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Witness Against War Activists Arrested at Ft. McCoy WI; Quickly Processed & Released

Fort McCoy Action – Sparta Wisconsin
By Joy First | Photo Gallery

I was honored and awed joining with other activists in a nonviolent direct action at Fort McCoy near Sparta, WI on Sunday August 10, 2008. The action was organized by Witness Against War, a campaign of Voices for Creative Nonviolence ( ). Witness Against War has about 10 activists walking 450 miles from Chicago, the location of the 1968 Democratic National Campaign, to St. Paul for the start of the 2008 Republican National Campaign. They are interacting with local communities along the way, raising awareness about the role of both political parties in continuing the war and occupation of Iraq, and calling for an immediate end to our government's illegal and immoral actions in Iraq. They spent two days in Madison at the end of July and I was happy to be able to join up with them again for this action.

A training/planning meeting was planned on Saturday afternoon near Sparta. I was able to get a ride from Erin and Ron, who were driving up from Chicago. As we gathered at a small town hall in a beautiful setting in rural Wisconsin on Saturday for training and action planning, I was humbled to be in the company of this dedicated and inspiring group of people. Looking around at the pastoral lands, it felt like we were truly in the heartland of the country. Also joining in were others from Catholic Workers and Christian Peacekeeping. As I looked around the room with about 45 people present, I realized that I had been arrested with about eight of them in the past. Many of the individuals in the room had spent time in Iraq and surrounding areas and have first-hand knowledge of the carnage going on in the middle-east. They are committed to doing all they can to bring the suffering and devastation to an end.

We spent about four hours in intense training and planning for our action the next day, talking about the goals of the action, logistics, and how the action would be carried out following the principles of nonviolence. Twelve individuals stated that they planned to risk arrest the following day at Fort McCoy.

At 6 pm we went to the farm of Dick and Violet, where we would be spending the night camping out. We had a few working groups who still had to complete tasks that evening, making posters, doing media planning, planning singing for the vigil, and discussing details of the action for those risking arrest. After a delicious dinner provided by Dick and Violet, we spent another couple hours discussing the action for the next day.

When we finished our planning, I had a chance to relax a little and appreciate the beautiful landscape. The sun was going down and it was gorgeous there with the rolling wooded hills and fields. The night sky was beautiful without the light pollution from the city and I was able to see some meteors streaming across the sky from the Perseid meteor shower. This was a very relaxing place to be the night before an action. Unfortunately Alice Cooper was giving a concert about a mile away at Fort McCoy and we could hear the music blasting until almost midnight.

I woke up early the next morning feeling anxious about the action, but stayed in my sleeping bag. At 6 am I heard the revelry playing at the military base and got up. It's always very stressful putting your safety on the line and risking arrest. We were not certain what would happen during this action, but expected we would be held overnight either being taken to Madison to be arraigned at the federal courthouse or being held overnight in the Monroe County jail. We also always know that it is likely to be very uncomfortable physically, being handcuffed with little or no access to bathrooms, water, or food. However it is a risk that we feel compelled to take as we continue our resistance to our government's illegal actions. When I am feeling anxious about doing this, I think about the suffering of the people of Iraq and of the US soldiers and their families, and then it feels like a small sacrifice to make.

After breakfast and last-minute details to work out, we were shuttled to Tunnel City where the walk would begin. The plan was to walk on State Highway 21 three miles to the boundary of the base. Then those risking arrest would take the lead and we would walk three more miles to the main gate of Fort McCoy for the action. That morning we were joined by several other people who would be there in solidarity with us and so we had about 50 people walking along the highway to Fort McCoy.

It was an incredible day with a blue sky and about 76 degrees. We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day. As we walked the three miles in the military base, it felt like we were walking through a national forest rather than through a military base with the beautiful pines lining the road and ponds with cattails. Breathing in the scent of the pines was grounding and gave me strength as we continued to walk towards our destination.

The beauty of what we saw along the road was really an illusion, hiding what was really happening at the base. In our hosts garage the night before I saw an aerial photo of part of Fort McCoy along the river that runs through the base. It was barren and marked with craters from weapons used during the military exercises that they have there. It was a reminder of the destruction that is being carried out in Iraq in our names.

I usually don't walk six miles at a stretch and I was getting very tired and sore. I was glad when we saw the military base ahead, but also apprehensive. There was a big electronic sign stating that the main gate was closed and sawhorse type roadblocks across the entrance. The fifty walkers lined up along the highway across from the entrance, holding our signs, some of them saying, "Support the troops. End the war". We began to sing.

Then the thirteen of us who were going to risk arrest walked across the street continuing to sing. We approached the roadblock and an officer told us that we could not go any further. Jeff Leys, co-coordinator with Voices for Creative Nonviolence, told him why we were there. Jeff said that we came with an open letter to those on the base and we would like to enter and talk to those on the base. He also said that we were calling on the government to end the war, bring all military personnel home, take care of our returning soldiers, and support Iraq in its reconstruction. Jeff said again that we wanted to enter the base to talk to soldiers who may be deployed Iraq soon and let them know their rights. The officer said that we could not enter. Jeff said that some of us are choosing to enter in a peaceful, nonviolent manner in spite of the warning. At that point the 13 of us proceeded across the line. Immediately about twice as many US Army police officers swarmed out of the building and came towards us. They were very polite as they began to handcuff us and lead us into a large garage type area for processing.

Those arrested included: Kathy Kelly, 54, Chicago, IL; Jeff Leys, 44, Watertown, WI; Joy First, 54, Madison, WI; John Bachman, 56, Eau Claire, WI; Brian Terrell, 52, Des Moines, IA; Renee Espeland, 47 Des Moines, IA; Kryss Chupp, 49, Chicago, IL; Ceylon Mooney, 33, Memphis, TN; Eileen Hanson, 34, Winona, MN; Joshua Brollier, 25, Clarkesville, TN; Lauren Cannon, 38, Chicago, IL; Alice Gerard, 51, Grand Island, NY; and Gene Stoltzfus, 68, of Ontario, Canada.

We were kept in handcuffs the whole time we were being processed. They asked us for our personal information, wrote out citations, took our picture, fingerprinted us (the cuffs were temporarily removed, but we were recuffed immediately), and we waited to be transported. We were each given a citation for trespassing and were told that we would be mailed a date for a mandatory court appearance in federal court in Madison.

It must have been about an hour before the first group of 3 or 4 was taken away in a police van and maybe 90 minutes before I was put into a police van, still cuffed. I asked where we were going and the officer told me they were dropping us off on the edge of the base where our friends were waiting for us. I was surprised and thankful to hear that we were being released so quickly.

It was a couple of minutes down the road and I saw the peace bus and all of our friends waiting for us. What a wonderful sight! They welcomed us with hugs, water, and food. We waited for the last group to come and were surprised that Kathy Kelly was not among those released. Lauren Cannon explained that the officers discovered that Kathy had some old outstanding warrants in Wisconsin so she was likely going to be transported to the Monroe County jail.

This was a much easier experience than I was expecting. I didn't think I would get home until Monday. Stephania was with the group waiting for us, having driven from Madison on Sunday to be there in solidarity with us. She wanted to get on the road and get back to Madison, and she offered me a ride home which I was happy to take. I'm always anxious to get home after an action and it was nice to have the chance to talk to Stephania on the way home and process the experience.

As I continue my resistance to our government's actions, I constantly question what I am doing and why. I know that what I am doing will not stop the war today or tomorrow. I know that we need many more people to be involved in civil resistance. But for today, I know that I must continue my resistance. I have to continue to do all I can in speaking out against the illegal and immoral actions of our government. I believe that what we do does make a difference.


We today come to Fort McCoy to seek an end to the war in and occupation of Iraq by the United States. We come to Fort McCoy because of its key role in training National Guard units deploying to Iraq—a training that should end immediately with the commitment of the U.S. to keep National Guard units home and withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq.

We seek the following commitments from the United States government:

  • the complete withdrawal of all U.S. military forces from Iraq;
  • an end to all U.S. military action within and against Iraq, whether that action be air, ground or naval;
  • full funding for the highest quality health care for veterans and for all who live within the U.S.;
  • an end to "stop loss" orders; and
  • full funding provided by the U.S. for the reconstruction of Iraq after 18 years of economic and military warfare.

Already the U.S. has spent over $600 billion to wage the Iraq war. The total cost of the war will almost certainly come close to $1.4 trillion by 2018, even if somehow total troop deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are reduced to 75,000 troops by 2012.

Virtually no money remains appropriated to be spent for the reconstruction of Iraq. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has repeatedly reported on the misspending of reconstruction funds by the U.S. The U.S. has an obligation to provide funding for the reconstruction of Iraq following these past 18 years of economic and military warfare.

Neither Senator John McCain nor Senator Barack Obama is calling for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq any time soon. Senator McCain speaks about basing troop levels in Iraq upon "conditions on the ground", without further defining what he means. Senator Obama talks about withdrawing 1 combat brigade per month while leaving a "residual" force behind to train the Iraqi military and police; to safeguard the U.S. embassy; and to engage in "counter-terrorist" activities. Most likely this "residual" force would be in the range of 30,000 to 60,000 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq indefinitely.

Meanwhile the strain upon service men and women and their families continues unabated with repeat deployments to Iraq. The Washington National Guard's 81stHeavy Brigade Combat Team will deploy to Iraq for the second time this fall. The 32nd Red Arrow Brigade Combat Team of the Wisconsin National Guard will deploy to Iraq in 2009. This will be the largest deployment to combat of the Wisconsin National Guard since World War II when it logged the most days in theater of any U.S. Army unit. We call upon the United States to keep the National Guard at home in the U.S. and to end these repeat deployments abroad.

We come to Fort McCoy to, in some small way, act in solidarity with members of the military who choose to nonviolently resist this war by refusing to be deployed to Iraq. We encourage members of the active duty military, Reserve and National Guard to consider refusing deployment orders and to be in contact with the GI Rights Hotline regarding their rights within the military at 1-800-394-9544.


Witness Against War

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being arrested. Please keep us updated about what happens to Kathy Kelly. She is an amazing person and an inspiration to everyone who meets her.

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