Close
Tomorrow's History Today: Camp Casey Up Close
By Greg Moses
CAMP CASEY, TX (Aug 11-Part Two) With a dozen or more activists still unbedding themselves from the floors of the Crawford Peace House, and with the push-pot of coffee in the kitchen already pumping dry, I think about that tall cup that Cindy Sheehan was holding this morning and decide to follow her lead to Crawford's Coffee Station across the tracks.
Trains this morning have headed due north along this Burlington Northern Santa Fe line. Either they tow flatcars double-stacked with cargo from port Houston, hoppers that could carry Texas lignite coal, or tanker cars filled with the number one Texas export: stocks from the Texas chemical coast (although if these cars are headed north, they probably are not bound for the number one purchaser of Texas exports: China). As one train last evening made a blinking light out of the setting sun I counted 79 flashes between cars.
Crossing the tracks from the Peace House, the first line of defense offered by the town is the white limestone Security Bank of Crawford. Something about the name and location of the bank makes me want to learn more. It is an allied member of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and an official depository for Dawes County, Nebraska. According to the FDIC bank find, the Security Bank of Crawford is actually a branch office of the Security Bank of Whitesboro, a sole subsidiary of FIRST GRAYSON BANCSHARES, INC. EMPLOYEE'S STOCK OWNERSHIP TRUST of McGregor, valued at $75 million. The banking operation has been doing business since 1940 with branch offices in Whitesboro, Collinsville, and Crawford.
Further on, crossing another slender highway called Lone Star Parkway, is the Yellow Rose, a retail haven for all things Bush (both Laura and W) complete with a storefront altar to the American civic religion: a monument of the twin tablets, written in the same English that Moses used to speak to God, and a fake liberty bell in between. From here we definitely want to take a left turn toward the coffee shop, not a right turn to the fire station where Bush votes for himself. At the Coffee Station, gas is selling for a mere $2.35 per gallon. If we have not yet loved the oil companies with all our hearts, under W's leadership we're getting there.
At this point you can either pick up a copy of today's Waco Tribune with a top-o-the-fold color photo of activist Jim Goodnow, who hails from the arts community of greater Terlingua, or you can just shake Jim's hand as he spreads morning cheer to fellow customers who do not fail to smile back. A couple of months ago Goodnow was contacted by a Congressional office to see if he might be recruited as a soldier to help militarize the border with Mexico. In a letter to the editor of the Desert Mountain Times, he said: "If this call for troops to be mustered impacts your heartstrings in any way, please call me and share your thoughts Should we not unite, stand tall, and in a strong firm voice, just say no?"
As the cashier rings up my coffee, she discreetly lip syncs the rapid-fire lyrics of Lynyrd Skynyrd on the radio. By this time, with tall coffee in hand, and Southern Rock grinding the air, I'm smiling too. On the pavement outside are tile markers placed in key positions that say "Pirate Country", and overhead is stretched a wide banner that announces the Tonkawa Traditions Fest. In Pirate Country, at least one has the courtesy to recall.
Returning to the Peace House along the South side of Cedar Rock Parkway, I pass a newly carved ditch that is trying really hard to empty itself from heavy rains. Towering overhead are metal grain elevators marked with logos that say Coop or Sioux. Come harvest time, they will load hopper cars full of corn, wheat, or sorghum. With a bank on the Northside, a farmers Coop on the Southside, and with people heading west to buy and sell, at least the President has chosen a home town that is not too difficult to understand.
Just before I get too close to the KLIF car, which has been stalking the Peace House since I left, I cross the street to the Peace House. License plates around the Peace House say Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, and California. Everyone is up and at it. Attorney Jim Harrington has just arrived from Austin to play sheriff for our side. Last time the cops here busted protesters, it cost the city $45,000 dollars in cash, not to mention the expense of a trial that had to be moved into the in the civic center. Harrington did that legal work pro bono, so we're all pretty glad to see him now. Time to catch shuttle number one out to camp.
Our early drive to the camp does not go unrewarded. "Fawn!" exclaims the driver as we turn a corner and see two spotted fawns following their mother into some trees. It's feeling more and more like a lucky day. Driving the car is Burnet, a jovial host who was planning to return home to Houston tonight, but, "I'm having so much fun I might stay." The other passenger is Joe from Boston. And it's pretty remarkable if you think about it that the first two passengers to camp on this auspicious day both have PhDs. But Joe is the one with the PhD from Harvard.
Burnet points out the Broken Spoke Ranch on the right, where Bush will dine with millionaire supporters Friday night. The fence around that ranch is unusually high and new. Usually when I see a fence like that I look for antelope, seriously. But since the enclosure seems free of exotic game, this fence looks like it is built to keep certain creatures from jumping in. Finally we arrive at the splendid triangle, home base for Camp Casey.
Not only is this a triangle, but it's a right triangle with all the Pythagorean reverberations. No doubt the first right triangles were laid out like this on the ground. So let's begin where the hypotenuse meets side A. Here George Bush has been pink slipped, a code pink symbolic act, where they unfurl a huge pink cloth cut to the curvy image of a grrrl's body. This pink slip is hung from the windbreak of trees that hug the fence line at side A. It billows like a sail under prevailing southwesterly winds. "Out of Iraq Now" says the pink slip.
As we walk southeasterly along Morgan Road, Camp Casey is also waking up, folks sitting up, staring out tent openings, stretching, tying shoes, rolling up sleeping bags, and taking down tents. Camp director Ann Wright is already wearing a Camp Casey t-shirt--a very impressive sign of mobilization. On the back of the t-shirt is a black question mark overlaid with a pink W. On the front it says in red and black: "Bush... Talk to Cindy! Moms & Vets will Stop War." Wright is the former Ambassador to Mongolia who wrote a long letter of resignation following the USA-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. She has 15 years experience in the diplomatic corps and 26 years in the Army reserves.
At a Veterans for Peace convention near Dallas last Friday, Wright thanked the VFP for existing. "This organization to me is one of the most important in America," said Wright as she introduced a panel of federal whisteblowers. "Thanks to the VFP, men and women in the USA military are standing up to say there is more than war, because some administrations misuse the military, and that is where we find ourselves today." Her introduction alone of whistleblowers Colleen Rowley from the FBI and Jesselyn Radack from the Justice Department drew a standing ovation from the full room of 50. And that was the day before Cindy Sheehan made her trek from the VFP tent.
Wright, of course, accompanied Sheehan on that first sweltering hike through the bar ditch of Prairie Chapel Road, and she has become part of this movement's central command. Folks out here express respect for Wright's diplomatic character. And she is ever on task. Soon she will be calling in transportation, reorganizing campers for the day's events, and reserving prime tent space for Military Families Speak Out.
A more radical wing of the movement is represented by the next t-shirt I see. It is a picture of Native American warriors: "Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorism since 1492." This is about the time I greet Will Pitt from Truthout as Scott Galindez works nearby with tripod and video camera, determined to prove that a revolution can be televised.
Meanwhile the McLennan County Road Dept. (Pct. 4) makes its first tour of the triangle today. BTW, the Precinct 4 Commissioner is the only Republican on the court. The other three are Democrats. In terms of the usual party politics in McLennan County, Bush won the Presidential vote by a landslide, but so did the Democratic incumbent for Congress, Chet Edwards.
About this time, up drives a vintage edition Chevy Caprice Classic Brougham with Melvin at the wheel. Last time I saw Melvin he was nodding out about 3AM at the porch of the Peace House. Now he is already returning from a shopping trip to Target, trying to explain to Anne why he doesn't need to be fully reimbursed for the stuff he just put on his credit card. You can see by the smiles all around that he is making friends. Says Anne to Melvin: "Yes, it's spontaneity and it's working and it's beautiful and y'all are here because you want to be here and..." her comments trail off into Melvin's smiling face.
Moving a little further down side A, or Morgan Road, I see hefty rolls of measuring tape being unpacked. I happen to know what this means, because last Friday morning I had been sipping coffee with a VFPer from Tacoma. He had helped to lay out an Arlington West display there, and he spoke of the exhaustive care they took to make sure the crosses were neatly placed so many feet apart to mimic the respectful military order of graves at the Arlington national cemetery near D.C. These huge rolls of tape are the first visual evidence of what will be done today, all day, as 1800 crosses get pounded into the ground around Camp Casey and tagged with the names of USA soldiers killed in Iraq. "We need to figure out a way to also honor the Iraqis killed in this war," said my Tacoma informant. "But how do we do that? Eighteen hundred crosses are difficult enough to deal with."
Tim Goodrich is spotting his perch for the day under the windbreak along Morgan Road. This morning he has changed into desert khakis so there will be no mistaking the fact that he is an Iraq Veteran Against the War. Later in the day with the sun scorching down on his neck, I see him studying the names on the crosses. As I think about the pictures I've seen of VietNam vets at the Memorial Wall in D.C., I certainly don't ask Tim Goodrich what's going through his bowed head.
"Air America is here says someone from camp command. Call Pacifica, they ought to be down here, too!" Air America, that reminds me. Last night on the porch the woman who drove 18 hours straight from Iowa said she prepared for her trip by first going on line and writing down all the Air America stations along Interstate 35. There were a few dead spots, but she was pretty pleased to keep company with the network, nearly the whole way.
Symbols of protest are lined up facing the morning sun. "Arlington West" on a t-shirt. "Attila the Preppie Coke Head" on a cardboard square. Then another t-shirt. "Hey wait", I plead. I need to write this one down: "Where Are We Going? And What's With the Hand Basket?" Oh. Yeah. "Some people have to think about it for a minute," says the woman grinning. Hey, don't look at me; I'm not the Harvard PhD.
By this time I've wondered down Morgan Road past the triangle, where cars are parking in the bar ditch. So far about 20 cars. A guy carrying a bag of ice comes walking toward me from where he parked further up. Way out at the end of the line of cars, I turn back to survey the scene. In every direction the Texas horizon sweeps a circle that is ankle high. Only the windbreak at side A pushes the sky from view. If ever there were a Roy Bedichek moment this is it. The gentle naturalist from neighboring Falls County could point it all out. These marvelous prairie grasses. Are they Big Bluestem, Brushy Bluestem, Purple Threeawn, Buffalo Grass, SideOats Grama, Inland Sea Oats, Canada Wild Rye, Blue Hair Grass, Gulf Muhly, Lindheimer's Muhly, Seep Muhly, SwitchGrass, Texas Blue Grass, Little Blue Stem, Prairie DropSeed, Indian Grass, or Eastern Gama Grass? I'd like to think there's some Sand Love Grass out here. Later today, one of the crosses will be adorned by a cutting from a Texas Thistle.
Back at the triangle, four crosses have been carefully placed and pounded into the Denton Silty Clay at the righteous angle where side B meets side A. For the rest of the day the crosses will march NorthEastward along side B to Prairie Chapel Road where they will muster in a disciplined row. The first section of crosses, between Morgan Road and the tent reserved for Military Families Speak Out, is ground dedicated to the sons and daughters of Texas. As of yet, however, the crosses are as anonymous as the short stretch of road that they face. So far, this is a fitting memorial to the dead and unnamed.
Heading back to the Peace House, I sit in the front seat with Burnet as the back seats are taken by a photographer and her daughter. Upon arrival, we find Cindy standing in the front lawn equipped with a hands free cell phone, conferring with a cadre of CodePink organizers. Inside the first room, attorney Harrington stands facing the door from his makeshift legal outpost, sorting and re-sorting a short stack of papers. When Hadi enters the house, he and Harrington hug. "We sold anti-war buttons for a dollar apiece to raise the downpayment for this house," Hadi tells me. Johnny Wolf took the risk of putting his name on the deed, but Hadi is letting me know that the Peace House is a collective endeavor. Back out front, Cindy and her CodePink entourage are backing out in a white Chevy Impala, back to work at Camp Casey.
And Wisconsin has just arrived....
Greg Moses is editor of Peacefile and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence.