Friday, September 02, 2005


Home Again

I am back home and have quickly fallen into my everyday routine. Except that I feel differently about everything. It's as if someone gave me new eyes.

I feel both more content with America and more revolutionary at the same time. This is what we need, a revolution in our thinking. It is not just Bush that has done wrong by us. The entire Republican re-visioning of the last thirty years has sold this great county down the river for a handful of beans. Those beans let them climb up with the giants and steal the sack of gold, the magic lyre and the golden goose itself. They are rich, they control the stories we are sung on the radio, and they own the means of future wealth as well.

Gone are the great enterprises for the sake of the common good that dominated our political landscape since the New Deal. Most Americans still live as if those ideals form the root of their government's principles, and so are lulled into debates about surface issues that correlate Democrats and Republicans. Driving to Crawford and back on the Interstates 10, 20, 35, 40 and 15, I sailed over the land on a network of roads that was one of the Democratic Congress' great public works. Dams and bridges, parks and county courthouses, these structures that hold our country together as surely as shared values were built by Democrats. There are no more great works such as these going on, because the Republican machine has labeled taxes a burden placed on the poor, helpless citizen. Hogwash.

I am a Tax & Build Liberal. I am a Tax & Grow Liberal. The whole reason the Founding Fathers broke up the primogenitor rules of Europe was to assure that dynasties did not develop, that each generation had to make its own way, that instead of passing on personal wealth to insure the security of the next generation, we would pass on a public vigor that gave each generation the means of assuring its own security.

I look at the tragedy now in New Orleans and want folks to tie it in not just with Bush, but with policies of a quarter century that preferred to allow the rich to grow richer at the expense of the common weal. Ordinary folks are no better off. For all their outrage at taxes and support of cutting off welfare and limiting social services and other liberal bleeding heart expenditures, the average person is worse off than they were in the days of the "spendthrift" liberal Congress. The wealthy have moved a whole exponent away from the income of the regular worker, and still they resist raising minimum wage, providing basic health care for all Americans, protecting resources for the future, or even caring for the disaster-stricken with anything more than words.

The moralistic talk of this bunch is not borne out in actions. Rushing back to "save" Terri Schiavo but dawdling before saving the stranded in New Orleans reveals the true nature of their morality. It is morality for applause, as fake as the jewels and castles in a stage play. Perhaps for them the deaths of soldiers in Iraq or poor black folk in New Orleans is just as unreal.

So here we are, back to the place where Iraq and America meet. I am glad I drove out to support Cindy Sheehan. The war in Iraq and the mess in New Orleans are shaping up to be twin cities. And the National Guard is in the wrong one.

Friday, August 26, 2005


Authenticity and Abstraction

As I get closer to home, I find I am less comfortable with the bare experiences and more inclined to interpret and package the events of the last two weeks. I love elegant theories. But all along this trip I have spoken with people who have taken this very messy situation and organized their understanding in a few neat boxes that they would line up for me when the subject of the war came up. Casey volunteered to go to Iraq and soldiers die. Boys are dying because Bush has a daddy complex. Cindy Sheehan already met with President Bush once. Bush should just talk to her. We have to support our troops. We have to bring our troops home.

But after only a few minutes of talking, the boxes begin to unpack. Abstractions armor us against the chaos in our hearts, but when we touch others, the heart takes first position and abstractions show themselves as shadows. I am not the kind of person who usually cries with bank tellers or gets blessed by gas station attendants. As I said, I love elegant theories. But this whole trip, my theoretical machinery has been on the blink.

Now I can feel it coming back on line. I have mixed feelings. I love elegant theories. I have been taking pictures of power stations and gas stations and windmills and abandoned cars and rusting gas tanks and Bush signs and decals and I've been trying to formulate a vision of how they fit with the war, and conservative politics, and the pull of Cindy Sheehan in Crawford, Texas.

At the same time, I miss the immediacy of the day before yesterday. And tomorrow, I'll be home.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


We are News!

A woman on one of my newsgroups read this blog and thought it should be getting publicity for the sake of the peace movement. Elizabeth Gaylyn Baker lives in Santa Fe, used to do PR for the Lieutenant Governor. She sent a release out on us, and Channel 7 in Albuquerque called us in for an interview as we passed through town on Route 40. At 10:20. For an interview ASAP. We packed in record time. We did the interview in five minutes. We drove east.

Publicity is good for the movement. But what can they possibly show in a sound bite from what I said that will be deeply true. It is more likely they will look for some bit from the interview that could imply controversy, and then tweak it to highlight the drama. Tonight we watched a newscast on Crawford and they showed the two contingents - anti-war and pro-Bush - as if they were equally pitched camps. But with my own eyes I saw hundreds on one side, and a handful on the other. Yet on the TV they looked about the same.

Can you tell a lie with pictures?

So I have some anxiety about the story they will tell.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Life after Crawford

On the way to Crawford, Jenny and I talked to so many people and heard so many stories that we felt the journey was maybe more important than the destination. Then we got to Crawford and found this nexus of spontaneous human support and we experienced a profound appreciation for our country's men and women. We expected the return trip to be doubly full of stories both of the outbound trip and what we have learned from it, and of Crawford and what we learned there.

Yet as we fall back into the routine of the road, we have surprised ourselves by how silent we both have become.
Going out you couldn't shut me up. Now I can not unglue my tongue. We still chat with folks at the stops, but where it was easy before to come to the subject of Crawford, now it is hard. I worried about my own commitment to the idea that put me on the road in the first place - to get beyond the divisive rhetoric of the parties and of the media to the heart of the humans who share this country with me.

Maybe the difference is simply that going out I was full of questions, and that openness made it easy to talk to others and hear their ideas about what was going on. And in Crawford, those of us who made the journey could shake our heads in wonder at our own actions. We could try to figure out together what drew us and held us there together in the heat and humidity. Now, I feel the questions are behind me and I should have some answers. Why did I go? What good did it do? What is going on in Crawford?

It is harder to head home and not know. If I talk to people, I could tell them all the things I figured out along the way about the country and the people. But then it becomes a lecture and the beauty of genuine contact I experienced on the trip outbound will surely be lost. But when I hold my tongue and nothing is gained.

I am inching back to it. At a souvenir store beside the highway, they had a jar out with a hand-written invitation to donate to veterans of the Iraq war. I threw in a dollar and they told me a whole group of soldiers heading out to Iraq had come in the day before. I heaved a sad sigh and they said their minister was going next week. We stood in a stunned silence as the reality of their risk sat there between us. There was nothing to say. That I had been to Crawford was not the point. I paid for my cowboy hat, put it on and headed out.

I write this now in yet another Motel 6 and think about all the people who will not sleep well tonight because someone they love is at risk in Iraq for no good reason.


Texas Big Boy Toys

The Texas landscape has been confusing me. There is space, wide open space. And plopped down all along the road and over the hills are huge industrial complexes worthy of a New Jersey suburb. Sometimes they look like the superstructures of giant ocean liners or tanker ships
with the land as the water line. And then there are all the tractors and RV's and semis and pick-up trucks and drills and power lines going all over the place and buses and trains and every toy a boy loves to play with only real and life size and collected in assortments of colors and models, each with its own brand of cool. Ugly is okay if it is useful, or was once useful, I guess. Perhaps it is comforting if the endless horizon is broken with looming hulks of human industry. Little or no attention seems to be given to aesthetics. Function somewhat. But why keep the old shells that rust and rot in the yard like a toy chest full of things played with once-upon-a-time and cannot part with out of sentiment for those good old times.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Crawford in the Rear View Mirror

LA is here in Crawford on the map along with all the other places in America that we have come from to get here.

Bye-bye Crawford, hello America.


Camp Casey 1

The first Camp Casey affects me more emotionally than Camp Casey 2. The giant tent and platform stage and speakers at Casey 2 calls to mind an planned, organized event. And certainly with the number of people here, organization is vital.

But it is the camped-in-a-ditch determination of Casey 1 that radiates with the raw grit of Cindy Sheehan's stand. The heavy, sweaty paw of summer knocks you out here on the wide open high plain. There is no comfort for a lone soul here except in the companionship of others. And they too have to suffer to stay with you. Unbelievable.

Monday, August 22, 2005


People Who Drafted Themselves into Service


Crosses at Night and Cops on the Road

We went in to Camp Casey last night. Something about hot and humid darkness, where the air is no longer oppressive, but more like heavy silk that brushes your skin as you move through it. Sound is soft. Hearts are open. Something like love breathes in the air itself. A singer on a stage with a guitar and a single drum. Food and conversation and people.

I still couldn't tell you exactly why I came. What drove me to come. Who drove me is easy - Jenny. I wouldn't have done it alone. But why we came, I can't begin to wrap in linear explication. And so many of the people I meet, when I say that, reply that they too, can't quite say why they came. They only knew, as I did, that they felt drawn to come.

As we drove back to our Motel 6 after the concert last night, just before the turn onto the George W. Bush Parkway, we got stopped by a policeman. He was very nice, only gave us a warning because the tail light was out. On the one hand, he was pleasant and laughed with us about the dog. On the other hand, the tail light was just the excuse to check us out. But we were clearly sober, middle class and white, so we got away with only a warning. But this was his territory, and we recognize our privilege at being part of an acceptable group. On the way here we passed three cop cars with lights flashing at the side of the road, all looking like big doings. As we passed, we saw a lone middle-aged black man in the car ringed by troupers. Yes the cops are nice to us, but I am no surprised that few people of color have picked up and driven to the middle of Texas as we have.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


Peace House

We are both feeling nervous about arriving. We don't know if we are walking into some sort of media circus or a political covey of true believers, or nothing much of anything to justify our 1600 mile trek.
What we find is something between a family gathering, an impromptu fire-brigade, and a giant game where everyone who wants to play can walk in and announce themselves as players and have everyone else welcome them in. In a small way, this feels like the descriptions of how the dismantling of the wreckage of the Trade Center rubble happened. People showed up to help, moved by an impulse of emotion and then backed up with their brains and pocketbooks.

Food is plentiful and free because folks keep showing up with cars full of supplies that they drop off without a thought. Tents and pavilions have appeared for those willing to stay. A guy from Atlanta, who shuttled me to Camp Casey 1 yesterday had bought a net-enclosed pavilion at Wal-Mart and drove down with it in the back of his truck. He was planning on dropping it off at Peace House before heading out again, not even spending the night.

Jenny and I arrived in the afternoon. It took a while to get our bearings. Blanche was a bit overwhelmed with the crowd at first. But we all settled in. Jenny immediately volunteered and was given a vest and hat and sent to direct parking. Blanche made friends with a very handsome Chow in a Code Pink scarf. I went off and talked to people.

We camped in a park near Peace House that had a yummy swimming hole that cooled us off. After one night in the heavy humid heat of night followed by a morning of brutal humid fire from the sky, we came to understand just how the folks camped for the duration alongside of Cindy Sheehan are suffering for what they believe. There may be a party feel around the edges, but simply being here in August is an act of will similar to sticking your finger in a candle flame and holding it there.

Joan Baez in giving a concert tonight, and we may go despite both Jenny's and my aversion to big crowds. The concert has a festival air around it, but for the core campers, it is a way of giving them some pleasure to counter the misery of their stand. The stories are moving, the mood upbeat, but I would have to be in such a state of rage or grief to be able to tolerate the elements here for even a few days.

Friday, August 19, 2005


Pitiful in Pecos

I now truly understand a phrase I have used carelessly all my life: the middle of nowhere. A wide street with equally wide concrete and paver sidewalks that promise so much and deliver mostly empty lots. No cell phone service, no dial-up, no working vending machines in the Motel 6, nothing but a Wal-Mart surrounded by a host of boarded up businesses.

The desk clerk is sweet and sends encouragement to Cindy Sheehan with a wistful, "I wish I could go with you." A good ole boy we chat with tells us about a knife fight in Barstow and warns us things are different here in Texas. There are bugs in the beds.

We learn in a phone call from home that Cindy Sheehan left Crawford. Apparently, calls can get in, but none can go out. CNN news runs a brief headline on her departure and then a whole segment of Scott Petersen's ex-girlfriend being interviewed about whether she thought he was a born killer.

We are bummed out. I spend two hours futzing with access numbers and trying to get a premium service dial-up number from sbc to no avail. We are not sure what to do. All we can decide is not to decide until tomorrow.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


Mothers of Soldiers

At the latest Motel 6, the manager talked about her son who has just gotten home from Iraq. She told us about the time he called her from Iraq weeping because he had just killed three people and because the war there “goes against everything you taught me.”

He was home because he had been wounded. He usually didn’t wear his body armor because it was so uncomfortable, it bruised his whole chest to wear it. But for some reason, he put it on that day, and so he survived. She told us that President Bush was lucky, because if her son had died, she would have gone to see him and made him talk to her and explain to her why he killed her son.

I told her that the woman waiting outside the Crawford ranch was doing just that, and her eyes got small and she nodded and said that Bush can’t talk to her because he can’t give her a good reason.


Meetings along the Way

Who have I met so far? A black 48-year-old female fourth-generation funeral director from Phoenix; a truck driver back from Iraq with a hole in his lung from bad body armor; a 42-year-old desert rat living 150 miles out from Las Cruces who hints of CIA connections: a paunchy maintenance worker with a goatee wearing a "Jesus is my Homeboy" button and wants Hilary to run for President; an AM/PM gas station manager who insists she is not a bank and should be given exact change if you have it; the kids at Starbucks, the ancient Hispanic AAA mechanic, the mother of a boy just back from Iraq. More about her later.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Another Breakdown


Not California

We are not in California any more.

Reactions to our journey are different in Arizona. In California, the trip evoked a good deal of enthusiasm, even among strangers. Taking a political stand, going on a march, joining the fray. But out here, maybe it's the heat, but many folks look at me like they have no place in their brain to put the information I am giving them. It's not that they wonder if I am crazy. They look at me like some of my students who don't speak English very well and have no idea what I'm even saying. So they nod their heads and talk about the directions to the rest rooms.

At the Phoeniz AAA, the very funny, very helpful lady at the reception desk suddenly got very still and very quiet when I told her where I was going and why. She said nothing, asked no questions, gave no opinions of her own. Just a pleasant shut down of personal warmth, though her professional warmth continued.

There is something antisocial about political action, I guess. It inconveniences other people. It is often rude, even if in the right. The necessity for breaking social codes to get to truth or justice feels like being forced into low behavior when truly nice people would have made the protest unneccesary. So there! In that view, no one is apolitical, and niceness is just a cover.

But the reception lady was nice. I would rather she debated with me, and we could have possibly hung onto our humanity even as we held opposite views of right action. It was the human element that has gotten me on this long road to begin with. I do not want to lose it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Joshua Tree

We got all the way to Joshua Tree and camped for the night. Some would say we could have walked this far in one day, but they would not be our friends.

Jenny had already practiced putting the tent together in the back yard, so we were able to arrive, set up camp and fall into a horizontal stupor almost immediately. We didn't sleep for a while: a combination of road buzz and amped dog. Blanche would not settle down.

Then there was all the water I drank all day long. Morning was far, far away, but then so was the bathroom. Blanche had finally quieted down and I did not want to wake Jenny, soI put it off as long as my bladder could stand it. Turned out, she had been trying to hold it, too. Great minds...

It sounds like we had a miserable night, but the moment we stepped out of the tent and saw the heavens packed with stars and the Milky Way positively creamy white across the roof of the heavens, we were happy. We sat up watching shooting stars and mis-identifying constellations - there were too many stars to recognize them clearly - and then we settled in for a decent snooze until dawn.

At 8 a.m. it is already too hot to be in the tent unless you are bacon frying. Which we are not. So we are going to find some place where the bacon is hot and we can be cool. Breakfast in Blythe it is.

Monday, August 15, 2005


Can't Get Out of LA

We made it a whole hour out of LA before the first problem. They guys at Easy Lube checked the fluids in the van and forgot to put the cap back on the radiator. There we were, steam spewing from the engine, rush hour starting and Crawford only 20 more hours to go.

A local auto parts store and a helpful clerk - our first hero - get us road ready. We are too tired to do anything but ramble on this first report from the road. Excuse me, road side. As in side of the road. Where is the McDonalds?


We're Off!

We're going after much frenzy and a million little obligations taken care of. If you want to know where we're going, here's the map.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


Delayed Departure

We're not leaving today. We wanted to be taking off right about now. But too many things remain undone, so we are postponing until tomorrow morning.

I had a moment of fear that it would all be ruined if we didn't follow the plan. Voices in my head murmurred about being uncommitted, that I would miss the magic moment and let myself and America down. Clearly I need to calm down and remember that the only place where everyone is committed is an insane asylum.

The dog needs her shots for Lyme Disease and Heartworms. The van has to be checked and the mechanic was not there on Saturday. A tent. Packing. Thirty-six hours to prepare was perhaps a bit unrealistic.

Friday, August 12, 2005


Talking about Going

Today I told people I was planning on going to Crawford. These are some of the responses.

My middle sister - Oh! If you go... I'll help you. I wanted to do something to help that woman. Something personal. If you go, I would be so grateful. Thank you.

She offered to help with expenses before I even asked. She went on to say she thinks the important battle in our country isn't conservative vs. liberal nor Republican vs. Democat nor ever rich vs. poor but humanitarians vs. misanthropes who can only value members of their own 'club.' She saw me as reaching out in a human way for her as well as myself.

The lady at the bank when I mentioned it - Oh, I'm so glad. That poor woman. At my house, we're on two sides about this, but I think it's wonderful that you're going.

We talked about Cindy Sheehan, about how none of the members of this administration have any real idea of the price people pay to serve their country at war, and about what every single death in Iraq must mean for the families of the sodiers. We both had tears in our eyes. In the end, I promised to email her with the information about the blog. When I left, she thanked me like my sister had done. My interaction with her was intense, intimate and totally unexpected.

After the experience at the bank, I decided to tell everyone I met. The responses were varied and but I started to notice a serious gender skew.

The lady at the union office wanted to know my full name so she could add me to her prayer list. A friend considered joining us even as her husband snorted and asked why on earth I would do such a thing. Another friend encouraged me with all sorts of positive effects that this flow of supporters to Crawford would have the political landscape. The guy at the reception desk at a cable network shook his head and gave his opinion that all the people going to Crawford are doing it for reasons of their own that have little to do with Cindy Sheehan. The guy at the Apple Store nodded and changed the subject.

On the one side of the gender divide, mentioning my plan triggers a powerful emotional outpouring. On the other side, an indifference bordering on contempt. This was not a scientific sample, but I would say that Cindy Sheehan reaches women's hearts and minds in a most personal way.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Road Trip!

We are going to Crawford, Texas.

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