2000 too Many
October 25th, we heard that the 2,000th US soldier had died in the Iraq war. While the president ignored mentioning this directly, but continues to call for more "sacrifice" and a department of defense spokesperson said it's not an important milestone- just another day another, death, the country organized 600-1,000 visuals and event to show that we care about the deaths and loss of both Americans and Iraqis.
Teen Peace students began the day at Port Townsend High School, were we were joined by supportive adults in our town. While the new PT Raging Grannies sang songs, we passed out a flyer from CodePink entitled, "Diploma or Death Certificate". We also handed out about 125 "Demilitarization Guides". There are only 400 students in the school, so we reached a lot of students. This is our second action at the high school, and this time, we did not see one of our handouts tossed on the ground when we were done. The kids really looked at the flyers, stopped to talk, and were happy with the lollipops we passed out as we called, "Don't be a sucker, eat one!"
We were at the school for 90 minutes, so we could catch students between lunch periods. We were visited by a police officer and the assistant principal near the end of our action. Both had cordial talks with us, and reminded us not to harass or block students (we didn't). We were also told that in future we would need to stand a bit further down the street. We were also told we could set up a student forum for the school to discuss military service and bring in members of Veterans for Peace.
The assistant principal also said that some of the students complained about our presence, and I asked him to remind students that this is the first time since the war began that we have done a counter recruiting action like this (our other event last year was to remind students to opt out). I pointed out that military recruiters had been on campus far more often than that.
After the high school action, we headed downtown to Haller Fountain to set up the candle light vigil for the evening. We had been printing the 2,000 pages from AFSC with an image of army boots and the name of each soldier who has died. We put them in plastic page protectors and taped them to the stair railing on the stairs above the fountain where we would hold the vigil.
I was arranging things at the bottom near the fountain, when I looked up and saw the white pages, taped to the railing, fluttering in the breeze. From the bottom of the stairs, the papers seemed to stretch on up into the sky, a sad endless stream, with no end in sight. I began to cry.
I had been handling page after page for days, but seeing them all spread out was heartbreaking. And the thing that got to people the most was, there was only space for about 500 of the sheets, we ran out of room on the stairs that rose up the hillside. On hearing this- this was only about a quarter of the soldiers, people this would usually take in a deep breath and look sadly up the stairs.
We also set up a display of one pair of army boots, surrounded by 50 pairs of "civilian" shoes, from tiny baby shoes to adults. We set out a sign that explained that estimates are that for each soldier who dies, there are 50 civilians killed.
As it got dark, 50-70 vigilers gathered around the fountain, stood in silence for a while, and then sang quietly before dispersing. Several people asked us to leave the display up, and we did.
The next day, we came back late in the afternoon to gather the display before it rained. One young boy, about 10-13 years old, angrily asked my why I was taking the boots pictures away. I explained that I wanted to take it to other cities and that we would set it up again in town. He told me that he was sad about all the soldiers who had died when he left for school in the morning, but when he saw the memorial, he was happy that someone cared about them. Many folks would start to walk up the stairs, and then stop and look at the name on a page, gently holding the paper and staring at it for a while before letting go. Then they would raise their eyes and look up and down the stairs at all the names. I think this really helped folks understand how great the loss is that our government tries to hide.
I only had one person harass me and tell me that he was tired of this national embarrassment. I told him we had found common ground, because I was tired of the national embarrassment of this war.
Thank you to all the moms who helped print so many many pages, to my son and husband who slipped them into the plastic protectors for days, to Teen Peace members who helped set out the display and create a beautiful vigil.
Most of all we respectfully grieve for the loss to the soldiers and their families.