For immediate release:

Date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Time: 1-3 PM and 6:30-9:00 PM
Location: 5th & Main
then Fraps and Wraps on Main (150 W Main St)
Suggested Donation: $10

Join Iraq Veterans Against the War in Grand Junction, CO on Tuesday, March 19th at 1:00 PM on Main Street to chalk the names of Colorado natives who have died since the start of the occupation in Iraq and at 6:30 PM at Fraps and Wraps on Main for a film screening that will highlight the epidemic of rape in the military followed by a discussion about the continued struggles that our servicemembers’ are facing at the V.A. after returning from the battlefield.  Following the screening, Iraq veterans will lead a discussion about the ongoing trauma caused by the Iraq War and the organizing work currently underway to improve veteran care here in Colorado.

The Invisible War – Film Screening –

Focusing on the powerfully emotional stories of rape victims, The Invisible War is a moving indictment of the systemic cover-up of military sex crimes, chronicling the women’s struggles to rebuild their lives and fight for justice. It also features hard-hitting interviews with high-ranking military officials and members of Congress that reveal the perfect storm of conditions that exist for rape in the military, its long-hidden history, and what can be done to bring about much needed change.

March 19 will mark the 10 year anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.  While the war may officially be “over” and has faded from the minds of many Americans, the casualties continue to mount.  Thousands of veterans, service members, and Iraqi and Afghan civilians continue to deal with the mental and physical trauma that they suffered as a result of the war and daily violence. These attacks continue in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the legacy of U.S. invasion.

Many of our veterans and service members have suffered injuries that will eventually claim their lives as their physical and mental health deteriorates.  These deaths will never be included in any official War on Terror casualty count.  Returning veterans who seek health care through the underfunded and understaffed Department of Veterans Affairs face long wait times, confusing bureaucracy, and  inconsistent quality and availability of healthcare.  Currently we are experiencing a veteran suicide epidemic with 22 veterans committing suicide every day.  The men and women who have served our country deserve the care and resources to heal from trauma they’ve suffered due to their military service.

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2012 Convention

It has been about a week since the Iraq Veterans Against the War national convention came to a close and what a week it has been.  Sorting through everything that was talked about, finding ways of dealing with members that seem to be set in their way, at least to some of us newer members, and finishing up paperwork in support of expanding the member idea base have made for a long week.  Being able to meet and converse with some of the other prominent groups around the country that made it out to the convention was an outstanding opportunity. The Poverty Initiative, National Nurses United, and United Workers all had representatives there to tell a little about their stories and show that we are not fighting alone or against a single target but rather at the roots, we are all fighting the same problem.  Opening the lines of communication and allowing for these groups to work hand in hand will open doors that alone our organizations would not be able to find.

This convention was the first that I have been able to attend and from the sound of all the conversations it was a good one to start with.  From the conversations that I was a part of this year went without a hitch, only minor hiccups, and the weekend progressed better than it had ever before.  This is even in light of some major projected changes to the organization.  Losing staff, changing almost the entire board of directors, a by-law amendment, proposing a process to change the name, and overall looking at the model of organizing to see if there is a way to optimize persons in their direct locations.

From the active members that were able to attend there was a fairly good showing from around the nation.  Chicago, Colorado, the Bay area, and Texas had an outstanding showing, not to mention other members from across the US.  CivSol showed that they are down to do whatever is needed to help us in any actions we need and a big shout out needs to go to Anna and Sergio.  Both members of CivSol made the convention happen for us.  Now down to my opinions and observations of the events that took place.

The proposed process that would allow for the name to be looked at, not necessarily changing the name but looking at the possible pros and cons of a name change, went fairly well.  A straw poll was taken and the majority of the member body voted to move forward with the process.  There were only 4 blocks and two of those blocks came from either a prospective board member or a current member of the staff who is currently involved with the committee that was underwriting this process coming into the convention.  These two members were the spokespersons for, and possibly influenced negatively other members who are either new or look up these veterans of the organization.  That being said I am not discounting that other veteran members did not have any influence on the body but rather the flow was not stopped and the forward momentum could be continued.

Although hurricane Sandy had taken its toll across the eastern seaboard, one staff member could not make it to the start of the convention, this member was also one of two blocks on the vote for the new overarching scope and direction of the VVM, which was covered on the day that was missed.  The block was based on, from my understanding, on the use of a single term, militarism.

There were also workshops that took place throughout the weekend.  Three that stick out as ones to be mentions are the fundraising workshop where Amadee covered how to create a budget on a local chapter level and ways of funding chapters.  Things from throwing a house party and inviting current or possible donors to finding new donors in the community were all covered.  The Warrior Writers workshop which I was unable to attend but heard that the work coming out of the sessions were amazing and the use of tools like this can allow for healing and sustained self care.  And lastly was the Popular Education workshop put on by the Poverty Initiative.  This was one of the most informative and mind opening workshops that I have had a chance to be at.  The discussion was able to flow at the lowest level in groups of two or three where each member of the group was encouraged to discuss how the topic was observed in their life experience.  after the experiences were shared the larger group would then weed through them and see if a root cause could be found.  This was explained to be how organic individuals were / are  developed.  The opening of minds to see the root causes of the problems takes more time than that of traditional schooling but the results are much greater and worth nurturing.

As the weekend was coming to a close people were starting to get tired and emotions were running high and hot in some cases.  And as such there were a few people that decided to take some time to themselves, which is not a bad thing in any case, but may have put more of a burden on others than was really needed.  As the shifts in the organization started happening there were members that now were finding themselves jobless and feeling alone or without a cause.  These feelings are not good ones to have but trying to deal with them alone can become troublesome.  Even someone who I consider a good friend tried to deal with this alone and refused to talk at the time.  Even in light of these issues there were other members who took the changes in an optimistic frame of mind.  There were three other members who iI had not had a chance to meet until this weekend and all three members gained much respect.  The way that these members held themselves and worked with every other member to make the weekend go almost as well as hopped helped to create the greatest community that I have been able to become a part of.

All in all the convention was one that I am glad I was able to attend.  I am looking forward to next year as well as the other two possible training that are currently planned throughout next year.  I appreciate everyone who came together to make this convention possible and was able to move through the barriers presented.

Solidarity with Afghanistan

In any given situation, if we chose to judge a group of people because they look differently than we do, then we are wrong; the culture is wrong.

I am a veteran of the Global War on Terror and served in support of both OIF and OEF, as such I have come to question the actions that the military has taken in nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq.  Having the opportunity to speak with people from Afghanistan and knowing Suraia personally, has allowed me to understand to a greater extent how my actions and the actions of the current UN forces are having in oppressing the people of these nations.  I am an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and I call into question the expansionist ideals and militarist mindsets that are driving the U.S., and consequently the UN, to oppress people of other nations while not focusing on the problems at home.  Peace starts at home in our local communities, not in a distant land forcing others to struggle to survive.  I stand in solidarity with Suraia Sahar, Laila Rashide, as well as Afghan Peace Volunteers.

Luke Daniel
U.S. Navy 2004-2008
OIF / OEF

A poem from APV to IVAW (11/4/12):

Sleepless nights
Wondering if tomorrow will be like today
Futureless,
driving a dirge without music

Lost
On an upside down weighing scale
As if the world were
somewhere else

Even promising young hearts
choose the one doomed road
out of the hundred other
more imaginative ways.

But warm hands from friends
offer a shift
out of stubborn uncertainty,
suggesting that not all men are corrupt.

The changes in your lives,
your decisions to leave the frenzy,
and to tell and to cry,
are revolutionary.

How can we not hope
that the human family will awake
because each of you
worked to preserve love.

This time, I decided to piece together the sentiments of the APVs in the verses below.
Thank you for gathering together in solidarity.

Love and thanks,
Hakim and the Afghan Peace Volunteers

Link to a fellow Afghanistan veterans Statement: Afghan Women

The original story that brought this to light: Remembrance Day protest an insult to Canada’s war dead

The follow-up statement by Suraia and Laila.

Afghanistan Veterans Against the War retreat

Today is the second day of the AVAW retreat. Made it to Denver last night and am excited to meet some new people and make our way through planning the new direction that the organization is heading. Follow the blog and I will be updating it soon.

Update:

The retreat went great, and we were able to come together and hash out a vast majority of the goals of the newly formed AVAW group.   Walking away from Saturday we had the main goals set forth to draft a name change statement to be given to the board of directors at the national convention in Baltimore later next month. Veterans who served in Afghanistan on the ground as well as support came from each side of the country to meet, most for the first time, each other and a member of Afghans for Peace based out Canada.

Sunday we met at the organizers house to share breakfast and a Skype call to Afghanistan to speak with the Afghanistan Peace Volunteers.  After the call we closed the weekend by spending a few hours sharing our stories and listening to each other in the safe space that we had created.  Sharing stories of the carnage seen overseas at the hands of Americans as well as reflection that this day was the 11th anniversary of the first bombs dropped on Afghanistan.  After lunch and some time around the fire we decided it was time to head back to the real world and try to continue the healing we had started over the weekend.  We packed up and started our 4 hour drive home.

All in all we were able to accomplish a great feet and meet some new friends all the while helping each other to realize that we are not alone.

The Sunnyside Music Festival

The Sunnyside Music Festival is a gathering held each year of locals within the community near midtown Denver which is staffed entirely by volunteers.  As the summer starts coming to a close, these neighbours make one last stand to solidify the community they have spent so many years building.  Each home in the area is asked to judge bands throughout the summer’s Battle of the Bands, the final 11 are given a chance to strut their stuff either on the main stage or in the biergarten.

From the back of the park you can almost see everyone who came out for the excitement of the event!

This years festival was the greatest one to date, even after 10 years at least that is what we were told.  The first headcount that we were able to get was in line with 14,000.  There were not only people from the around the park itself but families brought friends, and friends brought even more friends.  Minimum advertising like signage posted in about a mile radius and a Facebook page allowed for the community to build this event to whatever size they chose.

As for how the festival was set up, there was a great deal of time spent on planning as to ensure this would be a community based event.  Everything from the beer served, local micro brew, to an activity intensive kids area were all put into place.  Breckenridge Brewing Co. was brought in and even sponsored the event.  There were other alcohol vendors and even included a tent selling Moscow Mules, with the copper cup to boot.  The section that was designated as the biergarten merged with the kid area to create a seamless transition for the adults that would prefer to have a cocktail while they watched their children bounce on the portable trampoline.  If there was a need to place your younger children in a safe zone while you went and danced to the traditional african music band then there was an area for that as well.  Staffed by volunteers, children too young to be left alone for short periods of time were given an exciting tour through the play area, run through an obstacle course on large tricycles, or spend hour after hour in the bump and jump.

Local venders were also asked if they would like to be part of the festival and there was a wide range of different items to be received.  A local yogurt shop was on hand selling frozen yogurt and even had the fluffy mascot out hugging kids and handing out vouchers for a free cup.  Even in the 80 degree weather many from the community stopped in to talk with the store owner and try his new flavors.  There were also local schools on hand with booths set up raising awareness for the different programs that were on the list to be cut due to funding lapses and fine arts cuts to the budget.

Artists were on showcase as there were three different tents dedicated to painting and even a set of doors that were acquired from a recent remodel of one of the houses, these doors were set up and paint was given to all those who felt a need to express their creative sides.  As we watched the doors changed from a drab brown or cream color to a masterpiece of collective art as more than 200 little hands worked to remove the old and create something amazing.  not just the fine arts were on display either, there were multiple tents set up that showed the awesome ingenuity of artisans and the multifaceted talents that can come from a human hand.  Hand woven baskets, a local author of children’s books, and two different tents dedicated to airbrush tattoos and face painting.

We watched as the doors changed and evolved.

One thing that communities around Colorado pride themselves on is the fact that Colorado is one of the most progressive states when it comes to being green.  All around the grounds there were different trash bins staged.  Not your normal trash bins, but at each station there were three different bags.  A recycle bag for hard plastics, a compost bag for items that were not able to be recycled.  And the dreaded trash bag.  Just having the different bins was not enough, at each station there was a rotating crew that helped educate everyone that some of the items we normally throw away can actually be composted or recycled.  Breckenridge Brewing Co. was very proud that the cups they were serving were made not from plastic that had to be recycled but rather a corn based product that was placed in the composting bins.  After word got around that the cups didn’t need to be trashed but were actually aiding in lessening the impact of the event even the adults showed enthusiasm and starting moving trash themselves and talking with those around them who were making the same mistakes they had made earlier in the day.  One observation that stuck with me the most was when the owner of the yogurt company saw that his cup was hanging above the trash bin.  Once he noticed that his trash was setting the example of how not to be he made a pledge that next year his trash would not be trash.  He would be setting the example of zero waste for the event.

I guess it is time to give a little background as to how I was invited to attend this event.  We, my wife and I, are not from around the area but we were invited to help work the security for the event through Iraq Veterans Against the War.  At one of the planning meetings for the festival the revelation came to light that no one had worked out who would be working security.  Because this event was based solely on the community the planning committee was hesitant to pay for a police presents.  Amanda, roommate to the Colorado organizer for IVAW, asked if veterans would be able to cover that area.  The committee was ecstatic with this idea and expected to have at least 6 people brought in by IVAW.  We showed up with 17 total and even helped out in the other areas such as Greening.  

Through figuring out the plan after arriving in town, we had a few major roles at the festival.  IVAW was charged with keeping the peace and making sure that the majority of people were able to maintain and stay safe throughout the event.  Helping to reunite lost mothers with their children was the heaviest of roles and one that all should take seriously.  At the security table, we also maintained the lost and found of items like phones, wallets, and purses.  Over the course of the 9 hours we were able to gather 5 children and reunite them with their lost parents.  No other issues arose during the event.

Although we were helping out with the festival, we as an organization were also able to help spread the word about issues faced by post 9/11 veterans.  We were attempting to raise funds for the upcoming Afghanistan retreat, and in support of Operation Recovery we helped to spread our stories and learn more about the community we were there to support.  We were even able to get one of our newest member and her husband, victims of the Aurora shooting,  out to support the festival.

So all in all the Sunnyside Music Festival was a huge hit and created a fun and safe place for the community to settle their wild oats so to say as the summer was closing.  Everything from the way that the community came together to enhance the lives of each other to the meticulous attention paid to how the waste of the event was handled was planned out ahead of time.  Great care was taken to ensure that the gathering would go over without any problems and set the stage as an example of how we can gather, communicate, and regulate each other with outside influences.

A great ending to the night. Thanks everyone who was involved and made the festival the greatest one yet.