With pamphlets and peace buttons, bumper stickers and self-published books, the gray-haired veterans and eager young activists at the Veterans For Peace convention in Miami this week are out to educate America on the evils of war.
The national convention began on Wednesday at the Marriott in downtown Miami and is focused on Liberating the Americas: Lessons from Latin America and the Caribbean. Highlights include speeches from author Alice Walker and filmmaker and former TV talk host Phil Donahue. The convention concludes Saturday.
VFP president Leah Bolger explained that as the United States is wrapping up wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, dancing around military engagement with Iran, and starting to pick sides in Syria, these veterans are trying to draw attention to the military mistakes of the past and the perils of fighting undeclared wars. She denounced the war on drugs and war on terror as a huge waste of money and just a premise to intervene militarily all over the world.
The focus on Latin America is also connected to the founding of VFP in 1985 when a group of Vietnam veterans organized to oppose the Reagan administrations involvement in the civil wars and regime changes in the southern half of the hemisphere. The group has since protested U.S. support of Nicaraguan contras, funding of death squads in El Salvador and training of dictators in Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
In the early years of the Iraq war, the membership grew to over 4,000, but the organization has struggled to attract younger veterans returning from these conflicts. Bolger said that the soldiers of this generation have to work so hard to heal themselves, that they probably dont have time for anti-war activism.
Veterans manning tables at the convention also offered literature on the prolonged detainment of Wikileaks informant Bradley Manning, the ongoing environmental impact of Agent Orange in Vietnam, and drone strikes in Pakistan. They commemorated the 65th anniversary of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki and petitioned for closing Guantánamo.
Yet with all these ideas and impassioned arguments, some participants were still frustrated with the lack of concrete action.
Peter Branson, a 78-year-old retired schoolteacher from New York City, said he wants VFP to talk to the unconverted who still support a bloated defense department and ambitious military campaigns.
Most progressives want to demonstrate and carry banners and hold vigils, but our job needs to be to educate the American people, Branson said. We need to organize locally and act nationally.