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.

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