Saturday, October 29, 2011

Adventure in Ireland - 2 days on a small island

Thursday October 27, 2011
We took a bus from Galway to Limerick, where Edward Horgan met us and drove us to the college, where we had lunch with John Lannon, both of ShannonWatch.  They keep data about use of Shannon airport to carry troops and supplies to war as well as rendition for possible torture.  
We found out during lunch that Edward wanted us to come and stay with him on an island, to which we said “Yes, we love an adventure!” And what an adventure it was!  We drove past Shannon airport and took pictures of U.S. military planes involved with transporting people to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

We were rushed, though, because Edward said we had a date with a boat to get to the island.  I thought he meant a ferry boat.  We drove very fast on narrow, winding roads, passing everyone along the way, and somewhere during the end of the drive I figured out that the boat we were catching was Edward’s!  We stopped in town for some groceries and proceeded to a very small launch point where we loaded up only the bare necessities into the boat almost an hour after the sun had set.  It was getting darker by the minute.  No wonder he drove so fast and hurried through the grocery store.  He gave us waterproof, windproof suits to wear, which was good because of the saltwater blowing up around the boat as we went, and the wind.  Our minimal gear was put in waterproof barrels and a dry bag, and off we went.  The waves were rough at times and both Gerry and I had to move our bodies back toward the center of the boat to help stabilize it.  Out the bay and into the ocean we went, soon spotting a dim light in the distance.  Finally we arrived at the island dock.

Edward announced that this dock was the start of the main island road – pretty unbelievable, but of course there are no cars so it’s a footpath.  We followed him carefully in the dark up the road about ¼ mile and past a couple of his neighbor’s houses to his house.  He took a 4-wheel-drive bucket / cart back down for the rest of our gear while we lit a fire. 
There’s electricity in the house, a fairly recent concession on the island, and the water is from the rain draining off of the roof, collected in two huge tanks and filtered 3 times before coming into the house.  We filter it one more time in Britta-like filters if we’re going to drink it.  It’s really clean, and Edward says just a little bit salty, although I can’t tell.

Friday October 28, 2011 Turbot Island, Ireland
After a lovely breakfast we took a walk around the island.  It’s windy today, so we won’t be taking the boat back to the mainland for our main backpacks.  No matter – we aren’t suffering in the least.  Edward has warm clothes we can borrow, so the walk wasn’t too cold for us.  The house was pretty simple and smaller when he and his wife bought it 25 years ago.  The walls were thick solid concrete and he built another wall outside of the existing one that’s insulated and put in new double-pane windows and doors.  We saw a couple of examples of how his house originally looked.

You can see the mainland from here as well as some other islands.  It’s low tide, making it easier to walk around the end of fences that keep the cows mostly where people want them.  People gather the rocks to make walls, and the rock-free places are good for gardens.  Because of the wind, you have to build a rock wall around the garden.  There had been more soil on the island – now there is a lot of bare rock.  That situation was caused by irresponsible use of the turf for fires in people’s homes.  Edward burns driftwood exclusively.

We saw what looked like crab pots but are really used for lobster.  People do sell the crab as well and are supposed to throw the small ones back in the sea but sometimes just leave them on the shore to die.  We saw quite a few crab shells near the lobster pots.

We saw lots of cows.  The wind was surprisingly warm, so by the end of the walk I had my gloves off and my jacket partly open.

It was nice to be without internet and phone service for a couple of days and we're back safely on the mainland with the wonderful cooperative household that hosted us last week.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Galway, Ireland

Again we find ourselves in a town with an Occupy encampment.
Pictures of Occupy Galway

Galway has two colleges and a very active artist community.  We're staying in a cooperative home where six roommates share cooking, shopping, and cleaning responsibilities.  Our main contact with the home is Kerry E'Lyn.  There are five others in the house, including two named Colm as well as Alison, Jean, and Nile.  They are a fun bunch and the house is very well run, with shared dinners every night.

Kerry's partner Colm showed us around Galway and we also went out and enjoyed some Irish music and a pint with a few people from the house.  Everyone enjoys spending time together and we felt very welcome in their home.

Letterkenny, Ireland

The Occupy Movement is alive and well in Ireland.  We've visited Dublin, Letterkenny, and Galway sites so far.

Occupy Letterkenny is a Saturday event.  Click here for pictures.

We were hosted by Caroline Kuyper, who is a wonderful woman.  She rescued a 180-year-old house in the countryside and took us for a poetry reading and lovely walk to the lake and sea.

Caroline lives several miles outside of Letterkenney, which is just across the border from Derry in Northern Ireland.  She arranged for us to meet some others involved in the Derry Anti-War Coalition and we started our visit at Sandino's bar which is a very revolutionary place!  They told us about the two Raytheon 9 groups.

Raytheon had a software branch in Derry that was programming drone software.  The first Raytheon 9 group went into the building and threw computers out of the windows and generally caused havoc inside until they were arrested.  They were damaging property for the greater good of preventing people from being killed, so they were acquitted.  The second group was all women and after they did a similar action, Raytheon decided they didn't need to have people based in Ireland and completely pulled out!  What a victory!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Summary August 30 - October 20

Wow, we have been traveling pretty fast since we arrived in Europe in early September.  We have been having a wonderful time and meeting a lot of great new friends.  But we have not been very good about keeping our travel blog up to date.  So here is our attempt to catch up a bit.

We landed in London on August 31.  We were only there for one night and part of two days, but we were lucky to have great meetings with folks from War Resisters International and Amnesty InternationalAmnesty has a team for each country – the US website is

Andreas withWar Resisters International

Then we were took a bus and a ferry to “the Continent,” landing in France and going through Brussels before arriving in Cologne, Germany and taking a train to nearby Bonn, Germany.  In Bonn, Sept. 3-6, we attended the United Nations NGO Conference on Building a Sustainable Future.  We represented Veterans For Peace, which is a registered NGO at the United Nations.  We met many interesting people and learned a lot.  We spoke up several times, emphasizing the importance of ending war and militarism.  Our voices were heard and the wording of the final conference document moved the issue of ending war to a higher position, stating that peace is a “prerequisite for building a sustainable future.”  

This conference was an important stepping stone to the UN meeting on the environment next June in Rio de Janeiro, the capital of Brazil.  Coming twenty years after another UN environmental summit in Brazil, Rio+20 is seen by many as possibly a last chance to save the planet from environmental devastation and the breakdown of human civilization.  Now, that’s pretty serious stuff!  The Rio summit will coincide with the World Social Forum, an international grassroots gathering in nearby Porto Alegre, Brazil (the site of the first World Social Forum, and the inspiring speech of Arundati Roi, “Another World Is Possible.”

See Helen's full article on the UN NGO Conference in the Fall 2011 newsletter of Veterans For Peace  (page 3).

Helen and Gerry with Hanaa Edwar,
Iraqi Al-Amal Association Secretary General
and Iraqi Women Network

Thierno Kane from Senegal, representing the Open Society Initiative for West Africa

Vandana Shiva challenged corporate control

On a whim, we headed for Amsterdam, via high speed rail, fast but expensive.  We arrived late in the evening and checked into hostel (too expensive).  Then we went out exploring, soon landing in one of Amsterdam’s famous coffee houses.  Ah, relaxation….  We located a campground in a forest on the outskirts of Amsterdam.  We had a tent, air mattresses and bedding in our backpacks and it was great to set up camp.  We stayed there for a week and explored Amsterdam on rented bicycles.  Wow, Amsterdam must be the Bicycle Capitol of the World.  Thousands of bicycles are constantly on the move, as 50,000 college students reside there.  We really enjoyed Amsterdam and will probably return there one day.  But finally it was time to say goodbye to the coffeehouses and canals.
We took an overnight bus from Amsterdam to Berlin.  Buses are quite a bit cheaper than trains, but they are not so cheap either.  Berlin was fantastic.

We were able to set up camp in a park near the center of town.  We camped for 8 days and then were invited to stay with a new friend from American Voices AbroadWe were in Berlin for two whole weeks.  We learned so much about the reunification of Berlin and how that has changed things, for better and for worse.  We met with Americans who had lived in Berlin for twenty and thirty years.  And we made new German friends too.  This included some who have been involved with organizing support for GI resisters, during Vietnam and since.  We were happy to participate in a vigil for Troy Davis, on the night he was murdered by the State of Georgia.  Many groups participated in the vigil at Brandenburg Gate, right across from the U.S. Embassy. We visited the Berlin Wall, and took many photos of the art and graffiti we found there.  We left our own messages in support of Bradley Manning, Andre Shepherd and Rodney Watson, courageous young war resisters who deserve all our support.  We also met Chris Capps, who spoke at a meeting to drum up support for the GI Café in Kaiserlautern ( see Kaiserslautern, below).  Berlin is a great place with a lot going on.  We will definitely return.

We took a bus from Berlin to Frankfurt.  We spent one night in the Frankfurt Hostel, a very nice hostel near the train station.  There were many young travelers from all over, including from South Korea.  We made some new friends from Connection-eV, a group of dedicated activists who have been supporting Conscientious Objectors in many countries for many years.  We attended their weekly meeting and learned about two C.O.’s who are currently being persecuted in Egypt and Turkey.  Connection members Rudy and Karin invited us for a wonderful, leisurely brunch in their courtyard garden the following morning.

Next we took a local train to nearby Wiesbaden, for another public meeting with Chris Capps (and his German friend, Patrick), who did a great job educating people about the importance of supporting GI resisters, and how a GI Café can really help.  Another Rudy, also a peace activist, let us crash at his place and treated us to a lovely breakfast.  He also taped an interview with us for a local radio station.

Next thing we knew, we had found our way to Heidelberg and we were camping again, this time on the banks of a beautiful little river, with plenty of freight traffic going to and from the Rhine River.  When we awoke there on morning number 1, we were greeted by a pair of local geese, who succeeded in getting us to share our bread.  See enclosed photos.  We also had several great visits with American expat Dave Blalock and his wife, Chris.  Dave is a Vietnam Veteran with a long history of speaking out against war and supporting GIs who do the same.  We remained mostly in “Old Heidelberg,” which was really beautiful.  The final night there, Dave and Chris joined us for a lovely dinner, some live blues and some great German beer.  Mission Accomplished!

Next we were off to Kaiserslautern, about an hour’s train ride west of Heidelberg.  Kaiserslautern is a town of 100,000 Germans, with 50,000 Americans – 30,000 U.S. troops and 20,000 family members and support personnel.  If anyplace needs a GI Café, it is Kaiserslautern, and that is the passionate focus of Iraq veteran (and GI resister) Chris Capps-Schubert and his wife, dynamic organizer Meike Capps-Schubert.  We spent several days with them and got a tour of the town and potential spots for setting up the GI Café.  We will continue to support this important project and we encourage all like-minded folks to do the same.

Gerry has been invited to speak in Brussels several months ago by Carla Goffi, a dynamic Italian activist who lives in Brussels.  Andrea Licata, an Italian No Bases activist for whom Gerry had organized a Northwest speaking tour, had set the ball in motion.  Sam Biesemans, a Belgian activist and longtime supporter of Conscientious Objectors, was our main organizer, in Carla’s absence.  And what a thorough job he did.  He arranged meetings for us with Peace House, and with the Quaker House.  At Peace House, we learned about U.S. nuclear missiles that are stationed at a Belgian military base, and the remarkable Bombspotting campaign.  At Quaker House, we learned about campaigns to encourage the European Union to boycott goods made in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank.  And much more too.

Brussels happens to be home to NATO headquarters and also the European Commission (executive branch of the European Union) and the European Parliament.  We did not visit NATO, but we had many productive meetings with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).  We met with MEPs from Sweden’s Green Party and Pirate Party, and from Portugal’s Left Party, among others.  Many MEPs expressed an interest in signing a letter in support of accused GI whistleblower, Bradley Manning.  Gerry is working with folks in the Bradley Manning Support Network to prepare to draft a letter pressing the U.S. government to grant the request of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to interview Bradley Manning privately concerning the torturous and abusive conditions of the first 9 months of his imprisonment. 

We also attended a conference on the Arab Spring that was organized by the Rosa Luxemberg Foundation.  We found this most enlightening.  Among the many experts who attended from the Middle East, Africa and Europe, not a single person believed the claims of the U.S. and European governments who were bombing Libya in order to “protect civilian lives.”  Everybody knew this was an attempt by imperial powers to re-colonize northern Africa, to curtail the peoples’ movement for democracy, and to control precious resources, including, of course, oil, but – most interestingly – water too.

We also got to meet with the Indignados, the Spanish forerunners to the Occupy Wall Street movement, who had just arrived in Brussels, along with many young supporters from France, Belgium and around Europe.  On Saturday, October 15, the last of our ten days in Brussels, we marched with the Indignados and many thousands of people.  Gerry was invited to speak to Italian radio and Belgian television on behalf of Veterans For Peace.  It was a beautiful, diverse march.  See photos.  Along with us was Carla Cazzaniga (and her mother).  Carla, from Italy, is Sam Bieseman’s wife.  Carla and Sam generously shared their home and great food with us for our entire Brussels adventure.  And Sam did a heck of an organizing job for us, also preparing the way for future visits in Brussels and beyond.

We were so excited when we learned about Ryanair, where some super cheap European airfares can be found.  Brussels to Dublin was less than $50 each and we could not pass it up.  A week or so before our flight, we sent an introductory email to some Irish peace activist email addressed we found in Houseman’s Peace Calendar/Directory.  Much to our delight, we soon had invitations to visit cities and towns throughout the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, still part of the UK.  Wow, this is great!  We have already been in Dublin and Belfast and now we are in Derry.  We will be here for several more weeks.  We are very excited and happy.  And we are going to post regular updates, with lots of photos, on each city we visit.  So please stay tuned, especially if you are a lover of Ireland, or would like to be….

Glenda Cimino, our first Irish hostess, is originally from Atlanta, Georgia and has a long history of activism going back to the Sixties.  She invited us to stay with her in her 200-year-old cottage, steeped with history.  We had a lovely visit, and met with folks from Occupy Dame St., a tent city encampment in downtown Dublin.  Glenda is a member of the Irish Antiwar MovementWhen we return to Dublin in a couple weeks, we will speak at an event they are organizing for us (Friday, Nov. 4, 7 pm).

Rob Fairmichael, an Irish nonviolence activist and trainer with INNATE, hosted us in Belfast, and gave us quite an education about the history of the struggle in Northern Ireland between the Irish Republican Army and the Ulster Defense Association as well as the British Army.  A peace and reconciliation process is currently underway, and most – but not all – have abandoned the armed struggle in favor of engagement in parliamentary politics.  We were invited to meet with a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Mickey Brady of  Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist party.  One of his concerns is the 60,000 Irish undocumented workers in the U.S. More on this later.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Derry, North Ireland October 20

I fell in love with Sandinos bar last night - it's where the lefties hang out here in Derry and it has amazing posters on the wall.  There are three bar areas, each with a place for a band, and they have at least one live band every night.

Belfast October 17 - 19, 2011

Rob and Carmel hosted us for two nights. Their friend Mark joined us for a discussion in the evening and learned a lot about the Catholic / Protestant war as well as the anti-war and peace movement in North Ireland.

A member of North Ireland Parliament, Mickey Brady, met with us.  He is with the Sinn Fein party, which has the main issue of wanting a unified Ireland.  He is very progressive and not a "professional politician" - he worked in social programs before being elected to Parliament.  Another of his concerns is the treatment of ex-prisoners who had been in the Irish Republican Army.  They cannot vote and have other sanctions against them. He's also concerned about the treatment of people currently in Irish prisons, including strip searches that are not justified.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as use of Shannon airport in the Irish Republic are concerns as well.  He is very interested in signing and circulating a letter asking Obama to permit the UN Special Repateur on Torture to visit privately with Bradley Manning.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dublin - October 15 - 18

We arrived in Dublin and have been staying with a very nice woman, Glenda, who is associated with the Irish Anti-War Movement.  Glenda lives in a 200-year-old house built on a row of worker's houses which was originally owned by a family who made hats from beaver skins.  They had a chapel in back of the house.

We took a double-decker bus into town and listened to Flann O’Brien presentations at Trinity College with Glenda.

Close to Trinity is the Occupy Dame Street encampment – it is small, looks like about 10-20 people sleep there.  Lots of great signs and the people are friendly.  

Brussels - October 6 - 15

October 15 - there were huge demonstrations all over the world against the way "market" unbridled capitalism has resulted in concentration of wealth for the rich; loss of jobs and social services; lowering of wages and pensions; loss of homes to foreclosure; lack of real democracy and collapse of the democratic process and endless war.  Click to see pictures

Berlin - placeholder or later

Friday, October 14, 2011

Quaker Council for European Affairs

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Gerry and I met with Martina (left) and Liz (right) at the Quaker House in Brussels.  They have been co-directors of Quaker House here for 10 years and in September 2012 are planning to “retire” and return to London, meaning that they are committed to not taking on any projects for a year.

Prisons: They wrote a “green paper” recently regarding the conditions of prisons in Europe.  Inhumane detention conditions prevalent in some countries are affecting the ability of countries to extradite prisoners to their country of origin via a European Arrest Warrant.  This paper was given to the EU Committee for Prevention of Torture.

Peace Tax:  There was a several year effort to allow citizens to contribute to a Peace Tax fund instead of war and military funding.  They couldn’t get any politicians to even give them an audience, so they will wrap up the project with a report on the efforts so far.  There is an organization, Conscience Peace Tax International, which we might contact regarding this issue.
Conscience Objection:  the War Resisters International report on Conscience Objection has been updated.  There is a European Bureau for Conscience Objection.  Martina and Liz have worked with the “Connections” group in Offenbach, Germany.  Check the web site (Quaker Council for European Affairs) for further information.

Prisoners and former prisoners:
·         There is a new, very successful program of “Circles of Support and Accountability for Sex Offenders”.  The idea is that the sex offender is surrounded by at least 6 people.  They meet weekly to discuss his ideas and experiences.  If he is tempted to re-offend, he has the phone #s of the support people, who are all volunteers.  For these circles, there has been no re-offending.  However, there are not enough volunteers to expand the program further.

·         The European Union has a road map for prisoners’ rights.  However for some reason the UK and Denmark have been allowed to opt out of the program.  It is hoped that this will change.

Israel / Palestine:
They wrote a discussion paper based on workshops in 2010.  One of the issues is treatment of Israeli privileges and goods within the pre-1967 borders versus the occupied settlement lands.  This would apply to any boycott, divest and sanction ideas as well as preferential import tax treatment for goods.  In order to further investigate how border agents apply the law, the Quakers have requested a list of postal codes for pre-1967 lands and for occupied settlement lands.

Security Research funds:
There is a European Research Framework which has a large budget, historically 53 billion Euros (I think per year), from 2003 – 2007. However in 2007 the amount increased to include “Security Research”, a new theme, which was written by the arms industry.  Israel can apply for funding and now has 23 big projects including computing, surveillance, drones, first responder kits, airports, etc and Israelis lead 6 or 6 of these projects, far more than any other country.  The European Director General for Enterprise and Industry controls this fund as opposed to the other research funds.  This group also controls the security/military and space programs.  They said they want Israel to be included.  One interesting aspect of the research programs is that unless the information would endanger the national security of a country, the research must be shared.

Rachel Tansey, the policy officer at the Quaker House, wrote a very compeling article, “SustainableGrowth or Growth versus Sustainability”.

Powerful tool:
Form coalitions with other NGOs – like a working group – facilitate connections between groups and concepts, and then lead the new group.  This gives you a bigger influence on the group and facilitates more radical ideas.  Eventually new leaders must take over.
Two examples are the European Peace Building Liaison Office and the Human Rights and Democracy Network.

Concluding topics:
Liz and Martina plan to eventually retire to the Quaker Retirement Home, in part funded by the Joseph Roundtree Charitable Trust.
QCA is similar to Friends Committee on National Legislation more than American Friends Service Committee.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gent, Belgium

Gent is a small town West of Brussels and we had a fantastic tour guide, Soetkin, who is a town historian and involved with the Vrede anti-war / anti-NATO organization.  Here's the link to some pictures: Gent Pictures