Sunday, February 20, 2011

That Moment People say “No!”

by Susan Galleymore

Fifty years ago six college students – two African American and four White – went to jail for sitting down at Patterson Drugstore lunch counter in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Their plans had been amorphous: “let's just talk to Mr. Patterson”...they were honor students after all, and talking surely would convince the owner/manager that racial segregation was wrong.
They had no plan when, red-faced and enraged, Mr. Patterson yelled into each of their faces giving them one last chance to vacate his establishment.
One of the group Mary Edith Bentley Abu Saba,twenty-one years old on December 14, 1960 said, “None of us moved. We just sat there. Actually, I couldn't move!”
Mr. Patterson called the police.
The police gave them one last chance to leave.
Still the students sat.

Behaviorists and scientists name this phenomenon “entrainment” – when separate objects vibrating at different speeds start to vibrate at the same speed.
Those scared students entrained. And their story is a metaphor for what is happening today, from the Middle East to Wisconsin, as people come together as one to protest the lack of dignity with they are treated.

The police arrested and handcuffed the group – later known as the Patterson Six – and took them to jail.
It is yet to be seen how long and how far will progress the resistance across the globe. In this case, entrainment – unlike “group think” – depends on how each person gauges the personal and political consequences.

Bentley had had other things to do that day. “I needed to practice for an important music recital. I also was busy planning my wedding for the day after I graduated. So when my friend Rebecca Mays Owen approached me at noon about going for coffee I made her promise that I'd be back on campus by five o'clock.”
Instead, Mary Edith Bentley and Rebecca Mays Owen of Randolph-Macon Woman's College, James Hunter and Terrill Brumback of Lynchburg College, and Barbara Thomas and Kenneth Green of Virginia Theological Seminary and College spent the next three hours in jail, segregated by race and gender.
To his credit, the president of Randolph-Macon Woman's College, Dr. William Quillian, Jr., never wavered in his support for the students. He posted $1,000 bond for each of them. But “civil rights” were dirty words in that part of the country at that time and the students' photographs and story were plastered over the front page of newspapers throughout the South, then the nation. Quillian was under tremendous pressure from the college board and the community to condemn and expel Bentley and Owen. He resisted.

Jim Holt was the lawyer for the Patterson Six. His presence in the court room disturbed the judge who had never faced an African American in that role before. Anytime Holt praised the students' actions,the judge banged his gavel to redirect the defense saying, “we need not go down that road.”
The judge was astonished when Holt and the defendants refused to appeal their 30-day sentence and chose jail instead.
Bentley Abu Saba laughed as she told the story in a recent Raising Sand Radio interview, “I was ready for jail. I had a change of underwear and my toothbrush in my pocketbook. We may have been na├»ve [about the power of talking to those in power] but we understood that six honor students spending 30 days in jail would have a great impact.”
And it did. Lynchburg streets and courtroom were crowded with angry, shouting Southerners, many of whom carried weapons improvised from bicycle chains.
Yet Bentley never had second thoughts about what she'd done. “On the contrary: I felt proud of myself. I learned about an inner strength that I never knew I had.”

All episodes of resistance have consequences. For Bentley in the microcosm of Lynchburg, Virginia the Episcopal minister retracted his invitation to play her final music piece on the church's new, state-of-the-art organ. The Methodist minister refused his church for her wedding when he learned she'd invited African American guests. It took eight years to de-segregate – by race and gender – Randolph-Macon Woman's College. Fifty years later, Bentley and Hunter, the two surviving members of Patterson Six, are feted.

The full consequences of resistance in the Middle East and Wisconsin may not be fully understood for years. But, expect the unexpected as people act as one, as they entrain. As New York Times reporter Nick Kristof wrote from Bahrain recently:
... activists are unbelievably courageous. I’ve been taken aback by their determination and bravery. They faced down tanks and soldiers, withstood beatings and bullets, and if they achieve democracy – boy, they deserve it.

While people from vastly different cultures, languages, and background may not agree on how civil rights, democracy, and dignity look they all know how a lack of dignity feels. Clearly they have had enough of that feeling. With cries of “No more! Enough!” they're ready to go down a different road, one where “entrainment” has a different name: People Power.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Veteran in America: Trying to Find the Way Home

A Veteran in America: Trying to Find the Way Home
by Susan Galleymore
(Published in War Times)

Jason Moon's mother tells him that as a young child he loved writing songs and that during long car trips he'd share his songs with her. Today, he's writing songs again. But for more than five years following his return from a year-long tour of duty in Iraq, he could barely write a line.

Moon deployed to Talil Airbase with the Wisconsin National Guard in 2003. In March 2008 he was ready to testify at the four-day long Winter Soldier hearings held in in Silver Spring, Maryland. His would be one of more than 200 eyewitness accounts of injustices perpetrated by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He planned to tell of direct orders to “run over any children that got in the way of military vehicles.”
Moon's three-year-old son looked like the Iraqi children and the order was as shocking to Moon then as it would be the Americans who heard it later.
“People accused me of lying...or said our unit was a bad apple.”
Nowadays there are countless assertions of this order being carried out.
“Recently I heard that our unit was even involved in one such event and that the Civil Affairs unit went to the parents of the girl who'd been killed and, at gun-point, forced them to sign off on accepting $200 for her death.”
Moon broke down the day before he was to present his testimony. Instead of attending the hearing, he checked himself into a hospital where he shuffled around “without shoelaces in my shoes.”
This suicide watch was the beginning of a long – and continuing – journey searching for a life Moon feels is worth living.
“My question is: how do they [the military and the population it serves] expect people to be in an environment where violence and killing is encouraged, accepted, and often rewarded then, when we come home and respond with the same mentality, we're put in prison. The juxtaposition of these two worlds as a soldier tries to readjust and tries to deal with the results of what he or she was asked to do” – that which was okay there and then and is not okay here and now – “can make a veteran feel crazy.”

Deployed troops long to return home. Yet, “When we come back it is not so wonderful after all. Since such a small percentage of our population understands – or wants to understand – the real issues [associated with war] troops and veterans must deal with it alone.”
The isolation only increases as civil society pays attention, not to the ongoing wars and the plight of the troops who fight them but to the latest news crisis, the economy, political corruption, unemployment, bankrupt state and city budgets, turmoil in Egypt spreading to other countries....
All the while US troops continue to deploy – some have served as many as six deployments – and veterans continue to confront their demons long after their military service ends.

What makes Moon's story especially poignant is his relationship to his son. The growing boy saw his father as a hero with whom he wanted to play the game of “good guys versus bad guys”.
It was excruciating. The boy was too young for lectures about the gritty realities of war. His father told him, gently, that even the 'bad guys' have mothers, are sons like he is, and that “people don't come back to life after they're killed.”
But Moon's body had its own way of surviving the pressure: it shut down. “When my son wanted to play war I became as tired as if I'd been drugged and I'd fall asleep.”
Later, when they played together, “I'd find myself telling my 7-year-old how to flank a fighting position, or how to do covering fire, or correcting his battle strategies!”

There is a parallel in Jason Moon's experiences as a father and as a veteran. For explaining war to a child is like explaining the deep effects of war to an adult who has never experienced war. Neither has the capacity to understand how troops are trained to kill. Neither imagines the horrors combat troops see every day. Neither grasps how war affects human beings. Neither really wants to understand.
Only those who know war know the pleasure – and the pain – of returning home where the vast majority of fellow citizens care nothing for one's extraordinary experiences.
Despite centuries of war, there is no successful strategy that helps veterans re-integrate into a comfortably ignorant, binary world.

Many veterans like Jason Moon live day-to-day as they continue internal dialogs about the worthiness of their lives. But Moon is writing songs and playing music again. Lyrics from the album title:
The child inside me
long dead and gone
somewhere between
lost and alone
trying to find my way home...

Moon's first CD in a decade describes his journey. It is a sign of hope, not only for the songwriter but also for the homeless veterans with whom Moon works. Moreover, proceeds from sales benefit this work. (Listen to three cuts from his CD in a recent Raising Sand Radio interview:

Susan Galleymore is author of Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak about War and Terror, host and producer of Raising Sand Radio, and a former “military mom” and GI Rights counselor. Contact her at